Vocation vs. Profession: What’s the Difference?

Two female students are discussing their vocational calling while walking by a cross on PLNU's campus.

We’re often told that we need to pursue our passions in order to feel fulfilled and happy in our professional lives. 

We are also often encouraged to turn that passion into a career. If we think about it, who wouldn’t want to have a career that they’re passionate about? After all, there are many great benefits associated with that combination.

Research suggests that those who feel personally connected with their jobs and attach to it a sense of purpose, typically exhibit greater physical health and emotional well-being. One’s passion, however, cannot always realistically be turned into a career. This can generate some frustration and lead people to think that they need to choose between a practical job and an activity they are passionate about. 

The good news is that you don’t necessarily have to choose between your vocation and a profession in order to have a meaningful professional and personal life. The clue to understanding this fact is by diving into the difference between the two.

What is a profession?

A profession is a career path that requires special knowledge, training and qualifications. It often includes some type of membership to an association of individuals of that same field. Those associations typically determine the ethics and conduct that members of the profession should have. 

Professions are typically pursued for a period of many years or even a lifetime. They are typically regarded as somewhat permanent. They are often more expressly attached to opportunity and to one’s skills, which means that it may not always align with one’s sense of calling or vocation. 

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. 

Often we place our worth in our jobs, pressuring ourselves to find the perfect one that will satisfy all of our emotional and vocational needs. It’s easy to forget that a job can often be just that: a job. It is a career path that provides us with the resources we need for sustenance and to pursue any dreams we may have. 

Of course there is nothing wrong with pursuing your passion (more on that later!), but it is perfectly fine to have a profession that is enjoyable, that you are good at but that may not necessarily correspond to your deepest sense of calling. 

Who are you called to be?
Pursue your purpose at PLNU.

What is a vocation?

Vocation refers to an activity or function that one feels compelled to engage in on a personal level. It essentially amounts to a sense of calling. Vocation is work that is meaningful to the person who engages in it. 

In ministry, vocation is often preceded by a spiritual calling from God to engage in a particular type of activity, function or even turn that vocation into a profession. For example, pastors, theologians, ministry workers and biblical scholars may cite a sense of calling from God as a reason to practice in those fields. 

Some ministers are able to marry their vocational calling to their profession, pursuing ministry and ministerial work full-time. But others may have a different profession, choosing to dedicate their free time to church or non-profit work. 

Vocation can become a person’s profession but not necessarily. For example, an individual who works as a manager for a major supermarket may enjoy their profession but feel like their vocation (where their passion lies) is to support animal rights. As a result, they may use their weekends to volunteer at the local animal shelter in town. 

Let’s say a parent decides to work part-time in their profession so they have more time to spend with their children at home. That parent may feel like their vocation is to care for their children in this specific way until they are old enough to move out. As result, they will adjust their professional life accordingly. 

How do I align the two?

Vocation is something that everyone can have, regardless of their professional career path. It’s important that every individual try to discover that calling. 

Here are some reasons it’s important to find a vocation:

  • Humans need a sense of meaning and purpose for their lives
  • Vocation helps form deeper connections with other people and helps one feel connected with their God-given purpose 
  • Engaging with your vocational calling can lead to greater joy and can motivate one to get through difficult times in life
  • Vocation can lead to greater happiness

It’s a good thing to seek to turn your vocation into a career as that will lead to greater satisfaction and better emotional and physical health. But even if it’s not possible to turn your vocation into a profession, you can still choose to engage in it in your free time. 

But before even thinking about the possibility of turning your vocation into a professional career, you first need to discover what your vocation is. 

Here are some tips on how to do so.

1. Spend time in prayer.  

Finding your vocation often involves doing a deep dive into what you are passionate about and interested in. Who better to go to than God, the one who knows all things?

Spend some time praying and asking God to reveal to you where your desires and passions lie and ask Him for wisdom for how to pursue those passions. 

2. Think about what you are passionate about. 

What keeps you going? What is a topic or issue that you can’t help but be passionate about? This may be a clue that your vocation may lie somewhere in the answers to those questions. Think about the issues and activities that move you and reflect on whether any of those may constitute your vocational calling. 

3. Reflect on what type of skills you have. 

Maybe you don’t have anything in particular that sets your heart on fire, but perhaps you’re really really good at something. If we believe that our gifts are God-given, then perhaps your vocational calling lies in those exact gifts. 

  • Are you a talented musician or singer?
  • Are you really good at caring for others?
  • Do you speak multiple languages and can easily engage with people of different cultures?
  • Do you have an analytical mind able to solve problems?
  • Are you a talented leader and able to manage people well?

Reflect on any skills you may have and see if they are a clue into what your vocation may be. 

4. Try out different paths. 

Let’s say that you have multiple paths of interest or you feel passionate about multiple things. Don’t be afraid to try it all!

Perhaps, you feel a calling towards ministry but you also have a managerial mind and are passionate about business. Why not pursue a degree in business management while also engaging in ministry activities in your free time?

The options are endless. Just because you zero-in on a specific path (often out of necessity) does not mean you cannot also keep engaging in other interests and pursuits. 

5. Do your research.

Once you get a sense of what your vocation and calling is, do a bit of research to determine whether you could turn that into a full-time career. 

  • Do a Google search of the area that interests you to get a sense of what it is all about.
  • Check YouTube to see if there are videos of people talking about their experiences in that field or who have vlogged about what a typical day at that job is like.
  • Find people in the field that interests you and ask for a informational interview .
  • Search for podcasts about your field and give them a regular listen.
  • Finally, if the area you are wanting to go into requires further education, research schools and requirements to enter those schools. 

If, after your research, you feel like pursuing your vocation as a profession is feasible, go for it! If you find that doing it part-time is a better option for you, don’t be afraid to incorporate related activities into your free time. 

6. Work with all your heart. 

Finally, keep in mind this timeless guidance from the Apostle Paul: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” (Colossians 3:23–24)

Remember that whatever you end up doing, you can do with all your heart. Hopefully, this will give you a sense of purpose knowing that God watches over everything you do, regardless of what that may be. 

One of the many vocations that can be turned into professions is Christian ministry. All Christians are called to serve God and others  but many are also called to dedicate themselves to ministry as a profession. If that’s you, consider equipping yourself further in this area by obtaining a Masters in Christian Ministry

PLNU offers you an amazing program that will ensure that you live become fully equipped to live out the calling God has placed in your life. It combines a strong ministry component with rigorous academics and is ideal for practicing and aspiring ministry workers. 

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