We Lutherans speak a lot about vocation. In a nutshell, these are the various callings the Lord gives to each of His children to serve Him by serving one’s neighbor: one person might be at the same time a son, brother, father, citizen, and worker. When the church instructs young people in how a Christian is to live, we don’t tell him to become a monk and disengage from society, but instead we praise those roles in life where the neighbor is served to the glory of God. But in the secular realm, vocation has gotten a rather bad reputation.
Most high schools used to have a vocatonal education program that would teach students skills necessary to begin working in a trade or craft. These might include carpentry, welding, auto repair, or drafting. Unfortunately, many school districts have done away with these programs in order to save money. However, the identification of these programs to be among the first to be cut reveals much of the stigma that has unfairly been given to vocational education and those who work in these trades.
Unfortunately, there have been teachers have used manual labor jobs to threaten students who are not performing to expectations. Even when it goes unspoken, the prevailing attitude agrees. “If you don’t learn calculus, you’ll be working in a garage on greasy engines all your life!” Such elitism is poisonous to a healthy economy, demeaning to those whose vocation is to repair engines, and neglects the fact that the teacher’s car is probably only running because a mechanic keeps it that way.
As unhelpful as that is, more damaging still is that such an attitude denies that mechanics — and welders, farmers, plumbers, electricians, machinists, carpenters, construction workers, etc. — are a gift from God. It’s actually pretty easy to see how God uses them to serve the neighbor. I, as a pastor, use public roads all the time to visit parishioners in the hospital or call on new member prospects. But I don’t have the first clue how to build a road or repair one if it’s needed. Without well-maintained roads my job becomes far more difficult, and so does everyone else’s job. So God has seen fit to provide His people with workers to construct and maintain our roads, and for that gift we praise Him.
Those high school students who are weighing their options for education after graduating are often given the impression that to decide not to attend a four-year college or university is to choose a second-class vocation. But there is nothing second-class about working with your hands in a trade or craft. Not only is it honorable work, but many of these jobs pay enough to provide well for a family and are actually in demand right now. In fact, many employers in the manufacturing and engineering sector are having a difficult time finding workers with the skills they need — and in large part it is due to the mindset that looks down upon skilled jobs.
Mike Rowe, creator and host of the TV show Dirty Jobs, has begun a website called MikeRoweWorks.com that provides information on the decline of the perception of blue collar jobs, and gives resources for those who are interested in these vocations. Even John Ratzenberger (yes, that John Ratzenberger) has weighed in to encourage more people to seek education and training in skilled labor.
As Christians, we can do much to speak in praise of vocational education and skilled labor. First, we can thank God that He has given us such people, who serve us in ways we don’t often realize. Second, we can thank those who work in these trades when they do serve us, since most of their work goes unappreciated. And lastly, we can encourage young people who are looking to enter these fields that working with one’s hands (and, as Ratzenberger points out, with one’s heart) is just as honorable and God-pleasing as any other vocation, and provides a great opportunity to use both mind and body to serve our neighbor.
Associate Editor’s Note: Pastor Daniel Hinton joins the BJS writers with this first contribution. Pastor Hinton is associate pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is a graduate of the University of Arkansas, having majored in poultry science, and of Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He was ordained on Holy Trinity 2011. He has been married to Amanda for ten years, and has three daughters (Elizabeth, Anastasia, and Isabella). He grew up in the ELCA, and left in 2004 over issues of scriptural authority. It was because of a faithful Lutheran campus ministry that he was exposed to The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. Much of his ministry at Trinity involves the instruction of the 117 students at Trinity Lutheran School, which has been open since 1892 and now uses a classical model of instruction. Pr. Hinton is in my circuit and makes many valuable contributions to it (which is quite a feat given the caliber of our circuit). He will be writing on situations around “Steadfast in School” and “Steadfast among Others”.