Most vocations can generally be summed up in one of three ways: you produce something, you provide a service or you do a combination of the two. As an example, take my position as Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Community Christian College. The college does a combination of the two ideas mentioned above. We produce a product – education, specifically an AA degree in Liberal Arts. So those who come to the college expect to receive that product. We also provide a service. In fact, we provide many services that help people to obtain our product – instructors, financial aid, tutoring, etc. All of these services enable students to walk the path of success as they work to achieve and secure the product we offer.
As a Christian community college, we seek to impart as part of our educational product a way of thinking – what has commonly been labeled a Christian world and life view. This makes our product distinct from, yet related to, the educational product of other community colleges.
I want to reflect with you on the value of community colleges in general. I believe that the work of a community college is, in a large part, a work of social justice. Why? It is because a community college provides two things that many four-year institutions do not. One is to provide an open door for people who have few or no open doors from which to choose. Many of our students would not attempt college if we were not in their community. Others have attempted college in the past and have failed. The college provides an open door of opportunity for people to learn to participate thoughtfully and prudently in the public square and so contribute to the common good.
A second way a community college is a work of social justice is because it empowers people who see themselves as powerless or who are, in fact, powerless in their current situation. An education empowers them intellectually, socially, and economically (and hopefully in our case, spiritually). They are able to look to horizons that in the past they would have considered unreachable, perhaps even unthinkable. They can begin to have goals driven by dreams of what they could do or become. In a word, they live with hope – a belief that things will not always be what they presently are and that they can do what is necessary to make that hope a reality.
None of what I have said is meant to suggest that four-year institutions who cater to the intellectually astute are doing something inherently less than what community colleges are doing. These four-year colleges and universities also have specific missions which help people contribute to the common good [I would welcome a guest post, 500-700 words, on this issue if someone has a mind to address it].
I have to confess that this is a rather new idea for me and has only developed as I have taken time to consider what I am doing and why and what this might mean for the future. In thinking and reflecting on these things, I have expanded my vocational horizon, that is, I have seen that there is a much greater value to what I am doing than the individual tasks that I perform at work. Contributing in a venture that is a work of social justice is much more significant than working at a college, even though the actual tasks have not changed. What has changed is the end for which they are performed. I have sometimes wondered if what I did was making any real difference at all. This view helps me to see the value in what I am doing. It helps people who are created in the image of God grow more fully in their experience of that image in themselves and the expression of that image as they relate to others.
Perhaps it would benefit you to take some time for consideration and reflection on your own work situation. How is what you are doing contributing to the common good? It may take more than a few moments of thinking but don’t give up easily. Work to expand your vocational horizon.