Vocations can be seen as fulfilling a psychological or spiritual need for the worker, and the term can also be used to describe any occupation for which a person is specifically gifted, and usually implies that the worker has a form of "calling" for the task. The word "vocation" comes from the Latin vocare, meaning "to call"; , however, its usage before the sixteenth century, particularly in the Vulgate, refers to the calling of all humankind to salvation, with its more modern usage of a life-task first employed by Martin Luther.
The idea of vocation is central to the Christian belief that God has created each person with gifts and talents oriented toward specific purposes and a way of life. Particularly in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, this idea of vocation is especially associated with a divine call to service to the Church and humanity through particular vocational life commitments such as marriage to a particular person, consecration as a religious, ordination to priestly ministry in the Church and even a holy life as a single person. In the broader sense, Christian vocation includes the use of ones gifts in their profession, family life, church and civic commitments for the sake of the greater common good.
The idea of a vocation or "calling" has been pivotal within Protestantism. Martin Luther taught that each individual was expected to fulfill his God-appointed task in everyday life. Although the Lutheran concept of the calling emphasized vocation, there was no particular emphasis on labor beyond what was required for one's daily bread. Calvinism transformed the idea of the calling by emphasizing relentless, disciplined labor. In the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536), Calvin defined the role of "The Christian in his vocation." He noted that God has prescribed appointed duties to men and styled such spheres of life vocations or callings. Calvinists distinguished two callings: a general calling to serve God and a particular calling to engage in some employment by which one's usefulness is determined.
The Puritan minister Cotton Mather, in A Christian at his Calling (1701), described the obligations of the personal calling as, "some special business, and some settled business, wherein a Christian should for the most part spend the most of his time; so he may glorify God by doing good for himself." Mather admonished that it wasn't lawful ordinarily to live without some calling, "for men will fall into "horrible snares and infinite sins." This idea has endured throughout the history of Protestantism. Three centuries after John Calvin's death, Thomas Carlyle (1843) would proclaim, "The latest Gospel in this world is, 'know thy work and do it.'"
The legacy of this religious ethic continues to exert its influence in an increasingly secular world. Modern occupations which are seen as vocations often include those where a combination of skill and community help are implied, such as medical, care-giving, and veterinary occupations. Occupations where rewards are seen more in spiritual or other non-financial terms, such as religious occupations, are also seen as vocations. Borderline occupations, where community service and more personal reward are more evenly balanced, such as politics, may often be regarded as vocations.
Many forms of humanitarian campaigning, such as work for organisations such as Amnesty International and Greenpeace can also be considered vocations, although the term tends to imply that the activity is a full-time job rather than a part-time activity or hobby....
The emerging church movement, catholic social thought, and an increased interest in reformation thought has renewed interest in the Christian idea of vocation. Another aspect of vocation is working through how to define/discuss/and revitalize the importance of vocational thought not defined by an official church body. Several books have discussed this topic as well as the Catholic Church has defined the calling of the worker in Laborem Exercens.
Books that have attempted to define / clarify aspects of vocation: