A key idea underpinning the Practicing Faith Survey is that Christian students are called to work out their faith in Christian learning practices, and that teachers can support them in this. Understanding how the resource approaches this will help you to use it well.
When we talk about someone’s calling or (to user the older word) their vocation, we typically think about their job, their station in life, or perhaps some specific sense of personal mission. If we have our students in view, we might then think about schooling as a preparation for their vocation, a time to gain the skills and dispositions that will help them walk in their future calling. We might focus on helping them to discover their calling so that they can choose a career. Yet Christian theology has understood the notion of vocation a little differently.
It is certainly true that Christian thought connects our work and our life goals to being called by God. Before the Reformation, the idea of vocation was mainly connected to specifically religious callings, such as becoming a priest or a nun. Protestant theologians developed an expanded sense of calling that encompassed every kind of life station. Puritan theologian William Perkins, for instance, wrote that “every person, of every degree, state, sex, or condition without exception, must have some personal and particular calling to walk in.” In this perspective, not only a wide range of kinds of paid workl but also being a parent, child, or student can be a calling.
Behind all of these specific callings, however, Christian theology distinguishes a more general calling. The Christian’s most basic calling is not to be a teacher or a mother or a missionary. It is to be a Christ-follower, “loved by God…and called to be saints” (Romans 1:7, NET). Our general and basic calling is to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves, and to do this as part of the body of Christ. This general vocation is worked out through all of our particular callings. They might shift over time as our life circumstances change; the general calling remains.
What does this mean for students and their callings?
First, it suggests that we should not think of a student’s calling as just something that they take up after graduation. If they are a student right now, then for the moment that is one of their stations in life, a particular calling, even though it includes preparing for other, future callings.
Second, the particular life of a Christian student is to be lived out as an expression of their general calling. They are not just preparing to be Christian later. They are learning to be Christian within their current calling as students. They are learning how their Christian identity can be worked out in their relationships with other people in and beyond the school, their attempts to learn and articulate the truth about God and the world, their reflection on their motives and desires, and the ways in which they connect their learning to prayer, worship, and Scripture.
This is why the Practicing Faith Survey focuses on a range of practices within the life of students. The survey is designed to help students explore their engagement in intellectual, relational, devotional, introspective, and benevolence practices. This framework may not capture all the complexity of the Christian life, but it puts the spotlight on some key areas of life practice that are basic to living out a Christian vocation as a student. Assessing investment in these practices can give us some insight into how students are taking up their vocation to be Christian within their particular calling as students. This, in turn, can help us to consider how our teaching practices might better support them in their calling.