Book Review: 4D Formation: Exploring Vocation in Community by Andrew Tucker

[1] Quite often church leaders and academics find themselves challenged to interpret the theological dialogue on vocation to their colleagues or students. Some theologians make painstaking attempts to bring abstract theological concepts into modern contexts and everyday parlance.  Andrew Tucker is one of those theologians. When I learned that his book 4D Formation: Exploring Vocation in Community was nearing publication, I asked if I could review his book. I am glad I did.

[2] Tucker brings years of experience (campus ministry and camp ministry) into his book. He has spent most of his pastoral ministry with college students in various capacities: campus pastor, graduate assistant, adjunct professor, Director of the Center for Faith and Learning, and most recently, Executive Director for Lutheran Camps in Ohio. These roles point to the versatility of his experience exploring the question of vocation, and equally important, translating it into non-Christian lenses.

[3] Tucker mentions in his preface that this book grew out of those experiences, and more poignantly, the Covid-19 pandemic. He notes that the bulk of this book was written during the onset of the pandemic, a watershed moment when students were physically isolated from others, a time when determining what path one takes for career, schooling, or relationships was especially difficult. The pandemic intensified their questions. What does my calling look like? What is a calling? Tucker spends time answering these questions through a reflected prism, or the life experiences of others (35).

[4] Tucker describes his book as a roadmap to understanding discernment and vocation. It does not offer definitive answers, but serves as a guide towards thoughtful and meaningful conversation. When reading this book, one finds that the map metaphor makes sense allowing the reader to connect one’s own journey in life to Tucker’s insights. I found his map metaphor especially helpful for one still discerning the call into rostered ministry.

[5] The book contains two parts: Part 1 focuses on the definitions and theory behind vocation, and Part 2 is the 4D model: Discovery, Discernment, Developing, Deciding. Part 2 is the practical piece of the book. Tucker explores both the theory and definitions behind certain words while providing practical tips for diving deeper.

[6] One of the first concepts that Tucker addresses is calling. What is calling? Who is calling? What are we called to? He dialogues with Frederick Buechner’s treatment of gladness. For Buechner, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (4). This has often served as a basic definition of vocation, but has also been challenged by Tucker and others as simplistic and problematic (4-7). After noting the deficiencies, Tucker offers his own definition: Vocation is “any meaningful, life-giving work you do for the world” (9). He then parses out his own definition. “Meaningful” is something that is “full of integrity, value, purpose.” “Life-giving” is anything that promotes human flourishing” (9-10).

[7] Callings originate from God, and they also emerge within us. What remains important for Tucker is distinguishing between identity and vocation. He warns of the pitfalls of conflating identity and vocation, especially when one’s identity becomes consumed by one’s vocation (28-38).

[8] Tucker also draws out how identities are formed through communities. It is through communities that we arrive at a clearer appreciation and understanding of our vocation. He effectively draws out how our environments (family, civic, religious) shape our purposes in this world and direct us towards the fullness of life.

[9] Chapter 5 is where Tucker begins to dip into his 4D model. He focuses on mission, while outlining the parameters for vocational discernment. He provides a robust definition of differentiation, which simply says that your calling is integrated into the calling of the wider cosmos (77). Mission is what guides people to live fully into their identities and vocations while not blurring the lines between the two (87-88). He also draws a clear distinction between what vocation is and what vocation is not. Work that is not life-giving or meaningful is not classified as vocation (87-89). He argues that you are not called to everything, and thus, should not have to worry about fulfilling everything.

[10] Part 2 explores each element of the 4D model (discovery, discernment, development, decision) in greater depth. Discovery entails what you learn about yourself, what someone else finds out about you, or what your community recognizes within you. Discovery is the first step in the wider journey of life, or the first step in a wider world. Tucker notes the dangers of taking someone else’s vocation as your own.  He uses colonialization by Europeans to illustrate (96-100). Tucker affirms the role mentors play in the discovery process, but also cautions against following directly into the mentor’s footsteps. The practices that Tucker recommends include mindfulness, taking risks, experimenting, and researching (105-108).

[11] Discernment is a churchy word that Tucker explains and releases from its academic and theological captivity.  He describes discernment as “knowing and evaluating the decisions present in front of you” (112). Multiple factors play into one’s discernment, especially if there is a financial risk attached. Tucker defines sin as “missing the mark,” but notes that when we miss the mark, God’s grace remains with us guiding us towards abundant life (117-118). The two discernment practices that Tucker recommends are asset mapping and priority matrices (119-128). Asset mapping clarifies internal and external calls. Three questions ground asset mapping: “What assets do I have? What are my values? What unmet needs do I see?” (119-121). Priority matrices explore questions and concerns in the present, which come in three different versions: Importance and urgency; values and risk, complexity, cost; and value and required investment (121-128). Priority matrices tend to serve short-term planning.

[12] In the development stage Tucker explores the concept of homing in on one’s skills as those skills connect to one’s vocation. Practice makes permanence, not perfection.  “You practice the things associated with those vocations in order to become those things” (135-136). Internships are the best methods of discerning what vocation you are called to, and more importantly, internships are the best way to refine those skills (139-142). Internships provide opportunities to build networks of mentors and connections. He notes the dangers when those opportunities become life draining and not fulfilling (142). Build on those experiences and invite others along for the journey.

[13] The final step in the 4D model is decision. Decisions, according to Tucker, are not the endpoint. He discusses how one’s decision connects with identity, invites consideration of the origin of the call, and emphasizes making decisions with the help of community (150-151). Because decisions include accountability and responsibility, the role of community is especially important. Lastly, there is no right way to decide because the process never ends.

[14] A strength of Tucker’s work is that he engages counterarguments without resorting to polemics. He also engages with other religions and spiritualities to complement the Christian view of vocation. His book will appeal not only to Christians but to anyone along the journey of life. Tucker’s book serves as a roadmap for those looking for their vocation and striving to live life abundantly.




Thomas Johnston

Thomas Johnston is a first-year Intern Pastor at Calvary Lutheran Church, Richland Hills, Texas. He is also finishing his Master of Divinity degree at Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University. Johnston serves as a steering committee member for Lutherans Alliance for Faith, Science, and Technology, and frequent book reviewer for Currents in Theology and Mission.