When pastors and theologians speak of calling, most people think of some loftier spiritual work rather than trudging off to a business office, construction site, or retail store to labor. The same could be said for every mother who trudges off to the kitchen or laundry room each day to work for her family. This tendency reveals a bias among many Christians and clergy to think of full-time ministry as spiritual work while diminishing other forms of work under the rubric of secular.
Under this paradigm, the essential activity that consumes the other 98 percent of Christians’ time and energy is, in essence, of little or no spiritual value. As such, Christians in the marketplace are expected to carve out time above and beyond their secular work to do spiritual work, serving on weekends and evenings at the church or taking short-term mission trips.
No doubt, Christians should serve their local churches and participate in other mission-related activities whenever they can and are led to do so. However, they shouldn’t do so because they are told and subsequently believe that their daily work—the thing they do to earn a living—is not their spiritual calling and has less value!
I submit this is a wholly unbiblical conception that emanates from a dichotomous view of the world, in which some erroneously regard areas of God’s creation as being beyond his authority, care, and concern. Think about the folly of this notion for just a moment. The diminution of human work as a spiritual good and calling is further reinforced by an all-too-often shallow theology of missions and work. A remedy is needed!
Perhaps one the most profound treatise ever penned on the subject of work and its role in the Christian mission is Lester DeKoster’s little book, Work: The Meaning of Your Life-A Christian Perspective. So significant is this small work that when leaders at the Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization in 2010 took up the question, “How do Christians live the gospel in their daily work?” DeKoster’s booklet was chosen as a primary resource. I give this booklet to every member who joins [email protected]
At the heart of DeKoster’s thesis is the simple premise that “work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others” and that by being useful to others, work “flowers into civilization.” DeKoster stresses that this “usefulness to others” encompasses the vast assortment of human occupations and in so doing is the essential activity involved in creating civilization and culture. Work, according to Dr. DeKoster “multiplies into a civilization under the intricate hand” of God. DeKoster explains that the difference between life in the African bush and the West is work. He points out that while bush people indeed work, their work occurs at a primitive level, namely they have to do everything for themselves. This naturally limits the fruit of their labor to the most basic level, meeting only their personal needs.
By contrast, civilization grows from the capacity to share in and benefit from the work of others. For example, consider the car you drive. Did you design it? Did you mine and gather the raw materials from which it’s made? Did you manufacture the thousands of parts required or assemble them? You get the point: your car—like almost everything else you own or interact with—is the product of shared work. It literally took thousands of other people to make the car you drive a reality. You could not make it on your own. You likely neither have the ability, time, or the resources.
The possession of that car enhances your life greatly; it improves your ability to travel, work, and serve others more effectively in the ongoing cycle of shared work and creating civilization, allowing millions to flourish. Work is, in another sense, the means for joining humanity together in shared productivity and fulfilling God’s original mandate to “be fruitful.” Therefore work is an absolute and essential good in the economy of God.
As to the spiritual good, Jesus issued the two Great Commandments, which summarized the whole duty of man in two directions: love God and love others.
DeKoster argues that our daily work is the medium by which we actually follow Jesus’ commandments. From the beginning, God called us to work and originally man worked in partnership with God (see Genesis 2:19) to bring the fullness of God’s creation into being. Being reconciled to God through Christ Jesus, this partnership is restored and Christians work—producing “fruit” that is beneficial and good—as a way of loving others. Therefore work cannot be reduced to a “necessary evil,” but is in fact a spiritual good possessing intrinsic value.
When viewed through the lens of loving God and loving others, then, we can begin to see that work is our predominant form of service to God and to others. The sacred-secular dichotomy that denigrates “non–church work” is dismantled and all work in which we make ourselves useful to others becomes worthy of the Christian.
If we approach work in the way that God intends, we will work to serve others in whatever business we find ourselves. Does it serve others when you work to produce food or stock the grocery store shelves? Does it serve others when you work as an auto mechanic, maintain telecommunication services, or sell software that better organizes people’s activity? Of course it does, otherwise you and I would have to grow our own food, suffer diminished travel and communication capabilities and countless inefficiencies hindering our ability to do the most good in our daily work. We, like the bushman, would be reduced to working for our own subsistence and not the benefit of others.
This, of course, is only a beginning point in understanding our work as our calling, but it is important fist step. There are the essential issues of market liberalism, in which workers must be free to exercise their entrepreneurial gifts in order to serve most effectively—but these are economic issues for another time.
Suffice it to say, Christians must—for the sake of the gospel—recover a deeper, more theologically rigorous conception of their work and its essential purpose in the propagation of the Christian faith and witness. This is why I am so committed to our [email protected] Roundtable program.
If you are a pastor, we offer church-based Roundtable programs to help you equip and commission your people for the marketplace.
If you are a businessman or woman who desires to better live the gospel in your daily work—you can bring the Roundtable program to your church.
If you are a business owner or executive, we have [email protected] Roundtable Groups specifically tailored to you and your peers.
It is time for Christian businessmen and women to reconnect with their calling—let [email protected] help you in your rediscovery.
© 2011 by S. Michael Craven Permission granted for non-commercial use.