Do we really think that being a pastor is more significant than being a real estate agent, plumber or contractor?
Today I’m what we might call a professional minister. But earlier in my life I owned an interior design business. Since then I have often reflected on how much more effective my “ministry” seemed to be when I was working in “business.”
As a businessman, if I invited a friend to attend a special meeting with a big name speaker, he was much more likely to respond with “Sure!” When I became a pastor, it was like I had “Christian” attached to my forehead like a figurehead on the bow of a Viking ship. If I want to end a conversation with a person sitting beside me on a flight, all I have to do is answer the question, “What do you do?” with, “I’m a minister.” If you can say, “I am a businessman,” you are better positioned to talk about things of faith with seemingly fewer barriers.
In the past several years the number of business leaders I’ve heard speak about their desire to leave their occupation and “become a minister” has astonished me. What’s with this? Theologically this is just wrong. We are all ministers. So on behalf of pastors, forgive us if you have ever been made to feel like your occupation is somehow a lesser calling than vocational ministry.
When I was discerning if God was calling me to full-time vocational ministry I sought counsel from many pastors. One senior Christian leader responded, “Carson, we already have enough pastors and if God is calling you to that He will chase you down and make it so. Until then, I want to release you from your pursuit and leave that to God. You might be more effective for the Kingdom serving as a godly businessman right where you are.”
Most men have a fear hidden deep in the recesses of our lives. That fear is that we will die one day without having made a significant difference. I think this is the reason that Frank Capra’s bittersweet drama It’s a Wonderful Life Christmas movie has been treasured for over 50 years. Jimmy Stewart’s character touches on that fear and correctly portrays our search for meaning to be found in what we do.
The average working Canadian will spend more than 90,000 hours on the job during his or her lifetime of employment. Technology and our working longer can stretch the amount of time spent working to well over 100,000 hours and cause us to spend more than 50 per cent of our waking time at work.
In contrast, we spend less than two per cent of our working years at church—about 4,000 hours. So why do we spend so much time focusing our attention on church work? Do we really think that being a pastor is more significant than being a real estate agent, plumber or contractor?
God loves work.
God is not a stranger to work. Jesus was a carpenter, and when He was baptized the Father expressed that He was already pleased with His Son long before He had performed miracles or taught what we have recorded in the New Testament.
The Old Testament’s first mention of humanity begins with work. Adam and Eve were gardeners. The foundational truth is that work is good. It becomes wrong when we get anxious about it; when we don’t work at all; when we become compulsive about it; or lethargic and lazy. Work has dignity, as it is part of God’s purpose. God works, and we are created in His image.
Yes, the disciples were called to put aside their normal occupations (fishing, tent making, tax collecting) to work in another way. There is a place for this, but not in a hierarchical manner as one being more important than another.
Paul himself spoke about the temptation to leave one’s employment by asking us to serve where we are and to live out our calling in whatever situation we find ourselves. “Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord has assigned to him and to which God has called him… Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.” (2 Cor. 7:17, 20)
So how can we stay working where we are placed and learn to love it?
Understand that your work is a divine vocation.
Your job is not something you take on to fulfill yourself or family: It is a response to God calling you to assist a portion of his Kingdom. Bring some definition to your “call” by writing out a personal governing set of values in the form of a mission statement.
In 1991 I wrote in my journal: “To bring about biblical life change in unchurched men and women internationally through encouraging leaders by modeling, mentoring, and teaching the Word of God in a credible contemporary manner.” Since writing that statement I have lived it while working for three different employers. If you establish your core values, they become the point of integration in all that you do.
Remember that you are a co-worker with God.
In your job you link the inner life with outer life, the place where most of your friends and colleagues live. You are not in this alone and we need not fear. You can work each day as a testimony of hope for those working with you and watching you daily. Live and work each day choosing to trust Jesus with every aspect of your life and through extending God’s grace. Create environments of freedom for your coworkers to explore commitment and faith in a safe environment.
View the clock differently.
There are two types of time. There is our ordinary time (chronos) but be open to the invasion of significant time (kairos). It is a life perspective. If we live by the clock we ask, “What time is it?” With kairos time we ask, “What is this time for?” Of course your salary is based on clock time, but the value is found in waiting and anticipating a kairos moment in your day.
Use your gifts.
The parable of the talents (Mark 25:14-30) is a message about using our gifts and abilities as stewards of a trust rather than furthering our personal gain. God entrusts the gifts and talents you use in your occupation to you and He wants you to use them for the furthering of His Kingdom work.
Remember who your boss is.
Ultimately we are accountable to Jesus. It is to Him that we will render account for how we have stewarded our gifts. Even the lowliest of workers, slaves, are told, “obey your earthly masters in everything, and do it not only when their eye is on you and to win their favour, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Jesus you are serving” (Col. 3:21-23).