Working With God
Because of our involvement with numerous Christian organizations and churches, we both have had occasion over the years to see their application forms – the detailed set of questions they hand to anyone who is considering joining their staff as a “fulltime Christian worker”. Filling in these documents is surely a marathon activity. As you labor with all sorts of probing questions, you begin to wonder, “Am I really good enough for this position?”
But no question is as difficult to pin down as the one that – in one form or another – asks: “What call do you feel to this work?
The Christian call
The “call” has certainly become part of the language of evangelicals. We hear it used in a number of different ways. “I feel called to the ministry.” “My work is my calling.” “I sense the call of God on my life.” “God has called me to Africa.”
You don’t have to be in the church too long to realize that if you aspire to leadership you’d better be prepared to explain what direct communication you’ve had from God. In some more legalistic circles this may even involve a request for specific Bible verses, prophetic words, or incidents that “prove” God has spoken to you.
The older word “vocation” used to have the same meaning. It comes from the Latin vocatio, a calling. In modern use it usually refers to a person’s career or profession. For example, “I’m thinking of taking up law as a vocation.” However, it is still used sometimes (especially in Catholic circles) to mean God’s call to a particular Christian role.
Biblical perspectives on “calling”
The idea of vocation or calling is very much present in the Bible, but in a surprisingly different way. There it doesn’t so much concern what we do, but who we belong to. Biblical calling is not about tasks. First and foremost, it concerns our identity. Or, to put it another way, a calling is to join someone – not to do something or go somewhere.
Neither is it exclusive. It’s not limited to pastors and ministers, cross cultural missionaries and “fulltime Christian workers”.
Here’s the startling point. All of us are called.
And what is it that we’re called to? The Biblical answer is: to be followers of Jesus – his disciples. Any roles we play or tasks we do are simply out-workings of our call to follow him.
Called to belong, be, and do
First and foremost, we are called to belong. In the Scriptures the word “calling” carries a sense of intimacy. God calls each of us by name, and invites us to belong to Him. For example, God states through his prophet Hosea in 11:1, “When Israel was a child I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” Here is a call to relationship with God, and with it, to be a part of His family.
Matthew writes about Jesus, “Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John…Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” (Matt 4:21-22)
We are not called out of the world. We find our true identity as God’s people in the world that God made. This is expressed through living a life of transformation, and of service. For example:
You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love (Gal 5:13).
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace (Col 3:15).
For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life (1 Thess 4:7).
I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received (Eph 4:1).
But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God… that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9-10).
Os Guinness puts it this way: Calling means that our lives are so lived as a summons of Christ that the expression of our personalities and the exercise of our spiritual gifts and natural talents are given direction and power precisely because they are not done for themselves, or for our families, or our businesses or even humankind, but for the Lord, who will hold us accountable for them.
So … our calling or “vocation” is to belong to God. The daily work we do is an expression of our calling, but it is not itself that calling. However “spiritual” it may appear, our daily activity is not (biblically speaking) our “vocation” or our calling. It is simply the way we work out that calling, the way we express our love of God, the way we put into practice our service for him.
Whether we clean floors or preach sermons is, in God’s eyes, not the issue. Whatever our work may be, his concern is how faithfully we live his way.
So how did we develop such a “warped” view of calling and vocation?
The seeds of a corrupted view of calling were sown, as we noted in the previous chapter, early on in the history of the Church. Despite the best attempts of both Jesus and the Apostle Paul, it took only a century or so before the Christian church became heavily influenced by the dualism of the surrounding Greco-Roman culture.
Soon only priests, monks and nuns were considered to have a “religious” vocation. They were called to the “contemplative life” of prayer – set apart from the active life of ordinary, everyday work.
Even Augustine, who praised the work of farmers, merchants and tradespeople, distinguished between the “active life” and the “contemplative life”. At times it might be necessary to follow the active life but, according to Augustine, one should choose the other wherever possible.
This type of thinking encouraged both monasticism and professional church leadership. People were supposed to be “called” to these more “spiritual” roles. In other words “calling” or vocation became almost exclusively defined by the roles of the clergy and religious orders.
When Martin Luther began teaching that all Christians are called and that daily work is part of our calling, his ideas were revolutionary. Monasticism, Luther said, was not a unique class or special order. The work of monks and nuns was no higher in God’s eyes than the normal work, performed in sincere faith, of a farmer or housewife.
John Calvin further developed this idea of daily work as Christian calling. However, it wasn’t long before particular jobs (like farming and law) became specially identified as Christian vocations. Soon the concept that our calling is primarily about belonging to Jesus began to drift into the background.
Consequently, while “calling” was once too narrowly defined, it now became so closely identified with particular occupations that the words “vocation”, “calling” and “profession” simply became synonyms for “job”. This was eventually followed by the idea of “career”, resulting in a person’s identity and status being defined by his or her paid job, without any reference to God at all.
At the same time, in spite of Martin Luther’s efforts, the church has never really freed itself from the clergy/laity distinction. The two-tiered value system of the medieval church has largely remained in place. In church circles a “real” calling is still thought to be one that involves a person in pastoral leadership or cross-cultural mission work. And because of our emphasis on being called to “do”, invariably a calling is seen as something that takes us out of our current situation (geographical or task) as God “leads” us into a new one.
Working out our calling where we are
It’s exactly this type of mentality that Paul spoke about in his first letter to the Corinthians. Certain people within the church had been teaching that it was more spiritual for them to be single, with the implication that if a married person really wanted to grow spiritually then she should leave her partner.
Paul took pains to dismiss this idea. In chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians he argues that we should not think that God’s call on our lives requires us to change our circumstances (i.e. relationships, location, social position, employment, etc.). On the contrary, the norm should be that we remain where we are already placed and allow God to transform us, our relationships, our tasks, and our whole perspectives within that context.
Paul is perfectly clear on the subject, in 1 Cor 7:20: “Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called him.”
About this passage Gordon Fee says, “The call to Christ has created such a change in one’s essential relationship (with God) that one does not need to change in other relationships (with people). These latter are transformed and given new meaning by the former. Thus one is no better off in one condition than in the other.”
Paul was not advocating that we should never change our circumstances – simply that the call to follow Jesus means we can serve Christ wherever we are. Our context for serving may indeed change, but rather than seeking change in our situation, we should be working to discover ways that our calling (to follow Jesus) can be lived out through our current circumstances.
So, have you received a call? You certainly have, if you’ve set out to follow Jesus. For his call to you is a call to be in relationship with him and to be part of the family of God. Your vocation is to work with him in order to transform your whole life. As you do this you will increasingly find yourself able to serve him even further – by helping transform whatever part of the world you find yourself in.
Up Close and Personal
- Share any experiences you’ve personally had with either having to justify or provide “evidence” for being called to a particular role. How did you go about it?
- How do you feel about the tasks that you are involved in at present? To what extent do you feel that your church community affirms and supports you in these tasks?
- Have you ever considered changing jobs or location? On what basis do you think a person should consider changing jobs? What particular reasons that might cause Christians to change jobs do you consider would not be valid?
- Discuss Gordon Fee’s statement, “The call to Christ has created such a change in one’s essential relationship (with God) that one does not need to change in other relationships (with people). These latter are transformed and given new meaning by the former. Thus one is no better off in one condition than in the other.”
Refer back to your list of roles/tasks at the end of the Introduction. Spend some time pondering how each one fits into your calling to follow and serve Jesus.
Then use the following outline to write a statement of calling for yourself.
Jesus Christ has called me (name) to belong to and follow him. This calling is presently expressed in being committed to (church community), and specifically to (Christian family/friends/mission or other groups you belong to), as well as serving in the following roles and tasks: (List specific roles and tasks, such as husband/wife, father/mother, son/daughter, etc., friend; employee/employer/profession/paid employment, etc.; unpaid/voluntary roles; roles in church community; neighbor to, etc.).
Feel free to personalize your statement. For example:
Jesus Christ has called me, John Smith, to belong to, know and follow him.
This calling is presently expressed outwardly through:
- Being a member of Harrisville Christian Fellowship
And particularly by being committed to:
- Jeremy Ronaldson
- Frank and Margaret Jones
- Mark McCutcheon
- Mary and Jerry Cruz
My calling is also expressed through the following roles, tasks and relationships:
- As a husband to Marilyn
- A father to Samuel and Whitney
- An engineer with the Harrisville City Council
- A board member of Redwood Park School Board of Trustees
- Coach of the Harrisville boys’ Under 10 rugby team
- Friend to Bob, Jack, Tom F., Steve, Paul and Richard
- Neighbor to Kelvin and Sandra, Mrs. Grantham, Jenny and George
- Member of the church pastoral care team
- Helper at the Harrisville Refugee Centre
The listed roles are the main (but not the only) outward expressions of my calling to follow Jesus. As his co-worker, I will endeavor to use all opportunities to serve him and to build his kingdom. I also recognize that the roles, tasks and relationships I presently use to follow Jesus, may well change, as he directs and guides me.
O. Guinness, “The Recovery of Vocation for our Time” (unpublished audiotape).
While this emphasis began with the Puritans, it was mainly due to the influence of the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution that “vocation” became identified with occupation or career, with no real spiritual connections. Hardly surprising then, that many people today speak of their vocation without any reference to a Christian calling. The wider culture has “wrestled” the word vocation off the Puritans and emptied it of its Christian meaning.
Gordon Fee I Corinthians (NICNT) (Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, 1987), 307.
As we’ve talked with numerous people over the years, it seems to us that, broadly speaking, there are three main ways Christians think about their work:
1. Work as a means to an end – “I work to live”
The most common attitude (particularly to paid work) is one that views it as a means to an end. We work in order to “live”. It sees the purpose of our work simply as being to provide for our needs.
This approach to what we do, betrays a very low view of work and it’s often fed by the dualism we have talked about in previous chapters.
For many people, at least some of their work is viewed as somewhat futile or meaningless, often expressed in such statements as:
- “I can’t wait for the weekend.”
- “When I earn enough cash, I’m out of here.”
- “Those damn lawns need mowing again! I’m always having to do stuff around the house.”
- “I do this job because it gives me the money to really live.”
- “I work at the bank but it’s really just a means to an end – what I really love to do is serve God by being involved in the church band, or by doing street evangelism or whatever…”
A number of years ago, Alistair conducted an extensive survey of Christians and their attitude to work. (See the Epilogue for the context of the survey.) One of the questions he asked was “What is it that you struggle with most as a Christian in your work?”
The results were startling, even shocking. Many responded by noting not the challenging work environment or culture, nor that they were asked to do things that compromised their faith, but rather that they were deeply embarrassed and often annoyed by the behavior of other Christians in their place of employment.
The source of such difficulty was varied. For some it was the “super spiritual” and often insensitive utterances and behavior of excessively zealous believers, who often seemed to take their faith very seriously, but not their work.
For others it revolved around the “sub-Christian” behavior of some who publicly identified themselves as believers. Still others noted the poor ethics of certain “Christian” firms, who had a reputation within their industry for not paying bills on time, treating their employees poorly, and indulging in dubious competitive practices.
Alistair was also surprised by the number of employers who said they were quite wary of hiring staff who were Christians. Many felt that Christians often expected to get preferential treatment and special exemptions from Christian bosses. This gave rise to tensions with other staff. And for others the wariness revolved around the past experiences of some “Christian” employees being poor workers – who did not seem to take seriously their responsibility to work hard and well for their bosses.
Now, why would so many Christians be perceived as behaving so poorly in their employment? The simple answer is that if you carry a low view of your work and its place in God’s economy, these kinds of behavior will all too likely be the result.
If our work is largely seen as a means to an end, we’ll miss the connections between what we’re doing and what God is about. Our work will be separated from our worship. It will be trivialized and underrated. We’ll fail to take seriously what it means to be faithful to both God and our employer (or employees). Such a low attitude of work ultimately leads to becoming “idle” in our work – at least insofar as realizing the potential of our work to serve both God and others.
2. Work as all-consuming – “I live to work”
A second and also very common attitude to work is one that is so caught up in it that life revolves completely around what we do. We end up “living to work”.
When our work becomes all-consuming we really have embraced too high a view of our own work. We make work an object of worship – it becomes an idol.
We do this by giving our work more importance than it’s due. We separate our work and achievements from what God is doing and wants to do – basically pretending that we can re-arrange the universe by our own efforts. It’s then that we become compulsive in our work.
Our culture, of course, has a word for this – workaholism. It’s easy to become addicted to our work. When this happens, our identity and value become so closely intertwined with our work that we can’t separate them. I become defined by what I do and achieve. This is very dangerous.
One of the ways society does this is by causing us to significantly define who we are by the work we do. Notice when you meet a new person, that the question they ask fairly early in the conversation is – “What do you do?”
Now at one level this is a fairly innocent question so we don’t want to make more out of it than we should. However, when we contrast the importance our culture places on finding out what work a person does, compared with that of many non-Western cultures, it does suggest a tendency toward our work and our identity being fused.
Alternatively, in traditional New Zealand Maori culture, one’s identity is based more around people and place – who you are related to and where do you come from? This is a consistent feature of most indigenous cultures. And when each of us spent time in the Philippines we were intrigued how infrequently the question of what we did came up in an introductory conversation. People there wanted to know about our families. This indicated the relative value the Filipino culture also placed on family relationships rather than work.
It’s important to note that allowing our work to become all-consuming is not the same as treating our work seriously. Neither does it mean that we shouldn’t work hard. Nor that we shouldn’t be passionate about our work. A biblical view of our work understands that our work has dignity and value. And God has worthwhile work for all of us to do.
At its best, work should be energizing and deeply fulfilling. However, there’s a difference between loving our work and working hard at what we do, and being addicted to our work. For work is not meant to be the most important thing in our lives, nor should it be degraded. It shouldn’t lead us to idolize it, but neither should it lead us to be idle!
3. Work as Worship – “I work as an expression of my worship of Christ”
This balance is best found when our work becomes an act of worship – just like it did for Brother Lawrence. He’s the seventeenth century monk, most well known for his book, The Practice of the Presence of God. For fifteen years, Bro. Lawrence worked as a cook in the kitchen of his monastery and when his body was unable to continue in this role, he lived out the remainder of his life making sandals.
At first he was deeply frustrated with the apparent insignificance of his role. But Lawrence eventually came to develop a deep spirituality of the ordinary, viewing every menial task as an opportunity to perform “little acts of communion with God”. He developed practices that enabled him to experience God’s presence and use every task and conversation as an opportunity for service and worship. Lawrence wrote that...
The times of activity are not at all different from the hours of prayer … for I possess God as peacefully in the commotion of my kitchen, where often enough several people are asking me for different things at the same time, as I do when kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament.
His attitude was: “We must never tire of doing little things for the love of God, who considers not the magnitude of the work, but the love.”
Brother Lawrence understood a very important point: our work is supposed to be intimately connected with our worship. In fact, our work often seems meaningless because we fail to work at finding ways of connecting our work with that of God’s work. But when undertaken in partnership with God and his work, our tasks find significance and they become an expression of our love for God.
This means that we can worship God by working with Him when we’re:
- changing the diapers,
- renovating a kitchen,
- repairing a car,
- looking after our grandchildren,
- studying for an exam,
- helping a customer find the right material,
- fixing a computer etc.
In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul puts it well when he states:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. For it is the Lord Christ you are serving.
Whatever you do.
Work can – and should – be an act of worship.
You see, if worship only gets identified with what happens on Sunday, it is only a pale reflection of what God views as worship. For true worship is about the constant reorientation of our lives towards God and God’s purposes for us. It’s about the offering of all we are and all we do to God. In fact, the New Testament hardly ever uses the word worship to refer to what Christians do when they gather together.
Mostly, worship is used to talk about the way we are urged to offer the whole of our lives to God in his service. Think about, for example, Paul’s words to the Romans:
“Therefore, offer yourselves as a living sacrifice...” This is a pivotal point in Paul’s argument to the Romans. And he uses one of his favorite words – Therefore. It’s there to alert the hearer/reader that what Paul has said and what he is about to say are thoroughly linked. He's tying it all together: “Taking everything I’ve said up to now into account, here’s what I want you to do … here is what it means for living and working.”
We love the way Eugene Peterson captures this in his paraphrase of Romans 12:1-2:
So here’s what I want you to do. God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.
This is an act of worship for the home and the marketplace – not just inside the church building. When Paul so deliberately located worship in the physical business of living and working he would have shocked some of his Greek hearers who tended to despise the material aspects of life, thinking that God (and spirituality) was only concerned with ethereal, airy-fairy matters.
Paul disagrees. “Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture”. In other translations “not conforming to the present age” is used. It’s a phrase Paul uses to contrast with “the age to come”, where God’s priorities and values rule.
Paul is urging us not to let the present age – our surrounding culture – dictate terms. Not to presume that how it expects us to think and be motivated, to work and relate, to live and behave, is necessarily how God wants it to be.
In a sense we’re called to be counter-cultural. Which is not to say that absolutely everything will be different. But much will.
So rather than automatically accepting that we should work (among other activities) like everyone else in our culture, how about we ask ourselves some questions... We're aiming to follow Jesus, right? Could that mean we might work … differently?
Differently? How? For Paul, it is a changing “from the inside out”. The Greek verb he uses is metamorpho. Notice the resemblance to our English word metamorphosis – the radical change of an animal from one form to another – like the caterpillar turning into the beautiful butterfly.
Paul is suggesting that this is what God wants to do in our lives and in our work. However, our metamorphosis doesn’t just happen by autopilot. It requires careful and disciplined thought. That’s why most English translations use the phrase, “by the renewing of your minds”. We need to apply ourselves to the business of thinking Christianly about our work. Otherwise, our surrounding culture will simply “squeeze us into its mold”.
As our whole thinking and belief systems are renewed, this works its way out in very tangible, visible changes regarding the way we live and work.
Up Close and Personal
1. Which tendency are you most vulnerable to? Is it worshipping work (workaholism) or treating it as a means to an end? Why?
2. In what ways do you think your faith community could better recognize and value all work, undertaken as an act of worship (not just certain tasks that seem more significant to God)?
3. Theologian Miroslav Volf says, “With regard to our work, we pray not so much for God to miraculously bring about a desired result but to make us willing, capable and effective instruments in God’s hand – which is what we were created to be in the first place.” Discuss this statement, with regard to what kind of help we can expect God to provide us in our work.
4. Is there anything that would help me to remember that when I work this coming week I can do so as an act of worship – knowing that I am serving Jesus?
Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God: With Spiritual Maxims (Grand Rapids: Revell, 1999), 115.
J.B. Phillips’ paraphrase of Romans 12:1.
Alistair has been haunted for a number of years by a statement made by William Diehl, sales manager for Bethlehem Steel:
In the almost thirty years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others. My church has never once offered to improve those skills which could make me a better minister, nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support in what I was doing. There has never been an inquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate my faith to my co-workers. I have never been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career. In short, I must conclude that my church really doesn’t have the least interest in whether or how I minister in my daily work.
Does this sense of frustration and disappointment resonate with you? It certainly does with us. When we start to gain a vision for our work being a part of our calling and an expression of our worship, it’s to be expected that we look to our faith community for support, encouragement, and resourcing, so we can serve God well in our work.
In fact, Diehl hints that he would dearly love to be related to in the same way his church relates to cross-cultural missionaries or pastors. His cry is to be recognized and supported as a marketplace missionary.
But we are aware that those two words don’t quite seem to fit together, do they? Marketplace missionary? In fact, the phrase borders on the oxymoronic. For the idea that mission can take place in our places of paid or unpaid work, is not something that too many Christians would consider normal.
Put more bluntly, it doesn’t quite seem right that we would commission an engineer or a sales rep as a missionary in his/her weekly employment.
Why is this the case? Partly, it’s because mission has often been associated with the work that a select few believers called “missionaries” do in exotic and remote places. Closer to home, if we do recognize the missionary role of believers in our own community, it is generally limited to a few particular tasks such as evangelism and church planting and perhaps some social service ministries.
We don’t dispute the need for evangelism in the marketplace. Without work expanding our circle of contact with non-Christians in a very natural way we might otherwise develop very few significant relationships with unbelievers. Although, even when it comes to evangelism, we think a lot of Christians live with far too much fear and self-consciousness about what is required. One of the best evangelists Alistair knows is a Christian who struggles with all sorts of questions about his faith (and the fact that we would think of him as an evangelist would horrify him!). But his colleagues love the questions he asks as a fellow searcher and the fact that he doesn’t pretend to have it all together. His questions invite their participation without fear of being set upon. He has a gift for whetting people’s appetite to know more. The best evangelists aren’t pumped up. They are just themselves, admitting honestly how it is for them.
But is mission in the workplace only about evangelism? We don’t believe so. You see, mission is really God’s work of bringing about his kingdom in this world. It’s the work of transformation we looked at in Chapter 5. Everything that contributes to this is important. God’s kingdom impacts every area of human life and endeavor. This includes evangelism, which is the center or heart of mission. The missiologist David Bosch puts it in perspective when he writes, “Evangelism is calling people to become followers of Jesus. It is enlisting people for mission – a mission as comprehensive as that of Jesus.” So, mission is the wider concept, incorporating all that God intends to transform in this world.
We are all missionaries
A significant change has taken place in Christian understanding recently that recognizes mission as the task of the whole people of God – not just those who are traditionally labeled “missionaries”. It sees that the whole church is called to live the whole gospel in the whole of life, in a way that will impact on the whole world.
Mission literally means, “sending”. It refers to what God sends Christians into the world to be and to do. The “whole church” means that mission is a task for the data entry worker, mother, policy analyst, neighbor, lawyer, volunteer club member, and advertising exec. It’s a task for all who follow Jesus.
The “whole gospel” means that mission involves much more than just getting people to follow Jesus – though that’s certainly an important part of mission. It has to do with God’s vision for us and for the world. A vision for all of creation to be whole again – complete and perfect. It’s the bringing about of shalom. Complete harmony and wholeness. Between God and us. Between us and other people – particularly those who we struggle to get along with. Between us and the rest of God’s creation. And also living at-one within ourselves. In other words, the whole gamut of transformation we have talked about in previous chapters.
It is the picture of the fulfillment of this dream that we meet in Revelation chapter 21 as heaven meets earth and shalom is realized in the establishment of a redeemed city, the New Jerusalem. So even now, our work is an act of eager anticipation. We live according to the values of a community that is still to come. When Jesus said, "Do not be anxious about material concerns, but seek first the Kingdom", he implied that our preoccupation is more important than our occupation. The way we go about our work is a reflection of what our hearts and minds are set on. It is a vision of the "Kingdom come" that directs and inspires our work.
We are invited to become part of the answer to the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. God invites us to personalize this challenge in our work so that this prayer becomes, “Your will be done Lord, starting with me. And starting right now.” This may involve sharing our faith sometimes. It will definitely mean attempting to live with integrity. It will also involve creating and pursuing what is good and resisting what is bad; unself-conscious service; healing and restoring relationships; stewarding creation; working for justice and exercising mercy; helping people to become all God created them to be; developing loving, caring and unified communities. And much more.
The “whole of life” means that mission is a task encompassing and transforming our homes and our neighborhoods, our organizations and relationships, our environment, our politics and our everyday “sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life” (Rom 12:1 The Message). And it definitely includes our places of work – the industries and professions we labor in much of the week.
The “whole world” means that mission is not just for those who labor over the oceans. It’s also very definitely for those of us who labor down the street, in the city, on the farm, in the classroom and in the kitchen.
The whole church living the whole gospel in the whole of life, impacting on the whole world. This is Mission.
God’s mission; Our commission
If this seems like too big a commission for us, it is. Which is why another profoundly important truth that needs recapturing is that mission doesn’t start with what we do in the world. Mission begins with what God is doing in the world and the part we have to play in God’s mission. To put it another way: it is not about what we do for God, but what we do with God. We are invited to do what we can, but in response to God’s initiative. For it is first and foremost, God’s mission. We are sent by God into our places of work, to be his agents.
This is why we like the word “commission”. If we break it down into two, we see that the “co” or “com” is a prefix for “with”, or “alongside”, or “together”. The word assumes that mission is done with someone. That someone is God (and in a lesser sense, with each other). Being “com-missioned” involves working alongside God in God’s mission to the world. Another way of putting this is how Charles Ringma defines mission – joining God in God’s caring, sustaining, and transforming activity on earth.
Without this critical truth, we can easily try to do what only God can do – and that is impossible. For we’re on dangerous ground if we start with an exalted view of the significance of what we are doing and a diminished view of what God is doing. This makes our God out to be much too small – and us much too big.
One of the implications of viewing ourselves as getting involved in God’s already existing mission is that it assumes that God is already on the job in our places of work. We don’t turn up to our office, or classroom, or workshop, or retail shop, bringing God with us. God is already there – at work among our colleagues, customers, students, organizations, businesses and industries. Our starting point is to look for where God is already working to bring transformation, and then seek to co-mission with God.
Eugene Peterson reminds us that …“as Christians do the jobs and tasks assigned to them in what the world calls work, we learn to pay attention to and practice what God is doing in love and justice, in helping and healing, in liberating and cheering...The Bible insists on a perspective in which our effort is at the edge and God’s work is at the center.” 
We believe the future of the church will be determined by the extent to which it is able to get all its members mobilized and resourced and supported for mission all the time. What a tragedy that many Christians continue to think that what they do most of the time doesn’t matter to God. This is an outrageous lie and sadly it is obstructing them from pursuing God’s mission through their work.
However, emphasizing the importance of mission in the marketplace is not done by exalting the significance of the marketplace in itself, the way our consumerist culture does. Rather, it does so because whole-of-life discipleship must include the marketplace. Brian Walsh and Richard Middleton write that:
The problem isn't that the Christian community is lacking in doctors, farmers, business people and musicians. The problem is that there are so few Christian doctors, farmers, business people and musicians. Most of us are Christians and something else; we do not engage in our daily tasks integrally as Christians ... Well-meaning Christians are merely adding faith to their vocation rather than letting faith transform their vocation.
We think that’s spot on. If we have a truncated view of Christian mission that only becomes associated with what we do with our spare time, then our faith is really just an optional extra, leisure time pursuit, no longer integral to all that we do. Or it becomes only associated with those particular moments when we feel more directly involved in evangelism at work.
The truth is that getting involved in God’s mission in the marketplace is potentially thrilling, on-the-edge, challenging stuff. We love the way Steve Brinn expresses it:
Why shouldn’t Christians be up to their ears in tough stuff – and aren’t most of our reasons for shying away from it shallow or false? From the time I entered business, more than 22 years ago, Christ to me has been a model of engagement. Dangerous engagement in life, where there was high exposure with questionable people and complicated issues, entailing prospects for great conflict and trouble. Christ’s invitation to be like him led me, in the business context, from safe harbors to open water. 
Are you up to the challenge?
(In Chapter 12 you can read about how Wayne has sought to work this out.)
Up Close and Personal
- What has been your understanding of “mission”? Where/who have you gained this from?
- Think about your own place/s of work. Try to identify where and how you have seen God already at work. What indications might you look for that God is working?
- Discuss the implications for viewing yourself as a marketplace missionary.
- What do you find most challenging or hard in sharing your faith in your work context/s? Why do you think that is?
- Share your own perception of how your faith community/church understands your work. What would be most helpful to you in feeling that they support, encourage, and resource you?
If you’re studying this book in a group, you may like to finish this session by praying the following prayer together:
Prayer of Commission
We are your people Lord, called to follow, serve and love you.
We acknowledge afresh our dependence on you.
We want to be co-workers in your mission to this world.
Empower us by your Spirit we ask.
Give us vision to see what you want us to do.
Give us insight to see what you are already doing.
Give us humility to serve without complaint, in whatever tasks are before us.
Give us courage to testify to your goodness and faithfulness.
Give us patience and endurance in the race you have set before us.
Give us hope to believe that ultimately you will reign in all places and all hearts.
Transform us, we ask.
May your kingdom come, here on earth, as it is in heaven. Amen.
William E. Diehl, Christianity and Real Life (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1976), v-vi.
Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, 106-7.
In The Transforming Vision, (Grand Rapids: IVP, 1984).
Quoted in R. Paul Stevens, Doing God’s Business (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 98.