The Bigger PictureBlog / Produced by The High Calling
“You did not make tenure,” said my supervisor.
Essentially, I had just been told that my four years and some months on a state university faculty would soon come to an end. Ouch!
Well, sort of “ouch.” In my mind I had already moved on to what I really wanted—to go into the ministry as a missionary or a pastor. I had already been looking at seminaries and was very ready to transition into what I had determined were more important things.
Clearly, my employer saw that I was losing interest in my job. But to this day, I think another reason I was led to resign is because I shared my faith on the job one too many times. Not cool at a state university.
I enjoyed sharing my faith then, and I enjoy sharing it now, thirty years later. Who can argue with evangelism? The New Testament is very clear in the need for a vocal articulation of the gospel by all of God’s people. I like J.I. Packer’s simple definition: “Evangelism is communicating the gospel with a view to conversion.” It seems I’ve always been wired to want that for my own life and for other Christians too—to be communicators of the gospel to whomever, wherever we may be. Fortunately, over time, I’ve developed a more contextually sensitive and relational approach to sharing my faith.
These days, along with being a church pastor, I teach an evangelism course for a well-respected evangelical seminary. It’s a responsibility I take seriously and one that I enjoy. I try to bring my ‘A’ game into every class. Each student is presented and challenged with sound biblical and historical reasoning for evangelism. By the end of the semester, students should be motivated to identify their God-given relational networks and to speak up about Christ in confident, clear and loving ways. Importantly, they are prepared to lead their churches in the same way.
But something has been missing from my course. The bigger picture. A theology of mission. And, more specifically, a theology of vocation as mission.
“Where we live, work and play,” is a phrase I’ve heard many different times from those referring to the Christian’s various arenas of evangelistic responsibility. I’ve used that phrase as well. I like it. But it can also be misleading, if not dangerous. What are my students or congregants to think about the whole notion of sharing the gospel when it comes to “work”? I fear that most hear a huge implication in what I am teaching: “Really, you should be seeking every opportunity to evangelize while at work. Work is a means by which to evangelize. It is one of your evangelistic fields.”
When I hear it said like that, I begin to wince and get sweaty palms. I flash back to those early days of unbridled evangelistic fervor, sharing my faith with co-workers and clientele when clearly I was out of bounds. Cringe.
I love being a pastor and seminary instructor. But at times I’d like a ‘do-over.’ It’s a recurring fantasy—if only I could go back in time and be a Christian in my university job to practice what I now know.
I was on-mission back then, but didn’t know it. I should have seen my first job as a sacred trust from God. I should have valued my office hours as highly as any pastor’s or missionary’s hours. I should have viewed my work as the means to participate in God’s mission as I served both the instiitution of the university and the students that attended there. Who knows what opportunities to evangelize would have come as a derivative of faithfully living out my God-given mission of being a blessing by serving? I was a well-meaning but myopic evangelist.
This is what I now want my church and seminary classes to understand. The bigger picture.