God at Work: No Career Changes Needed
When I became a Christian at age thirty-five, I already was well established in my career as an anatomist and biologist. I remember telling one of my colleagues very specifically about my conversion, how I had come to see myself as a sinner and how Jesus’ saving me by his work on the cross had become a central fact in my life. My colleague listened politely and then asked me if I was going to become a pastor.
His question surprised me. It had not occurred to me that I should go into the ministry. I was a scientist. But was a career change what I needed? If not, what did it look like to be a Christian professor? A Christian researcher? I had no role model in my school to help me. As far as I knew, I was the only Christian on my floor, or maybe in my building.
Discipleship in Ten-Minute Doses
It was an old building, by the way, and the heat in my lab came from steam radiators along the wall, which banged and squealed all winter long. We often called the facilities office for repairs on that old heating system, and by God’s grace, one of the plumbers assigned to our building was a wonderful Christian man. Don Watts came into my lab often to fix the pipes, but he also poured into me, discipling me in ten-minute doses while he worked deftly with wrenches and pliers. Most importantly, Don Watts showed me a picture of what it could look like to be a Christian in a “secular” job.
Now, after over twenty years, I have a better idea of what it looks like to be a scientist and a Christian, but I am still learning. I know that part of what I do looks a lot like what Don did—though I don’t fix pipes. The tasks in my profession include reading and writing, lab work and writing, teaching and writing: writing papers, grant proposals, committee reports, and reviews for other people’s papers and grants. Most of this work can be for God only in the same way that raking leaves in my yard can be done for God. It’s not what some might call “ministry,” but it’s still worship in the form of hard work done for God’s glory.
Keeping Eyes and Ears Open
But while Don glorified God by being a good plumber, he also kept his eyes and ears open for how God might use his plumbing jobs to put him in situations for reaching out to others. In the same way, I am surprised by constant reminders that my own work as a scientist actually is ministry, too. I even serve people like my colleague might have envisioned years ago when I told him about my conversion. I don’t preach to microscopes or inject scripture into my committee reports, but I do find ways to connect with other scientists who share my work.
Often, I have the opportunity to speak into the lives of Christian students who are encouraged—and even surprised, sometimes—by my presence as a Christian on campus. They come and sit in my office, and I listen to them and speak words of encouragement to them much the way Don did for me years ago. I always pray for them before they leave, and many of them are on my prayer list, even years after they leave school and enter their own careers.
Scientist? Or Missionary?
And then there are the opportunities to reach out to those who are curious about my faith. Last Friday, I had two such opportunities. The first was with a student who is from a country closed to the Gospel. He will be working with me for some of his research, and on Friday during our first session together, I was teaching him how to use a piece of equipment in the lab. We had two hours together, and lab work tends to have minutes of activity punctuated by minutes of waiting, so there was time to ask him about his home country, about his life there, about his home town, and about his plans for the future. I pray that I can present the Gospel to this man, that God will allow me to connect with him in such a way that he will be open to listening.
Then, two hours later, I sat in the same lab with a colleague from down the hall who is from Korea. He came to the US only a year ago, and he and his wife began attending a Korean church, mainly because it is the cultural center for Koreans in our city. Shortly after, he began to believe in God.
We spend an hour or two together most Friday afternoons, and he asks me questions about the Bible and the Christian life. This week we talked about the Nephilim in Genesis 6, about the story of David and Goliath, and about issues related to his future career in science. My young Korean brother is very organized and comes with his questions written out each week. He has other men in his church who also meet with him, but I think it is helpful to have a fellow scientist to talk with, as well.
So, what does it look like to be a Christian professor? I am still learning, but at the least it means that I do my lab work and teaching and writing excellently, for the glory of God, and some days, it means I can share the Gospel in ways that reach beyond my life here in America, while still honoring God with my career in science.
God at Work
Where is God? Does he inhabit only the sanctuaries and monasteries and seminaries of the earth? Or, is God with you in your cubicle, your classroom, your kitchen, your conference call? What about the carpool lane? And if God is there with you, what does that mean? Join us for this series, God at Work, where we explore what it means that God is not only at work in you, but also, quite literally, with you. It may be difficult to see the Kingdom of God through the deadlines and reports and meetings and evaluations and budgets, but be encouraged: he is there. Together, let’s find him in the ordinary places you work, and let’s consider how his presence makes a difference for good.