Preaching the High Calling
While I was speaking to a gathering of young professionals, one of them raised his hand and said, “I am struggling to understand why anything in my normal routine matters. I know why I come to church and read the Bible, but I don’t see any lasting value in my job, cooking a nice meal, or cleaning my apartment.”
I appreciated the man’s honesty, and wondered whether the man had picked up this vibe from attending church. Perhaps his pastor, like many other pastors, says that his mission is to get as many people into heaven as he can, and that this is the only true purpose of Christian ministry.
This is a noble sentiment, but it leaves out something important:
Why does it matter what we do on earth?
The answer lies in the name of this website. Regular readers know that Jesus calls us to follow him in our covenantal (e.g., church and family) and professional vocations, but do you know why it’s important for pastors to frequently remind their people? I happen to be Baptist, so I’ve got three points, suspiciously alliterated.
Christians who have been freed from the slavery of sin must be reminded that Jesus has also freed them from the tyranny of “spiritual” expectations. Pastors rightly encourage their listeners to store up treasure in heaven, but we don’t always tell them how to do this (Matthew 6:20). Christians lay up heavenly treasure whenever we do something God rewards. And what does God reward? Obviously Christian activities such as Bible reading, prayer, and evangelism, but also anything—even a glass of water—that is given in his name (Matthew 25:34-40).
Gerald Manley Hopkins explained:
“To lift up the hands in prayer gives God glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a sloppail, give him glory too. He is so great that all things give him glory if you mean they should." (“The Principle or Foundation,” in Gerald Manley Hopkins: The Major Works).
Pastor, do your lay people know they are not second class Christians just because they aren’t in “full-time ministry”? Can they explain why God needs bricklayers and businesspeople and how their particular vocation contributes to the kingdom of God? God has given you to the church to “equip his people for works of service,” and since their service is not limited to what goes on inside of the church's wall, coach ‘em up! (Ephesians 4:11-13).
I once heard my favorite radio preacher expound on Ephesians 6:5-9, which commands slaves to obey their masters “just as you would obey Christ.” The pastor began by apologizing to his congregation, because when he checked his files he found that he had rarely preached about work. Since the people spend one third of their lives on the job, he said he should have. He went on to give an inspiring message on how we should work, but he never explained why our work is service to Christ.
Here’s why. The companion letter to Ephesians is Colossians, and there Paul tells slaves to work with all their heart because “it is the Lord Christ you are serving” (3:23-24). Why are they serving Jesus? Because Jesus is the God who created all things (1:15-17), he is the One who commanded Adam and Eve to cultivate Eden and rule over the world on his behalf (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15). So when we go to work we are obeying the very first command that Jesus ever gave us. We are not merely earning a paycheck; we are literally serving Jesus.
There are two ways to become worldly. The obvious way is to become so enamored with the world that we forget about Jesus altogether.
But the "pious" way is to be so focused on spiritual activities that we relegate our worldly affairs to a less significant place and thus give little thought to what we do there.
What if just the Christian mortgage brokers had refused to give loans to those they knew could not afford them? What if just the Christian homebuyers had been content to live within their means? If only American Christians had submitted their jobs and purchases to Jesus, we might not have suffered the Great Recession of 2009.
Pastor, do your people know that Jesus cares just as much about how they choose their entertainment, treat their family, and do their jobs as he does that they read their Bibles and pray? Can they explain why everything they do matters to God?
3. Leverage the gifts of people for both church and world
Your church will prosper when you release people to serve Jesus in their worldly vocations. Those they work with will notice their stellar work and cheerful attitude, and when they inquire about their motivation, your members will then have an opportunity to tell them about Jesus and invite them to church.
Pastor, are you encouraging your people in their callings so that they can "make the teaching about God our Savior attractive" (Titus 2:9-10)?
This will crank up a virtuous cycle:
Christians in every walk of life, living faithfully in their callings, drawing attention to the goodness of God's intentions for people, which in turn draws attention the body of Christ. This is good for your church, and it’s good for the world.
Michael E. Wittmer is Professor of Systematic Theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, where he is also the director for the Center for Christian Worldview. He is the author of several books, including Heaven Is a Place on Earth: Why Everything You Do Matters to God. He blogs at Don't Stop Believing. Follow his tweets: @MikeWittmer.
The Local Church Equipping Us in Our Vocations
This article is part of a series at The High Calling on "The Local Church Equipping Us in Our Vocations." It seems that in many church contexts, what we do Monday through Friday is the least important thing. But shouldn't Christ be the Lord of our work as much as the Lord of our church's ministry programs, our marriages, and our families? Here at The High Calling we not only want to equip and empower the laity to live out their faith in their vocations, but we want to inspire church leaders to equip their people to do so as well. How can church leaders help their congregants to steward their vocations? How can church communities embrace a discipleship paradigm that includes the workplace? If you want to inspire people in your church community to embrace how the vocations of lay people glorify God, why not encourage them by sharing links to these articles in emails, Facebook posts, or through some other social media?