Imagine with me for a minute. What if we lived in a world where all commerce stopped? There would be no electricity, no gas stations, no mass transportation, no cell service, no grocery stores or food distribution, no hospitals, schools, movie theaters or amusement parks. There would be no food on the shelves, gas pumps would go dry, streets would not be patrolled and fires would burn themselves out. Civilized life as we know it quickly melts away.
And what if all Christians left their jobs in the marketplace to work for the local church? What if their values, skills, ideas and influence were no longer in the marketplace? Very likely, corporate misconduct, oppression and injustice would increase. Courts and laws would become increasingly more unjust. Ethical dilemmas would not have a Christian’s perspective.
You may be thinking this sounds apocalyptic, unrealistic or far-fetched – is it? If we are honest, isn’t this the natural conclusion of a world we designed from our own reasoning? A world created by a belief system which says that only what happens in, through and for the local church is sacred, and what happens in the marketplace is secular.
Can ministry and kingdom work only be associated with the work and programs of the local church, a non-profit or in jobs that are in a helping profession, like nursing or teaching?
Most pastors and individuals I have met don’t see how work and vocation connect to the Christian life. At best, work in the marketplace is to be done honestly and with moral behavior, while searching for an opportunity to share the gospel message. Unfortunately, not only is this a distorted view of work and its purpose, it also leads to an incomplete Christian life.
Work was designed to provide intrinsic value for human flourishing and a better society. Work is also part of one’s calling and part of one’s service to Christ. Work, when done in the hands of a believer, can be ministry.
In Genesis 1:27-28, before the entrance of sin into the world, God gave Adam and Eve work to do in the Garden. Their work was to be fruitful. They were to oversee, develop and manage all of creation. Mankind has enhanced creation in numerous ways so that the quality of life for many people has improved. Medical advances, technology, housing, clean water and space exploration are but a few ways that our creative abilities have improved life for an entire society.
Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” (NIV).
God is the owner of the world and we are his managers.
Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (NIV)
We often think of that scripture, and rightly so, of the works and ministries of the local church, such as teaching Sunday school, directing traffic or greeting people. We also might think of doing good works in the community such as helping at a food bank, volunteering in a nursing home or tutoring underprivileged children. And we would be correct.
What if our understanding of good works was incomplete? The word “works” here in Ephesians 2:10 in the Greek is “ergon,” which can mean business, employment and anything done by hand.
Let’s look at that scripture again, inserting the Greek definition of “works”.
“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus ‘to (run a good business), to (develop beautiful art), to (draft safe and innovative architectural plans),’ which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Before the foundation of the world, God determined who he would gift with the skills, talents, and abilities to manage their part of planet earth. I like to think that God gifted certain individuals to be plumbers because he gave the design to another to create indoor plumbing.
We have just looked at how work has intrinsic value and is part of one’s calling and service to Christ, but you may be wondering, how is it ministry?
Somehow, we got the word “ministry” mixed up. It is not an industry, a job title or an occupation. For a follower of Jesus Christ, it is a way of living. We all enter full-time ministry, or full-time service to Jesus at the moment of our salvation. The Greek word for ministry is “diakonia,” which simply means active service. The mailman, the hairdresser, the mechanic and the entrepreneur, each contributes positively to society and in service to one another.
One of the first demonstrations of ministry or service was in Acts 6:2, regarding the daily distribution of food for the widows. The apostles said it wasn’t their job or their calling to serve tables. We may be tempted to misread this passage that the work of preaching the gospel is superior to the work of waiting on tables. The word “serve” in this scripture comes from the Greek word, “diakonia,” which means to minister to or be in service. Both are equally important. Both are equally ministry.
Work when done with a willing heart, to serve others and for the glory of God, is part of our service to Christ. Your work matters to God and to others. Will you fully embrace your call to work? The world is waiting.
For more information on faith, work and vocation in the local church, visit www.talbot.edu/CFWE.
A Faith@Work strategist, Helen M. Mitchell is the Director of the Talbot Center for Faith, Work and Economics at Biola University, adjunct faculty in the Crowell School of Business and the Talbot School of Theology at Biola University, a speaker, author, coach and Leader of Learning Initiatives at Convene.