Over several weeks one could say I’ve been neglecting my “job,” or part of it anyway. But why? No one, to my face anyway, has been chiding me for not writing weekly blogs over the holidays (and longer). I’m not beholden to write YeHaveHeard columns for an outside employer. And I haven’t Gone to Seminary to do this as an official Ministry.
These are all pathetic excuses. And they show how even the man who’s writing a series on Top seven risks for young restless Reformeds can fall into risk no. 5.
5. Neglecting the doctrine of Christian vocation.
Several times this subject has arisen on YeHaveHeard, mostly because I’ve been looking into it myself. Such thoughts do not come naturally, that God is just as glorified by “menial” and even “secular” jobs as He is when we do overt ministries.
But does all — yes, I do believe that should be our standard — young-restless-and-Reformed rhetoric reflect this truth? Are more Gospel-driven folks believing and speaking against the opposite view? I hope that’s not itself just a calling for some Christians, for we’re all meant to preach all of what Christ has commanded (Matt. 28: 18-20). That includes the full counsel of God in the Word. Yet I keep seeing examples of books, sermons, etc., that either assume people already get this, or else say or imply (our of ignorance, I hope?) the exact opposite:
- A Christian pastor and radio program host, in the name of preventing compromise with the truth that Scripture is sufficient, spends half an hour disparaging anyone who would want to allow liturgical dance or other creative expressions of worship in a church service. “If the Bible’s not enough, nothing is enough,” he says, and speaks not all wrongly against those who want to add special effects and other stunts to worship services. (But then, after a comical slip of the tongue, he laughs and says he didn’t mean to say we don’t need Christian radio programs like his. Why the double standard?)
- Radical, a popular book released last year by David Platt, a pastor, rightly challenges many American Christians’ blending of some favorite Christian ideas with “American dream” prosperity-style beliefs. But in proclaiming the Gospel and asking readers to apply it to their lives, Platt was quite selective in his examples: all of them related to Professional Ministry, overt church work. For examples about Christians who stay in their “secular” jobs, he only mentioned the time they might take for mission trips.
- Two Christian parents are adamant that their children must go to Bible college and learn courses specific to some kind of overt Ministry. This is the family’s default direction, it seems, without recognition for the fact that God may have gifted the children as they grow with other ways to serve in His Kingdom: engineering? artistry? full-time stay-at-home-motherhood? political activism? education? music? movie-making?
For myself, I didn’t inherit the impression that some jobs are more spiritual from any Christian teacher. Instead the “meme” is implicit, and left unopposed, in too many Christian books and slogans: If you’re doing any work besides overt Ministry, you may not be in the right place.
Or the quiet thought which surely many of us sometimes have (I’m sure it’s not just me) that says, Someday I want to quit this job and Go Into the Ministry.
Implicit in both of these suspicions: Your job is not as important as the professional Minister’s.
For Christmas my wife bought me Job-Shadowing Daniel, and when I am finished I hope to review this book by former “bi-vocational” minister Larry Peabody. His Biblical basis and experience with both “secular” and church work lends to his excellent overview of vocation truths and the life of Daniel. (See, appropriate “advertising” on this site has advantages!).
Throughout the book Peabody focuses on Daniel’s ascent in King Nebuchadnezzar’s court, every bit a bureaucrat as any legal office intern who outshines his peers — and gives Godward advice and witness at the same time. Peabody shows how Daniel was just as much a minister of God in his calling as any of the more-overtly-spiritual prophets were in theirs. Though others may have had more amazing methods of being called — such as Isaiah and Ezekiel with their visions — Daniel’s call was just as important and the plan of the sovereign God just as active in his life.
At first for me this meant purging the mental shrapnel of this-is-work-and-that-is-Ministry — sorting through and rejecting the wrong beliefs I’d picked up intellectually. Pieces of that false dichotomy are still there, but reading this book has really helped, after I’d listened to a Discover the Word radio series, read God at Work by Gene Veith and even analyzing Radical by David Platt (who gives an I’m-sure-unintentional negative example).
But more recently I believe these truths have begun sinking deeper. For me it’s begun going beyond the more-overt Ministry of showing how regular, even drudging work is part of God’s plan for His people — even in “secular” jobs, even when one isn’t actively sharing the Gospel. Instead I must apply this even more personally. Doing these dishes is glorifying God through work. Trying to get along with your family of origin: also glorifying God through work. Going to this city council meeting, interviewing this person, even covering anti-Gospel rhetoric honestly and with as much objectivity as I can muster — this glorifies God, even apart from witnessing.
One can overdo corrections for this, for sure. Already I’ve seen a few of those examples, such as in another book I’m reading. It overemphasizes “the priesthood of believers” truth almost to the point of disparaging those who are called to be an overseer or a teacher, which is certainly a legitimate and honorable calling for some Christians (example: 1 Timothy 3).
But Reformed folks could stand to start swinging back the other direction on the truth of varying vocations apart from what is popularly construed “full-time ministry.” We’re all part of “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Thus I hope more Gospel-driven types will ensure they’re recognizing the special role of more-overt Biblical ministers of the Gospel, such as pastors and missionaries, but also challenging “lay” ministers to fulfill their unique callings. Yes, all of us are “ministers,” as Peabody points out, and we should even stop using the term as if it denotes our ranking among a lower Christian caste!
- The Christian pastor and radio program host might recognize that his calling is to preach the Gospel directly to his congregation, and combat “compromise” with those truths on his radio program. However, he ought to be more careful about slamming any other methods of ministry as if they’re automatically equivalent with attacks on the Sufficiency of Scripture. If one of his callings is radio, why should another Christian not also worship and share the Gospel through dance or even a “program”? We should have serious conversations about whether these things can glorify God during church services, but let us not assume anything not worthy of overt-ministry service isn’t worthy at all.
- As I’ve said before, I’d love to see extended thoughts to Radical and other books, which champion proving in our lives that we’re really sold out for the Biblical Jesus out of gratitude for His lordship and salvation. My guess is that Platt, quite naturally, could only think of his particular calling while typing anecdotes for his chapters. He and other leaders might not even think of the connotations, or the fact that these reinforce the subtle idea that God is given the most glory through overt missions. Shall we share this with Platt and others, honestly, and even hope for Radical at Work, Radical at Home?
- And for Christian parents: sharing with them books such as Job-Shadowing Daniel, or perhaps a similar work about high-school age Christians trying to find their careers in Christ, may help. Gnostic ideas affect us all. All redeemed parents want to see their children succeed and be kept safe; but they simply may not have considered that the way God kept Daniel in His will was to send him into exile and assign him “pagan” jobs such as learning Babylonian mythology and “magic” (Daniel 1) and carry out often-seemingly useless bureaucratic tasks (Daniel 2, 4-6). Broader beliefs about “separation” from the world come into play here, and some Christians need to have those challenged as well. But all of this, I’m sure, must be done in the contexts of loving relationship.
Next: do YRRs feel guilty if they’re not being persecuted?