Reconfiguring how your work and God's reign join togetherBy Marty Troyer
For hundreds of years, the way we think about the work of Christ and the church has gone something like this: Special people do special things for God, and everybody else pays. We call and ordain pastors to be special people who do special things when they live here and send and commission missionaries for the same work that happens to be “over there.” For the rest of us, “being Christian” and connecting to God’s story happens primarily through tithing and volunteerism.
Tim Suttle, in his book Public Jesus , says we may spend up to 65 percent of our time at work. And yet, in the old model of being a Christian, this doesn’t count. The worth of “normal Christians” comes in their capacity to financially support the “special Christian” and in the amount and quality of time they can shave off their busy schedules to volunteer.
Work is something I do over there to allow me to participate with God over here. The “ethical version” of such a mental model is an invitation to do your job purely: to not gossip, keep your books right, not cheat, maybe start a Bible study.
Compartmentalized thinking assumes there is a place God acts and a place God seemingly doesn’t. How can we faithfully follow Christ in all of life if our mental model suggests what matters happens only in my limited “Christian” time, such as going to church and volunteering? Such compartmentalizing of our lives is incompatible with Anabaptism, which insists we are to follow Jesus in “all areas of life.” Daily discipleship to Jesus is a call for all Christians in all areas of life, not just an elite few who perform special tasks.
So let’s look closer at the 65 percent of our time we spend at work. Work is not a necessary evil, drain on your time or boost to your bottom line. It connects you intimately with God’s reign and mission in our world. It’s an invitation for you to catalyze your best energies of heart, mind and strength to seek shalom in our cities and the common good of neighbor and enemy alike.
I fully concur with John Roth in his book Beliefs, when he says, “The disciplined skill of the artisan and professional, the creative expressions of poets and musicians and artists, the routine tasks of parent and farmer — is a reflection of God’s original act of creation. Work that is honest and constructive, that heals and reconciles, that makes the world more beautiful — all such work celebrates the goodness of God.”
Through both the form and the function of our jobs, we can glorify God. Formally, we can be Christian in our workplace, through paying living wages, practicing care-giving to coworkers, exercising concern for the environment, allowing our word to stand for itself, etc… This traditionally has been where our “christianizing” of our work has stopped. But there’s more.
Functionally, we can connect faith and work through the specific type of work we choose to do. We have a choice when deciding our work if we will work to build the common good or not. Not all jobs do this, and so we need to be discerning in our vocational choices. Teachers, medical professionals and community organizers can all serve God through their work. But so too can corporate executives, service professionals, janitors, small business owners (and many, many others) serve God through their work. If our work furthers the holistic shalom of our cities, then this work in and of itself should be brought under the lordship of Christ and given the appreciation it deserves!
Your work matters. It doesn’t matter because it allows you to tithe, or is flexible enough to permit you to volunteer. No, it matters when it is part of God’s healing plan for our world. It’s a powerful way to participate in the reign of God with the 65 percent of your time too often ignored when we compartmentalize.
Do you see how big the gospel is? It completely obliterates the notion of “secular” and integrates work in to our faith. As Paul says, “Whatever you do, in word and work, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17). God is creating a beautiful new world right in our midst and invites us to join in through the work we choose to perform. Thus, Suttle says, “Our jobs, our work will have meaning for us only when it finds its proper place in God’s good creation.”
Is your work part of the reign of Christ? Or is it dedicated to something other than Jesus?
Marty Troyer is pastor of Houston Mennonite Church and writes at http://blog.chron.com, where this post originally appeared.
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