Make Good Tables ~ renewing our sense of vocation
Whenever someone shares the call of God on their life with me, it seems almost invariably to do with a ministerial vocation…
“Lazo, God is calling me to be a pastor.”
“I think I’m being called into the ministry.”
“I have a heart for missions.”
“I want to be a church planter.”
As one who is in a full-time “ministry” vocation, I can’t help but get excited when others are sensing a similar calling. But I also can’t help but be a bit perplexed. No one ever comes up to me and says, “Lazo, I think God is calling me to be a school teacher!” or, “Chris, I think I’m being called to work at Habit Burger for a season!” or, “God is calling me to be a carpenter! Can you pray for me?” The only callings I ever hear about, as if these are the only ones that are worth a Christian’s excitement, have to do with some type of clerical ministry.
Maybe we think that the only way to be faithful to God in our work, is if we are working for God in His church. It was normative in the middle ages to bifurcate the work of priests from that of the “laity.” In other words, if you wanted to do “holy” work, you had to get a job with the church. Everything else was menial. Of course, this divide was one of the false teachings that Luther, Calvin, Kuyper, and many reformers after them were quick to deny. For one, the doctrine of common grace reveals that there is no such divide between sacred and secular, for the entire sphere of life is under the domain of God’s benevolence. Abraham Kuyper, the Dutch reformer, was famous for championing this worldview. He opined that if common grace is true “the curse should no longer rest upon the world itself, but upon that which is sinful in it, and instead of monastic flight from the world the duty is now emphasized of serving God in the world, in every position in life” (Kuyper, Lectures. 30). Secondly, God no longer sanctifies jobs, as he did in the Old Testament cultus, with its priestly duties and unique ministerial work. In the New Covenant, God sanctifies people (Heb. 2:11; 10:10; 13:12). This means that a vocation is sanctified by the Christian working in it, without separation between secular work and ministry. A carpenter is on the same mission as a pastor.
Unfortunately, many Christians carry on the same dreary divide between sacred and secular to this day. This is not to say that we don’t need callings in vocational ministry today. We do! But roughly 1% of a church assembly will ever go into “church” ministry. The overwhelming majority of a church membership will be in the world of science, arts, education, politics, technology, law, retail, etc. If our mindset is still stuck in the middle ages, many church-goers will not think of their vocations as holy callings, but menial jobs to trudge through before they find something more meaningful. But the church of Christ needs a renewal in its sense of vocation lest the power offered by Christianity is one day found only in the four walls of a secluded cloister. We need school teachers who feel called by God to teach math. We need CEO’s who believe God has set them apart to lead well. We need construction workers who build for more than the paycheck. We need scientists who want to discover the world of God. We need grocery baggers who love to make grocers feel welcome and the environment hospitable. We need baristas who know how to deflect the grumpy demeanor of a sleepy customer with a smile and a mean cup of coffee.
But nonetheless, this divide continues still. Even our perception of what faithfulness means in a secular vocation is still highly spiritualized. For example, if we do suppose that our secular vocation is a calling of God, then we limit our understanding of job faithfulness to, say, evangelism, or perhaps the hope that a Bible study will spontaneously appear in the break room. But what about the content of our job descriptions? Do we think everything but doing our jobs well is what God is calling us to do? The Apostle Paul’s calling on every Christian is that “each one must live his life in the situation the Lord assigned when God called him. This is what I command in all the churches” (1 Cor. 7:17, HCSB).
Timothy Keller quotes Dorothy Sayers in his book Every Good Endeavor,
The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. (Creed or Chaos, 56-7, emphasis mine)
Keller describes this as the “ministry of competence,” where Scripture directs skilled men and woman of God to greatness in what they do, faithfulness with their callings, and integrity in the workplace (76). The majority of Christians are not called to leave the secular behind to pursue ministerial vocations. We are called to be faithful where God has us now.
Think of the impact that simple stewardship of work would have on the world around us. If it is true that only 1% of a local church will ever pursue vocational ministry, than what of the 99%? Now I know that being a faithful employee will not save the lost. Nor will cultural transformation, or relational evangelism. Only the proclamation of the gospel can act as the means by which the Holy Spirit brings the dead to life (Rom 10:14-15). But if we Christians worked well in the field of our employment, perhaps our co-workers would take us more seriously when we share the story of redemption. Or even better, maybe they will start to ask us.
- A Letter to a Confused Christian Artist (cwoznicki.wordpress.com)