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.

About Lazo

Lazo is the pastor for preaching and vision at Reality SB where he is committed to challenging Santa Barbara's independence by calling the city to follow Jesus. You might like these blog posts, 5 Wrong Ways To Comfort Hurting Peoples, or Daisy Love and the Magic Eraser. You can follow Chris on twitter at @LazoChris.

Posted on November 20, 2012, in Culture, discipleship, gospel, Missional Millennials, realitysb, Vocation and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. EXCELLENT!! As someone who is/was acquainted with the teaching ( whether purposeful or by default) of secular vs. spiritual, I am so happy to see this subject addressed again! No need to parcel up our day, or our lives, into ‘Holy activity’… ‘Oops, wait, secular job’, rather do all to the glory of God. Thanks Chris, for a great reminder!! :) Sent from my iPhone

  2. Lazo, I love this. This is exactly why Ricky stopped pastoring and started being a truck driver. It blows my mind how much more effective he is as a minister of the gospel in the world of truck stops and oil refineries. And we were so reluctant to “leave the ministry!” Super great blog- it was a blessing to read and to be reminded!

  3. Loved this post. I, for one, never realized that God was “calling” me to be a momma until I found myself a mother. But then He awakened the passion, the need, the beauty, and the vision for this high calling. And oh, I am so thankful that He did. :-) Sometimes in our eagerness to heed God’s call to play our part in His grand story of redeeming the world…we don’t realize that it includes making tables, serving coffee, paying bills, singing songs, washing dishes, and changing diapers…. But oh the joy of serving as unto the Lord wherever He places us.

    • Lisa, I love this line:

      Sometimes in our eagerness to heed God’s call to play our part in His grand story of redeeming the world…we don’t realize that it includes making tables, serving coffee, paying bills, singing songs, washing dishes, and changing diapers.

      So good.

  4. Good word. As a carpenter-turned minister, this is very insightful for me. Especially as one of the men I’m discipling recently felt directed by Holy Spirit to get back to using his degree in engineering.

    • Right on brother. I’ve been continually convicted of showing all people what their mission is where they are. The world could use some engineers form the body of Christ :-)

  5. Right on time! Thanks for sharing what God has been showing you! I’m right in the middle of post-production of a huge family portrait session and balancing intern-reading. I needed to be reminded that they are both an equal part of enjoying the Lord.

    “the church of Christ needs a renewal vocation lest the power offered by Christianity is one day found only in the four walls of a secluded cloister.” Love this! May the Christian business community rise up and be the best, at everything we do!

  6. Thanks for sharing Chris. I’m super encouraged as I am a missionary in Australia working retail full time and serving in the church as well. I’ve been in full time vocational ministry in the past and used to have that silly mindset that when I was working in the church (priestly duties), it was somehow more holy. I’m grateful for guys like you and Britt that remind us what the Word actually teaches on being on mission.

  7. I have to say that it bumms me out to hear that people don’t feel called into “regular” jobs to serve the Lord. Where I work, I am one of the two Christians in the office. I prayed for two years for this particular job. As a receptionist, I am the “low man on the totem pole”, which is perfect- I am able to serve my co-workers and our customers in ways that I would not necessarily be able to if I had a “higher” position. I must admit however, that “fear of man” does affect me sometimes when it comes to sharing the Gospel at work. All of my co-workers know that I am a Christian, but is it because I’ve told them that I am, or because the Holy Spirit is on display in my EVERYday life? I pray for change in my office, I pray that there will be a day when we all worship the Lord together. I need the power of the Holy Spirit to overcome this fear of man, and why do I even struggle with that? It seems so silly when you compare it to the freedom in Christ that is available to my co-workers. Even through my own struggles, I KNOW this is my mission field.

    Thank you for sharing this post. thought provoking indeed.

  8. That seems surprising — particularly in today’s culture, which has widely viewed secular work as less, well, Christian than “full-time vocational ministry.” But as I’ve taken a deeper look at Jesus’ teachings and his own work experience prior to his public ministry, I’ve come to understand that business played a significant role in his life, and continues to play a vital role in God’s ongoing work today. As it turns out, secular work isn’t for second-class Christians after all.

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