“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 while back, I pointed out how the relentless pampering of an older generation has cultured Millennials. Soon after, we mulled over the lack of opportunities to spend our inherited greatness. Now we have a group of young people who feel that they’ve wasted their potential. An environment of coddling with no opportunities is a cruel trick.
But not as cruel as the trick you play on yourself by going to college.
Higher ed is what they tell every Millennial to do after graduating high school, yet no one explains how this is going to help. As far as we know, it’s a magical band-aid.
Sooner of later, you find yourself disappointed for toiling those four years, expecting a significant job, with benefits, and a $40K annual return, yet only experiencing cold-calls and shoulder shrugs. It turns out, that college degree is not as magical as you thought.
The one thing I would tell college students before they packed their bags for school…
If you don’t have an end, you’re wasting a significant portion of the most important years of your life, and many Millennials are, by drooling over college degrees as the end goal of their purpose and life.
Too many bright, young people with potential are getting bogged down with useless (and expensive) education that you can learn from a $10 book on Amazon, while gaining experience in the field. There are a few fields out there that require an undergrad, but it’s often higher education that employers are looking for now, and even a Master’s degree will not a guarantee you a job in this economy. Of course, to get a Master’s degree in anything means you already have a plan that you are following. But many college students don’t have a plan. They have college, their magical band-aid in a world gone downhill. Don’t be that person.
Going to an expensive college hoping a B.A. will be your redeemer will not better your situation in life or end AIDS in Africa like you had hoped. Only ideas running through the minds of driven people will get close to that. And when driven people with crazy ideas stay in love with Jesus and God’s mission, things get really exciting. So if college doesn’t serve an end in mind, you will have wasted four years chasing something that was only slowing down God’s plan for your life. Higher education is a wonderful tool, but only when you know where you’re going. And there isn’t a curriculum for that; prayer and supplication must bring it to life (Phi. 4:6).
The first post was a wake up call. I know you all like it more when I write inspiring posts about Millennials—after all, I am one, and at a DOB of 1981, I barely made it!—but I can’t help noticing a bad trend emerging from those of us who are called to speak into the lives of Millennials.
The world isn’t always fair. There are not always opportunities open for us to waltz into, and this has caused many to feel ripped off. It’s true for college leaders, as well. We love that you are the promised generation! We have also placed so much hope in you, that we are sometimes quick to disregard the entire picture, that circumstances do not always turn out ideal, and in ignoring reality, we sometimes explain away a basic understanding that life is unromantic. You are given great gifts, talents, and education, only to find that life has given you the shaft.
But God has plenty of opportunity for you in his mission.
While you may not get a high-paying job with benefits right out of college, your calling in life will always concern being on God’s mission to make disciples of the nations and your city. I want to propose a biblical worldview of calling.
You have not been seasoned for this moment to make much of yourself and career, but to put God’s eternal purposes on display. God is out to renew creation, from the material nature of the environment, to structures, cultures, and societies. And of course, he is in the process of renewing and restoring a broken group of humanity for his own glory. Approach life differently.
That’s redemption. It means your life is not wasted. It means God is not ignoring you. It means there is a plan. And it means you are in the middle of it, albeit, one larger than yourself. This is what Peter was referring to when saying that “As each one has received a special gift, use it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God” ( 1 Peter 4:10-11). Even if you’re stuck in a dead-end job; the glorious mission of God is always available to you in the form of servanthood, for in the serving of others, you loosen the fragrance of Jesus.
We were made for more.
When generational experts, Neil Howe and William Strauss, wrote their defining book on Millennials, they highlighted our generation’s pros and cons, namely, that we had a desire to achieve greatness, and our parent’s generation was the driving force behind this.
Some mothers will recall the tragic crime in September 1982, when “a cyanide-tainted Tylenol triggered an October wave of parental panic over trick-or-treating” (Howe and Strauss, 43). On its heels was a “national hysteria over the sexual abuse of toddlers,” an immediate distaste for classic 80’s horror flicks victimizing children, replaced with a flood of sitcoms portraying kids as the heroes. While parents filtered the family television, American school teachers experienced a newfound pressure to raise better kids in the classroom. And the trend continued.
By the time we reached grade school, we had already adopted a skip in our step (or perhaps a leap in our step). And why not? We were being preened to take over the world by an earlier generation that wanted to leave a better legacy. We evolved from the latchkey kids of our ancestors to kids inheriting all the keys on the latch.
Millennials are unlike any generation that has gone before. And because of this, there is an overwhelming pressure to succeed. Unfortunately, the opportunities available to an aspiring millennial are underwhelming enough to damper the passion of the most resolute college grad. Our parents didn’t just leave us with a different outlook on life, they left us with a different life. Look no farther than a broken economy, steep living prices, and a job famine. It’s as if someone taught us how to fish in the middle of the Sahara. The world’s greatest generation, pampered with hopeful expectations, and sheltered from the grim truth of everything our parents never wanted us to experience. How do we handle this? Can we take advantage of the momentum we’ve been given?
You will undergo failure.
Everything will be ok if your identity is secured in Christ. Consequently, if your security is in anything else (like your job), you will crumble under the weight of failure and disappointment.
But you don’t have to spin your wheels trying to justify your reason to exist, when you are, as Paul declared, “being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24)
(image © Washington Post)
Some college students are perfectionists. And since they cannot make up their minds, they forego every opportunity (even some great ones) because they are not sure if it’s exactly “What God has called them to.” I’ve seen people crushed by anxiety over decisions like this.
Perfectionists, sometimes God will call you to mediocre opportunities before he brings you to your dream job. If you keep looking for the perfect job situation to drop from the sky, you risk missing out on a lot opportunities for God to glorify himself, not to mention relief from your need for perfection :-)
You still need to hear the voice of the Lord, because not every job is the right job. But seek the Lord in every opportunity (or lack thereof), even if it’s not what you were hoping for. It might change your life.
(Not everyone has a problem with this. Some of you are itching to let go of what your doing in pursuit of something better. I wrote something for you here).
Whether you are working a regular job, or hibernating in your mom’s house playing World of Warcraft, you are satisfied with the way things are, and are not particularly open to other opportunities. This isn’t a bad thing in itself.
Below is a photo that I took from the top of the Mason Street campus at Brooks Institute of Photography, where I used to work. You can’t see it, but across the street and to the right of this window is the original Channel Islands Surf shop where Britt Merrick used to work. At different points in life, we both had dreams. I worked at Mason Street Studios aspiring to be a professional photographer, and Britt grew up across the street, awaiting the day he would take over Channel Islands.
Ironically, we now work with each other in the white warehouse pictured in center of this frame, doing what we thoroughly enjoy, yet never envisioned. God moved us from one side of the block to the other.
My new career path is not always something to romanticize over…I would probably have an easier life doing what I planned on. But ease in life is not a good motivation. Nor is it necessarily fulfilling. You don’t want to go through life settling for what’s “good” when “outstanding” is available.
More importantly, we had to obey God. And from my own experience, there is no sorrow in that at all. There is never a regretful aftertaste in obeying Jesus.
There will be times when you know God is speaking to you about his plans for your life.
You just gotta let go.