Why Work? 4

imagesIn Why Work?, Dorothy Sayers has choice advice for pastors: “particularly the Christian clergy must get it firmly into their heads that when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true a vocation as though he or she were called to specifically religious work.”

She observes the church has failed “to understand and respect the secular vocation.”  “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.”

It has also “forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred.”  It has for instance “forgotten that a building must be a good architecture before it can be a good church; that a painting must be well painted before it can be a good sacred picture; that work must be good work before it can call itself God’s work.”

It too often takes Christian workers away from their proper calling into “churchly” activities.  “The Apostles complained rightly when they said it was not meet they should leave the word of God and serve tables; their vocation was to preach the word.  But the person whose vocation it is to prepare the meals beautifully might with equal justice protest: It is not meet for us to leave the service of our tables to preach the word.”  Instead, “when you find a man who is a Christian praising God by the excellence of his work — do not distract him and take him away from his proper vocation to address religious meetings and open church bazaars.”  ”If you take him away from that, he will exhaust himself in an alien technique and lose his capacity to do his dedicated work.”

Some things haven’t changed much in the last 75 years!

Business for the Common Good 2

imgresIn Business for the Common Good, Kenman Wong & Scott Rae, as do John Knapp and Tim Keller, see a problem with the commonly held, yet unbiblical, sacred-secular divide. “Ministry” means “service.”  “To have a ministry simply means to be in service to God.”  “Business is ministry, the work of God in the world.”  And “[a]ll of us are in full-time ministry if we are followers of Christ, and we entered full-time service/ministry at the time we came to faith.”

Yet I fear this mode of thinking is too ingrained, especially among the “ministers.”

Take a look at this wonderful piece in which its writer, Drew Dyck, affirms “all vocations are sacred.”  He “applaud[s] this move towards a more holistic understanding of vocation.”  Yet, in the next paragraph, the writer says “[l]et’s not forget to also honor the call to full-time ministry,” referring to pastors and missionaries in contrast to every other vocation.

I am certain the writer did not mean to imply only being a full-time pastor or missionary is being in “full-time ministry.”  But that’s precisely the problem.  We use the term “ministry” so consistently to refer solely to church activities that it is hard for us to grasp everything, including business, is ministry.

How the Church Fails Businesspeople 4

Screen-shot-2012-03-06-at-5.15What was Apostle Paul’s job?

A tentmaker, of course!  Lydia was a merchant.  Peter was a fisherman.  Jesus was a carpenter.  In How the Church Fails Businesspeople, John Knapp says “very little social or occupational hierarchy is evident in the New Testament church.”  But, as church grew, “egalitarian values gave way to formal structures that increasingly placed ministerial responsibility and authority in the hands of local bishops.”  Gradually, this “clergy/laity gap widened,” and the clergy came to be viewed as possessing “gifts and graces not available to lesser mortals” by the third century, Knapp says while quoting Frank Viola and George Barna in Pagan Christianity.

This makes sense.  And I think there is more.

The New Testament is deafeningly silent about Jesus’ work as a carpenter.  We just know that he was a carpenter’s son, and he probably learned the trade from his father.  Likewise, even though we know Paul was a tentmaker, we don’t hear him talk much at all about tentmaking.

I’m not saying the gospel writers should have written about Jesus’ carpentry career.  I’m not saying Paul should have written to churches about his tentmaking.  Why should he have?  What the church needed to hear was the gospel of Jesus Christ, and that is what he wrote them about.

But then, maybe it was inevitable that the secular-sacred distinction would seep into Christian communities, eventually birthing what may be an unbiblical hierarchy of occupations.  After all, when we hear “Jesus,” we don’t first think, “carpenter.”  We instead think of teacher, savior, and Lord.  When we hear “Paul”, we don’t first think, “tentmaker.”  We think of apostle, missionary, and preacher.  Now, is this because we are misreading the Bible, with our eyes already colored by the lens of unbiblical secular-sacred distinction?  I suspect not.  Rather, I think this is because Jesus and Paul talked about the gospel more than they talked about carpentry or tentmaking.

As a result, perhaps folks began according more and more authority to the clergy who talked about the gospel than to anyone doing carpentry or tentmaking.  And so was born the hierarchy of occupations.

Plausible?

How the Church Fails Businesspeople 3

Generations of people in this country find their identity in their jobs.  But that is an empty life, a life that leads you down a path of nothingness.  But what might it mean if God says, “Now you are the one to go deliver the message.”  You life must be interrupted if you are to be an instrument in meeting the world’s needs.  You must be ready to respond to the calling that God has on your life.  Think about the untouchables in India. What if God said, “I want you to be the one to travel over there and give them the message?  What about the epidemic of AIDS in Africa?  What if God is calling you to go do something about it?

After quoting the words above from the preaching of a “freshly ordained seminary graduate,” John Knapp in How the Church Fails Businesspeople rhetorically asks: “Must we really go to India or Africa to be instrumental in meeting the world’s needs?  Could it be that God also needs Christians to serve the world as factory workers, hairstylists, and bond traders?”

What is tricky about the sermon quoted is that almost everything in it is right.  Sadly, many people do find their identity in their jobs.  And that is an empty life.  If God says to me, “You need to go India,” I must obey that call.  If God is calling me to do something about AIDS in Africa, I must do something about it.

The error is in “elevat[ing] an ecclesiastical elite [i.e., missionaries to India or Africa] while subtly devaluing the rest of the body,” says Knapp.  One may infer from this that “God is more concerned with church-sponsored work than with Christians being faithful in a thousand other daily contexts,” betraying a “distorted conception of Christian vocation and calling, one that sorts human activities into contrived categories of secular and sacred.”

Here is a personal example.

In college, as we tried to figure out what to do after graduation, all who considered attending a seminary and becoming pastors spoke of discerning whether they had a “calling” to be a pastor.  The rest of us did not speak of a “calling” to be a lawyer or a “calling” to be a financial analyst.  God specifically “called” certain people into full-time ministry, we assumed, I think.  The rest of us weren’t so special, and were left to figure out which  “doors” were open and which “options” we should take.

In our young minds, in retrospect, a hierarchy of occupation was already in place.  Becoming a minister, a “holy” occupation, was a special path, requiring a special “calling.”  Becoming a lawyer or a financial analyst was something else.  And, many of us thought, something less.

How the Church Fails Businesspeople 2

Screen-shot-2012-03-06-at-5.15John Knapp, in How the Church Fails Businesspeople, recounts his surprise at hearing a sermon in which a retired minister expressed how “the responsibility of everyone in the church, as in the circus, is to support the performers, chief among whom is the preacher in the pulpit.”  This evidences the secular-sacred dichotomy prevalent in churches, which in turn reinforces a hierarchy of occupations.

I agree with Knapp that this hierarchy is not warranted by the biblical evidence.

But then I come across a passage like Ephesians 4:11-13: “And he [i.e., Jesus] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ….”  And it makes me feel as if my being a lawyer is not as important to God and what he is about as being a Bible study leader (i.e., a “teacher”) at my local church.

Perhaps a more proper, or more contextually sensitive, understanding of this particular passage would not lead to this feeling.  I suspect, when viewed in light of the whole counsel of God that is the entire Bible, this feeling is probably unwarranted.

And yet.  And yet.  Sigh….

How the Church Fails Businesspeople 1

Screen-shot-2012-03-06-at-5.15Keith Green said, “if you don’t have a definite call to stay here [in the US], you are called to go” as a cross-cultural missionary to another country.

This quote has consistently been a guide and a fire for my walk with God as I attempt to discern where and how I should live and work.  (There are opportunities professionally for me to work in a country in the 10/40 window, and my wife is open to examining whether or not God would lead us in that direction.)  But what I just read in How the Church Fails Businesspeople (and what can be done about it) by John C. Knapp is making me uncomfortable by forcing me to re-examine this quote.

The world of business and the world of church are kept apart, in part owing to the false dichotomy of “sacred and secular” according to Knapp.  And this leads to a “hierarchy of occupations” in the church.  Full-time clergy and missionaries at the top.  Then other paid workers in Christian ministry right below.  Then “helping professions” like social workers and nurses below that.  Finally, at bottom, are the rest: “salespeople, postal workers, accountants, business owners, electricians, corporate executives, lawyers, and countless others who comprise most of the body of Christ.”

Let’s look at that quote from Keith Green again.

“If you don’t have a definite call to stay here, you are called to go.”

I understand — I think I understand — the prophetic impulse behind the quote.  Keith Green is challenging our default position that we are not called to be missionaries unless we  hear a  “definite call.”  One can, of course, examine the biblical evidence and see whether the default position ought to be this or something else.  We have friends who are career missionaries and they advised us to wait for a strong sense of a call.  At any rate, is there an undue, perhaps unbiblical, sacred-secular distinction implicit in the quote?  By endorsing being a missionary as the proper default stance over against all other alternatives, is Keith Green unintentionally presenting a message that being a missionary is on the higher rung of the hierarchy of occupations?  Quite possibly.   Confession: it certainly did have that very effect on me the first time I heard it at a missions conference when I was a freshman in college.

Perhaps a more charitable way of interpreting the quote, though, is to see it as a necessary wake-up call to us lukewarm Christians who, out of lack of passion for God’s mission rather than as a result of hearing God’s call to stay, hold to an unexamined assumption that, of course, God wants me here, where I am comfortable, where I am respectable, where I am not subject to unpleasant surprises, crises, and challenges.  Yeah.  I like that better.

Church & Work

thinking-vocationA while back, just as I was thinking about work, I came across this review series from Michael Kruse on How the Church Fails Businesspeople by John C. Knapp.  In particular, the following quote struck me particularly powerfully:

“We should ask ourselves what is being communicated when a church allots time on Sunday morning to commission a short-term mission team for ten days in Mexico, yet does nothing to commission new college graduates for their careers in business or government or education.  The crippling and unambiguous message is that ten days of volunteer work are more important to the church — and, by implication, to God — than a Christian’s lifelong occupation.”

I can imagine a pastor protesting and saying “crippling and unambiguous” is too strong an expression.  “If we the church don’t commission the short-term mission teams, no one will,” a pastor may say.  He’d be right.  “The intent behind commissioning the mission teams isn’t to downgrade other work,” he may add.  I absolutely believe it.

The issue, though, isn’t that the church is doing the right thing, with the right intent, when it comes to the mission teams.  It is rather that a message is communicated, unintentionally I’m sure but unambiguously nonetheless, by the very absence of a commissioning service for anything else.  And the effect in fact can be “crippling” for the vast majority of the congregation who are not missionaries, clergy, or even in the “helping profession” as Knapp later points out in discussing the false hierarchy of vocations Christians often hold.

All this to say, I think I’m going to read How the Church Fails Businesspeople, alongside Luther on Vocation.