God, Work and Vocation

For much of church history a rigid clergy/laity divide existed. This too often resulted in the masses believing that only a select few were really involved in the work of God. Even today we often have the disjunction between a paid, professional class of leaders, and the rest who often are little more than pew-warmers.

Of course the Reformation recovery of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers, and the emphasis on godly vocation and work, as Luther hammered home, helped to correct some of the past imbalances. But as I say, we still tend to have this mindset today.

It is often incorrectly assumed that “full-time Christian work” is a rather narrow field, with the pastorate or the mission field being the main candidates. It is easy to lose sight of the truth that we all as believers are involved in full-time Christian work.

All activity by believers can and should be part of Kingdom-building work. Whatever we do, we are to do it for the glory of God, as Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 10:31. The Christian in the factory, or in an office, or in the field can use his activity to glorify God and advance his Kingdom.

As R. C. Sproul has said, “We do not segment our lives, giving some time to God, some to our business or schooling, while keeping parts to ourselves. The idea is to live all of our lives in the presence of God, under the authority of God, and for the honor and glory of God. That is what the Christian life is all about.”

Long ago Martin Luther reminded us that everything we do can be seen as part of a holy calling, part of a Christian vocation. He spoke of three godly estates or realms of service in which all believers can partake of:

– “All those who are engaged in the pastoral office or the ministry of the Word, are in a good, honest, holy order and station, that is well pleasing to God, as they preach, administer the Sacraments, preside over the poor funds and direct the sextons and other servants who assist in such labors, etc. These are all holy works in God’s sight.”

– “Likewise, those who are fathers or mothers, who rule their households well and who beget children for the service of God are also in a truly holy estate, doing a holy work, and members of a holy order.”

– “Similarly princes and overlords, judges, officials and chancellors, clerks, men servants and maids, and all other retainers, as well as all who render the service that is their due, are all in a state of holiness and are living holy lives before God.”

We need to be reminded again today that whatever area the believer finds himself in, it should be used to glorify God and to be a witness for him. After all, there are people that only you can reach, be they family members, neighbours, classmates or workmates.

Whether we are plumbers or physicists, we all have a sphere of opportunity and witness which is unique to us. No one else has the exact same contacts, relationships and opportunities. We must not forget to use our skills and callings to reflect the biblical worldview, and make a difference.

Far too many believers are experts in some area, yet there seems to be a complete disconnect between what they do 40 hours a week, and their Christian faith. For example, how many Christians are involved in the field of medicine and health care?

Whether doctors, nurses or any number of other roles, many of these folks do their thing during the day, and then come home at night, leaving their work in the office. But how desperately do we need people like this to stand up in the great ethical and bioethical battles of the day.

We need them to get involved in the fight over abortion, euthanasia and the like. We need their expertise to help inform our decision making in areas such as biomedical ethics. They should be on ethics boards and putting in submissions to inquiries in these areas.

They should be speaking out on the moral issues of the day, and be involved in the big debates going on all around us. They should pray about how their work in health care can be used to implement the biblical worldview and take on the secular humanism of the day.

Yet I find so many believers who work in the field of health who have absolutely nothing to do with these important areas and assignments. Why is that? They must realise that their work is not just a mere job to bring in a paycheque. Instead, they need to see their work as a holy calling, and as an opportunity to do ministry for Christ and the Kingdom.

Just imagine where we would be at today if past saints took the usual understanding about Christian ministry. Take for example the case of William Wilberforce. He faced this very dilemma when he was converted. He was already a parliamentarian before he became a Christian: he entered parliament in 1780 and became a believer in 1784.

Like many new converts he thought about quitting his day job to get into “fulltime Christian ministry”. ‘Perhaps I should become a pastor or missionary’ he thought. But thankfully he got some wise advice from the former slave ship captain John Newton.

Newton of course went on to become a pastor and wrote the hymn ‘Amazing Grace’. He rightly told Wilberforce he should stay in Parliament and use his talents and giftings to serve God there, and to work against the evil slave trade. Wilberforce heeded his advice, and it is a very good thing that he did.

Because of his efforts as an abolitionist (46 years altogether) we have seen slavery wiped out in much of the world. Millions of blacks today are free because Wilberforce saw that a “worldly” career can be blessed and used of God greatly. Being salt and light in a dark parliament is an important calling and vocation indeed.

So too, as I mentioned, can a calling to work in a factory or a fruit shop. We need people to be salt and light there just as much as anywhere else. And we desperately need believers in the major mind-moulder areas, such as education, the media, the arts, the judiciary, and so on.

These centres of power and influence have largely been taken over by those holding to a radical secular humanist worldview. It is time Christians started reclaiming these fields for the glory of God. As Francis Schaeffer said, “Our culture, society, government, and law are in the condition they are in, not because of a conspiracy, but because the church has forsaken its duty to be the salt of the culture.”

And as Charles Colson once said, “The church’s singular failure in recent decades has been the failure to see Christianity as a life system, or worldview, that governs every area of existence.” Or as Abraham Kuyper wrote, commenting on Psalm 24.1: “There is not one square inch of the entire creation about which Jesus Christ does not cry out, ‘This is mine! This belongs to me!’”

So forget leaving everything to the pastor or church leader. We all have a job to do. We all have a role to play in extending the Kingdom. Whatever calling you are in – or plan to be in – please think and pray about how it will be more than just a way to pay the bills, but a means by which Christ is made known and his Kingdom extended.

Of course to say all this is not to argue that there is no leadership role in the church, or special offices and giftings involving pastors, elders and so on. But it is to remind us that every single believer has a vital role to play in the Kingdom, whether as a street sweeper or a neurosurgeon.

All of us have gifts, talents and experiences which must be harnessed and used to extend God’s work and bring him glory. So what about you? How is your work coming along? Is it given over to God for his purposes, or is it just your Monday through Friday existence, unattached to your Christian faith?

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8 Replies to “God, Work and Vocation”

  1. “the Reformation recovery of the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers”

    I think it is more accurate to note that the Reformation recovered the “priesthood of all believers ONLY in part.
    They saw, rightly, that any believer had access to God through Jesus as mediator, without the need for any human priest – i.e. the ‘vertical’ element.
    However, they failed to understand the NT concept of the priesthood of all believers in that they merely substituted the Roman Catholic priest with the Protestant “pastor”, where it remains to this very day.
    However, they did not explore the ‘horizontal’ element in any depth – i.e. the believers’ relationship with one another when gathered (They had their work fully cut out in exposing and responding biblically to the errors of Rome anyway!)
    Nothing is more inimical to the corporate life of any church and functioning of a true priesthood (to God and to one another) than the entrenched dominance of the ‘solo pastor’ doctrine.
    In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul discusses the reality that there is only one body of Christ, but that one body has many part with each individual part benefitting the entire spiritual body. He argues there that it is essential that each member is to be free to function if the body as a whole is to be healthy when the church is gathered.
    “The body is not ONE part, but many” (v.14)
    Instead of which, “ministry” is largely directed, controlled, and dependent upon one man, namely the “pastor”.

    Little wonder then that the “ordinary” believer has little practical opportunity to exercise his/her spiritual gifts or abilities, and so these remain at best dormant, or at worst atrophied altogether.
    Thus is born the idea that ministry is confined to a ministerial professional class, separate from other believers – a sort of ‘caste’ system involving ‘ordination’, status, professional qualifications, dress, and titles & etc.
    No wonder the body of Christ is hurting!

    Graham Wood, UK

  2. Yes seems a bit odd hey Graham. What about the five leaders defined in Eph 4 – Apostle (church planter?) Prophet (like that of Bill M) Evangelist, Pastor, and Teacher: and all of them there to equip the saints for ministry, not to do it all themselves!

    One has to wonder how we’ve gotten it down to only one role.

    It is my passion, for instance, to equip people for evangelism, to encourage and empower people to evangelise – yet Evangelists are not recognised these days. “Everyone should evangelise” is spouted as a defence that we don’t need this office, but this is an aberrant form of the “priesthood of all believers” – for the Bible says that we do actually need specific offices to teach and lead people, and God has certainly endowed people throughout the ages in these gifts.

    But they are gifts for others, and all, not to be hoarded.

    What do people think?

    Nathan Keen

  3. Yes I agree completely, Pastor one man doing all doesn’t even make sense to me. But it does not have to make sense. Jesus said it, Paul said it, how much encouragement do we need?!
    Way too much weight on one mans shoulders but more to the point why, why bother when their are many who are Gods chosen, ready and waiting to be released.
    Daniel Kempton

  4. Nathan, some of that comes from the Old World problem of established churches, with stipends paid from the public purse (by various mechanisms).

    Some comes from the more modern idea of job specialisation, and “since we’re paying the minister (so much), he’d better do the work!” Then the pew-warmers criticise everything the pastor does, how he is dressed, his selection of hymns, even the car he drives.

    John Angelico

  5. Nathan, that there are leaders cannot be denied, but I believe the emphasis could be that they are “leaders in their field”. In other words, yes there are experts at evangelism – evangelists, yet we are all called to evangelism. Many people use the excuse that these roles are only for the experts.
    I too love to encourage evangelism, yet so often the solo-pastor/leader of the church preaches from the pulpit that evangelism needs to be left up to the evangelist. Thereby excusing the people from the task. The preacher has a huge responsibility NOT to downgrade or “dumb-down” the words of God.


    On another note, I am a teacher. How does one deal with the integrity we need to show our employer (and their code of practice – including not evangelising), and our desire to share the words of God and glorify Him? I have thought long about this, and I wonder the influence I can have if I only live, and don’t speak the words of God to the people. I don’t agree with Francis of Assisi (live, and when necessary use words). God’s word says we need to believe in our heart and confess with our mouth – to be saved (Rom 10:9).
    But my employer would sack me if I spoke the word of God – their reasons: “not co-operating/obeying our authority” or “not complying with the code”. Help me here.

    Daniel Campbell

  6. The Protestant work ethic was built on the idea that every believer’s work in life is his or her calling from God – all work is to be done to the glory of God. Removing God from the rationale for productive work has tended to make work and its financial and material rewards into ends in themselves.

    The dichotomy between allegedly sacred and allegedly secular domains of human activity and experience has only succeeded in seducing popular Western Christian thought into divorcing the Christian life from those parts of life which we have come to regard as the secular, or physical realms of experience. The end result is the relegation of religious matters to the private experience of the individual and their effective expulsion from any real part in public life.

    Kuyper’s valid insight into the implications of Psalm 24 must be regained by the Body of Christ in Western countries before their lamps are “removed”.

    John Wigg

  7. Wilberforce has vindicated that being a politician in itself is not a worldly thing. If used to lead others the right way (in the eyes of God), it is not worldly.

    Janice Tooh

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