Much has been written over the years about the unhealthy Christian division between the secular and the sacred. A friend has published a new book with a poignant personal perspective on this issue that I have found challenging and intriguing. I attended bible college with Paul and his wife Misty before they were married and attended church with them after they got married. I admit that some of the challenge to me in reading his book is that it pokes me a bit in beliefs that I never verbalized yet now realize I nonetheless held about Paul himself based on his vocation.
Paul graduated with a business degree and started his career in the corporate marketplace. Our families had attended church together for a few years when he and his wife decided to join a missionary group in Alaska. Suddenly, I took new note of him. He hadn’t previously struck me as having a particularly strong personal devotion to God. But, then again, I didn’t know him well or talk to him much. Did their family’s move to the mission field signify some significant change in their devotion to God? It did at least in my head, though I never allowed myself to verbalize such a view.
Paul experienced multiple poignant interactions after deciding to move to the mission field that exposed this view commonly held among believers – secular work is mediocre for those less devoted to God and full-time ministry is better. My family has had to personally worked through this, probably again due to my own preconceived notions of the value of full-time ministry. We have talked often in my home of the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to Thessalonian believers.
1 Thessalonians 4:9-12
9 Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.
There is a divide in the Christian church in perceptions between full-time ministry and work in the marketplace. But that divide wasn’t invented by God or supported by the Apostles. I’m intrigued by the Apostle Paul’s encouragement to believers to work with their hands and provide for themselves. He certainly didn’t guilt them into changing to a more spiritual vocation.
Paul Rude’s Everyday Significance gives helpful insight into this problem as it manifests itself today. Here are a few quotes I underlined.
Ultimately, the only true measure of significance is how much something or someone is valued by God.
We’ve defined the box of eternal significance, and it’s too small for 96 percent of a hardworking layperson’s life.
… freedom from vocational guilt is not freedom to live a life of selfish indulgence. This distinction is important, because many fear that vocational freedom is simply a license to live selfishly. But that fear is rooted in a deep misunderstanding—the assumption that marketplace work is inherently selfish.
When we automatically equate marketplace work with selfishness, we confuse two entirely different, unrelated issues.
Deep down, many of us believe we labor in meaningless tasks and pointless work. … Pull a weed today; two weeds crop up tomorrow. Give up your weekend to write a report for your boss; he doesn’t even read it. Spend two years designing and installing ergonomically improved workstations in a factory; a foreign owner shuts down the factory and lays off all the employees, including you. Write a computer program today; someone changes the operating system tomorrow. Earlier today, I glanced out my office win- dow and saw that the tire on my utility trailer, the tire I patched last week, is flat—again. On and on it goes.
… Faced with this dismal prospect, many of us embark on a quest to do something significant—something that will last for all eternity—before it’s too late. We think, Surely this isn’t what God wants me to be doing. He’s just got to have something more meaningful for me than this—something that makes a difference. Then along comes a well-intended friend or seminar speaker who says, “If you want to beat the futility blues and accomplish something that will last forever, then you need to start looking at your ministry options—the options that will airlift you to the highest peaks of meaning and purpose.” However, if we listen closely to their message, we won’t hear the truth of the Bible. Instead, we’ll hear the undertones of a deeply rooted lie—one that we’ve heard for a very, very long time.
… we are selling a lie when we use eternal significance as a ministry recruiting tool. There are organizations that seek to recruit people out of the marketplace workforce by trolling the bait of significance through the waters of vocational guilt. “Hey, your life has been a meaningless exercise in the pursuit of success, which we all know is pointless futility. So join our team, and do something meaningful for God with the rest of your life.” Their intentions are good, but their primary recruiting tool is a glittering, treble-hooked deception: they imply that we can grasp significance by shifting over to the sacred side of the divide.
… what would happen if, next Monday morning, we all quit our market- place jobs and charged out to do something more significant in full-time Christian ministry? Basically, the world would shut down. Major infrastructures and economies would collapse, and soon entire segments of the world population would lack food and other basic necessities. “Man shall not live by bread alone” —but he will starve to death without it.
God, in his sovereignty, apparently created a system where most of us must work in the secular world—otherwise the human race would go extinct. It’s like a sick game of musical chairs; there aren’t enough significant seats to go around. When the music stops, the vast majority of us will still be standing. We’ll still be insignificant; our labor will have no eternal value. We’re trapped.
If you are struggling through this issue, this book gives helpful insight on both the problem in how we traditionally approach secular/sacred work in the Church and the solution from Scripture. It has certainly blessed me as someone who has wrestled personally with the secular/sacred divide when it comes to careers and ministry. I have several free copies to give away. If you are interested in one, leave a comment, and I’ll randomly choose 3 people on Saturday. You can pre-order a copy here.