Who is Doing the Lord’s Work?
Today, I came across Laura Leigh Parker’s missionary blog where she apologizes on behalf of missionaries and chastises them for how often there is a subtle (or sometimes not so) message in their communications “back home” about how they are ‘finally’ being the hands and feet of Christ now that they’ve left their secular job to enter the world of the full time Christian worker.
Parker expresses her regret at how such messages are self-elevating and in effect put down everyone holding down the fort and supporting those self same missionaries. To her, I express my deep, heartfelt thanks for her awareness, her humility to admit the issue exists, and boldness to confront it. Such an address best comes from someone in her shoes.
Sadly, I have been aware of the tendency since college. There, I was heavily involved in an excellent parachurch campus group throughout my studies. Yet, an integral part of my life story is a bit of rebellion and even resentment over the constant and not-so subtle pressure put on by the staff members for us to all go, or at least consider going into “full time Christian work.”
My actual, literal thoughts in those days were, “If all Christians went into full-time Christian work, who would run the post office?” It made me bound and determined not to go into full time Christian work, but to engage in such “FTCW” in the context of my secular, academic career.
I think what first brought the issue to my awareness was stumbling upon a replay of a Keith Green concert on TV at some point in high school or so. In the intro to one song, he preached about the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20)—“Go into all the world, making disciples of all nations…”
Keith’s exegesis was that “unless God has called you to stay, you are commanded to go.” This is patently untrue, and contrary to both the Greek text and the sense of the rest of the New Testament. The Greek is properly translated, “as you go into all nations, make disciples…” In short, we are commissioned to make disciples, wherever and whenever we are.
At the time I heard Keith on TV, I didn’t know the hermeneutics of the Greek, but something rubbed me wrong about it anyway, and sensitized me to the issue.
Don’t get me wrong, I am very supportive of missionaries, literally and in principle. I do financially, prayerfully, and in other practical ways (such as computer repair) actively support a number of missionaries and have very close friends doing this work literally around the world. I merely object to the accidental and completely unintentional insult commonly offered, especially to those sacrificing financially to support missions. I do know that some in the ministry do believe their work is more important than secular work, and while I disagree with them, I also know that they do not intend to be either insulting or condescending.
I do know that those of us in the secular marketplace, ivory tower, and so on, have the opportunity to influence for the Gospel folks who will never give a missionary the time of day. It is God’s heart for all to hear of the Way through His Son, that as many as will accept that Provision and Reconciliation with their Creator.
Furthermore, had we not Fallen (and I think that event was inevitable, but let’s pretend), in the millennial kingdom, and our time in eternity, Scripture is clear that work is part of our Created task. He has given all of humanity various gifts, talents, and abilities, quite aside from the spiritual gifts and fruits of which St. Paul speaks. These are real and useful for the functioning of society. Therefore, it is fully appropriate for the people and Church of God to engage in using these gifts as part of our global and local human enterprise.
It seems in some ways that St. Paul himself is a critical example for missionaries and ‘non-missionaries’ alike. He had the secular profession of tentmaker, and used it as both a means of support and as a platform for ministry. Perhaps it is useful for both groups in the church actually talk with each other about how to incorporate more of their approach to life in the other’s methodology. All of us might therefore be more effective in fulfilling the Great Commission because we would interact with more people and do so with eyes more open to the spiritual opportunities available in them.
Just as missionaries have characteristic stresses and issues in their work, so do secular believers. Especially in the West, the workplace can be a very unfriendly place for reaching out with the Gospel, and, honestly, there are some good reasons for this. Yet, the Commission still holds, and there are people both in need and desiring to know and respond to the Gospel.
Therefore, we need to use prayer and creativity to solve this dual dilemma. Still, we are at work for the purposes of accomplishing our duties, before our bosses and the Lord. Thus, we have a dual mission, and both are critical to our obedience to Christ, so we need to excel at both. If we excel in our secular tasks, it actually lends credibility to our witness, and the boss is more likely to turn a blind eye to our ministry. However, if we fail to do our assigned tasks and share our faith, it is likely that we will more quickly and for less cause, lose our employment and the platform it offered. This also has the disadvantage of making it harder to support missionaries.
Thus, in whatever station in which we find ourselves, it behooves us to continually seek how we can do our daily work with excellence, prayer, and strategy. Yes, it is important to be strategic in our work and mission, for that is the highest purpose and use of our God-given creativity. Let me give an example of how this might play out in the ivory tower.
Just tonight, I emailed the following advice to a Christian grad student in another state on how to navigate through the perils of an academic career in a hostile secular university.
“Be known first and foremost for your science among your colleagues. Be involved in ministry throughout the pre-tenure period, but quietly. Plan for post-tenure, be strategic, pray about your niche that God has prepared for you beforehand, so that upon the relative security of tenure, you can launch a ministry worthy of six+ years of preparation and prayer.
That's the other key. Even starting now, when you are in your building at odd hours, prayerwalk it. Lift it up in prayer often. I did that last fall, and it is already bearing fruit--now one of my undergrads and a department staff member now join me in my office to pray for the department and more names of believers are being revealed to us, so that we are less and less alone.”
As the priesthood of all believers, all of us are ambassadors, and therefore all are representatives of our King to the assignments we’ve been given. Some have more posh assignments than others, but all have their necessity, all have their challenge. Let us absolutely insure that we mutually encourage each other in our commissions.