9 to 5
Observations on a workplace calling
No. 1 Roy Deary
Entrepreneur / Eastside Community Church (EFCA) in Jacksonville, Fla.
A proper theology of work encourages believers to highly value their calling to their workplace and corrects a possible over-emphasis on the temporal value of work.
I’ve increasingly viewed myself as a steward rather than an owner of a small business—recognizing God’s sovereignty and Christ’s Lordship in every aspect of my life, and His ownership of the business (Psalm 24:1).
No. 2 David Greusel
Architect / Christ Community EFC in Leawood, Kan.
My first inkling that architecture was a calling from God came when I started working as an intern architect, at age 23. There was an essential rightness to the work I was doing, even though the work itself wasn’t important.
The second inkling came when I read the 31st chapter of Exodus for the first time. Moses is told by God that Bezalel is filled with the Spirit of God to create artistic designs for the tabernacle. I had never considered design as a spiritual gift, nor had any of the numerous “spiritual gifts inventories.”
Finally, a series of conversations at my church really cemented those earlier notions. Until then, the dominant thought pattern in the evangelical world was still trying to move people “from success to significance,” i.e., out of the secular workforce and into Christian ministry.
The teaching in other churches—all very good ones, by the way—invariably made most of the congregation feel guilty if they really enjoyed being a banker, a teacher or a dentist and didn’t feel particularly called to some Christian organization.
Our goal at Convergence Design is to redeem architecture: First, seeing building design as an activity for the common good that reflects God’s love for all people. Second, working within my profession to turn it away from an aesthetic of death and alienation (which is the dominant mode of expression) toward an aesthetic of human flourishing.
People in secular work make up 90 percent of a church’s membership. To constantly tell them that significance can only be gained by leaving their calling is leading them down a path to despair, not to flourishing. On the other hand, to affirm people’s unique giftedness in the context of the local church can be tremendously motivating, not only to do better at work, but also to be a better contributor to the life of the congregation.
No. 3 Jill Mcfarling
Analytics manager / CrossPoint Church (EFCA) in Bloomington, Minn.
I started my job right out of graduate school, at age 23. At the time, I wanted to work for maybe three years while my husband finished school, and then start a family. Instead, I fell in love with the work I do and the people I work with, which I recognized was a special gift. Since then, it has been a rich time of seeing God use the skills He gave me to foster relationships with people of different beliefs, in a unique corner of our landscape.
It can be lonely being a Christian woman with a career I am passionate about—which is quite different from viewing it as a job to pay the bills. I find it sometimes hard to translate that into the church community.
Yet our current pastor definitely does not put more emphasis on full-time Christian ministry. This spring, he preached a series on incarnational living, intended to teach people how to use their work and affiliations to bring God glory.
No. 4 Gary Abney
Former EFCA pastor and now team leader with Marketplace Chaplains USA*
When a pastor loses touch with real-world people, he will ultimately lead his people to lose touch as well. But when a pastor has authentic ministry in the marketplace, his language, stories, time and values will all be changed. He’ll have a deepened awareness of nonchurch people, their views and values, and also a deepened awareness of what his church members face in their workplace world each day. I am simply suggesting that pastors invest themselves in the workplace as they are asking their people to do.
- overseeing 45 corporate chaplains in Alabama and western Tennessee
No. 5 Anonymous Professor
I was born to be a teacher. God has wired me to do this kind of work and has used it in many ways. A beautifully taught lesson, a compassionate conversation with a parent or a well-designed curriculum can be worship to the Lord or evidence of His work in my life.
After 25 years, I still have those conversations where I know God has given me the right words to say. When I work on a research project and use the brain and the thinking skills God has given me, it is a blessing to exercise these gifts.
Our current pastor has been vocal about his appreciation of women using their gifts both in and out of the church setting. However, it seems that what is discussed in the pulpit doesn’t always translate consistently to what is being announced in the bulletin.
We may hear from the pulpit that God loves us just as we are or that we should spend time developing our spiritual qualities, but then women’s ministries events often focus on arts and crafts, or combine planning retreats with manicures.
A similar kind of double standard emerges when the church celebrates particular roles of women while ignoring others. The church-sanctioned ones seem to be wife, mother, homemaker, attractive womanly body and church servant. I’d rather see us encouraging all women to fulfill the calling of God on their lives.
No. 6 Larry Osborne
Pastor / North Coast Church (EFCA) in Vista, Calif.
Around here, we never elevate missionaries or “full-time ministry.” In 32 years, I don’t think I’ve ever done that even once in a message. That would be poison to the Christian shoe salesman or trash collector or schoolteacher.
Once you stop elevating “fulltime ministry” as if it’s better, then it’s easy to release the entire church to become a practicing priesthood of believers. For example, in our case, those who lead people to Christ are the ones who baptize them.
I love the fact that all three of my adult kids are in ministry; but what I love most is that none of them are paid for it. They all have secular jobs and serve Jesus as volunteers. To me, that’s way better than if they were paid to be spiritual.
We pastors have a choice to make: Do we want to hog the priestly role, or do we really want to release a priesthood of believers into our community?
No. 7 Steve Collier
President, construction company / First EFC in Austin, Texas
Around 12 years ago, I realized there was a disconnect between my faith and my work. My wife and I had served God through His church in almost every capacity possible, except to be hired as professional Christians (pastor, missionary, staff). We were doing what our pastors said to do, to join them in “their” work, the real work of God. But there was nothing ever mentioned at church about what I did for most of my day.
If there was a mention of the product of my work, it was in light of “it all will burn anyway, so what use is it but to make money and fund the things that last—the spread of the Word of God and converting the souls of man.”
I sense that many Christian businessmen and women were like me: They carry a false guilt that the way to best serve Christ is to be a full-time professional Christian.
I realize that few pastors have actually entered the money-generating workforce, so few can relate to the issues of economics and work-for-profit, much less speak to the issues. There is no conspiracy here, no intentional deception. Just what I now think is a blind spot.
The book Your Work Matters to God was my introduction to the theology of work. I now believe that the path to true joy and fulfillment is to know what God wants you to do—and then actually do it.
[I now have] the clarity of knowing that God made me for work (Genesis 1:27-28), that I glorify (give great weight and focus on) Him through my work (Matthew 5:16, 1 Corinthians 10:31), that I am actually serving Christ and not my boss or clients when I work (Colossians 3:23), and that I will be working for God through eternity in heaven (Revelation 22:3).
The peace, joy and freedom in knowing you are doing what God wants bubbles over to every part of your life. And what is more attractive and winsome to a fallen, care-worn, futile world than a peace-filled, joyful, loving, free man or woman of God?
Steve has written Shrewd and Innocent: A heart for godliness in ethics and business.
No. 8 Lara Demaree
Spanish teacher / Legacy Church (EFCA) in Loveland, Colo.
This is very personal to me, since I am a church-planting pastor’s wife and a full-time teacher. My husband, Darren, started supplementing our income with a morning paper route. Thankfully, the Lord provided a better way to supplement our financial needs (while also opening doors to relationships in our community) through substitute teaching. Darren has been substitute teaching now for more than a year, and it’s wonderful to see how God is using his work experience to encourage the men in our church community to work hard and see their jobs as missional.
No. 9 Steve Ratliff
Pastor / Faith EFC in Manhattan, Kan.
One idea I’ve implemented is “Take Your Pastor to Work Day.” I asked people in our church to invite me to their workplace to observe what they do for a day (or half a day). Around 15 people took me up on the offer.
I was blown away by the good works that our people do passionately and competently day in and day out. I observed the workplaces of a daycare worker (caring for an autistic child), veterinarian, crane operator, handyman, hog farmer, medical technician and several university faculty.
When I go to people’s workplace, it’s their time to shine. At church they’re coming into my world, where I tend to shine. But it’s amazing to go into their workplace and see how competent they are, how much influence they have and their web of relationships.
One man in our church owns a crane. He may never teach a Bible study in the church, but when I watched him put a modular building in place, I was rather amazed at his mechanical and practical intelligence (which I don’t have) and at the way he interacted with other guys at the work site. He never gets to show this competence at church; it was a real privilege for me to see him in his element, where he knows he’s good.
I think that people are honored when I take an interest in their work. Take Your Pastor to Work has given me a greater appreciation for the challenges that people face, as well as the opportunities their work provides. It has also given me a genuine curiosity about the lives of those at Faith. I find myself encouraging them to engage more deeply in their work and in their relationships there.
As a pastor, I need to understand the world in which our people live so that my conversations with them aren’t superficial and so that the sermons I preach aren’t biblically accurate but practically irrelevant.
No. 10 Walter Renberg
Orthopedic veterinary surgeon / Faith EFC in Manhattan, Kan.
We all, at times, struggle with where our “jobs” fit into our spiritual calling. Obviously for some (missionary to Zambia), it’s pretty obvious. For others, it’s more subtle. My pastor’s efforts, in conjunction with his teachings on the topic, help us see how we, too, might find added spiritual context and opportunity in our daily tasks. His interest in our jobs reminds us that our vocations are worthy of our efforts.
When he visited me at work, it was a good opportunity for my co-workers to see and wonder about a pastor who was interested in learning about his flock (and them by association) and to broach the conversation about work and spirituality. The emphasis on vocation theology has helped people feel included and has spurred them into a renewed, or new, attitude of ministry at work.
No. 11 Win Stanford
Homemaker and volunteer staff with the EFCA Central District / First EFC in Ames, Iowa
Do pastors truly believe that “secular” work is as valuable to God as “full-time” Christian service? We would have to answer, no, not in our experience. Last fall, when we heard Tom Nelson speak, we realized it was probably the first time we had heard this perspective from a pastor in 46 years.
Back in 1965 we were attending Fourth Presbyterian Church outside Washington, D.C. Our pastor was Richard Halverson, who later became chaplain of the U.S. Senate. He valued and honored laymen in the workplace far more than we have seen since. At that time, women were more at home, and his calling seemed to be especially to men, but I, too, absorbed the core perspective that secular work was of great value to God.
When my husband, John, got his Ph.D. and we were heading out to the wilds of Iowa State University, Dr. Halverson had us come up to the pulpit on our last Sunday. There, he prayed for us and expressed the value of what we were going to do. You can imagine how encouraging that was to us—two 20-something people setting out. Our whole career was influenced and touched by that commissioning.
Since then, we have never seen that done anywhere except for those going into so-called full-time service or short-term mission trips. (We are not putting that down. In fact, both our kids have been missionaries and spoke in front of the church, were prayed for, etc., during those years.)
In 1980 we were back in the Washington area for a sabbatical and again attended Halverson’s church. John asked Dr. Halverson, “I’m a university professor. But at times I’ve wondered if I should become a pastor and go into full-time ministry?”
Dr. Halverson immediately guffawed and said, “One day you will be absolutely amazed at the influence you’ve had for Christ.”
We’ve seen some surprising fulfillments of his words. We’ve also quoted those words to many others along the way.
No. 12 Matt Proctor
Pastor / Cornerstone Church (EFCA) in Marion, Iowa
I believe a theology of work frees people to “love neighbor” well and to be a Genesis 1:26ff human being who rules/subdues God’s creation well. When “love of neighbor” is defined solely by my willingness to share the gospel with them or teach them the Bible or give money, I miss out on God using my vocation to bring real blessing and human flourishing to all people.
Whether I’m an engineer who designs software that navigates flights across America or a deputy called to serve and protect, or a construction worker who builds homes and businesses, all of these callings allow me to love my neighbor as myself.
I grew up in a home that valued work, and that healthy setting shaped me. When I see people not valuing work as a noble, God-honoring enterprise, I ache. That ache has been around for a long time, but now I’m learning the language and biblical framework that explains why that is not the way it is supposed to be.
As a pastor, I need to be willing to focus on the lives and callings of others so that I can affirm their unique vocation. It’s hard work. It’s easy to say: “Read your Bible, pray, share the gospel.” It’s harder to know what the struggles are for someone in a cubicle, a mom at home, an entrepreneur, etc.