As a university student, I agonised over career decisions. I became a Christian at university, and wondered whether secular pursuits (law, business, politics) could be as important a calling as religious ones (pastoring, charitable work, mission).
I considered the question of the value of work - secular work - for the Christian. To some believers I spoke to, work was primarily about opportunities for evangelism, and a source of income for more ‘Christian’ endeavours. While bearing witness to the hope we have in Jesus, and being generous with our finances are important, I think there’s more to work than only these ‘means to an end’ answers.
Martin Luther was the first person to apply the term ‘vocation’, or calling, to secular work. Until then it had been reserved for religious orders. Luther broke down this distinction. He pointed out that while God could have populated the earth by creating each new generation of babies from dust, He ordained that men and women should raise up children and provide for their care. In a similar way, Luther said, God appoints men and women to contribute their talents, gifts and opportunities to go about His work, caring for other human beings by sheltering, healing, governing and educating them.
So, when we pray for God to give us our daily bread, He does not do so by providing manna as he did for the the Israelites, but through the vocation of farmers, bakers and retailers. The whole economic system serves as the means by which God serves us with daily bread. Hence, even seemingly ordinary jobs can serve as a means by which God loves others through us – and we can love our neighbours.
While this helps us realise the dignity of work, Christians also struggle to be distinctive in their work. Because the gospel permeates all of life, God’s grace to us has a bearing on the way we treat our coworkers and clients, and the way we go about our work. This is, I think, as much about relationships with individuals as building a culture that honours God and enables human flourishing. Genesis 1:28 is a command to "fill the earth" not just the population, but also society and culture. The organisations we start should exude the kind of quality, skill, generosity, beauty and compassion which point to our perfect Creator.
Thinking about living out one’s Christian faith in and through our work raises a number of questions – only a couple of which have been addressed here. So join us on May 30 for 'Faith & Work' as pastor Guy Mason and a panel of workers from City on a Hill address these issues. For more information visit our Facebook event.