There seems to be a renaissance, of sorts, among evangelicals around the doctrine of work, with Tom Nelson‘s Work Matters, Gene Veith’s work, Tim Keller’s book, Every Good Endeavor and now your book. Why is this issue so important?
Hardworking, everyday Christians are tired of feeling like second-class citizens in the church.
Deep down, we know something is wrong with the paradigm that limits eternal significance to the short list of jobs we traditionally define as “ministry.”
Most of us earn our daily bread in the marketplace, not in religious ministry. If we assume that only acts of “ministry” (teaching Sunday school, witnessing, etc.) are significant to God, then we live two separate lives. We live a sliver of life that makes a difference in eternity, but everything else we do, the great bulk of life, has no eternal value—or worse, it’s a necessary evil.
As we become accustomed to living two separate lives, our faith gradually loses all relevance to our weekday lives. Church is church; work is work. We navigate between two unrelated spheres, two value systems, two moral codes. We begin to confine our faith to that sliver of time we spend doing “religious stuff.” The rest of the time—the great bulk of the time—our faith is off duty. It sits on the sidelines, unconsidered and unexpressed.
Now, at last, theologians, pastors, and authors are pushing back against this paradigm. We are trying to articulate the robust biblical doctrine of work. It’s a doctrine that gives extraordinary significance to the work of truckers and accountants and homemakers. Millions of people are discovering that Jesus Christ is Lord of all seven days of the week—not just Sunday.
You talk about a class system in the church where missionaries and pastors are “really serving the Lord” and lay people are sort of “walking wallets” to fund God’s work ,but whose daily job has no significance. How does this view conflict with God’s mission?
If we were all pastors and missionaries, the human race would starve to death. So we must ask: Did the sovereign God of the universe create a cruel game of musical chairs, where 90 percent of us must work in meaningless jobs so that 10 percent of us can work in significant jobs—ministry jobs? The absurdity of this class system is self-evident.
We make little of God and much of religion when we claim that only pastors and missionaries are serving the Lord with their work.
God’s mission is bigger than our job titles. And he doesn’t play cruel little games with significance.
His mission encompasses far more than simply preaching and witnessing. We see this when we read the rest of the Bible. The Bible begins and ends with creation. Our God is the Creator and Ruler of all things, and he made us in his image. We reflect his glory and character when we create things, when we fill the earth and subdue it, when we tend it—when we work!
How can pastor’s empower the laity to find purpose and mission in their daily work?
Talk about it with their congregations. It’s that simple. Oh, sure, there are many other things a pastor can do. But most pastors need to take the giant first step of initiating the conversation.
Surveys repeatedly tell us that pastors almost never preach or talk about everyday marketplace work—the activity that consumes the greatest portion of the congregation’s time and energy, the activity that puts them in direct contact with the world. This creates a huge disconnect between the heavenly bliss of Sunday and the gritty reality of Monday.
What about parenting? How can Christian families instill a sense of significance and worth in the everyday work life?
My grandmother was awesome, the coolest granny in California—she loved parasailing and polar bear swims, and she loved Jesus Christ.
But one day she told us, “My greatest hope is that all of you will grow up to serve the Lord as missionaries and pastors.”
She meant well. But her words dumped a crushing load of expectation into the heart of a kid who desperately wanted to please his parasailing granny. My dad wisely pulled me aside and corrected grandma’s well-meaning, but misguided, intentions. So no damage was done in my case. But what if my dad had agreed with her?
Parents and grandparents: guard your tongues! Do you carelessly imply that pastors are more significant than truckers? Do you imply that CEO’s are more successful than carpenters? Ouch! I preach and write on these topics, yet I easily fall into this trap. This is tough; we must steadfastly guard our tongues, as well as our hearts.
What is one thing you hope readers take away from your book?
I passionately hope the reader will lay hold of—will live, breathe, trust, know, and utterly experience—the life-giving freedom of the gospel. I want him or her to see how the gospel gives extraordinary value to their regular, everyday work—and to their lives.
Because of Jesus Christ, our undiscovered gifts, our unapplauded work, our forgotten names, and our unsung lives all matter. They matter to God. They matter for his glory. They’ll be part of his masterpiece for all eternity—and oh, what an astonishing, breathtaking wonder it will be!