A Christian Education and Witnessing at Work

jasonmeyer —  March 26, 2008 — 4 Comments

Here is Jason Meyer’s second contribution to “missional work”. Check out “Witnessing at Work: Sacred or Secular?” also by Jason.

I will always remember the day that my dad gave me some wise counsel. He said, “Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.” I am sure he told me other wise things, but I probably was not listening. I have kept this particular piece of advice me for all of these years because something about it rung true. I never thought it had anything to do with evangelism, but I do now. I will try to explain my rationale in what follows.

Most people wouldn’t give a minimum-wage job a very high ranking in the category of “rewarding and fulfilling.” Therefore, a college education can be an essential aspect of finding a job that fully fits with your God-given gifts and passions. Although some colleges would omit the “God-given” part, most recruiters at colleges and universities use this kind of proverbial wisdom to press for educational decisions from high school seniors.

My burden today is to point out that following this advice will actually cause you to be a more effective evangelist at work. In other words, one of the most neglected strategies for witnessing at work begins long before your hire date: know yourself so that you can identify what a fulfilling vocation looks like for you, and then take the necessary steps to secure a job within that field. Education is one of those “necessary steps” for many today.

The importance of finding a meaningful and fulfilling vocation for evangelism should be obvious: it is hard to witness winsomely concerning the joy of following Jesus when we look miserable at work. I remember working at jobs where I had to fight feelings of futility. There were some days when I felt like they could train a monkey to do my job, which certainly didn’t leave me with lasting feelings of fulfillment.

Now don’t get me wrong, we can still glorify God in the midst of the most mundane work imaginable. I remember learning that lesson as a college sophomore when I read Brother Lawrence’s book Practicing the Presence of God. Great theology should form the foundation of great doxology. In this case, knowing and cherishing God’s glorious omnipresence has enormous ramifications for our ongoing experience of God in the midst of menial tasks like washing dishes. Jesus didn’t say: “I’m with you always, except when you are washing dishes.”

But the point still stands that God created us with different gifts and passions and thus we honor God by using those gifts as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. This is one way that we fulfill the purpose for which we were made. Therefore, it should follow that we will delight in the opportunity to use our God-given gifts at work. Loving our work can testify to our love for Christ. We demonstrate that love within the totality of His Lordship by loving and enjoying what He has called us to do, which includes work!

One may wonder why this post concerns “Christian” education. All we have talked about thus far is the importance of education in general. There are several arguments for why a distinctively Christian education is valuable. Let me illustrate a few of these in story form.

I am a professor at Louisiana College. A colleague of mine recently attended a conference on Christian principles for money management. The conference speaker offered some apparently practical advice to the audience: “Before you invest in education, first calculate the effect of the education on future potential earnings. An expensive education doesn’t make sense if the education cannot eventually lead to a significantly higher income.” He went on to give an example: “It makes sense to go to Louisiana College for a pre-med degree since LC is so respected by medical schools and can offer graduates greater opportunity for success. But a public school teacher makes the same salary no matter where she earned her degree [author's note: don't miss the woeful stereotype concerning the exclusive role of women as public school teachers]. If you plan on becoming a teacher, don’t waste your money on an LC degree. Go to a less expensive public institution.”

Now a slick recruiting brochure may tout the inexpensive nature of a secular education, but more is at stake in education than promotions and higher salaries. Thus my colleague, Dr. Quarles, wrote an article that challenged this “Christian” perspective by comparing price versus cost. He went on to cite the work of Steve Henderson, whose research demonstrated that 52 percent of the students at non-Christian colleges who identify themselves as “born-again Christians” during their freshman year will no longer identify themselves as born-again four years later or will not have attended a religious service in more than a year (Steve Henderson, “A Question of Price Versus Cost,” Christianity Today [March 2006]).

I recommended adding three further points of response. First, the 52% figure is a strong one that cannot be dismissed as a mere scare tactic. Who would buy a heavily discounted airline ticket if the flight attendant told them there was a 52% chance of this particular plane crashing? The flight attendant is not saying that crashing is inevitable, but rational people could agree that the potential cost of crashing certainly outweighs the discounted price of the ticket.

Second, a “price versus cost” analysis is important, but in order to avoid sounding overly simplistic, one must acknowledge that some Christians go to a secular school and are stronger because of it, while some go to a lukewarm Christian school and are lulled into a lukewarm attitude. One cannot simply assume the inevitability of Christians becoming non-Christians just because they go to non-Christian schools. Some go to Christian schools and become non-Christians too. In this vein, my colleague also informed me of Henderson’s findings that a liberal Christian school is significantly more devastating for a student’s Christian commitment than a public university.

Third, and more relevant for this discussion, the initial statement of this “Christian” financial advisor is a weird mix of utilitarianism and materialism. Utilitarianism says that the consequence of an action is all that matters and the end result must be happiness for an action to be wise and ethical. He has adopted a materialistic definition of happiness as the end result of college planning. His view of education fits the contemporary pragmatic approach which asks, “what can this do for me?” A consistent Christian approach to education asks a more important question, “what will this do to me?” In other words, this is the opposite of a Christian worldview because it does not fit with a biblical definition of humankind – we are more than matter and therefore need more than materialism.

This last point illustrates another potential benefit of a Christian education: guarding against dualisms. One can adopt an orthodox theology in the “sacred” realm and yet unknowingly absorb false and harmful ways of thinking in the “secular” realm. In a college business class for example, a teacher may focus so much on the economic “bottom-line” that a Christian student loses sight of a distinctively Christian perspective on money. In classes on jurisprudence, a student can unknowingly adopt the current pragmatic and relativistic approach to law if they are not grounded in a Christian perspective on law. In other words, losing your soul is not the only potential danger or “cost” associated with a secular education. Another potential danger is losing your mind. I am not talking about insanity – I am talking about losing a Christian mindset or approach to your vocation. Divided minds and hearts will invariably hinder our witnessing at work. Christian education exists to help us love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matt 22:37), even at work.

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  • http://lionlambredeemer.blogspot.com stephen stanford

    Pretty good post. I have done alot of thinking over Christian higher education. I am a senior at a state university and my major is philosophy. When I first started as a freshmen all the students I knew except for two were atheist. Of the other two, one was a mormon and the other was an evangelical. As the years have rolled by my two “religious” friends have become atheist/agnostics.
    My philosophy of religion professor was a devout intelligent atheist. His goal was to convert theist to atheist. I would not wish upon my children the intellectual and social abuse that I recieved in my university time by both students and professors.
    Stephen

  • Bryant King

    “Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.”

    In my mind, I can’t seem to reconcile that statement with Genesis 3:17-19, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15, or even Proverbs 6:6.

    I use to have a mindset that I needed to seek a job which would allow me a life of ease- either through a job I enjoyed doing, or through enough pay that I could do things which I enjoy. This was merely greed, laziness, and coveting on my part. When I was presented with the health and wealth, prosperity gospel, I didn’t recognize it as a false gospel. Almost 2 years ago, I was starting a process to expand my business. My best friend did contracting work and offered to do the project at cost because I had helped him over the years and he knew of the good things I do. I thought this was provision from God for my faithfulness. To make a long story short, my best friend went off on a drug binge leaving his wife and child and my business project a mess. I was embarrassed in front of others. I got mad at God. Even when I was angry at Him, God extended His grace to me to draw me to repentance. I could also tell of jobs I quit without justification because I did not “love them.” In fact, I just didn’t love the rigors of work. Perhaps others would not be as prone to falling into the trap as I was, but my concern with the above piece of advice is that sinners like me can bend it to justify greed, coveting, and slothfulness.

    I am really enjoying this topic and am finding it fruitful. I hope my disagreement on one point does not detract from the overall helpfulness of the discussion.

    Bryant King

  • Jason Meyer

    Hi Bryant, thanks for your comment. I think your last line is a good caution against bending this proverbial statement in order to “justify greed, coveting, and slothfulness.” I can certainly say “amen” to that warning. But I think the key word is “bend,” because that is not the intent of the statement. One can easily twist proverbs. We see parents do it all the time when their children are wayward and they read Proverbs 22:6 (“train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it” ) as an absolute promise that their wayward children will certainly come back to the faith. I think owning up to the fall keeps us from false expectations of ease, triumph, and prosperity. My job as a college professor has many tasks that I do not love with all of my heart (like any kind of administration, having to fail students, etc.) but I can look at the whole of the work and delight in it and not trade it for the world. That is the kind of persevering love for vocation for which I am calling. Thank you for the opportunity to clarify. May the Lord bless you and cause His face to shine upon you.

    Jason Meyer

  • Jason Meyer

    Stephen,

    Thank you for the comment. Your first hand account illustrates what I was saying very well. Blessings as you head to Southern Seminary – I really enjoyed my time there.

    Jason Meyer