Witnessing at Work: Sacred vs. Secular?

jasonmeyer —  March 25, 2008 — 8 Comments

Continuing in our series on missional work, Jason Meyer chimes in to address the false dichotomy with a biblical-theological approach. More contributions to come, but for now, consider Jason’s response.

Christians tend to see things in pieces and miss the big picture. This inability to see in a panoramic way leads to many false dichotomies and dualisms. I think recovering a full-fledged biblical worldview would help put the pieces together into a more coherent whole, which in turn would eliminate much of the spiritual schizophrenia that Christians in the workplace often feel.

Many Christian authors are turning to a creation, fall, redemption model as a biblical grid for understanding all of life. Although this grid is useful in many ways, I will focus on three benefits for the sake of the question we are addressing today. First, it allows one to share the gospel in a structured way by answering the three essential questions that many people keep asking: (1) where did we come from [creation], (2) what went wrong [fall], and (3) what is the solution [redemption]. Second, this three-fold grid also functions as a tool for analyzing the worldviews of others, like those with whom we work. Contending worldviews must attempt to answer these same three questions and so Christians and their co-workers can compare and contrast their answers and assess how these answers stack up next to the reality that they see all around them. Third, it is not only useful for explaining the gospel in our personal evangelism at work, it is also useful for understanding a Christian perspective on work itself. I would like to spend a few moments explaining this third benefit.

Many Christians think that our sole objective is to receive salvation and share the plan of salvation with others. Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth offers some staggering statistics that solidify this common stereotype. She notes that research polls identify the strength of evangelical convictions in these areas. An overwhelming percentage of evangelicals believe the authority of the Bible, and the necessity of personal salvation and evangelism. However, she also noted that no one polled (not one person) could articulate a distinctively Christian mindset toward work. Christians typically thought in terms of infusing the secular with the sacred by praying at work or having a Bible study. When pressed further, Christians talked in vague terms about the importance of honesty and morality at work. Now let us be clear: these are all good answers in and of themselves. But they fall far short as complete answers. Can Christians glorify God at work even in those moments when they are not explicitly telling others about Jesus or praying with them?

A Creation/Fall/Redemption approach recognizes that work is a gift from God that came before the fall. Adam and Eve were called to be fruitful and multiply. They were also commanded to bring the earth under God’s dominion. The fall into sin did not make work sinful, it simply made it more difficult (In the same way, the curse on the woman did not make childbearing evil, but it did make it more painful). Redemption in Christ provides an atoning answer to the fall, but it also takes us back to our original calling at creation.

This calling has been called the Cultural Mandate. Rather than narrowly seeking to escape culture, Christians must recognize a commission from God to create culture and civilization as we seek to bring it under God’s redemptive dominion. The Great Commission (evangelism and discipleship) is at the heart of this agenda, but it is not the whole of the agenda. God delights to give gifts to His people and thus we seek to use these gifts in the power of His strength for the purpose of His glory. Work does not have to be drudgery. One trend we see today is that people are dissatisfied with their jobs – even if they pay well. They endure high paying jobs that they don’t like so that they can retire early. After retirement they get bored with doing nothing, so they get another job – but this time they find a job they like! I have always wondered why we don’t just find jobs that we love on the front end of our lives, instead of waiting until the end.

If God delights in these creative gifts, we can delight in using them. The reality of the fall and sin does introduce frustration and feelings of futility at times, but persevering through trials and hardships in the strength that God supplies also glorifies God. Christians can celebrate the creative gifts that God has given his people and model the act of giving thanks to God, which our co-workers should be doing as God’s creatures but refuse to do (Rom 1:21). Therefore, one can glorify God at work – by the very work that we do there! And the work can be “secular” because “This is My Father’s World” as the hymn so rightly says.

The cosmic scope of Christ’s Lordship has staggering implications for His Lordship over every aspect of the believer’s life, which is especially emphasized in the Colossians 3:18-4:1. Christ’s Lordship extends to one’s personal holiness, family life, work life, and everything in between (“whatever you do in word and deed” [Col 3:17]). One is reminded of Abraham Kuyper’s sweeping claim: “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'” (These words were spoken as part of his inaugural address at the founding of the Free University on October 20, 1880. See James D. Bratt, ed., Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988], 488).

Therefore, I hope the dichotomy between verbal and non-verbal witnessing at work will be erased as well. We are called to live out the gospel at work so that when we verbally share Jesus our actions won’t contradict our words. Verbal witnessing for Jesus will also make our non-verbal witness more effective. People who know us as Christians will recognize the source of our work ethic and they will be in a better position to glorify God and not us for that work ethic.

Let me close with five practical principles for work that flow out of a Christian worldview.

1. Display the glory of God and give glory to God as God’s glory is seen and the echoes of His excellence are heard in our individual disciplines. In light of the fall, guard against all temptations to make your discipline be all about you and thus embezzle praise that belongs to God alone.

2. In light of the cultural mandate, view your vocation as a calling in which Christ is both the goal and fuel for excellence in our field.

3. Value people over projects. Reject a utilitarian view of people that would use people for other ends; rather than treating them as ends in themselves. Adopt the mindset that people are made in the image of God and thus model a Christ-like ministry to them by pursuing Christ-like self-giving so that you can serve them instead of being served by them.

3a. Value those with whom we agree as those made in the image of God by not using them or taking advantage of them so that we get the credit for their work and they don’t.

3b. Value those with whom we disagree as those made in the image of God by first listening and seeking to understand them. Display both love and justice by fairly representing their viewpoints and by not standing in scorn over them and their work.

4. Take the long-view so that you do not get consumed with short-term successes or pitfalls. Chart a long-term course and find a pace to finish the race. On the one hand, expect great things from God and therefore attempt great things for God. On the other hand, remember that only God gets his to-do list done everyday (as C. J. Mahaney says), so yield to His plan and His timing.

5. Care and think deeply about biblical fidelity for both your message and your methods. Reject a pragmatism that only looks at “what works.” Do the Lord’s work in the Lord’s way.

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  • Johnny Swanson

    Timmy,
    Over the years, the Lord has provided some wonderful places for me to work. I am 65 now and still working. Not only has the Lord provided these places, but has given me the ability to really enjoy my work. I am a moldmaker by trade, and over the past 25 years have been on the Engineering and management side of the business.
    The advise you gave on finding work that will allow you to enjoy getting up each morning and going to work will bring great rewards both to you and your family. We must as Paul says ” Whatever we do, do all to the glory of God” and with a thankful heart.

    Praise His name.

  • http://www.jenniferpartin.blogspot.com Jennifer Partin

    Hey Timmy,

    I’ve been closely following this thread—-I’ve really enjoyed it. Personally, I do not ‘work’ outside of the home per se so I’ve kept mum. However, I do have Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth and enjoyed the book very much.

    Quite frankly, I’ve been surprised that people tend to separate truth into various compartments. I’m not quite sure how I stumbled onto my Biblical worldview (aside from His Providence and sovereignty) but I am humbled and grateful that I have not had to struggle in various degrees with this. When I completely surrendered to His Lordship His truth encompassed every area of my entire life!

    I do believe that “Christians can glorify God at work even in those moments when we are not explicitly telling others about Jesus or praying with them” And why is that? Because even in the mundane whether it be wiping up spilled cups of milk or handling packages or whatever our jobs might entail—–we are a light in our workplace when we are working heartily as unto Him and are enjoying Him by the job he has provided for us—–without having to explicitly share Jesus and/or praying with them. Afterall, would we work any differently when a supervisor is not watching or when we are working alone?

    I have served as President for my daughter’s Swim Team for 2 consecutive years and have managed and lead this organization the same as I would a Women’s ministry in the church. Every decision I’ve had to make, every dispute that’s been settled, and even suggestions/recommendations (both the good and the bad) that have been made have all centered on the Lord’s direction and guidance. I have sought to serve the “Swimmers” on the team by becoming (hopefully) a godly advocate. Have I shared Jesus or prayed with all the Coaches, Aquatic Director and/or every child on the team? No, not each and every time b/c I try to be sensitive to discern when and where and how the Holy Spirit leads. (without Him it’s fruitless anyway) but I have come to love the people I have come into contact with by being involved in this organization and group—-I have come to truly love them with their strengths and flaws. And I have had the privilege to share my faith and the gospel with a small handful of people from the Team that I have befriended on a deeper level. (Even tonight, my oldest daughter invited and took one of her team members to Youth Group).

    Ultimately, do our actions glorify Him? When we have experienced first hand His grace and mercy, how can we not love people fairly and with patience? When we are overflowing in His love, that love cannot help but to pour out on others in service and in ministry and even in our countenance—–whether it be at work or in pleasure!

    Great thoughts and thank you for causing us to “think” along with you!

    Sorry for all the rambling thoughts! I have thoroughly enjoyed the topic and pray that others might know the joy of having Christ permeate every inch and area of our lives!

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  • http://rjperalta.wordpress.com/ rjperalta

    Thanks for the good points on “workplace” evangelism. It is challenging. I believe when we understand that we are there to bring God glory and that He is all about people, then our focus becomes His focus, and then we have the proper motivation for work.

    May you be blessed as you go out,
    Richard

  • Jason Meyer

    Johnny,

    Thank you for the comment. With your experience and inspiring testimony I think you should have written this post! Thank you again for adding your perspective.

    Jason Meyer

  • Jason Meyer

    Jennifer,

    Great thoughts! I really enjoyed reading your response. It was great to see this perspective fleshed out in your personal life. Thanks again.

    Jason Meyer

  • Jason Meyer

    Richard,

    Well said – I think you hit the nail on the head (no rhyming intended)!

    Jason Meyer