Friday, 15 April 2011

Full-time Christian work

What do you understand by that phrase, then; 'full-time Christian work'? I went for a walk round Lepe with a good friend the other day and we were talking about this, as it's relevant to his life situation at the moment. I suppose if someone gets described as a full-time Christian worker most people would think of things like youth work, church leadership or missionary work. What it really means is that the person works for a Christian organisation. And that's fine, isn't it? It's quite a useful short-cut phrase.

But I think there can be a problem when we treat church-based work as somehow better or more holy than other kinds of work. Or when we celebrate 'Christian workers' in a way that we don't extend to those in sales, catering, retail, nursing or whatever. Now I don't mean to downplay what people like pastors and church administrators do, not at all. But maybe we should give equal credit, praise and support to the majority of us who don't have so-called Christian jobs. In my view, we have just as big a part to play in doing God's work (I said I'd explain what I meant by that, didn't I? Soon...).

So this conversation with my mate was a few days ago, and then yesterday I saw something about exactly this issue on a blog run by some American folks involved in various churches, universities and Christian magazines. The full post is here and I've picked out a few points below:
Here’s the problem – when we call people to radical Christian activism, we tend to define what qualifies as “radical” very narrowly. Radical is moving overseas to rescue orphans. Radical is not being an attorney for the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency]. Radical is leaving your medical practice to vaccinate refugees in Sudan. Radical is not taking care of young children at home in the suburbs. Radical is planting a church in Detroit. Radical is not working on an assembly line.

Paul [in 1 Corinthians 7] wanted to draw the Corinthians’ attention away from their circumstances and emphasize that the full Christian life could be lived anywhere by anyone if lived in deep communion with God. Do we really believe that? Really? Os Guinness reminds us that, “First and foremost we are called to Someone, not to something or to somewhere.” We should remember that the word radical is from Latin meaning “root.” If our lives are rooted in a continual communion with God, then every person’s life, no matter how mundane, is elevated to sacred heights – including a suburban mom’s, the office worker’s, and the EPA attorney’s. And it’s not just radical when they behave like a missionary or social activist in their free time. Even working the assembly line becomes a holy activity when done “with God.”

Paul... did not measure maturity or commitment to Christ based on how “radical” a life appeared on the outside, or the visible impact a person made either missionally or socially. These activities are good and important, don’t misunderstand me, but they are not the center of the Christian life. Rather maturity was seen by the depth of a person’s union with Christ. The truly radical life is the one intimately rooted in communion with God, through Christ, in the Spirit, and that responds obediently to his call – whatever it may be.

So I’ve come to embrace the reality that my place as a church leader is not to get people to do more for God. Rather, I believe my responsibility is to give others a ravishing vision, rooted in Scripture and modeled by my own example, of a life lived in communion with God. And there, as they abide in him, calling will happen. The Lord of the harvest will call and send workers. And he will call others to live quietly and work with their hands. Some may be butchers, and others lawyers, and some he will even call to be suburban moms. And all of their work will be holy, good, and, if rooted in communion with God, truly radical.

There's such an important message in that last paragraph, I think. Our churches should be communities where we are encouraged (and ourselves encourage others) to seek ever greater closeness with God, which does not mean being urged to do more activity. A healthy and sustainable desire to do more for God will gradually spring from a life of greater communion with our Lord. Dare I suggest that putting the activity ahead of the relationship is a form of idolatry?

To finish off, writing this has just reminded me of a talk I heard at New Wine a few years ago by Mark Greene, big-time workplace mission man and author of 'Thank God it's Monday'. I don't remember anything specific from the talk but what is still clear in my mind is that he gave everyone a red and white badge with the letters FTCW on it (just like that one up there). Full Time Christian Worker... God calls all of his children to be full-time workers for his kingdom, to make his will done on earth as it is in heaven. Are you in?


  1. Well written piece Kevin. With the right conclusion I think. We should all be ftcw's! However, could it be said that it's possible to be really intentional in this. E.g. You could set up a coffee shop in your neighbourhood with the express purpose of creating community and building relationships. Perhaps that's different?

  2. Yeah, sure it's possible to be really intentional in being a full-time Christian worker. I'm thinking, though, that being more intentional is the goal (or the path, at least): the more we abide in Christ, the more we will know God's calling and the more God will empower us to be deliberate about doing his work. What do you reckon?

  3. Many years ago the American musician, Keith Green, said that since God already commanded us to go out into the world, Christians needed to be doing missions work and not sitting around at home.

    I wonder if he would have changed his mind had he not died young in the plane crash. Some people just don't have the abilities to be missionaries, and are apt to do far more damage than good.

    And related to what you said, I heard a few sermons on the responsibility of Christians to their families. Running off to do full-time Christian service overseas at the expense of your family (e.g. sending the kids to some school in another country) is not what God would want. Your family and your responsibility to care for the family (for both parents) took priority.

    One sermon (at least) went on to mention the points you did. Full-time Christian service is living as a Christian regardless of your occupation.

  4. Thank you D.J., I think you're absolutely right about not everyone being called or gifted to do missionary work (in the traditional sense of the phrase).

    And most of us have family responsibilities, like you say, so we can't just head off ourselves or uproot our family to meet a need we see elsewhere. It's good that some Christians are single, I guess though, as they do have much more flexibility with what they do.

  5. It's good that some Christians are single because you don't want them breeding and passing on their genes. :)