2533270When I left dentistry to pursue a vocation in the church, many Christians came up to me and commended me for leaving dentistry to “serve God.” While I appreciated their encouragement I was always disturbed by this statement because it implied that I wasn’t serving God while I was practising dentistry. I knew this was not true.

While I found dental school tough I had great joy in treating my patients. I always saw my dental practice as part of God’s healing work. I remember the deep sense of satisfaction I had after completing a good filling or a root canal procedure. I never saw the pastorate as something more spiritual than my dental practice. It just happened to be my calling.

Last week I wrote about an accountant who took a drastic pay cut to follow her calling to be a kindergarten teacher. In that piece I did affirm the validity of all sorts of jobs as callings from God. A good friend pointed out that though we may pay lip service to this principle invariably the church seems to celebrate those who move from “hard” jobs like accountancy and law to “softer” jobs like the pastorate or teaching, and more often than not we only celebrate those who take a cut in pay. We rarely affirm the spiritual validity of those whose callings are in areas like politics, business, or law.
He is right.

I remember a friend serving the Lord as a politician. He told me how lonely he felt in church. Many looked upon him with suspicion believing that all who are in politics must be dirty. And while the church always prayed for cross cultural missionaries they never prayed for him or his work. Actually my friend was not alone. Many Christian lawyers and businessmen would have echoed his sentiments.

Since the Reformation the church has taught a doctrine that validates the spiritual worth of all legitimate work. However the belief that life is divided into sacred and secular compartments and that the “spiritual” is more important than the “material” still runs deep in the de facto belief systems of many churches. This results in a division of God’s people into first and second class servants. As Darrell Cosden puts it:

“What clearly emerges whether we want it to or not, is a two-tiered understanding of the Christian life in service to God. There is first-class spirituality and special “Lord’s work’ and therefore, by definition, also a second-class Christianity focused on the things of earth and lived out in ordinary work. The latter is still sort of the Lord’s work, but it is temporal and thus less meaningful than the former. Both are good, but one is clearly better.”
(Darrell Cosden, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2006, pp.19-20)

I note that when tax collectors and soldiers asked John the Baptist what they should do to be ready for God’s kingdom, they were not told to leave their evil jobs and go into “full time ministry.”
Instead this is what John said:

“Even tax collectors came to be baptised. ‘Teacher,’ they asked, ‘what should we do?’
‘Don’t collect any more than you are required to,’ he told them.
Then some soldiers asked him, ‘And what should we do?’
He replied, ‘Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely-be content with your pay.'”
(Luke 3:12-14 TNIV)

It would seem the principle here is not, “leave the world to enter the kingdom” but “let the kingdom invade and redeem the world.” God is the Lord over every area of life. In the words of Paul:

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.”
(Colossians 1:15-18 TNIV)

Jesus is Lord over all. There is no false division of life into spiritual/material, clergy/laity, or first class/second class callings.

Therefore we should never let those who are called to marketplace work feel any less called or think that their work is any less spiritual than those called to church related professions. What we should do is help each follower of Jesus discover where God wants him or her to serve. Some are called to church related vocations. Many are called into the marketplace. Some have less money. Some have more. But our focus should be on doing what God has called us to do whatever that may be.

We need good people in church related vocations. My fear is that as globalisation makes the marketplace more and more complex, competitive, and stressful, many will find church related vocations attractive. It is one thing to go into church work because you are answering a genuine call. It is another to go into church work because you think it is an easier option. Believe me, it is not. Church or marketplace, to follow Christ is to carry your cross.

I have good friends who serve as bankers, entrepreneurs, lawyers, politicians, company secretaries, managers and businessmen. They are precisely where God has placed them. If they suddenly feel called to church work I would be concerned and ask them to think and pray through carefully. I will probably end up encouraging most of them to remain where they are redeeming the world though kingdom values, fleshing out the values of the Gospel we preach.

But let the church be utterly clear that God truly calls people to different stations. And rather than celebrating only church related vocations, we should be helping all our people discover their callings, and equipping all our people to live for Christ at their stations wherever that may be.

Your brother,
Soo-Inn Tan