Blog - Grasping Vocation
Sacred vs. Secular Work: Damaging DivideFriday, October 05, 2012
"I think people don’t like to talk about this divide very much.” Those words from a student in response to a question I posed to two online classes on Work, Calling, and Human Dignity. The "divide” to which he referred is the gulf between so-called "sacred” and "secular” work. The question to which he responded: "What effect does the sacred/secular divide have on how Christians often perceive the dignity of work?”
While it’s probably true many Christians prefer to avoid the subject, those in these two classes were eager to respond to the question. One class includes doctoral and the other masters students. Totaling around 40 and located in several countries, they work in a variety of roles: businesspeople, pastors, missionaries, denominational leaders, church planters, and entrepreneurs. Their responses to the question touched on so many outcomes of the sacred-secular divide, it will take more than one blog to summarize them.
One recurring theme: loss. Perhaps the most serious loss the students identified is that of Christian influence in the world. One pastor put it this way: "This divide is like a structure of evil, in that it has prevented many Christians from bringing the power, love and justice of God upon their sphere of influence in the ‘secular’ world.” Another pastor wrote that the sacred-secular divide diminishes "the effectiveness of the church’s witness in the world,” and creates "an artificial hierarchy in the church regarding work, promoting clergy over laity, the latter being supports of the clergy who are engaged in real sacred work.”
The losses negatively affect not only the impact of the scattered church but also the gathered church and pastors. One student wrote, "Recently due to the economic slowdown several of our ‘full-time’ pastors have been forced to become bi-vocational to meet their financial needs. One of these pastors confessed to me that he was officially a ‘failure’ because of working in the ‘world’ again.”
By contrast, another student reported that, ". . . recently one of the pastors in our district was forced into getting a job outside the church due to some medical bills. After a few months of working in a stock room [of a well-known retail chain] they had paid off their debt. He was getting ready to hand in a resignation, when his wife said, ‘You do know that since you went to ‘work’ you have never preached better and been more in touch—you’re even easier to live with. Please don’t quit.’ His response was to tell her he thought the same thing, but didn’t know if it would make him less in the eyes of others, peers and members of the church, if he was ‘bi-vocational.’”
The one pastor felt as if working in the world made him a "failure.” The other feared appearing "less in the eyes of others.” These pastors were—perhaps for the first time—experiencing what countless Christians experience over their working lifetimes. The next blog will focus on what the students see as negative effects of the sacred-secular divide in the lives of such believers in the work world