Blog - Embodying Truth
On-the-Job IdentityWednesday, August 06, 2014
A Christ-follower leaves the gathered-church mode (say on Sunday) and enters the scattered-church mode in the work world (on Monday). In that crossover, what happens to this believer’s perceived identity?
Sunday offers a variety of words by which we describe ourselves. Christian. Saint. Church Member. Adherent (ouch!). Believer. Disciple. If we have a specific function within the church organization, we may be known by that description. Teacher. Usher. Pastor. Deacon. Elder. Worship Leader. And so on.
Come Monday, how do we see ourselves in the work world? Some terms, like Christian or believer, carry over rather easily. Many others, though, don’t fit the job setting. There, we use a different set of words to define ourselves. Employee. Owner. Staffer. Worker. Wage Earner. Entrepreneur. And, as on Sunday, we may describe ourselves by roles or titles. Salesperson. Manager. Firefighter. Accountant. Coordinator. Programmer. Mechanic. And the like.
Such workplace tags can lead us to equate what we do with who we are. Labels inherited from our religious traditions, too, make it difficult to remember and practice who we really are as believers in the work world. For example, seeing myself as a layperson may block the view of my biblical identity in the workplace.
In The Jesus Way, Eugene Peterson says, "Within the Christian community there are few words that are more disabling than ‘layperson’ and ‘laity.’ . . . It is a lie because it misleads a huge company of Christians into assuming that their workplace severely limits their usefulness in the cause of Christ, that it necessarily confines them to part-time work for Jesus as they help out on the margins of kingdom work.”
It’s no secret that the way we see ourselves powerfully shapes what we do. Perhaps that’s why the New Testament so often reminds us who we are. For instance, Jesus says we, his followers, are the "light of the world” (Matt. 5:14). But how many of us think of ourselves as lights in the work world? Imagine the effect if every working Christian were to head off to another workday with the conviction, "Jesus has sent me to shine light into the darkness of this particular corner of his world.”
After identifying us as the light of the world, Jesus told us to illuminate the world through the work (the deeds) we do (Matt. 5:16). Like an optical fiber strand, our work becomes a "light pipe” into the world.
The New Testament also identifies us as salt, seed, branches, and priests—to list just a few examples. In the next several blogs, I’ll explore briefly how seeing yourself in these ways can transform doing your daily work from being done "on the margins of kingdom work” into doing it as a frontline deployment in the mission of God on earth.