Blog - Grasping Vocation

Are We Exporting Our Faulty Workplace Vision?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Soviet Empire was breaking up. At first, only a few western missionaries moved in. Among them was Darrell Cosden. Armed with a seminary education and financial support from the U.S., he felt poised at the edge of a fruitful ministry in Russia. By the end of 1991, the initial trickle of missionaries had become a tidal wave. But in his book, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, Cosden reports that “it didn't take long before several of us began to feel very uneasy about how things were developing.”

The flood of missionaries—long- term and short—began to overwhelm the local gatherings of believers. So much so that Cosden's pastor often found himself with no time to speak because of all the missionary guests seeking a platform.

As he listened to them, Cosden began to detect a pattern. “. . . again and again, we heard the same people offer similar words of ‘testimony' about how they came to Russia: ‘I'm not sure why God called me here. I have no specific training for this context or knowledge of your church, culture, or language. But isn't it amazing that God would call an ordinary person like me, release me from the daily grind of my meaningless (but well-paying) job back home, provide me with plenty of money, and send me here to be a missionary to spread the gospel?' . . . Week after week we heard this same message, including, in some form or another, the degradation of ‘meaningless' ordinary work.”

The repetition of this theme took its toll. Russian believers began to think that maybe the gospel offered them a way out of their everyday work. Maybe one of these foreign missionaries, who seemed so financially independent, could work out a way for them to leave the drudgery and engage in far more exciting gospel work.

In hindsight, Cosden concludes: “To them we were modeling what it meant to be ‘spiritual' and a real missionary. But was this really what it means to do God's work? . . . To this day, many of these folk are still waiting and wondering if eventually God might call them to leave their work and become missionaries.”

Church history and its spinoff traditions have spawned the notion that serving God in your work means entering one of the the “sacred” professions (missionary, pastor, evangelist, etc.). We western Christians have bought heavily into this idea. Now, it seems, we are packaging the seeds of this unbiblical message in with the gospel and exporting the mix. And so it should come as no surprise that we reproduce what those seeds have produced here at home. As one western executive put it, “I suppose if I'm really going to be committed as a Christian I need to go into full-time Christian service and become a pastor or missionary” (quoted in Doing God's Business, by R. Paul Stevens).

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