Blog - Grasping Vocation

Religious Ruts in Your Work World: Part 8

Friday, May 14, 2010


This religious tradition concedes that so-called “secular” work can have some religiously redeeming value. Okay, it says, so you hold a job that does not qualify as work popularly called “full-time Christian service.” Not a total loss. At least you can use it as an opportunity to share the gospel, to earn a living, and to make enough to support your church and cross-cultural missions.

In their book, Your Work Matters to God, Doug Sherman and William Hendricks call this tradition the “Mainstream  Model.” They say, “…according to this widely held view, Christians should work in secular jobs primarily as a strategy for evangelism.” This Mainstream Model, they add, “means that your work itself has no inherent value. It has only slight instrumental value: Your job simply provides you with a platform for evangelism, and it pays the bills.”

An American business man living abroad told David W. Miller (God at Work), “There are missionary businesses that fake it, take it, or make it.” Miller explains. “The fakers use business shells as their cover for evangelizing and missionary work; in practice, little real work is done. The takers actually take a valid and legitimate job and perform the work associated with that position, such as teaching English, but they use their position primarily as a vehicle to evangelize.” The makers, also evangelize, but they contribute to the local economy by creating authentic jobs and by providing goods and services people need. Miller believes those same patterns show up in workplaces here at home.

For example, a flight attendant put it this way: “The Great Commission is what we're called to. It is the number-one reason that God put us here. We need a job just to make our payments and pay the bills” (from Your Work Matters to God).

But this religious tradition can have at least two side-effects that work against making the rule (kingdom) of God known in the world. First, suppose you land a job that places you in an office where you regularly interact with 20 co-workers. Before long they all know you're a Christian believer. Your language, your integrity, your references to your faith, and so on have made it clear that you are a Christ-follower. But days, even weeks, go by when no legitimate opportunities open for speaking the gospel to anyone in the office. If you believe God has placed you there only to evangelize, you will soon begin to lose your motivation, seeing your work as a waste of time.

Second, if you think witnessing is your only spiritual reason for having that job, you'll be tempted to plunge ahead with gospel-sharing even without any God-given opportunity. I still shudder to recall a scene I saw while serving as a state employee. A fellow Christian had trapped an unwilling co-worker in the corner formed by a steel wall and the side of a Coke machine. The “victim” was getting a full dose of the message—like it or not. Such “witnessing” only brings disrespect for the name of Christ and for his followers.

Yes, evangelism is one of the reasons God places Christians in the work world. But it's not the only one. Biblically, there are many reasons. We'll explore some of those in the next blog.

What has been your experience with this “Mainstream Model”? How has it affected you? How has it affected the people you work with?

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