Blog - Grasping Vocation
Religious Ruts in Your Work World: Part 17Friday, July 16, 2010
YOU HAVE HEARD: TO REALLY SERVE GOD IN YOUR WORK, GO INTO FULL-TIME SERVICE
BUT SCRIPTURE MAKES IT CLEAR: ALL CHRISTIANS ARE CALLED TO SERVE GOD FULL TIME
"We shape our buildings,” said Winston Churchill; "thereafter they shape us.” In a similar way, we fashion religious terms that from then on have the power to mold our thinking for generations. Case in point: the phrase "full-time Christian service.” Think with me about what we communicate in the way we use that term.
Since who knows when, this phrase has come to mean serving as pastor, missionary, etc. A quick Google search turned up these real-life examples:
· The co-owner of a small business came home from work one day and announced to his wife, "I think we're supposed to go into full-time service.” They eventually went as missionaries to Ethiopia.
· The president's scholarship at a Bible college was "Established for a full-time student . . . with intentions to enter full-time Christian service as a pastor, a missionary, or a teacher.”
· ". . . one-half of those who go into full-time service drop out within 5 years.”
Can God send a business owner to Ethiopia as a missionary? Yes. Might he have called "Phil” to work as a pastor? Of course. If I no longer receive my paycheck from a religious organization, does that automatically mean I've "dropped out" of serving the Lord full time? I hope not. I fully get what we Christians intend when we say "full-time Christian service.” What troubles me is what the phrase, "full-time Christian service,” locks us into saying without our intending to do so.
The words send the not-so-subtle signal that believers not in "full-time service” must be serving God part time (or perhaps not at all). This raises some questions. If full-time service includes all seven pieces of the weekly pie, does serving him part time mean settling for only the Sunday slice? Does that mean those in ordinary jobs are not serving God while on duty there? Does "dropping out” of full-time service carry the stigma of reduced Kingdom value? When Paul stopped preaching to make tents, was he dropping out of full-time service?
Maybe the root question goes like this: Does the New Testament ever describe a Christ-follower as entering or leaving "full-time service”? Clearly, the answer is no. Then does the New Testament have anything to say that should shape our thinking in this area? Yes.
For example, Paul told the believers in the church at Corinth, "Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord” (I Cor. 15:58). Always means at all times. Fully means abundantly, many times over—completely. Did Paul address his letter to a pastor at Corinth? No. To the elders? No. He wrote it "to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1:2). In other words, he wrote 15:58 to all the believers in the church.
Those believers included slaves (12:13). Slaves did a great deal of the ordinary work that kept life going back in those days. Think of it! Paul expected them—whether they served as maids, miners, or masons—to give themselves to the work of the Lord completely and at all times. Without using the phrase, "full-time service,” Paul seems to be saying even those who carry out the everyday chores of the work world should engage in service full time for their Lord.
Whatever your work, God has called you into full-time service for him. Yes, God gifts and calls some to work as pastors and teachers and so on. But their job is to prepare the rest of God's people to serve him full time, no matter what kind of work he may have placed them in (Eph. 4:11-12).
But the way our religious traditions have taught us to use the phrase, "full-time service,” suggests that it's okay to be a believer and yet to be involved in something less than serving the Lord full time. What do you think? Might our use of this language at least partly explain why many believers remain underemployed in the kingdom of God?