Blog - Supporting Believers

Your Church's Diamond Mines

Friday, January 07, 2011

George Peck’s father, a "devout Christian,” worked as an Australian coal miner. According to Peck (in the first chapter of The Laity in Ministry), his father "brought to bear upon his life in the mines the Christian faith that he professed.” But troubling thoughts kept nagging at him.

His father "lived as a Christian where God had placed him. He made a significant impact on his environment as a servant of Christ. . . .In places where I [George] as an ordained person could not have gained access, he was present in Christ’s name, and he bore witness. The neighborhood, the organizations, the mines of our region were better because Ted Peck lived and worked there and was not afraid to minister the gospel.”

And yet those disturbing thoughts persisted. ". . . my father always had within him a secret disappointment” Peck remembers. "He wanted to be a minister. . . .Yet neither he nor his church ever thought of him as a minister or of his service as ministry. He was not acknowledged in that way; he was not specifically trained for such a task; he was not explicitly supported in what he did; he was not commissioned; he was not held accountable. . . .He ministered without ever being able to say with clarity, ‘I am a minister of Christ.’”

According to Proverbs 13:12, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Ted Peck cherished the hope that he might be a minister. That hope was not only deferred, it never materialized. How many Christians in so-called "secular” work suffer from a similar kind of deferred hope? How many believers are missing out on whole-heartedly doing the ministry for which God sent them into the work world because they are secretly hoping to get into "real” ministry? Thomas Edison once said, "Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

While I was working as a state employee, I attended a management seminar where I first heard about the old story, "Acres of Diamonds.” Dr. Russell Herman Conwell, a lawyer and pastor, published the account in 1890. He had heard this true story from an Arab guide in Baghdad. An African farmer, knowing diamonds were being found throughout that continent, sold his farm and spent his life searching for them all over Africa. Finally, out of both hope and money, he drowned himself in a river. But back on the farm he had sold, the new owner found a large rock. It turned out to be a diamond. That farm became the Kimberly Diamond Mine, the largest in the world. Yet the original owner, even when working the soil of that farm, never recognized what he had.

Ted Peck, the Australian coal miner, never saw his work for the ministry it surely was. At the end of the section on his father, George Peck concludes: "I believe that both my father and the church as a whole have been impoverished because of this state of affairs.”

Impoverished. Made poor. How can a church recognize the rich "mines” of ministry its members already occupy in their workplaces? In his book, Joy  at Work, Dennis Bakke points the way: "One of the primary purposes of the local church is to encourage, prepare, and hold people responsible for their lives, missions, ministries, and callings.” Instead, he typically sees "an institutional church that misses the opportunity to adequately prepare the majority of its members for the important roles they should play in the world.”

In your community, employers (many who do not profess to be Christians) are paying believers to serve in the very place into which Jesus sends us—the world. Yet our practices and our vocabulary ("layperson,” "secular work vs. full-time service,” etc.) continue to condition Christians to wish they were somewhere else doing something more spiritual. How many "diamond mines” do the members of your church work in every week?

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