The complaint usually goes like this; “When you keep challenging us to give up our careers and secular work, you’re subtly implying that our work is not as valuable as gospel work and that makes us feel like second class citizens in the church. You should see that all good work is part of God’s good intention for the world. It helps people have food, housing, health, education. These are just as valuable as gospel work.”
When faced with this, you could defend the claim that gospel work is more valuable than secular work (which it is) – but I think this is falling into a trap.
The whole question/challenge carries with it an “identity misunderstanding”. Your identity is not defined by your career. It never was and never will be. Your identity is defined by God’s declaration about you at the cross. If you feel like a second class citizen when I attack your career as less valuable than gospel work… why?? Is your identity caught up in your career or life-decisions? Don’t let it be!
There are two things to discuss, 1) Your identity in Christ that is perfect and unalterable, 2) Your work that can be more or less valuable in light of God’s plans and purposes for the universe.
So… the mother who wakes at 3am again to look after her kids because God values families does good. The terminally-ill patient who lies in a hospital bed and prays for the people she knows and the staff who serve her, she does an enormous good. Both activities are much more valuable than testing the accounting software for a finance company who underwrites the insurance policies of other companies who do some aspect of manufacturing (like what I used to do).
So, you ARE valuable in Christ, and therefore, give up your ambitions and DO the most valuable thing with your life you reasonably can… which is as much gospel work as you can.
6 thoughts on “Avoid the trap… Secular work “just as valuable” as gospel work?”
Thanks Dave. I’m just wondering…what if the mother who gets up at 3am does so begrudgingly and with resentment in her heart but IT dude tests stuff joyfully and in a way that seeks to glorify God. Does this change the value of their work?
I like this post. I grew up as a pastor kid and I always thought I had to work in a church school (although I prefer it) but it’s not always possible. I now that I teach non-Christian students I believe God wants me to give a good testimony so people can know Him.
Sorry Dave, I completely disagree.
I think for a lot of evangelical Christians, they don’t find their identity in their career. Most of them are seeking to survive in life and contribute to the community in some sort of meaningful way. By nature this generally means being gainfully employed. Of course there is the risk of career or any type of work becoming an idol. Even doing gospel work.
I really want to know what criteria you are using to judge “value” of types of work. You give the examples of caring for an infant and praying – why are they valuable? If God values families, thus making parenting a “valuable” work, then what about the other things that God cares about? The other example of the IT worker may be very valuable ensuring transparency with the finance company and putting food on his/her family’s table. Are these not also “valuable?”
This idea of work needs to be extended to everyday activities as well.
Further, do you think there is any intrinsic value in doing a particular job/activity? Or is work only to be viewed as a means to an end (that end being “gospel work”). Do you see much value in a Christian doing his/her job well, or do you only see their job as useful if they are able to tell everyone at work about Jesus?
Don’t get me wrong – I do value “gospel work”. It is different from so-called “secular work,” however most people need to do paid work of some sort in life. So to demean “secular work” demeans what every single person does when they are not “gospel working.” How do you reconcile the time that you are not doing “gospel work” if “secular work” is not also valuable to God?
In the end, is God going to be more impressed with us doing “as much gospel work as we can” or “just” being faithful in the work place if we are already valuable in Christ?
You’re walking dangerously close to saying that doing certain types of walk is more valuable to God and that we can earn His favour.
My work is not more valuable than that of a carpenter 2000 years ago.
Yes, consider all things as loss, to know Christ and be found in him. Jesus shapes our identity now. In Christ, there’s no Jew, Gentile, male, female, slave, free etc… And yet we do have secondary identities… For example a female slave wouldn’t stop being a woman or a slave when she was saved. No, now she’d be a Christian woman and a Christian slave. So her primary identity is in Christ but she has secondary identities as a woman and a slave.
When people come across as insecure about their role as a mum, worker etc… I wonder if your diagnosis of identity misunderstanding may have merit but your discussion points are oversimplified? It seems to me that godly people (ok to me it seems especially girls, but I know more godly girls, so yeah…) hear and hear and hear and overhear the call to give up their ambitions and feel (unnecessarily) guilty that they’re not doing enough… valuable gospel “stuff”…
What if the person has already given up their ambitions for Christ? And that’s what they’re seeking to do daily? But they’re also doing paid secular work or uni study?
Maybe they don’t need to hear that their work is not as valuable as it could be… but more encouragement to continue in Christ as a Christian worker… as a Christian mum… as a Christian *insert secondary identity here*. Encouragement to godly Christians to continue in Christ is so needed…. we need to tell each other and thank God when we see Christ working in them, and that their fight for integrity at work is valuable, how they care about details to honour Jesus is valuable, that their sacrifices for their family and beyond is valuable…
And maybe if this encouragement is given often, there’ll be less people feeling like second-class citizens in God’s kingdom. Maybe. I don’t know. We’re all sinful, and prone to listening to lies about ourselves and God.
(And when people are gifted and you want to affirm their gifts and encourage them into fulltime ministry, also encourage them not to let “fulltime ministry worker” become their identity.)
I’m thankful for the paid staff at HBC who worked so hard for the gospel. Lots of encouraging people. I’m also thankful for so many non-staff people who God used to impact my life and others’ lives by their perseverance and example. I cannot say that the way the non-staff people used their time was less valuable than the way the staff people used theirs. But that seems the logical conclusion of discussion point #2 in this blog post. Am I misunderstanding you?
So the trap is: Don’t see yourself as second-class because of the work you do, because we’re all first class in Christ.
So we shouldn’t base our identity on the type of work we do, but does it still stand that ministry (in whatever form) is first-class work and ‘secular’ work is second-class according to God?
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