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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

7 Things Pastors Should Teach Those in the Marketplace

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The marketplace, the everyday world of trade and economic activity, is where most people spend the majority of their days. In modern history, the marketplace has played an unparalleled role in shaping our world. Globalization has turned countless local markets into one massive global market. Advances in technology and communication have managed to bridge enormous geographical and cultural gaps with blinding speed.

Meanwhile, the language and norms of the marketplace have changed the way other social institutions, including the church, think and operate. Even family life has been shaped by the marketplace in seemingly indelible ways.

Yet the marketplace is not a single homogenous entity. It is a complex organism that defies easy definition. The marketplace experience of a plumber is not the same as a venture fund manager, and the work of a banker is different from the work of a teacher. Indeed, work happens

  • in a variety of locations (from home, remotely, in the air, from a car, in an office, in a cubicle, in a warehouse, in a field, in a sky rise, underground, on the water),
  • in a variety of employments (freelancers, employees, contractors, consultants, employers, sole proprietors),
  • and in a variety of organizations (firms, small businesses, large corporations, franchises, practices, partnerships, governments, schools, nonprofits). 

Therefore, as a pastor seeks to teach biblically about marketplace dynamics, it is helpful for him to deepen his empathy and broaden his understanding of the vocations represented in his congregation.

So what should pastors teach to those called to the marketplace?

1. Teach them how Scripture informs their work. One of the most foundational texts for understanding work is the “creation mandate,” where God commands Adam, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Though it is impossible for a pastor to keep up with the ever-growing complexity of social and economic development since the Garden of Eden, pastors do have the opportunity to devote themselves to the timeless wisdom of Scripture. Helping those in the marketplace love and live the wisdom found in Proverbs will shape how they understand their daily work, and how it can be used to glorify God and to serve their neighbors.

2. Teach them to fear the Lord. The marketplace is a place of fear. A worker may fear his boss, an executive may fear very public failures, and others fear market instability, unemployment, and government regulations. Globalization, media, and technology all serve to amplify the sense of not being in control. Like anger and pride, acting from fear produces a range of insecurities, sins, and failures.

Throughout Scripture, the people of God are commanded not to be afraid. Paul reminds us, “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). We are, however, commanded to fear God: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Prov. 9:10; Ps. 111:10). Unfortunately, there are many professing Christians whose work life is dominated by fear and anxiety, which cuts them off from living in the wisdom of God.

3. Teach them to pray. Many Christians do not feel equipped to pray about their work, much less to actually pray in the marketplace. Given the fear that is so rampant in the marketplace, coupled with hostility toward Christian faith and practice, the best thing for workers to do is to pray. Yet the kinds of prayers needed in the marketplace may not be the kinds typically heard on Sunday mornings. Pastors have the opportunity to teach Christians how to pray for courage, against temptation, for integrity, that they might work with skill, for their coworkers, and that God would establish the work of their hands. And in response to the many blessings of work, they should be equipped to give thanks.

4. Teach them that their ultimate worth isn’t found in their performance. There is massive pressure in the marketplace for workers to earn their keep, meet their quotas, and climb the ladder. Without vigilant resistance, Christians too can come to believe they are nothing but a job title, a level of responsibility, or a unit of production.

The psalmist teaches that, unlike man, God does not judge us like one evaluates the strength of a horse. Rather, “the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Ps. 147:10-11). At the end of the day, our approval and identity are found in being adopted as children of God by grace through faith in Christ—not on the basis of anything we do for ourselves.

5. Teach them they are more than “useful” to their local church. There is a subtle tendency for pastors to see members of their congregation in terms of their utility in supporting church programs or contributing to the budget. This temptation becomes even greater when a church member is known to be talented in their craft or successful in the marketplace. In this regard, pastors apply the same pressures on them that they likely experience throughout the week from their employers, leaders, and supervisors. Before churches are about budgets and programs, they are about people. The members of a congregation need to know they matter for more than just their utility.

6. Teach them that they’re not inferior to pastors and missionaries. Many churches, perhaps unwittingly, subtly propagate the myth that pastors and missionaries matter more, or are intrinsically holier, than carpenters, call center workers, or entrepreneurs. The church may employ pastors and send missionaries, but the silent majority of kingdom work is done by those of diverse callings in the marketplace. Pastors should find ways to disciple members for the variety of vocations represented in the congregation, and not just those in so-called “Christian ministry.”

7. Teach them to love what they do, and to do it well. It is easy to love one’s work for a time, but when circumstances, opportunities, relationships, and rewards change, difficulty and discouragement quickly set in. A certain degree of this is inevitable, but if work is dominated by a sense of pessimism or fatalism, the worker will not do his work well, he will not be content, and his gospel witness will shrivel up and die. Believers need the reminder of Colossians 3:23 that in a broken world they ultimately work for the Lord. In every task and in every season, it is this truth that provides the motivation to do all work with passion and excellence. Pastors face difficulty and discouragement in their work as well. But those who have found new, life-giving ways to rekindle the love for what they do will in turn be able to share that wisdom with those in different occupations.

Lukas Naugle, who attends Redemption Church in Phoenix, Arizona, is a principal at Marketplace One and works alongside entrepreneurs and thought leaders from around the country.

February 2013
© 9Marks

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Topics: Discipleship

Businessperson, Help your Pastor Build Trellises

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In my first article in this issue of the 9Marks Journal, I described the tension that often arises between pastors and businesspeople. Pastors grow frustrated because businesspeople seem overly fixated on the church’s numbers and structures and budgets, and businesspeople feel like their pastors don’t understand them or care about their work.

And I suggested that the analogy of trellises and vines provides a way forward. Vine work is disciple-making, and trellis work is building structures to support disciple-making. Pastors are typically strong on the former and weak on the latter, and businesspeople tend to be the opposite. So, in my first article, I encouraged pastors to encourage businesspeople in their work, teach them how to do vine-work, and use their trellis-building powers for the church. This article provides a game plan for businesspeople in the church.

THE BUSINESSPERSON’S GAME PLAN

The Businessperson’s Game Plan: Your pastor is better at growing vines, not building trellises. Realize this, learn from him, and build supporting trellises in the church.

1) Build trellises—but remember that trellises are for supporting vines.

First, build trellises—but remember that trellises are for supporting vines. I’ve heard too many businesspeople complain about their churches and how the church “doesn’t get them.” I’m sympathetic to this, but I want to challenge you back: How much time have you spent trying to “get” your church? And, more importantly, how much time have you spent trying to serve your church?

A church is different from a business. Sure there are some similarities, but fundamentally, a church is to “go and make disciples...baptizing them...and teaching them to obey” (Matt. 28:19). In essence, a church exists to preach the gospel and to make disciples.

This is the primary work of the church. This work can take many forms, but a church has got to keep this main thing the main thing. This isn’t to say that a trellis is unnecessary or unimportant. But it does mean that the trellis—in some cases proceeding in others following—is always there to support the vine. The point of a church is not to have a great trellis, but to have a healthy vine.

Very practically, this doesn’t mean your church has a license to have shoddy trellises. It does mean that trellises are a necessary but not sufficient part of your church. On the other hand, to business people, the vine does not always seem a necessary part of your church. Here’s the point: preaching and teaching the Bible produces fruit, fruit that is visible in the lives of the people at your church. This is the great goal of the church: people who reflect the glory of God!

This is the vine. This vine needs to be fed, watered, cultivated, counseled, disciplined, and poured into. This happens on Sundays through the worship services of the church as the Word is read, sung, prayed, and preached. It happens throughout the week in Bible studies and other gatherings. And it happens through “one another” relationships as members disciple, encourage, and exhort each other.

If you’re a businessperson reading this, let me encourage you that this is actually very similar to the business or company that you’re in. What’s the most important thing you do? You provide a product or service for your customers. This is the point. How you build, support, deliver, strategize, bill and collect for it are all in service to that goal. In other words, the product or service is the main point—the vine. Everything else is trellis. And there is a clear link between the two: in business, if you don’t create a great product, you don’t have customers. But if you don’t bill, you don’t have money to build a great product. And if you don’t strategize, you may not have the ability to service customers a few years from now. They all work together, but are in service to the great goal.

What does all this mean practically? If you are a businessman, realize that above all, your pastor is a vine worker. By God’s grace and through Word ministry, he wants to build disciple-making disciples. To do this, he needs to know and be committed to God’s Word and to sound doctrine. He needs to pastor by correcting, counseling, and disciplining. And, to some extent, he needs to think practically about how to organize the resources of the church to do this. But very often the preaching and pastoring will come much more naturally to him than the practical. And this is okay. In fact, you’d rather have this than the opposite.

So encourage your pastor not by trying to fix his attention on practical structures, but by freeing him to pursue the vine work. For all those gatherings and meetings to happen, trellis work is needed. So if you see trellis work that needs doing, do it. And, it’s important for you as the businessperson to bring strategy and process skills to bear on improving those trellises. Just have the humility to do this in support of, not at the expense of, the vine.

In fact, start by asking: What is the church already doing that I can lend my trellis powers to? And how can I humbly use my gifts to build up the church?

2) Care more about vine work—discipling others with the gospel and sound doctrine—than about efficiency and “getting things done.”

Second, care more about vine work—discipling others with the gospel and sound doctrine—than about efficiency and “getting things done.” I praise God that he’s given those with administrative abilities as gifts to the church (1 Cor. 12:28). Praise God that the body isn’t a bunch or mouths or eyes. We need hands and feet and hearts as well. But but be careful to use your administrative gifts to fan the Word into flame, not to throw water on the fire.

How can do this? Realize the biblical role of the elders of your church: to give themselves to teaching and praying. Understand that the pastor of your church likely cares more about teaching and theology than he does about administration because that is what he’s called to prioritize. And this is what God uses to build a church: the preaching of the Word and prayer. The ability to understand, exposit, and apply the Word to the specifics of the life of the church is crucial for helping a church grow in depth of knowledge and insight (Phil. 1:9-11).

As a businessperson, think about how you can either help or hinder your church’s Word ministry by applying—or misapplying—vision, motivation, systems, and processes. Realize that if you are a businessperson, your disposition and gifting likely leans towards efficiency and “getting things done.” While in some cases this is a huge asset, it can also undermine the teaching and praying ministry of your church. So be humble and realize that your tendencies towards efficiency and can actually harm the ministry of the Word.

What can you do practically about this? First, pray that you’d grow in love for God’s Word and desire to see the gospel held up as ultimate. As you grow in love for God’s Word, you’ll increasingly see how the gospel is the power of God for salvation and sanctification.

Second, pray that you’d grow in wisdom so that you can be helpful, intelligent, thoughtful, and practical in the best sense of the word as you apply your administrative abilities to supporting, pruning, cultivating, and nurturing vine work.

Third, grow in your ability to do vine work. As you grow in doing vine work, you’ll begin to grow in your appreciation for how so much of Christian ministry is the “hand-to-hand combat” of marriage counseling, discipling, walking through difficult circumstances with others, leading Bible studies, teaching a Sunday school class, practicing hospitality, and more. And as you grow in your ability as a vine worker, you’ll also likely grow in your appreciation for your pastor’s gifting and your own shortcomings. So join the great work of disciple-making, and supplement it with your trellis powers.
 
3) Be diligent, patient and long-suffering in serving your church.

Finally, be diligent, patient, and long-suffering in serving your church. Don’t make church optional, assumed, or an add-on to your life. Make it the central place in which you live out your Christian life.

The New Testament assumes that every believer will be meaningfully connected to and committed to a church. Paul says to the believers in the local church at Corinth, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). A local church is a body, and each person committed to it is a member of that body and contributes to its well-being. Hebrews 10:24-25 makes clear that it’s not enough just to be theoretically committed to a church, either. We should “not neglect to meet together,” it says, and we should be active in “stirring one another up to love and good deeds” and “encouraging one another.” So commit to a local church. Meet together regularly with your church. Encourage, love, and stir up the other members of your church.

Of course, there’s a flip side to this as well. While I agree that pastors can work harder to connect Sunday worship at church to Monday worship at work, responding negatively or selfishly is not a godly, appropriate response. Businesspeople can grow insecure or indifferent because their needs aren’t addressed. Do you feel like the church—specifically the pastor—isn’t doing enough to equip you in life? Do you think he should emphasize different things and spread out the love? Do you think the church doesn’t care about you?

If this is you, I have three things to say. First, you may be right. Your pastor is a fallible, limited sinner who may not do enough to equip and support you. But he’s trying.

Second, you’re probably not alone. Have you ever thought about how many people and groups are represented at your church? How many others feel that they could use more help and encouragement? How many other members are there who have tough lives and confusing circumstances and need to understand how to apply God’s Word to them?

Third, you’re either going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. So you have a limited, fallible pastor and lots of unmet needs, including your own. What are you going to do about it? You’re either going to pray for wisdom and strength to help meet the needs of others, or you’ll simply join the chorus of people whose needs aren’t being met.

If you truly do have specific, acute needs, obviously you should approach an elder or pastor at your church. I’m not insinuating that you do not really need encouragement. Also, it’s a good thing to be part of the solution while also providing measured critique and specific ways that your pastor can encourage a group in the church. So do think of and propose ways that your pastor can encourage business people. Just be kind, patient, and realistic in how you do it.

THE GOAL: UNITY IN CHRIST

The goal of every church is to reflect the glory of God. And one of the keys ways a church does this is through its unity in Christ. A healthy church will have both the disciple-making and practical administrating functioning well together. To this end, both pastors and businesspeople are going to have to fight for unity.

Unity only works if there is mutual humility and mutual service. If you are a pastor, be humble and serve your businesspeople. If you are a businessperson, be humble and serve your pastors. Christians are to be reconcilers, but it’s hard work. It’s not something we get for free. We need to pray for and work towards it.

Sebastian Traeger is an elder of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, a tech entrepreneur, and the author, with Greg Gilbert, of The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs (Zondervan, forthcoming).

February 2013
© 9Marks

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by 9Marks.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © 9Marks. Website: www.9Marks.org. Email: info@9marks.org. Toll Free: (888) 543-1030.

Conference on Conversion in Phoenix

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If you are in the Phoenix area this Thursday (February 21), consider joining the Phoenix chapter of the Gospel Coalition for Reality Check: Conversion and the Church. Wayne Grudem and yours truly will be speaking, and it should be a good time to think about this important subject. I hope to see you there!

 

 

NPR and the Return of Christ

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I got into my car after church on Sunday to find that the radio had been left tuned in to A Prarie Home Companion on NPR. That's not a show I normally listen to (you know, since I'm not 80 years old), but since there was no football (sigh) to listen to and my home is only five minutes away, I didn't bother to change the station.

The host was interviewing a singing group and after a few minutes of chit-chat he asked them to sing a song called "Babylon". Apparently, it's an old-timey hymn based on the refrain from Isaiah 21:9 and Revelation 14:8 and picking up themes from the book of Revelation. Maybe you know it, but it was completely new to me.

It struck me as odd, because the supremacy of Christ over the structures of evil in the word isn't a theme that you hear a lot on NPR these days. The lyrics are really good:

Hail the day so long expected,

Hail the year of full release.

Zion's walls are now erected,

And her watchmen publish peace.

Through our Shiloh's wide dominion,

Hear the trumpet loudly roar,

Babylon is fallen to rise no more.

 

     Babylon is fallen, fallen, fallen

     Babylon is fallen, to rise no more.

 

All her merchants stand with wonder,

What is this that comes to pass:

Murm'ring like the distant thunder,

Crying, "Oh alas, alas."

Swell the sound, ye kings and nobles,

Priest and people, rich and poor;

Babylon is fallen to rise no more.

 

Blow the trumpet in Mount Zion,

Christ shall come a second time;

Ruling with a rod of iron

All who now as foes combine.

Babel's garments we've rejected,

And our fellowship is o'er,

Babylon is fallen to rise no more. 

The tune is pretty good too, again, if you like that sort of old-timey folk singing thing. I'm trying to figure out if we can sing it as a congregation. I couldn't get the audio to embed here, but you can listen to it at the Prairie Home Companion site (click on "Babylon" under the Audio Highlights links in the middle of the page -  I assume the link will move after the 2/16 show).

Pastor, Teach Your Businessperson to Be a Vine Worker

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Scene 1: Over lunch with a pastor of my church, I asked him how things at church were going. After mentioning some encouragements, he expressed frustration with a member whom he described as “overly concerned with process.” This member wanted to spend a lot of time on the details of buildings, benefits, and budgets.

I’ve heard this type of frustration from quite a few pastors over the years.

Scene 2: I was at a “Christians in Business” meeting. There were probably 700 or so in attendance, mostly men. They came from a variety of church backgrounds, but the conference leader and overall content was mainstream evangelical. In many ways, it was a helpful conference, and as a “Christian businessperson,” it was encouraging to be around other like-minded friends. However, one theme kept coming up both from the front and in hallway conversations: “We need this conference because our churches don’t understand us.”

I’ve heard this sentiment repeatedly over the years, normally from business guys who are functionally independent from any church.

My guess is, the longer you pastor businesspeople, or the longer you’re a businessperson in a church, the more likely you’ll experience something similar to one of these two scenes. Let’s call it the Pastor-Businessman Divide.

THE TRELLIS AND THE VINE: A PLAN FOR PASTORS AND BUSINESSPEOPLE

So what’s going on here? You could come up with several reasons for this tension, from personalities to polity, from structures to sin and super egos. But as both a pastor (I’m a lay elder in my church) and a businessperson (I’ve been an internet entrepreneur for the past 12 years), I think the simplest explanation can be found by considering the analogy of a trellis and a vine. Yes, I am borrowing from the excellent book The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.

Vine work is the Great Commission: making disciples through teaching the Word, whether publicly or one-on-one. Trellis work is creating and maintaining the physical and organizational structures and programs that support vine work. Trellises are important, but are limited and supporting. On the other hand, vine work is the fundamental role of every member of a church. All the members are to be disciple-making disciples who hold one another accountable, encourage one another, exhort and love one another and so on.

So how does this relate to the tension between pastors and business-people? Simply this:

Businessman: Your pastor (generally) is better at vines, not trellises. Realize this, and help to build trellises that are limited and supporting.

Pastor: Many of your businessmen don’t naturally take to vine-work, but are naturals at building trellises. Teach them to grow vines, but also take advantage of their trellis power.

To oversimplify, the day-job of a pastor is to do vine work and train others in it. And the day-job of many businesspeople is to build trellises—organizations and structures. When each is doing their day-job in their own spheres, things go swimmingly. But when they come together as members of a local church and their vines and trellises start to overlap, there can be tension. Why? Because in those moments, they both emphasize what they are good at and deemphasize what they are not.

In this article and its companion, I lay out a game plan for averting these tensions and building unity. The rest of this article addresses pastors, while the other article addresses businesspeople. Both answer the question: how can we fight for unity and leverage the gifts of both pastors and businesspeople?   

THE PASTOR’S GAME PLAN

Pastor, many of your businesspeople don’t naturally take to vine-work, but they can build trellises. So your game plan is threefold: encourage them in their daily work, teach them to grow vines, and take advantage of their trellis prowess.

1) Encourage businesspeople by caring about their daily lives.

First, encourage businesspeople by caring about their daily lives. I think some of the tension between pastors and businesspeople comes down to love, or at least the perception of it. If you’re a pastor, I wonder if you might be sending the message that you don’t care about the businesspeople in your church. How? It’s not theological; you love everyone in your church. It’s emotional: you might get really excited about those who are pastoring and are missionaries but show far less excitement for what your businesspeople are doing. In response, businesspeople might be tempted to check out of church and invest entirely in their work.

Imagine a dad who has two sons. It’s clear he loves them both very much, and they both know it. One son, though, loves the Washington Redskins while the other son is an artist. The dad really likes the latter son’s art, but he loves the Redskins. You could see how over time the artist son will feel like his dad loves him less, even though he knows objectively that’s not true. And the more he feels this way, the more he may struggle to prove himself to his dad, or simply look elsewhere for approval.

What’s the solution to this? Should we cater to the feelings of everyone in the church who feels less valued? Should we esteem pastors less? I actually think it’s easier than pastors think. Consider a few practical ways that you can care for businesspeople in your church.

First, pray publicly and specifically for different occupational concerns in your church. Pray for the more “earthly” concerns such as

  • relationships with coworkers;
  • using time well on commutes;
  • the grace and strength to respond in godly ways to frustrations, bureaucracy, and seeming meaninglessness;
  • God’s kindness in providing jobs in the first place;
  • the ability to fight our tendency to idolize work;
  • the ability to fight our tendency toward laziness, procrastination and idleness;
  • an increasing vision for what it means to be salt and light in the workplace;
  • wisdom in navigating raises, internal politics, disappointments, and career planning;
  • ability to know when to take promotions and when not to;
  • an increasing sense of freedom in choosing a career and setting the appropriate hours for your family.

Consider asking a mature businessperson in your church to speak publicly about what he’s learning in the workplace and how God is at work in his heart, his relationships, and his circumstances. Don’t reduce the value of your people in their workplace to how frequently or how well they’re doing in evangelism. Instead, work to build them up, not just through your preaching, but through your prayers and concern for their specific work-life.

Encourage them, especially on Mondays. It can be hard to go to work on Monday. It can be even harder when you’ve just had a family feast on Sunday and now you’re heading out to what can be an uncaring, competitive, and disappointing work environment. (Ironically, I think the healthier the church, the bigger the gap can be between the Sunday high and the Monday low). Recognize this. What can you do to try to counteract this? I don’t think the answer is to make Sundays less encouraging and God-glorifying. But you can avoid giving the impression that worship happens only in church, not at work, and that the only work that matters is paid ministry.

2) Give your businesspeople a vision for, and teach them to do, vine work—in their families, in their workplaces, and in the church.

Second, give your businesspeople a vision for, and teach them to do, vine work—in their families, in their workplaces, and in the church. It is easy for pastors to neglect teaching the businesspeople in their church. It is possible to assume that because your businesspeople are successful and talented, they already have the gifting and ability to do vine work. Or, perhaps the businesspeople in your church are at the other end of the spectrum: they are so worldly that you cannot imagine them doing vine work, so you ignore them.

What is needed is for you to give them a vision for the work of the church and then train them to do it. I have three suggestions for how you can do this.

First, teach them what it means to be a Christian in the workplace—which is really just what it means to be a disciple. Help them see that their discipleship to Jesus is not just one more ball flying around in their life. It is not in competition with other responsibilities. It is their first responsibility, and all others are defined by and find their place in service to that one overarching assignment of following Jesus.

Think of Colossians 3:24. Why are we to work with all our heart at whatever we do?  Because we do whatever we do “for the Lord!” The great first responsibility, discipleship to Jesus, organizes and defines all those secondary “whatever you do” responsibilities. Church life, family life, work life—those are the “whatever-you-dos,” the secondary responsibilities we have as humans and Christians. So we ought to understand all of them as arenas in which we strive to follow Jesus and bring him honor and glory.

When our businesspeople start to understand that we have one and only one first responsibility, and that all our other responsibilities are defined by that first responsibility, a good deal of the chaos they often feel is relieved. All of a sudden, their various callings and duties in life stop being in competition with one another and instead begin to point in the same direction.

Second, equip them to be vine workers—disciple-making disciples—in their callings to the workplace, family, and church. Most business-people’s day-to-day work is very different from vine-work. In fact, “vine-work”—things like mentoring, building into others, and managing well—is normally not appreciated or rewarded in the marketplace. Why? Because it takes a long-term commitment to build into others, yet most businesses want quick and efficient results. So not only are most businesspeople not sharpening their vine-making skills in their jobs, but the system is normally set up to discourage it. Recognize this and take the time to train them up in vine-making.

Third, give them a pattern to follow. Give them a vision to do vine work, but also help them see practically what it looks like. Initially, discipling people was very foreign to me. What really helped me was learning to watch others do it.

I put this into practice by starting to meet up with a friend from church bi-weekly for 30-45 minutes at a local coffee shop to talk through key areas of our lives. We walk through 5 key assignments in life: our personal discipleship, our marriages (or other key relationships), parenting (if applicable), ministry, and work. We each take 10 minutes and think about these areas in terms of how our past weeks went and what our goals are for the upcoming week. We go over each of these with the other person and give them permission to ask us hard questions about any of them.

Normally what happens is there is one box where we spend the majority of our time. For example, my friend was trying to think through how to best disciple his young children. I thought about it with him, applying Scripture and giving him practical wisdom, and over a few weeks he tried different strategies and books that eventually helped him make real progress as a parent.

Here’s the point: Don’t assume your businesspeople know how to do vine work. Do assume that, if they’re Christians, they want to learn how to disciple others.

3) Take advantage of your business people’s trellis powers.

Third, take advantage of your business people’s trellis powers. While things like strategy, planning, process, and efficiency aren’t needed for everything in the church, they are useful for some things. As a pastor, you will be well served if you can see where “trellis powers” are needed, and who can wield the particular tool you need.

So what are some areas in which trellises are useful in the church?  There’s a whole host of things:

  • how to organize member care so that needs are met;
  • how to do small groups;
  • how to steward your buildings and property;
  • staff reviews and compensation;
  • legal issues;
  • recruiting volunteers for nursery;
  • budgeting and income projections;
  • websites and branding;
  • launching new ministries to reach students or internationals;
  • overall strategic planning;
  • streamlining elders meetings;
  • and doing specific outreaches for your community.

The list could go on and on. There is a lot of trellis work to be done at your church.

So who should you be on the lookout for?  How can you put trellis powers to work in your church? The answer is, learn to understand the differences among your “businesspeople” and the tools they wield. Businesspeople actually have fairly different skills based on their personalities and what they do. Here’s a quick overview:

  • A “generic businessperson” builds organizations, systems, and processes and is a strategic thinker. They understand how to allocate resources in order to accomplish a goal.
  • An inventor/entrepreneur sees broken things and wants to fix them. They see opportunities and want to do something, but might not necessarily think about all the details and trade-offs. They can move in the approximate direction and need little guidance.
  • A sales professional is deal-oriented, convinces people of ideas, and works towards agreement.
  • An analyst/attorney/accountant analyzes, studies, is data-centric, and is normally an expert in a narrow topic.
  • An operator/manager “keeps the trains running on time.” Not typically very creative, he or she is likely a good people person and can keep something spinning for a long time.
  • An engineer (software or physical) thinks in terms of systems and processes, understands how things fit together, and, normally, is thorough and a planner.
  • A designer knows how to communicate abstract ideas in concrete ways and can bring aesthetic order.

By God’s grace, your church may be filled with people who have various gifts. Get to know them and ask them to serve the church in ways that align with their gifts. It’s amazing how many businesspeople get discouraged because they are not asked to help. So encourage the various members of your church to function like a body.

THE GOAL: A BODY

Just as God didn’t design the physical body to be just one part, so he didn’t design the body of Christ to be just one part, either. He designed it so that there would be, yes, pastors and missionaries, but also policemen and teachers and carpenters and all kinds of other “parts” who would function together to keep the church body functioning smoothly.

All the various gifts in the church work together to create one well-functioning body. If you take any out, or if you make the whole body just one part, you ruin the beauty not only of the whole, but of all the individual parts as well. They are only beautiful when they complement one another and work together. None of them stands alone and all of them are ordered by God to create one well-functioning body. The roles we all play complement and support one another. They all work together to help the church reflect the glory of God.

Sebastian Traeger is an elder of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, a tech entrepreneur, and the author, with Greg Gilbert, of The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs (Zondervan, forthcoming).

February 2013
© 9Marks

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by 9Marks.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © 9Marks. Website: www.9Marks.org. Email: info@9marks.org. Toll Free: (888) 543-1030.

 

Topics: Discipleship

Book Review: Center Church by Tim Keller

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I was recently on a conference call with a group of ten pastors who are all members of my theological “tribe,” as we’re calling them nowadays. Each of us took turns updating one another, and I mentioned that I was in the process of reviewing Timothy Keller’s Center Church. Would they pray for me? The conversation turned to Keller’s overall ministry program. One brother said that Center Church was “one of the best two or three books” he had ever read “besides the Bible.” A second brother explained that reading Keller sometimes made him want to applaud, and sometimes made him want “to throw the book out the window.”

Everyone had something to say.

I don’t know what church circles you travel in, but this cellular brouhaha mimicked the chatter I have heard for years concerning Keller. Many church leaders treat him as the bee’s knees, a Protestant with ex cathedra potentiality. Others grimace and wince. To be clear, the wincers wince as you would with a teammate and not someone playing for the other side. But it is our disagreements with the ones closest to us that most quickly boil the pot and rattle the lid.

Why the range of reactions to Keller’s theological vision? More than once conversations about Keller—I’m serious—have left me humming, “How do you solve a problem like Tim Keller?” as the priggish old nuns did with Fraulein Maria. Yes, I suppose that means I’m the old nun.

It is tempting to offer a Kelleresque “third way” for viewing Keller, a triangulated Keller for narrowing the space between the Keller critics and enthusiasts. To read Keller, after all, is to be trained in the art of the Aristotelian mean. This is his m.o. Perhaps, in like fashion, we should search for a balanced view of the balancer himself?

Read the entire review here.

Why India Needs 9Marks

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I recently returned from a two-week trip to India. During my time there I taught two 9Marks conferences for pastors and seminarians. I came away from that time more convinced than ever that the mission of 9Marks is essential to the spread of the gospel in places like Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand.

Now, I realize that I am biased when it comes to this subject; though I don’t work for 9Marks, I am a True Believer. But it seems to me from my experience (admittedly limited, I’ve only been twice) and the input of pastors on the ground there that the most urgent need in India is for well-trained pastors. 

There are actually a lot of Christians, a lot of churches, and a lot of missionaries in India. That’s great and really important. There are even a lot of pastors. But while many of these pastors are long on love for Jesus, courage, and willingness to sacrifice… many of them need help thinking through things that you and I might take for granted. Things like: the gospel, conversion, and biblical theology; things that 9Marks specializes in.

The fact is, it’s really hard to have a healthy church and healthy Christians when pastors don’t have a good grasp of these basic things. Just like here in the West, it’s easy for the churches of India to become distracted by things other than the gospel of Jesus Christ. But unhealthy, distracted churches usually breed unhealthy, distracted Christians.

So would you pray that 9Marks would continue to bear fruit in places like India? And would you pray that the Lord would raise up more Indian churches that have a passion for planting churches and training pastors?

Pastoring the Wrongly Ambitious

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I am a pastor, and I am addicted to work—just as I have been for most of my life. Like the participant at Alcoholics Anonymous who considers himself a “recovering alcoholic” after thirty years without a drop of booze, I will consider myself a recovering work addict until the day I reach heaven, because it is so ingrained in my flesh.

Perhaps you identify with this. Or perhaps “addicted to work” sounds as preposterous to you as “addicted to root canals.” Either way, let me share with you some advice from my experience pastoring those in my church (including myself) who are wrongly ambitious.

Notice that I said “wrongly ambitious” and not “overambitious.” That’s because for the Christian it is impossible to be overambitious. Work was created before the Fall (Gen. 2:15) and will continue on into heaven (Isa. 65:21-23). And so the apostle Paul tells us to “make the most of every opportunity” (Eph. 5:16). If that’s not ambition, I don’t know what is.

As Christians, we are called to be ambitious for Christ. And yet many seem ambitious only for the things of this world. How do we pastor them? I will give you five root causes behind wrongheaded ambition, and four ideas of how to help those who have fallen into these traps.

WHY DO PEOPLE BECOME WRONGLY AMBITIOUS?

Why do people become wrongly ambitious?

Root Cause #1: Insecurity

Let me describe a dinner conversation several years ago with five CFOs of Fortune-500 companies. “I’ve got a theory I want to test,” said one of them. “How many of you are the oldest child of divorced parents?” Every hand went up but one. “Right. Driven in your career because you can’t shake your perceived failure as a child?” All heads nod.

How many of the uber-confident, successful overachievers in your congregation are driven out of insecurity and fear rather than strength? Insecurity may well propel these Christians to the heights of their profession, but it will severely hinder their ability to serve Christ in their profession. Insecurity can stem from a broken home, past abuse, an unimpressive education, a struggling marriage, disappointing children, or a host of other factors.

Striving to make our mark on the world can be right and godly. Think of Moses’ asking God to establish the work of his hands in Psalm 90. But striving to promote ourselves rather than God is self-serving and idolatrous.

Root Cause #2: Impatience

Joe knows his wife has had a terrible day with the kids; it’s thirty minutes before he would normally go home; and he’s accomplished everything on his to-do list. So why does he feel so reluctant to leave early? Is it because he doesn’t love his family? Is it because he’s not allowed to leave before closing or because he’s afraid people will think less of him for leaving early? Let’s assume the answer to all these is “no.” So why the reluctance? Because his self-worth is wrapped up in his ability to get things done. And so leaving thirty minutes early feels like a denial of his basic identity. He wants to accomplish things with his life—which is a good instinct. In fact, it was part of God’s plan for humanity in Genesis 1-2. But when, in search of that impact, he elevates one particular calling in life (his job) above others that God has given (his family), he shows himself to be impatient with God’s plans. He’s like King Saul who couldn’t wait for the prophet Samuel to make an all-important sacrifice to the Lord. Saul’s goal (defeating God’s enemies) was right on. But instead of trusting God’s plan to get there, he went with his own plan instead.

Similarly, much wrongheaded ambition comes from trying to achieve something good (impact on this world) through human wisdom rather than God’s good plan. We become obsessed with a job at the expense of other things because we’re not willing to trust that obeying God’s commands across all of our callings is the best way to achieve the eternal impact we desire. God’s plans often seem circuitous and inefficient—but in his wisdom he really does know best.

Root Cause #3: Financial Fear

Sometimes wrongheaded ambition has nothing to do with identity, self-actualization, or any other existential desire, but is merely about money.

Ron bought a house that was on the upper end of his budget—and that was before he lost his job as a regional sales manager. Now that he’s found work in a different field, he feels intense pressure to perform or else his family will lose the house, which would also involve leaving a great school district, years of friendship with neighbors, and a lifestyle they’ve come to enjoy.

Most likely, the level of stress he feels at work is echoed through his family’s life, as everything seems to be about having enough money. Paul’s words to Timothy come to mind: “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that” (1 Tim. 6:6-8).

Root Cause #4: Escape

You’ve been trying to convince Mary to get more involved with her small group, but work commitments always get in the way. Yet as you learn more about Mary’s family life, the reason for her interest in work comes sadly into focus. Her marriage is on the rocks and her kids seem to be a disgrace—but at work she’s a hero. In survey after survey, modern Americans say that their main motivator in the workplace is recognition—more than money, more than career advancement, more than great coworkers.

What if her job is the only place where Mary feels she gets recognition? What if her job is the only place where Mary feels she deserves recognition?

Root Cause #5: No Good Models

Javier grew up with a father who greatly blessed their city through his work as district attorney, and Javier is determined to follow in those footsteps. Unlike his father, however, Javier wasn’t blessed with a natural mind for the law, and so the only way he is succeeding at work is by making it the only thing that matters in his life. Beyond that, all of the other Christians in his life are exactly the same—or at least appear that way. Orthopedic surgeon, car dealership owner, judge, real estate magnate: the elders and other leaders in his church all seem to fulfill Javier’s vision for worldly and spiritual “success.” What Javier doesn’t know is that none of these church leaders allow their jobs to put a stranglehold on the rest of life like he does. His problem is a lack of models. He sees few examples of people with ordinary ability who are viewed as “successful” in his local church. And he lacks a window into the lives of those who have been recognized as Christian leaders.

FIVE PASTORAL RESPONSES

Now, having read through these five root causes, you undoubtedly have your own ideas of how you might pastor these various church members who suffer from wrongheaded ambition. But perhaps I can add to your list of potential responses. Here are four pastoral responses from my own experience and the experience of others.

Response #1: Encourage Satisfaction in a Paycheck

This idea could be easily misunderstood. But in 21st-century industrialized societies, recognition and self-actualization have replaced money as the primary motivation for employment in our society (see root causes 1 and 2 above). This is a problem for the Christian because nowhere in the Bible do we find self-actualization as a motivation for work. Instead, we see that work exists primarily to put food on the table and to allow us to be generous (Eph. 4:28). By God’s grace work can accomplish much more than that: it allows us to image God in Genesis 1:27, adorn the gospel in Titus 2:10, and provide enjoyment in Ecclesiastes 2:24-25. But all these motivations are also true of every other calling we have in life: being a husband or wife, a father or mother, a citizen, a church member, an evangelist, and so on. The only motivation that is truly unique to employment is financial compensation. So help your congregation come to learn the wonderful satisfaction of working for money.

Do the wrongly ambitious in your church take satisfaction in their paycheck? Or is their satisfaction primarily from other perceived benefits of their job such as status or a sense of significance? Or, to put the question another way, does discontent with work stem from a lack of status or significance? Most of the wrongly ambitious would be helped if they saw their paycheck as a more significant motivation for why they work. If they view money as a stewardship from God—and the enjoyment of money as the enjoyment of stewardship—then money can become a wise and godly motivator in the workplace.

Of course, if they use money selfishly in an attempt to reduce dependence on God (see root cause #4 above), the opposite will happen. But if you give your people a godly vision for money, and teach them that it is godly to take satisfaction in their paycheck (no matter how big or how small), you will help the wrongly ambitious shift their motivation in the workplace from what is idolatrous to what honors God.

Useful book: Managing God’s Money by Randy Alcorn

See also: the Capitol Hill Baptist Church adult Sunday School manuscripts for a five week class on money.

Response #2: Teach on what is valuable—and challenging—about pursuing excellence

Often, a wrongly ambitious attitude toward work is wrapped up with a wrong idea of pursuing excellence at work (see root causes 1 and 4 above). But rather than simply telling people what not to do, we need to help them understand what a right view of excellence is. In Colossians 3:23 we are told to work “as for the Lord.” In other words, no matter who your earthly boss is, behind that man or woman stands Jesus Christ, your true boss. And while your earthly boss has only given you assignments related to the workplace, Jesus has given you assignments related to all of life.

A wrong view of excellence optimizes life for only one assignment: the assignment of the workplace. This is how a godly desire for “excellence” leads to the ungodly obsession that we call “perfectionism.” But once people grasp that Jesus is their real boss, two things happen. First, a pursuit of excellence becomes an act of worship: a right response to who Christ is and what he has done. Second, a pursuit of excellence in the workplace is placed in the context of all the other assignments Christ has given, which extend far beyond the workplace. As you teach on the biblical foundation for excellence, you will displace the counterfeit concepts of excellence that are so prevalent in today’s workplace.

Useful book: God at Work by Gene Veith

See also: the Capitol Hill Baptist Church adult Sunday School manuscripts for a six week class on Christians in the workplace.

Response #3: Highlight examples of godly ambition

“Ambition” should not be a dirty word in your congregation. After all, the apostle Paul uses the translated Greek word for “ambition” to describe his desire to preach the gospel in Romans 15:20. When faced with a wrongly-ambitious member of your congregation, your desire should never be to scale back their ambition but to redirect it (see root causes 3 and 5 above). But if the only examples of “ambitious people” your congregation sees are those who are wrongly ambitious in their careers, they will struggle to be ambitious as Christ intends them to be.

As you have opportunity, then, highlight as examples to your congregation those members who are ambitious for God’s kingdom and whose ambition for Christ has resulted in success in the workplace. In addition, highlight those members who are ambitious for God’s kingdom but have decidedly normal careers in the workplace. Both types of examples can be useful in their own way. Neglect the first category and you’re suggesting that there is no spiritual value to be found in the workplace. Neglect the second and you communicate that only “successful” people need apply for service to Christ.

Useful book: Rescuing Ambition by Dave Harvey.

Response #4: Advertise the value of a life built around the congregation

Most Christians will make better use of their lives for the kingdom of God if they pick just one or two churches through their adult lives and stick with them (see root causes #2 and 5 above). Of course, there are exceptions to this. But as a rule, most people are not the exception. The relational ministry we build in the local church is not the only thing of eternal value in this life, but it is one of the primary ways that we can build for eternity. You will serve the wrongly-ambitious well if you advertise this fact.

How can you do this? First, generally, encourage people to structure their lives so that they can have a vital relational ministry in the church. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they sign up for a bunch of church programs. It does mean that they think about where they live and what kind of job they hold and what kind of leisure habits they develop in light of how well they can be invested in relationships at church.

Second, teach on the spiritual value of those things that compete with the local church for members’ time. What is the eternal value of what I do at my job? What is the eternal value I’m building through ministry to my family? What is the eternal value of a vacation? If your people cannot articulate the good they are accomplishing in those other spheres of life, they will have a difficult time making wise tradeoffs when those things seem to compete with the local church for their time and affection. As I mentioned above, God’s plans for how we can best spend our lives often seem circuitous and counter-intuitive, and his plan that we invest heavily in the local church is a prime example of that. Help your people trust God’s plan and show them what it means to do this well.

Useful book: The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.

A SENSE OF AWE

Finally, pastor, remember that there is nothing special about paid Christian work that protects you from being wrongly ambitious in your own life. In fact, because of the obvious spiritual value of what you do, as a pastor you may in fact be especially susceptible to being wrongly directed in your ambitions. Accordingly, I’ve written this article so that everything in it applies to you just as much as to anyone else in your church.

So, one final piece of advice, both for you and your congregation: make every effort to cultivate amazement at who God is. A sense of awe at who God is invests our lives as worshippers with eternal significance (root cause 1). A sense of awe at who God is helps us trust his plans for faithfulness even when they seem strange by the world’s standards (root cause 2). A sense of awe at who God is reminds us that the comforts of this world are merely passing, but real and eternal blessing is at hand (root cause 3). A sense of awe at who God is gives us hope that we can serve him in even difficult circumstances, obviating the need for escape (root cause 4). And a sense of awe at who God is opens our eyes to the value of his most faithful servants, be they giants of church history or the frail prayer warrior shuffling into the back pew (root cause 5).

My prayer is that you will help fuel your congregation’s ambition to serve this God and to make him known with every hour and dollar and opportunity at their disposal.

Jamie Dunlop is an associate pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC.

Click here to see the editor's note for the March/April 9Marks Journal. 

February 2013
© 9Marks

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format, provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 1,000 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be explicitly approved by 9Marks.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © 9Marks. Website: www.9Marks.org. Email: info@9marks.org. Toll Free: (888) 543-1030.

 

What Makes Work “Christian”?

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When someone thinks about their work being “Christian,” all kinds of disturbing images come to mind:

  • Opening a beauty salon called “A Cut Above” or a coffee shop called “He Brews.” 
  • Working awkward evangelism moments into sales calls.
  • Defiantly saying “Merry Christmas” rather than “Happy Holidays” in the checkout line or sneaking a “Have a blessed day” into a salutation.
  • Putting up posters about Bible study options at lunch or sending out group emails about sightings of the Virgin Mary in Ecuador.

Perhaps you remember the 2004 incident of an American Airlines pilot who, in his pre-flight announcements, asked all the Christians on board the plane to raise their hands. He then suggested that during the flight the other passengers talk to those people about their faith. He also told passengers he’d also be happy to talk to anyone who had questions. Understandably, it freaked a lot of people out: the pilot of your airplane talking to you about whether or not you’re ready to meet Jesus?[1] While they might admire the guy’s zeal, many Christian businesspeople think, “I just don’t think I could do that and keep my job.”

Many Christians think that you just can’t serve the kingdom of God at work, and that kingdom work happens “after hours”—volunteering at the church nursery, attending small group, going on a mission trip, serving at the soup kitchen. Our work is a necessity that must be endured to put bread on the table. God’s interest in the fruit of our labors is primarily that we tithe off of it.

The Bible offers quite a different perspective. Scripture teaches us how to serve God through our work, not just after work. The Bible speaks clear and radical words to people in the workplace, showing us that even the most menial of jobs has an essential role in the mission of God.

In fact, it is surely not coincidental that most of the parables that Jesus told had a workplace context, and that of the forty miracles recorded in the book of Acts, thirty-nine of them occurred outside of a church setting. The God of the Bible seems as concerned with displaying his power outside the walls of the church as he does within it.

I want to suggest five qualities that make work “Christian.” By “Christian” in this context I mean “done through faith in Jesus Christ.” Therefore, work that is Christian will have five qualities: (1) creation-fulfilling, (2) excellence-pursuing, (3) holiness-reflecting, (4) redemption-displaying, and (5) mission-advancing.

CHRISTIAN WORK IS CREATION-FULFILLING

When God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, he didn’t just tell him to keep away from certain bad apples. God placed Adam in the garden “to work it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). Remember that God said this before the curse, indicating that work wasn’t a punishment inflicted on Adam for his sin, but was a part of God’s original design. The first purpose God had in mind for Adam wasn’t to read a Bible or pray, but to be a good gardener.

The Hebrew word ‘abad, translated “work,” shows just what God means: it has the connotation of preparing and developing. Adam was placed in the garden to develop its raw materials, to cultivate a garden. Christians can fulfill the created purpose of God in the same way, by taking the raw materials of the world and developing them. This is happening all the time by both believers and non-believers. Contractors take sand and cement and use them to create buildings. Artists take color or music and arrange them into art. Lawyers take principles of justice and codify them into laws that benefit society.

This is God’s plan. Martin Luther, the famous German reformer, put it this way: “When we pray the Lord’s Prayer we ask God to ‘give us this day our daily bread.’ And he does give us our daily bread. He does it by means of the farmer who planted and harvested the grain, the baker who made the flour into bread, the person who prepared our meal.”

What this means is that a Christian’s secular vocation helps to mediate God’s active care in the world. God is active through a person’s work to ensure that families are fed, that homes are built, that justice is carried out. Too many Christians begrudge their work when they ought to revel in the fact that God is using them, in whatever small part, to fulfill his purposes.

Another great example of this comes from the classic movie Chariots of Fire. The movie follows a Christian track athlete, Eric Liddell, in his preparation for the 1924 Olympics. At one point in the film Liddell is confronted with the objection to his career that there are more pressing matters in life for a Christian than merely running. Liddell responds, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” At some point or another, while working at something we love or are good at, many of us have had a similar feeling. It is as if we feel inside of us, quite literally, “This is what I was made for.”

CHRISTIAN WORK IS EXCELLENCE-PURSUING

If our work is done “unto God,” it should be done according to the highest standards of excellence. Paul says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17). That should be true whether we receive any reward for our work or not, or whether anyone ever notices.

Let’s be honest: it is demoralizing to work for someone who does not give us credit for what we have done, or worse, someone who only responds by offering critical feedback. A bad boss can make otherwise satisfying work an absolute terror. In a situation like that, most people lose the motivation to work with excellence. “After all,” they may think, “what is the point of working hard? No one will notice either way, and even if they do, I certainly won’t get the credit for it.” That may be a reasonable response, but it is not a Christian one.

Christians ought to pursue excellence in their work not because they want to impress their boss, or because working hard leads to better pay, but because they work first for Christ. C. S. Lewis once noted how valleys undiscovered by human eyes are still filled with beautiful flowers. Who did God create that beauty for, if no human eyes would ever see it? Lewis’ answer was that God does some things only for his own pleasure. He sees even when no one else does.

This perspective adds new significance to every task believers perform, even if they know they will never be recognized. They no longer require the approval of others in their work, because they no longer work primarily for others. They work first for Christ, and he deserves their best.

In reality, however, very few jobs go unnoticed, especially if done poorly. A Christian with a poor work ethic or sloppy academic performance gives the world a terrible testimony of Christ. He may say with his mouth that “Jesus is Lord,” but when he doesn’t care to turn in assignments on time or respect his boss, he is saying even louder, “I myself am lord.” In working with excellence, Christians not only serve God, but also display an attitude of service to the world.

CHRISTIAN WORK IS HOLINESS-REFLECTING

If Christians work for God, that should inherently make them work with excellence. But knowing that God sees everything we do should also make us work with integrity. Work that is “Christian” will conform to the highest standards of ethics.

Paul goes on in Colossians to explain that everything we do is done with respect for our watching Master in heaven to whom we will give an account (Col. 3:23-25). That means, Paul says, even when our boss is a jerk (and many of the people to whom Paul is writing were literally owned by their boss!), Christians do their work unto God. Our work ought to make it obvious that we serve a God of justice and kindness. This means that Christian bosses ought to be less concerned with what they can get away with and more concerned with the fact that they are accountable to a heavenly Master. Christian employees ought not to cut corners or lie about how much work they have been putting in. Business ethics really matter because in them we mirror the character of God. God says that “unjust balances”—cut corners, fudged balance sheets, skimped time cards, and so on—are an “abomination” to him (cf. Prov. 11:1). Poor business ethics are no trifling matter.

CHRISTIAN WORK IS REDEMPTION-DISPLAYING

If Christians were to act in their jobs with equity and fairness, that alone would set them apart. But those who have been touched by the gospel do not merely attempt to hold to high ethical standards: they live lives with a radically altered perspective of gratitude. What Christ has done by redeeming us to the Father produces a natural response of grace towards others.

I recently heard a story about a young college graduate who landed a job on Madison Avenue in one of the advertising world’s most prestigious firms. Shortly after she got there, she made a mistake that cost the company nearly $25,000. Madison Avenue is not a world defined by grace, and she expected to be fired by the end of the day. Her boss, however, went before his board of directors and convinced them to allow the blame for her mistake to fall on him instead. When this young woman heard what her boss had done, she came to him in tears. She asked him why, in that cutthroat atmosphere, he would choose to cut his own throat for her. He answered by sharing how Jesus had done a very similar thing for him, stepping in the way of the wrath that he deserved. Because of the great grace that Jesus had shown him, he wanted to display a similar mercy to others when he could.

This means approaching our work with adjusted “bottom-lines.” We no longer merely angle for increased position or to maximize personal profit. If truly touched by grace, Christians in business begin to leverage their resources to bless those in need.

Some Christians may object to a perspective like this. Grace is something that applies in the spiritual realm, they may say, but not in business: “I worked for what I have—I earned it!” they might say. A person may certainly feel like she has earned everything that she has, but where did she get her tough-minded work ethic? Her intelligence? These were the grace of God. By whose decree did she grow up in the United States instead of in a Brazilian favela? Certainly not by her own—this also was the grace of God. The very air she breathed and food she ate were provided to her as gifts of grace. Jesus taught that the kingdom of God belongs to those who are “poor in spirit”—those who recognize that all they have is a gift of grace. The “middle class in spirit,” who believe they are merely reaping the fruit of their labors, will know nothing of the kingdom of God, because they have no concept of the magnitude of the grace of God in their lives. When someone understands how much they are indebted to grace, they will begin to see every situation they are in, whether in business or the church, as a place not to be served, but to serve.

The call to leverage our lives for the kingdom of God is not the special assignment of a sacred few. All disciples of Jesus are called to see their lives as seeds to be planted for God’s kingdom. Jesus said that if our life were a party, it should be thrown for those who can’t pay us back. Sometimes I think we’ve invented this whole language of “calling to ministry” to mask the fact that the majority of people in our churches are not living as disciples of Jesus.

CHRISTIAN WORK IS MISSION-ADVANCING

Work done by disciples of Jesus should be done with a view toward the Great Commission. In Acts we see that God used non-vocational ministers (perhaps businesspeople, doctors, servants, who knows!) to get the gospel around the world to places that the Apostles never went. Luke notes that the first time the church “went everywhere preaching the word,” the Apostles were not engaged (Acts 8:1). He also notes that when Paul finally arrives in Rome to preach Christ there, he is greeted by hospitable “brothers,” who seem to have been there for quite some time (Acts 28:7). As Steven Neill notes in his classic History of Christian Missions, of the three great church planting centers in the ancient world (Antioch, Alexandria, and Rome), not one was founded by an Apostle.

In the same way, Christians in the marketplace today are able to gain access more easily to strategic, unreached places. Globalization, revolutions in technology, and urbanization have given the business community nearly universal access.

Secular skills are needed to give Christians access to countries that would otherwise swiftly reject their presence. The countries most in need of a gospel presence—those in the so-called “10-40 window”—are devastated by poverty and joblessness. These places need both the words of the gospel and the tangible reflection of God’s love that businesses can provide. Millions in this region are without work and without the knowledge of Christ.

One example, though dozens could be provided, is the nation of Iran. Iran is an unreached area in desperate need of the gospel. As of today, there are 10 million seeking employment in Iran, a number that could eclipse 20 million within the next 15 years. How are places like this to be reached? Iran can be reached through the efforts of average Christian businesspeople taking their skills and expertise overseas. This may not be the path for every Christian, but perhaps God is challenging you to consider leveraging your work for his mission-advancing purposes.

Not every Christian, of course, will be led to perform their business in an unreached people group. But disciples of Jesus should always do their work with a view toward the Great Commission. A “missional vision” for Christian work is to do it well, and to do it, if at all possible, somewhere strategic. Proverbs 22:29 says, “Do you see a man skillful in his work? He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men.” Believers who do their work well can be greatly used in the work of the Great Commission. Their excellence in business can give them audiences with the “kings” and influencers of the most unreached peoples in the world.

God is interested in how Christians do their work, and he wants to be involved in it. Your work can make an eternal difference in the lives of those you work with, those you work for, and those you serve through your job. Allow the transformation of the gospel to change the way you look at and do your work. You were redeemed by grace—now live out that grace in the context of your job. You may never look at work the same way again.

J.D. Greear is the lead pastor of the Summit Churches in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina and is the author, most recently, of Stop Asking Jesus Into Your heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (B&H).

[1] http://www.travelkb.com/Uwe/Forum.aspx/air/2002/American-Airlines-Preaching-Pilot  Found in John Dickson, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission (Zondervan, 2010), 172-173.

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February 2013
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9Marks Journal – Pastoring Christians for the Workplace

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In a recent post I observed that Christians in America are experiencing a growing measure of cultural disenfranchisement. In so doing, they are beginning to taste what many Christians throughout history have experienced, not to mention our persecuted brothers and sisters around the world.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from such trends, but one we hope that pastors will take is the importance of helping church members think through what it means to be a Christian in different domains of life. And the domain we want to think though in the March/April 2013 edition of the 9Marks Journal is the workplace. 

Yet we are introducing a new format with the March/April Journal. We hope to begin dripping out the contents of the Journal over the month or two leading up to the release of the Journal. That way, you have a chance to make your way through the table of contents gradually, instead of having it dumped into your email box or RSS feed all at once. Then we will give you the entire Journal at the end.

The first post is by J.D. Greear on the topic of what is “Christian” about work. It is aimed more at members than pastors, but stay tuned in subsequent weeks for articles aimed more directly at the pastor. What do businesspeople wish their pastors understood about them? How do you pastor the complacent, the unemployed, the worldly? And so forth.