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For the past few years, I’ve been working a corporate desk job. I enjoy it, but sometimes I wonder if I’m really making a difference. A lot of my other Christian friends went into full-time ministry or started working at nonprofits, and sometimes it seems like their work is more important in an eternal sense than what I do. I don’t necessarily feel called to that type of work, but I do want to do work that builds God’s Kingdom. So I guess what I’m asking is does my work in a for-profit business really matter?
– Well-Intentioned Yuppie
Dear Fellow Yuppie,
Trust me, as someone who grew up as a pastor’s kid, I certainly understand the connotation and weight of “full-time ministry” that has been cemented in the young Christian mind. When we grew up, most of us saw missionaries being brought up to the stage in church in order to receive prayer for their upcoming missions. I don’t recall an executive being brought up to receive intercession for a newly launched product or for a recently announced five-year strategic plan.
Unfortunately, these images have had a powerful influence on the way we separate the “sacred” from the “secular.” We see long-term missions as a “Christian job” and corporate finance as a “normal job” or worse; a necessary evil. But does God see it that way?
In Colossians 1:16, Paul says that all things are created by Jesus and for Jesus. Can you think of anything that leaves out? Wouldn’t that include banking? Construction? Computer software? Telecommunications? Aerospace? Fashion? Journalism? Graphic design? The list could be much longer, but you see where I’m going.
The Role of Business in a Society
Business, in general, plays a crucial and inextricable role in our world. In fact, the management guru Peter Drucker once described business as an “organ of society.”
Let’s just think about that for a moment; business as one of the organs of the society we live in. Just like the different organs in our body collectively help us live and enjoy life, business functions to help society not only survive but thrive in many ways. It takes care of people’s needs. It feeds people, it clothes people, it gives people a home and ensures their safety.
Just like the heart, the lungs or the kidneys represent vital functions of the human body, business, schools, churches, government agencies and hospitals represent critical sources for society’s health and well-being!
This basic analogy might sound vaguely familiar. In 1 Corinthians we hear the Church being referred to as “The Body of Christ.” Each person and their specific gifts have a distinct and valuable contribution to the whole church. While each member serves a different function, we form one body. We can think of modern society in a similar way. We work in different areas of specialty—medicine, real estate, retail, law—and each serve a critical function in a society with God-given needs.
Later in Colossians 1, Paul suggests that God is in a process of reconciling all of the things He made through the redemptive work of Christ. Again, keep in mind we’re talking about all things. God wants to redeem not just humans themselves, but the things that humans do. He wants them to begin to do those things in a way that more closely reflects His original vision and purpose for them.
Is Any Job Really Secular?
We habitually think of ministry-related jobs as the only ones that build God’s Kingdom. If we think of God’s Kingdom as where what God wants done actually is done, then there are many more places where God’s Kingdom needs to take hold than at church.
If those on Wall Street had been doing things in a manner that reflected God’s wants, would we really have incurred some of the financial crises we’ve experienced in the last decade? Thinking about some jobs as sacred, and others as non-sacred can do much harm. A.W. Tozer has much to say about this challenge in Christian thinking:
Long-held habits do not die easily. It will take intelligent thought and a great deal of reverent prayer to escape completely from the sacred-secular psychology. For instance, it may be difficult for the average Christian to get hold of the idea that his daily labors can be performed as acts of worship acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. The old antithesis will crop up in the back of his head sometimes to disturb his peace of mind. Nor will that old serpent, the devil, take all this lying down. He will be there in the cab or at the desk or in the field to remind the Christian that he is giving the better part of his day to the things of this world and allotting to his religious duties only a trifling portion of his time. And unless a great care is taken, this will create confusion and bring discouragement and heaviness of heart … The “layman” need never think of his humbler task as being inferior to that of his minister. Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be sacred as the work of ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it.
So according to Tozer, it’s not about whether you’re in business, nonprofit, or full-time church ministry, but it’s about why you’re there that makes it sacred. I will add that why we do things has a natural influence on how we do things. And ultimately—at least from our co-workers and customer’s perspective—it’s how we do things that makes His Kingdom come.
Does Work in Business Really Matter?
Work in a for-profit organization really does matter. For-profit companies are a divine arrangement in human life to love people. We serve our customers by creating and selling them something they truly need. In business language, we might call this the creation and delivery of value. In Christian language, we can just as easily call this “an intelligent way of loving people.”
Why? Because we’re serving the needs of people, solving a pain, eliminating an inconvenience, or helping people get more fulfillment out of life. As business people, we’re part of reconciling God’s creation back to His original intention for it.
So we can pray, “Lord, may your Kingdom come and let your will be done through me in my business as it is done in heaven.”
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David Miller helps large companies go through big changes involving strategy, technology and talent. When he's not traveling all over the United States for his clients, you can find him at a local music venue in Los Angeles soaking in some good tunes or pigging out at one of LA's fine eateries. Follow him on Twitter at @david_t_miller