by Rob Lundberg
I remember some of my ministerial classes during the undergrad and seminary years, talking about what it means to be in “full time Christian service.” In those classes, particularly the ones related to vocational ministry, there was a phrase that continually has believers wondering. Let me put it in the form of a question, what does it mean to be in “full time Christian service?”
For me having gone through my formal educational years wrestling with that mindset, and now being in a full time retail scenario (at least for now), I want to share some insights that might help you as a believer.
If you think that this is not apologetics related, hold on tight. Being in the workforce in the secular city, amidst unbelievers, you will be surprised. Allow me to share four (4) insights coming out which might show the need for transparency with my situation and perhaps your situation, as we navigate through this together.
Insight #1: You do not have to be in a full time church ministry to be in “full time Christian service.”
As Christians, it matters not if we are in church ministry or if we are out in the workforce culture. If we are professing followers of Christ, then we are in full time Christian service. Some might it say that there are advantages for being a vocational Christian worker. Honestly, I do not believe that to be a fair statement; if anything there are advantages for not being in vocational church work. Let me explain.
The advantage I see, as one living out “the life we defend” within a biblical worldview in the secular city is that we see what the culture is really like. Unless a pastor is bi-vocational, they do not see and even experience the challenges that are experienced by those they preach to Sunday after Sunday.
If I may present a caveat to my fellow pastors and that is this. What kind of messages are you preaching on Sunday? Do you realize that there maybe people in your pews week in and week out wondering if you really believe what you are preaching and what makes the message you preach relevant for our day and age.
I will leave that there and let it simmer and move my second insight that I would like to share.
Insight #2: While we may not be working full time in a church, know that you are in the “mission field” of our culture.
What do I mean by this? Let me springboard of this idea of an advantage. I believe there is an advantage for who are actively living out our faith in the marketplace of ideas of the workforce. What is that advantage?
Did you know that there is a “fifth gospel”? Oh, I am not referring to any spurious second century forgery or some pseudepigraphical work attributed to one first century followers of Jesus. No, I am referring to YOU as “fifth gospel.”
Let me give you a personal illustration.
I am a seminary graduate, and part time professor, who worked a full time job taking care of my wife and daughter. We moved to Virginia, from Upstate NY, to pastor a rural Baptist church, which tenure lasted eighteen months. Let me also add that it did not end because of any financial malfeasance, or anything unethical or immoral actions. The reason it did not last is because we, my family and the church, were not a good match. So we moved on in faith.
This brought me to the auto industry of all places, one of the most questionable jobs in the industry. But with the Lord’s protection I started off at a Christian owned family dealership, which paid salary and bonuses. During the first 11 years, I did pretty well.
But then the owner sold to a bigger dealership from the area which shifted the pay from a non commission plan to a commission sales position. In that environment I will not lie and tell you that there were not ethical challenges. Those challenges from unscrupulous managers holding grosses and challenging whatever ethics the salesperson possessed to make a sale. I will tell you I neither caved nor compromised my testimony in Christ, to do that. When the new owner sold to his stepson, we went back to an non commission sales structure and things became eons better.
In all those years, fifteen years as of this posting, I will tell you I have learned what it means to be a “fifth gospel.” What this means that I have to live out what I believe to people who are nominal in their belief or have no intention of believing what you and I believe as followers of Christ. These are people who have no intention of reading Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. But there is one thing that is true. They are reading you and I.
That is why I think it is important to live out our faith, and our convictions with “gentleness and respect,” treating those we serve and serve alongside as persons of value to God. We don’t have to quote chapter and verse, but we do need to be ready when they ask us why we are a Christian, and when they ask us why we don’t participate in various kinds of conversation or jokes et al.
This brings me to my third insight.
Because prior to the fall of man, God created us to work, be creative, and in that work be stewards of all that God has given us. Because of the fall of man, work has gotten more difficulty in some areas, but the fact still remains that we are to be laboring as stewards of what God has created us.
That does not mean for us that there will not be challenges. Our work environments create for us unique challenges with those we work and serve with. If you have a boss that who gives lip service to your Christian convictions, or is a closet Christian who struggles with compromises, or one that is an all out “cultured happy pagan,” we need to remember that we are ambassadors of Christ, and stewards in the jobs and workplace we find ourselves in.
As I mentioned in the previous insight, your workplace is your mission field. That being said, your freedom is in Christ first and foremost, and you need to be discerning on how you share and live out your Christian convictions.
The auto industry is loaded with people with varying worldviews and armchair philosophies. My rule of thumb is that you listen and evaluate before you engage. (That is another post at a later time.)
But this takes me to my final insight and that is. . .
If you are a mission minded believer in the working world, we need to remember that discernment, discretion and wisdom are vital for us in the in the secular workplace. Our work is ultimately to the Lord, and not our employer. But this does mean that we cannot be a living lifework in our workplace.
Now I know that some places have an openness that might encourage the Christian to express themselves freely. Other workplaces may have rigid rules about what can and cannot be discussed while at work or on the premises. Let me close this insight with a couple of thoughts:
First, we must remember why we are there and be a good servant by fulfilling all that the job we are being paid for requires…and then some. God is glorified in that service.
Second, we must remember that when it is known that we are a Christian, as I mentioned before, our conduct is being observed and often judged. Do we live out what we believe? Are we a hypocrite? Are we fair? Do we encourage others to be their best? Do we maintain a peace in the midst of chaos or do we loose our cool? Are our decisions consistent with Christian ethics? How do we behave when there are ethical dilemmas on behalf of the business?
When the Rubber Meets to Road
One key is to be respectful of everyone, which in turn can open others to respecting the believer. For me, I’ve found that people assume Christians judge them and that is because of the perceptions of the Christian faith in our culture. And this happens even though you and I are commanded to “judge not, lest we be judged.”
Respect over time can open relationships where heart to heart discussions can take place. When that relationship builds to a place where they will share anything with you, then you are in a much better place to share anything…even the Gospel…with them.
I think everyone knows that it would be harder to be in an environment which is hostile to Christians (I praise the Lord that we are not there), but that probably makes it of greater value to be a light in the wilderness. I do not think we can assume that all believers have the opportunity to evangelize in the context of their workplace. Honoring company policies can be vital to one’s position in the company, and discussions of faith may be strictly forbidden. But we can still be a light and pray fervently for co-workers and the prosperity of the company.