Business has changed.
We all know that business is built on relationships and relationships at work come with expectations. Our relationships with our customers, our colleagues and our contacts all bring expectations of what we will do, by when and how we will do it.
A firm handshake and an exchange of business cards has been exchanged for a new Twitter follower and LinkedIn invitation. We don’t read reports, we scan an infographic.
Instead of hanging out at the Rotary club we publish our own blog post. Career progression is determined more by our online networking skills than our childhood school.
We have digitised our business exchanges. This has dramatically increased what we can do in a day, we can literally communicate with thousands of people electronically that we could never reach face to face. Mobile communications and a global industry mean we now work faster for longer.
And it doesn’t stop in the office, we check our tablet before we check out for the night. Instead of the paper it is the early morning emails that greet us long before we have arrived at our desk. On the train, in the coffee shop, restaurant and airport we are catching up and checking in.
Don’t get me wrong, much of this is good and has improved our standard of living. But if this is price for life in the fast lane, what is the cost?
The cost comes in the fragmentation of our personal lives. With everyone wanting a piece of us, what is left for those who set no expectations for delivery? Family life is squeezed and social time disappears. Marriages suffer, kids withdraw, hobbies get neglected, health deteriorates.
The cost comes in our isolation. We become islands of activity, a vortex of velocity spinning endlessly. Work life balance slides into fire fighting perpetual emergencies or dispensing quality time to our kids like a Las Vegas slot machine.
The cost comes in our superficiality. Much easier to click Like or Accept, than arrange a Saturday evening BBQ. We have 500 acquaintances on Linked in, 1000 Twitter followers, but only 2 real friends ‐ that we see once a year. We skate across the surface of life, only pausing to sharpen our blade every summer holiday.
The Business Connection is a charity for such a time as this. It meets you where you are at, seeks to understand what you are dealing with, and lifts you back on your feet. Run by people in the business community we know how easy it is to become caught up and cut off. We are Christians working at the heart of Aberdeen’s business community, with the community in our heart. Coming along to our range of events in Aberdeen to find out more.
In the business community, a life connection…The Business Connection.
In this final instalment, I would like to consider what each of the four groups can give to the local church and what each of them need from the local church, before closing with some thoughts on why I have chosen to address this challenging topic.
Sweet Spot (top left)
What they need: Opportunities to serve.
What they can give: The fact that their work demands are low means they have energy and time to give to serving the church. Along with the next group, this group is most likely to take the leadership positions in the church, as they have the time available to give. Those who are particularly successful in their business may also have talents and experience that they can use in building bridges between the church and the community.
Passing Time (bottom left)
What they need: Social interaction – their work offers little satisfaction, they may be looking to be part of something more meaningful. They may also want company if they have lots of time and little challenge at their work. They find their ultimate meaning in their faith, but they may want to have things they enjoy doing outside of work.
What they can give: Availability, attendance. They may well be at every meeting, every social activity, forming the glue that binds the group together, being the reliable ones that are always there. First to get there and last to leave.
Slave Labour (bottom right)
What they need: Lots of encouragement, understanding and support. They need these things even more than those in the top right hand quadrant, as they have little job satisfaction that could help confirm their calling and motivate them to continue.
What they can give: They have little time and energy, they can give very little to the church. They may need to be emotionally carried and supported.
Labour of Love (top right)
What they need: Affirmation, understanding, encouragement. They may know that they are where they should be, but may feel isolated and misunderstood. Their motives for sacrificing so much may be questioned and they need to know their church is right behind them.
What they can give: 2 hours once a week, maybe more, but sometimes that is all. Some can give more, but may well be sporadic, depending on work level and travel.
One important point is that their expression of commitment to the local church from each of these groups will look different to external eyes. For some with fewer demands (left hand side) it may be that “time = commitment”. For those on the right hand side it may be their “convictions = commitment”. They may only seem to give two mites worth of their time to their local church, but like the widow in Luke 21, it may be everything they have to give.
I hope these are helpful lenses to look at ourselves and try and understand what different people in the workplace need and what they can give to the local church. I realise this is an over-simplification. In the real world, people’s lives are messier than these neat definitions. The amount of time we have to give to things outside work depends greatly on our family and health situations. There are seasons when our family responsibilities can turn a Sweet Spot job into Passing Time, because of what is happening outside work. Indeed, some jobs mean we oscillate between two or three of these categories.
I would like to close out these three posts with some thoughts on why I chose to talk about such a tough issue. Some of the points I raise are painful to hear, highlighting frustrations with what I have seen of how the church responds to the issues that the workplace throws at us. “Why risk being misunderstood, why risk causing offence? Why not rather always say things that everyone will appreciate and like?” I have struggled with these questions, and have searched my own conscience.
The first question I ask myself, “Is it what I see really true?” However, even if it something is true, sometimes we do not say things that are true to each other because of the law of love that covers over a multitude of sins. Therefore, the next question I ask myself is “Is it helpful?” Sometimes what is most helpful in the long run is also most painful in the short term. Ultimately, I need to decide if I believe the issues I am raising are so important to me, God’s people and ultimately to God himself, that I am prepared to be unpopular with people I dearly love.
I often ask myself what the difference is between being opinionated and prophetic. Strong opinions in themselves do not justify being shared and I realise I risk being labelled as such. Prophetic words are equally challenging, but within them we sense something of the call of God to his people. By being prepared to try and walk this knife-edge, I inevitable risk missing the still small voice of God and offering unauthorised fire. But I am up for the challenge because I believe that God has placed a passionate burden on my heart for his people, the lost and his word.
I am prepared to challenge fuzzy thinking among atheists and bear their wrath. Why? Because I genuinely love them. I also have the amazing privilege of being authorised to challenge the assumptions and preconceptions at my work, in order to make our business and strategy more robust. I risk being misunderstood by senior business leaders, but I continue to challenge the business because I care deeply about our future success. I am prepared to challenge false assumptions in the church, why? Because I love it too much to consider my own popularity of more importance than its purity. Through it all my deep desire is that my words would be prophetic rather than opinionated. You and God are the judge of that.
For too long the church has viewed the workplace as the space between the church service and the midweek prayer meeting. There may be the occasional sermon or book on the theology of work, and how it pleases God for us to work hard and fair and to do your bit for your family and society. However, this approach misses the subtlety of the changes that have occurred over the last two decades in the modern workplace. Too many Pastors have only a distant memory of what secular work was like and little understanding of the complexities of the modern workplace.
No longer do we have one job for life, no longer do we leave our responsibilities in the office when he head out the door, no longer do we live our lives working our whole lives at the local factory or office just around the corner. No longer do we mix with our work colleagues socially at the weekend and get to know their kids. Maybe it never quite reached this nirvana (particularly as the social benefits were often outweighed by financial struggles) but work has undergone a seismic shift in both nature and pace.
The modern workplace is transient, distant (both emotionally and often physically) and all embracing. The modern worker will move jobs every couple of years. They may have to re-locate their home numerous times, unless they live in a large city hub. Modern communications means they are contactable 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even during weekends and holidays. Responsiveness to emails is a pre-requisite for success as important as punctuality to formal meetings. Add into the mix the increasingly global nature of business and, working for an international company can mean frequent long haul travel. Put it all together and you have long hours, frequent out of hours interruptions, pressure, stress and exhaustion.
All of this inevitably leads to pressure on those closet to us: our wives and our kids. Work puts a strain on families; it can disintegrate friendships and cause health problems. Marriages fall apart, families are fractured, homes are split. And the church looks around and wonders where all the committed men are? Perhaps you have heard someone say “Where are the men who (in my day) would do a hard day’s work and then be out at the prayer meeting? Men are not just committed enough these days.”
Dear church, newsflash for you – we are fighting to survive, we are straining under phenomenal demands from our work and the consequences of a broken, splinted society. We are putting our limited energy into protecting those that are most precious to us and God – our spouses and our kids. We recognise that we don’t have a perfect work / life balance, in fact, we struggle, and fight to minimise the imbalance. This is the reality that we live with.
I recognise that not everyone in the workplace has such demands on them, or to such an extent. My argument is that the church should take the time to understand where people are at and not treat everyone in the workplace as a homogeneous group, dispensing generic advice to all and having the same expectations of all. In my first post on this subject I split the workplace into four categories that are generalisations of the various types of demands work places on them and the rewards it gives (read Part 1 here). In this post I’m speaking as someone in the top right hand box of that quadrant. I admit that these are generalities and sterotypes to some extent, but by their very nature models are simplifications of reality. Good models help us understand reality better.
My point is that we need to stop measuring someone’s commitment to God by their attendance, or lack of it, at church meetings. For those that have been put in a position of responsibility and pressure – our modern day Daniel’s and Joseph’s, we need to stop asking, why aren’t they here at our meetings, and start asking, what is God doing through them there? It’s interesting that we never read of Joseph or Daniel undertaking any activity at the local Egyptian or Babylonian synagogue. Their entire ministry was played out in front of the most senior secular leaders of their day…and what an impact those two men had.
In the providence of God Joseph saved an entire continent from starvation, Daniel stood true to Jehovah in the heart of the most powerful nation on earth. His testimony brought the most powerful kings of his day face to face with the living God, causing two pagan kings to proclaim the power and majesty of the only living God (King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4.34 & 35 and King Darius in Daniel 5.26 & 27).
And so, why do we do it? Why not give it all up and get an easier job, a less stressful life? There are many reasons, but the one I want to mention is one that I have come to realise over the last few months. It starts with a question: which of the four quadrants (see Part 1) is hardest to reach with the truth of the gospel? Both “Sweet Spot” and “Passing Time” have jobs with low demands and are looking for things outside of work to give them meaning. They are more likely to be open to forming new friendships and attending evangelistic courses. Those in “Slave Labour” are more likely to be desperate for something meaningful in their life. Getting time with them may be a challenge, but there is likely to be some interest there, if they are not too disillusioned with life. The real tough ones to reach are those in “Labour of Love” – they have extremely demanding lives and very rewarding work. The only way to reach this group is to run as fast, as hard, for as long as they do. They are not looking to form friendships through clubs, they do not have a wide circle of friends. Often their work is their life.
So, if God puts you in that top right hand quadrant and you start to build relationships with people that very few people are able to meet even as acquaintances, you feel incredibly honoured. As you see God working in their lives, you start to think that maybe you should stick around. You start to see your work life imbalance as less an admission of failure, but rather as a ticket of entry. Entry into the lives of a quadrant that the church will never reach through standard evangelistic techniques and methods. It almost feels like you are undercover! Except you are hiding nothing. But you are there on your own, no support team, no backup plan. The church may not understand or affirm your calling, but you know deep inside that God has his hand on your life and those around you.
Be blessed all you Josephs out there…you know who you are!
An email arrived in my Inbox last week – “Come and hear about how to improve your work / life balance at our meeting next week…spaces available”. I couldn’t help laughing as I commented to my colleague “I would love to go, but I’m too busy!” My job demands virtually all of my available energy, after the family and work there is very little to give to anything or anyone else. Many of my friends are in the same position, with young families and high pressure jobs, often with long commutes &/or travel.
As I thought about how my life has changed over recent years, I realised that very rarely in life do you achieve a real balance between work and life. As someone once said “we should work to live, not live to work”…agreed, but what if you find yourself in a job where work is (almost) your life? Did God intend me to this busy? To have so little time to give to a social life, hobbies, involvement in church…the list goes on. Does the fact that I enjoy my job so much and believe that God made me in such a way as to thrive in this job justify the sacrifices that I make?
How do the rewards (and I’m not thinking financial) we get from our jobs compensate for the demands those jobs place on us? Is it ever possible to have Work vs Family / Friends / Church in perfect balance? I tried for a long time to carve out more time away from work to make time for Christian ministry (in particular evangelism), but at each turn God shut the door and only increased the demands and responsibility of my job.
The workplace has changed dramatically in the last 20 years, with increasing mobile communication eliminating the boundaries of the office and encroaching into family time. There is, I believe, more pressure, more travel and less certainty than there ever has been. In an age of global and instant commmunications it is harder than ever to leave work at work. There is an expectation in many jobs to always be “on”. In some jobs there simply isn’t the option to let things slide for another day. Those outside may tell us to sort out our priorities and be more disciplined and say no…and there is a time to draw the line. But simple solutions are often given by those with little experience of the pressures of not delivering.
So, in true consultant style, I created a 2×2 matrix to try and understand the modern workplace. I know every job is different, but broadly speaking I think they can be grouped into four categories depending on the Rewards / Demand balance:
Where would you put yourself on the matrix? I realise it probably changes day by day (even within the same day!), but there are probably general trends which play out over the year. Let me ask you, where would you prefer to be? When I was in jobs on the left hand side I longed for more responsibility and greater exposure…now that I’m on the right hand side I remember (almost) what it was like to have free time!
I have come to realise that ultimately we are not in control of the rewards / demands tradeoff. We might like to think that by changing jobs things would automatically improve, that we can navigate a less stressful life, but life is not that simple. As The Bridges of Madison County reminds us “We are the choices that we have made“, but we cannot ultimately control the consequences of those choices. As someone who spends most of their time in the top right hand quadrant, I have come to accept this is my life…for now. For all the stress and exhaustion, I now realise that I am tremendously fortunate. I wrote about this to a colleague at work recently:
“I think a lot about why we work and the purpose and value of work. I think at the most basic level it is about providing for our families and this provision spilling over into the less advantaged in our communities. At the next level it is the opportunity to do this while contributing something tangible to society (sometimes the corporate connection to society is hard to see in some jobs). For a very small number of people they get both these aspects in a job where they get the opportunity to do what they do best every day. I count myself very fortunate to be in this small group. At whatever level we find ourselves though, I personally believe there is a higher purpose to what we do that we don’t always see and can’t measure, that comes from not just what we acheive but how we treat those around us.”
In Part 2 I’ll start to unpack what I believe the implications of each of these quadrants are for our churches…
Other posts on work life balance can be found here.
The results of the 2011 census were released this week for England and Wales, they revealed that 59.3% of the population claim Christianity as their religion. Although this has decreased since 2001 when it was 71.7%, it still represents a clear majority. The next largest religion was Muslims at 4.8% (up from 3.0% in 2001), representing a huge gap between the first and second most prominent religions. The number of people saying they have no religion has increased from 14.8% to 25.2% during the last 10 years. Clearly the nations’ beliefs are changing and the causes, implications and (Christian) response remain the subject of much discussion. Some have concluded that the data represents a pluralisation, more than a secularisation of the nation. It is also important not to look at the data in isolation and to differentiate between people’s behaviour, their sense of belonging, as well as their beliefs.
Whatever the reason for the change, in this post I want to suggest a model to understand the shift that has taken place and propose a model for re-engagement.
In broad terms, the UK in the mid 20th century was a country with the following characteristics:
- Largely biblical foundations even if not everyone went to church
- Generally accepted moral standards and ethics
- These standards were largely uniform across society
- They were strengthened by a strong nuclear family bond and community structures
- Both private and public messages were largely pointing in the same (predominantly biblical) direction, thus, mutually reinforcing each other
- The minister, surrounded by his church, were at the centre of the community
When we turn to 2012, the picture is completely different:
- The church is largely ignored and the minister is often perceived as irrelevant
A disengaged society continues to push the church further away (especially in the media and political spheres)
- Apart from a few exceptions, our voice in the public square has effectively been removed and whatever contact remains often becomes confrontational
- The policies and laws are changing to reflect modern secular and pluralistic beliefs
- The church struggles to engage and either focuses internally (and becomes a ghetto) or overcompensates and loses distinctiveness
- Church members struggle to live in two opposing worlds, resulting in them sometimes compromising their beliefs, or separating their private beliefs and public lives
- Nevertheless, at the grassroots some individuals and churches are re-engaging the community – whether that be in the urban or rural environment and/or within the family, workplace & church
Within this new societal order there is a line of engagement where Christianity and culture contact each other and interact – positively or negatively. As Christians in an increasingly anti-Christian society, we may ask ourselves the question “Are we persecuted?” No, not directly. But if we ask “Are we marginalised?” Yes! Definitely. The easy response is to resort to unthinking jibes and insults that only act to reinforce the polar extremes.
The urgent question of the day is “How should we approach our increasingly anti-Christian culture?” Do we see our role (as the church and individuals) to be mainly against what is bad in culture? Is there anything we can affirm? How do we gain an opportunity to have our voice heard if we do want to affirm something? Do church leaders have a different role within society to their congregations? (I’ll specifically explore this in my next post).
So the question is: How will we respond? Is there anything those of us who spend 90% of our time amongst non-Christians in the workplace can do to influence our culture? As Bill Graham once said: “I believe one of the next great moves of God is going to be through the believers in the workplace”.
A Model for Re-engagement
Against this backdrop, Christians are responding in a number of ways to re-engage with those on the edges of their family, community, work and church circles. For some this is natural and easy, for others it is harder, and new mechanisms are sometimes needed to enable relationships to be built. For those in the business community the pressure to conform can be very high and the opportunities to engage in meaningful conversation are often few and far between. I believe the challenge to equip believers with a deep theology of work; teach them how to be exemplary employees; and know how to share their faith in the marketplace has largely been neglected by our churches. Nevertheless, some new structures have emerged and there are some examples of best practice in creating new organisational structures to allow gospel conversations to flourish. They are generally following a pattern of:
Affirm >> Connect >> Challenge
- Celebrate the good things in creation & culture (affirm the good, contribute to arts, professions, community life)
- Seek the good of society & culture (contribute something tangible)
- Build others up in areas of shared interest
- Be good at what we do – excellence in our professions
- Establish connections within culture (find our contact points)
- Being purposefully & intentionally holistic in our serving – both helping and heralding
- Loving and serving people holistically – word and action, not seeing them as a spiritual project or notching up conversions. Can we do both / and rather than either / or when it comes to word and action?
- Not limiting our engagement to the purely spiritual arena – we will never engage with them by throwing verses over the chasm or through the silos.
- Aim is to take the church to the people
- Where can we affirm culture and where must we challenge our culture?
- How do we hold these both in tension?
- Have we figured out our theology and response in areas we are challenging or do we react?
The goal is a rediscovery of a holistic faith, sometimes this will lead to new structures / models of church and para-church organisations in order to re-engage our society. The challenge we face is to create a generation of aware, engaged, holistic disciples in the workplace.
Some questions to consider:
- Do you find this model helpful? Do you agree that this is the shift that has happened, or at least that it describes where we are heading?
- What examples of good cultural engagement have you seen or been part of?
- Where would you place yourself on the model?
- If you spend most of your time within the circle of society, do you feel you are equipped to thrive in this environment? How could your church help you in the challenges and opportunities you face?
- If you spend most of your time within the circle of church, what steps can you take to begin to connect with those around you, outside of the church? What changes might you need to make in order to affirm the culture around you? How can you better understand the challenges faced by those in your church within the society circle?
Let me know what you think…
According to a recent poll the number of atheists in Britain has risen from 14% to 42% since 1963. While the sample size of 1,749 people represents only 0.0027% of the UK population, few would argue that our country has become increasingly secular. Moreover, while the steady decline in church attendance seems to have finally bottomed out in the last couple of years, the church in the UK has been increasingly marginalised. As a result we now sit on the margins of society.
However, as with many institutions, the church is a broad…well…a broad church, of various groups and the picture is not the same across all the denominations. Indeed, there are encouraging pockets of growth in some areas.
What is interesting is that what you find when you look within the sub-trends where the church is particularly weak – fewer men, fewer young people, more people believing without belonging, fewer poor people. According to one source, in the last 20 years 49% of men under 30 left the church. How do we respond to these challenges? Can we engage with and influence the forces shaping our culture? How do we reach those beyond the fringes of our church activities?
As someone who has spent the last 10 years working every day in this culture alongside people completely outwith the reach of the activities of the church I have seen first hand their changing views on the church. I have also seen first hand how the business world impacts professional men and women and the pressures it puts on them that make church involvement harder and harder. Others will be better placed to speak about issues impacting the poor and the young, but I want to share some ideas for how I see the world in the UK marketplace.
Over the course of three articles I want to illustrate how UK society has changed and how we need to respond to that change. I believe we need to better understand and engage with our culture before thinking that we are able to speak into it. The articles also seek to provide a high-level context of some of the main cultural shifts that have taken place over the past few decades as society has moved away from its Judeo-Christian roots and towards secular humanism. It is in response to that changing landscape that our traditional concept of what ministry is and how we do ministry within and without the sphere of influence of the church must change. The challenge for our generation is to take the eternal, unchanging truth of God into a rapidly changing, anchorless and disintegrating society.
Salt and Light
I believe the need of the hour in the UK is to reconnect our faith with the workplace. What does it mean to thrive as a Christian in our secular employment? First we must remind ourselves of God’s perspective:
“You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5.14
This is the original mandate to the Church – to be a city on a hill for all to see. It is about our POSITION – to be somewhere where we are visible and effective. I want to try and show that through the barriers and silos that have been put up we have largely been hidden from the eyes of popular culture and the wider society. It is not enough anymore to open our doors and expect people to come in; we must go out to them in ways that are meaningful to them.
We must think again at how churches, organisations and individuals can re-establish connections with the culture around them. The majority of Christians are in the working world for the majority of their time – what does that mean for us? How do we become that city on a hill? Can we find a vehicle / mechanism that enables us to be more exposed?
However, it is also about PURITY – the second illustration Jesus uses is the salt of the earth. This is a personal challenge. If God increases our visibility, it is with the end goal of glorifying Him through our actions – would shining a light on our lives lead to the glory of God? Are we ready to be used? We must address this challenge first. God is looking for those individuals who have cleansed themselves and are clean vessels, ready to be poured into by His Spirit.
Warning: I have written this in the pressure of intense work situation and am still working through some of the issues raised. It’s pretty raw, be patient with me if you are further along the path my brother or sister, I am just a beginner on this path asking questions. Also, forgive me if it’s more personal than my usual reflections, I believe we need to debate some of the issues I raise in a mature and godly manner, I am seeking to do just that in this piece. I welcome your comments and additions.
Let me cut to the chase: in my early 20s I thought I was going to be a missionary, in my late 20s and early 30s I became convinced I was being called to ministry of the word, thinking that the pastorate was ahead. In my mid to late 30s I have finally realised that God is wanting me to stop planning my future, but instead be his slave in the present, in this place, for his purpose. Whatever might happen in the future it is up to him to use me as he decides, whatever and wherever that might be.
As I grew up I imbibed the unspoken assumption that full-time vocational Christian ministry was God’s best for me, and for anyone else for that matter. I subconsciously, and sometimes consciously, sought to direct my life towards that goal. It was not hard to seek this path, as I have found this principle to be assumed and encouraged by the vast majority of our Christian books, sermons and teachers. However, at each stage of my life I have experienced the various means of God’s guidance to pull me back to the workplace. Sometimes it was circumstances, sometimes it was a growing inner conviction that this was where God wanted me, sometimes it was the conversation with godly Christian friends and family. Yet, through it all, as I spent year after year in the workplace I still had the underlying assumption (and hope!) that one day, in some way, God would finally release me to serve him “fully” and glorify him more completely by devoting some, if not all, of my time to Christian ministry. This was particularly the case as I didn’t “feel” called to the workplace, rather the opposite, I felt called to ministry.
However, over the last 18 months the more I have tried to serve God the less time he has given me to do it. Or so I thought. I had to step back from responsibilities at church, reduce my preaching commitments and dedicate myself more fully, completely to my work. The little time I had left was given to trying to protect time for my wife and young family. I have not been there for friends, I have not been there for the prayer meetings nor the bible studies nor the evening service. I am only at church on Sunday mornings and I wait for them as an oasis of Shalom; the beauty and peace of fully dedicated time to be in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people. These times have become ever more precious to me.
So, last year I wrote what I was learning about ministry of the word within a mundane job. How things have changed in 12 months! Now I am at the opposite extreme –responsibility, pressure, flat out and exhausted. I have finally started to realise that God has made me a certain way, for a certain purpose and that this is to do strategy and to preach the word. For these two things I exist on this planet.
Slowly, imperceptibly, God has broken this assumption in me. No longer do I see a spiritual vocational hierarchy when I look through God’s eyes. I see people, made in his image, with his variety of gifting and capability, made to serve him in a multitude of ways, across every vocation and discipline. I see those that have searched their heart and fulfilled their calling and those that are yet to find it. I now see that the most menial of tasks, done for the glory of God and in obedience to his call, can be the highest form of service that you or I can offer him (if that is his will for us). I know we say we believe this, but in reality do we?
Obedience is the key, it is the secret jewel of Christian usefulness and confidence. It is better to obey than sacrifice the ancients said and Jesus repeated. It is most blessed to obey – the most blessed path possible, wherever that obedience leads you.
Here are 14 things I have learnt and am continuing to learn, but before you read them please consider what I am not saying. I am not saying that “it doesn’t matter what you do, because all activity is equally worthy”. Neither am I saying that full-time Christian vocational ministry is not valid, needed, necessary and absolutely God’s best for many of us. I have too many pastors, pioneer missionaries and evangelists for friends to be unaware of the mighty responsibility and urgent need of this awesome calling. Don’t think I am wanting to swing the pendulum the other way and say we don’t need anyone full-time. What I am challenging is the assumption that this is always the best way for all of us (particularly those involved in word ministry) to serve him and other paths are second best. Perhaps you never had this assumption – praise God!
- Obedience is more important than any perceived increase or decrease in ministry effectiveness. For some the calling of God can actually mean they move away from opportunities for direct Christian service, for others it will be the opposite. We should not automatically equate either direction with increasing faithfulness, sacrifice or obedience. The meanest and most mundane work can be our most glorifying service when done as an offering to the Lord.
- For the many Christians, their highest calling will be the workplace and home. This should be recognised, affirmed and encouraged. They are as much called to their jobs and homes as the mission field. But it is not a competition between vocations – each in its uniqueness and splendour is treasured by God.
- The calling to the workplace is as valid, important and God-honouring as the calling to the pastorate or mission field. For some their highest calling will be to guard the theological strongholds, translate tribal languages and protect the flock from continuous attacks from without and within. But the calling to the workplace is not a lesser calling, or God’s second best. The workplace can lead to incredible usefulness in God’s hands – e.g. the construction supervisor Nehemiah, the civil servant and administrator Joseph, the beautician and model Esther, the government official Daniel, the politician William Wilberforce, among many others…
- My cross-cultural ministry begins on Monday morning and finishes on Friday evening. I am immersed in a pagan society all day every day, seeking to live counter-culturally without retreating into a ghetto or being weird in order to be noticed. Every religious habit or sacred ritual needs to be examined to see if its essential or a cultural barrier. Every character trait is laid bare, examined and tested in real time by a watching world.
- The best way to glorify God with your life is whatever he has gifted and called us to do. For some this will be vocational Christian mission and ministry, for others it will be the workplace and home. Are we willing to spread wide the application of the challenge to glorify God with our lives? Are we prepared to affirm the calling of those who have little time to give to church meetings?
- The desire and gifting to do Christian ministry do not constitute, in themselves, a call. I believe the internal call of God must be married with an external call from without. Both a calling to be his vessel and a calling to a location, resulting from the right doors opening at the right time.
- There is no spiritual vocation hierarchy. It is perhaps not said outright, but there is no doubting its presence – there are those in our churches who do ministry with a capital “M”, and then there are the rest of us. What does our definition of “ministry” include? Is it restricted to word ministry (preaching, teaching and evangelism) or maybe we also include service to the poor, sick and suffering (pastoral)? Yes, we also include those who serve as professionals abroad in some distant land. But, what if you see yourself as a professional in a cross-cultural, anti-Christian community in your homeland? Is that really ministry? Yes, some vocations require greater sacrifice and others bring greater earthly rewards, but through it all it is the obedience that is important not the activity. However, the majority of the application from Christian books and sermons gives the impression that working for the church or missions (either paid or voluntarily) is superior in God’s sight to working in secular employment. The impression is that service to God begins when one engages on church work in the evenings or weekends.
- Post-Christian countries like the UK will only be reached when this truth is finally believed by the church and impacts how it trains, equips and supports those in the workplace. This generation will only be reached when we intentionally present and affirm the workplace as a valid, important and glorifying to God vocation to our best young men and women – our most promising leaders. We will only affirm it if we really believe, not just say we believe it.
- For secular, anti-Christian cultures, bivocational ministry may actually the best possible model to reach society. I believe that being in full-time secular employment gives greater opportunity for cultural interpretation, insight and engagement than being in full-time Christian employment. New models for ministry training and church leadership are needed to reach, train and commission the next generation of church planters and leaders from those within the workplace.
- There is no such thing as “lay” ministry, no sacred / secular divide, no clergy / laity division. Yes, there is such a thing as people being appointed to a particular role and function within church leadership, nevertheless, uniting everyone is the priesthood of all believers and each believer is a holy temple called to their own role and place of influence.
- The role of a pastor is the absolute highest calling for pastors. The role of a teacher is the absolute highest calling for Christian teachers. The vital thing is to know for sure in our hearts that we are in the calling we are meant to be in.
- There has never been more expected of employees, more asked by employers and more penetration of people’s private lives by the pressure to always be “online”. The training, equipping and encouraging of leaders in the workplace has never been more difficult, with long hours, long commutes and little spare time. Yet few churches really see this as a vital ministry ground or are set up to support and affirm those in this position.
- The prayerful assessment of our true calling and our purposeful obedience no matter what the cost would overwhelm our mission agencies and pulpits with new candidates. There is a desperate need in our nation for the next generation of pastors. There remains an ever-present black abyss of millions of people who have never even heard the name Jesus all over the world. I am convinced that so few really examine their own calling that a wholehearted affirmation of the importance of all our callings would lead to a great increase in those stepping forward for pioneer missionary and pastoral leadership.
- We do not choose our calling – we only choose to fulfil it or not. Our calling may be a fulfilment of our (God-given) desires or it may be a restraining force on our desires – compelling us to submit to the Lord and follow him despite what we would like to do. Like David who desired to build God’s temple, we can have good desires to serve God, but they don’t always mean we will see them fulfilled.
I say all this, not as a dispassionate observer, but as someone who has wrestled with their own calling for so many years. It was CT Studd, that great missionary who said: “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.” What does our inner mind say to ourselves when we hear this? Is it only preaching, bible translating, pastoral visits, bible studies and evangelism that CT is talking about here? “Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not men” was what the apostle Paul said. Are we brave enough to really believe that this includes ALL of life?
I have been a reluctant servant for so many years, wishing God would free me up to preach, when my time was being soaked up by work. I now see that I must obey his plans for me no matter how much my heart yearns for another path. I am serving him as he wants right now. I can either serve him fully where I am now, or continually fight against it. I do believe one day that things will change, but I am no longer seeing the present as (only) “preparation” or a means to an end. I am resigned, submitted, my will is defeated, whatever path I am led on…I am his slave in the present, in this place, for his purpose.
Father, help us know the path you have for each one of your children, lead us on those straight paths and use us in whatever way you deem fit – not our will but your will be done. Remove our stubborness and pride and self-sufficiency. Make us truly humble and submissive to your Soverign will, for we know it is the best possible journey and leads to the most blessed destination – unity with our maker now and forever, Amen.
Many companies today talk about having Core Values, but few of them live them out. Our values describe the principles that we live by – what we think are really important, what gets us out of bed in the mornings. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of what they are, but all of us have them. Sometimes we say our values are one thing, but the reality of our lives say something else. Our true values are those things that we devote ourselves to, that we give our energy towards and build our lives around.
- Excellence at work – an unrelenting commitment to doing the best that I can every day, pursuing the highest quality work in myself and those around me. Striving to be the absolute best at what I do and do more of what I am good at every day.
- Depth in theology – plunging the depths of the richness of all time greats such as Calvin, Augustine, Luther, Edwards, CS Lewis & Francis Schaeffer and complementing this with an understanding of the modern theological landscape.
- Intimacy with Saviour – in the midst of the busyness and responsibilities, carving out a meaningful, devoted walk of passionate intimacy with Jesus Christ.
- Honouring my wife – to give her first honour and cherish the life we have been blessed with together. Honouring her in my mind, thoughts and actions.
- Investing in my kids – giving of myself, my time, energy, experience, love, wisdom & brokeness into the lives of the three little Links I’ve been given to mentor.
- Transparency with friends – building strong, deep, honest relationships with a few close friends, binding our lives together on a shared journey of parenthood, profession and ministry.
- Community living – deepening my roots in the community I live in, building relationships and seeking to bless those I live amongst in tangible ways.
- Immersed in culture – always having one eye and ear on the changing society in order to understand where the guy and girl on the street is at, what their questions, concerns and beliefs are and how they are changing.
How these values express themselves will vary over my life, but these will remain the core of who I am. They form the ballast to keep me stable through the trials and stresses of life – bringing me back upright when the waves roll over me. Sometimes I lose my footing and stumble, but if I can focus on these, then the rest of life will take care of itself.
“Not that I have already obtained all this…but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead. I press on to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3.12-14
What are yours? Let me know…
As I stumble out of bed for another early morning commute to work I wonder, again, why God has put me on this never-ending treadmill. For many years now I have struggled to balance two compelling, and sometimes conflicting, visions – the one is a calling to the ministry of the word, the other is a strong conviction to be rooted in secular employment. As I struggle through how these two visions work themselves out in the daily grind of work I have learnt many important lessons:
1. The mundanity and struggle of work reflects the consequences of the fall (Genesis 3.17). Shouldering the burden of this is never going to be easy.
2. It is good to provide for your family and not to be a burden on others, it also gives you the privilege of being able to give to others.
3. Many types of work can be beneficial to society (even if sometimes the connection can be a bit intangible). Most of my career has been spent helping well off senior managers make better decisions…but eventually wealth creation filters down through society.
4. Secular work grounds us in the reality of the daily grind that 99.9% of the world are engaged in. The working world has changed drastically in the last 10 years – being part of this world helps us engage with others and ensures we feel their pain before we open our mouths.
5. Work can be satisfying and fulfilling when you are doing something you enjoy – but often you won’t be, so see #8.
6. Work stops you from becoming lazy and having opportunity to sin. Not having any free time and being constantly tired means you never have the opportunity to waste time or have idle hands. Doesn’t feel like much of a blessing, but worth noting.
7. Working in the professional services industry teaches you how to keep your promises, develop strong relationships, deal with conflict and go above and beyond others’ expectations. All these are vital skills needed to build a health church and can only help in ministering to others in a broken world.
8. The daily grind of work teaches us how to be obedient to the one whose servant we are. When we stay where we are only because we believe that is what we have been told to do, against all our desires, then we learn what it means to say “I am the Lord’s servant, let him do with me as he wishes.”
9. Being a professional person gives us credibility with some people who would not give a minister two seconds. Unfortunately, today the role of the church minister has become ostracised from society. 50 years ago the church was at the centre of the community and life revolved around the church, now it is seen as a forgotten relic of a past time. Ministers struggle with overcoming this barrier to reach people, Christians in secular work have no such barrier and can gain a hearing (provided they have something to say!).
10. Holidays are necessary. Trying to prepare sermons during your holiday is not a good idea. Often in lay preaching opportunities to preach only come during the pastor’s holidays – resist the temptation to burn the candle at both ends as it inevitably has a serious impact on family life and health.
11. God sees your desires, time is not running out, God is in control, He will guide you. Although sometimes everything inside of you says the opposite, trust God to open doors in his timing. Be the best where you are right now. Work hard and be content, as well as you are able. The burning passion for ministry can lead to discontent and frustration, instead use it to lead to greater submission and yielding. Learn that “it is good for a young man to bear the yoke…to bury his face in the dust” (Lamentations 3.27).
12. Preach every sermon as if it really is your last, you don’t know when the next opportunity will come and if he will call you home before.
13. Don’t be afraid to repeat a sermon in a different church, the emotional drain of preaching is hard enough to recover from on the Monday morning, let alone preparing a new sermon every time. Make sure you give yourself enough time to prepare so that you do not burn yourself out – find what level of ministry you can cope with and recognise that the changing demands of a young family will impact this too.
14. You are not indispensable to the work of the Kingdom. Elijah, Moses, Joseph and even Jesus spent years in the wilderness as God prepared them for ministry. It is not wasted time – see #7, 8, 11
15. Do not get comfortable. Live as though one day you will take a 50% pay cut, manage your family with that perspective in the front of your mind. Pray for an open door for bivocational ministry.
16. Your children are your most important mission field, even after a long day and a long commute, don’t give in to exhaustion when its bed time. Give each of them one to one time with you and the Lord every night, whenever you are around.
17. Take opportunities to develop your gifting wherever you can. Write, read, study. Use your commute – if you are on a train study theological texts and if you are in the car listen to iTunes podcasts such as The Daily Audio Bible, or theological courses from Reformed Theological Seminary (see iTunes U). The longer the commute the more time you have to study every day.
18. Be a person of integrity in all aspects of your working life. Build a reputation for integrity and honesty despite the challenges.
19. Recognise that changing jobs and churches will happen from time to time, and that each time it does happen you are back to square one. Make sure your motivations for career progression are subjected to the test of the Spirit. Ask yourself: Is this job the right move for me, my family, my church? However, recognise that the logical or sensible decision is not always the right one – remember Abraham was called out of Ur, leaving all his wealth and career prospects behind, a decision contrary to all human wisdom, but obedient to his God.
20. Put down roots. Moving churches, houses & jobs every 1-2 years (as is often the case these days) can make you a spiritual nomad. Pray for God to help you put down roots so that you can have the opportunity for ministry in the local church and develop relationships at work that go beyond the superficial.
21. Find an outlet for your ministry of the word – for me it has been writing and preaching, for others it will be any number of things. Find a way to serve others in your community, sometimes this will be at work in the business world, as that is where we spend most of our time. Do something constructive to encourage you that in some tiny little way you are contributing to the progress of the kingdom of God.
22. Don’t forget how important exercise and physical activity is to having a healthy mind. Being involved in ministry while also working doesn’t leave much time for anything else, if you are also gradually becoming less fit then this is a recipe for a mid-life breakdown. Work on having a healthy body so that you have enough energy and drive for everything else you do.
23. Serve in the church as much as you can, while recognising your limitations. Don’t constantly feel guilty for not making the evening service or the prayer meeting. Give what you can cheerfully, liberally, graciously and then recognise the limitations on your service. Allow God to give you the joy of being a cheerful giver of your time, money and gifting.
24. Preach the gospel free of charge. Don’t allow anyone to take away your boast of preaching the gospel for no other motivation than for the love of God and desire to help others. Do not accept a preaching fee while you are in full-time employment (this is my philosophy of ministry, I recognise there are other passages to balance (e.g. “the worker is worthy of his wages”) and I wouldn’t want to be dogmatic on this).
25. Look for others to encourage in the ministry. Next to entering the ministry yourself, the greatest privilege you can have is to encourage and prepare others for being a full-time minister of the word. Look for other Christians in the secular world who have never had the opportunity to develop their gifting and, where possible, mentor and guide them in their development.
I’m sure there are many more – that’s 25 to get us going, anyone want to suggest number 26?
Anyone think I need a holiday? 😉