Does Your Secular Job Make You Feel Like a Second-Class Christian?

Erik Cooper —  February 4, 2015 — 4 Comments

When I was growing up, there were two major life paths we discussed within the context of our youth group and church culture (that is, when we weren’t debating the spiritual impact of Amy Grant’s crossover albums or whether movie-going became sinful at PG-13 or R). The conversation usually went something like this:

“Have you been called into full-time ministry, or are you going into the secular world?”

Or sometimes we phrased it this way:

“Are you planing to enter the ministry or fund the ministry?”

A third iteration might have emerged in more missional terms:

“Are you a sender or a goer?”

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 11.00.48 AM

As a high school kid longing to serve God and live out my faith in this world, I was keenly aware of this sacred/secular fork in the road. It quietly plagued many of us as we watched peers respond to altar calls at youth group rallies or emotionally-charged church camp services aimed at separating the chosen from the unchosen, the called from ordinary, the truly elect from the “financial supporters.”

Please don’t misunderstand, there is something holy and unique about full-time vocational ministry, of taking on the weighty role of an ecclesiastical leader within the life of a local church body (I know, I spent 12 years in just such a role). My concern is not that we’ve over-inflated this high calling, but that we may have unintentionally relegated business and everyday work to a tier of second-class christianity.

I recently had the honor of attending a gathering of businessmen, pastors, and leaders from all over the world to discuss 21st Century global trends and how they are impacting (or need to be impacting) the way we do ministry and missions work today. From Europe, to China, to India, Africa, and America, so many insights, angles, and ideas emerged I couldn’t write fast enough to record the barrage. But from beneath the fog of all this brilliant commentary, one key mantra continually resonated with my business-turned-pastor-turned-business-leader spirit:

Across the globe, ministry leaders are asking how we can break down this “sacred/secular” divide; about our need to harness the business community as a full-on ministry partner and not just limit their involvement to financial giving alone.

Here are a few questions to ponder:

What would it look like to see business as more than just an ATM machine for “real ministry,” but as an actual Kingdom solution?

What would it look like to better engage business people in ministry and mission – not only through their secondary giftings as ushers and choir members or Sunday school teachers – but through their primary, God-given gifts and talents as businessmen and women?

What would it look like to begin championing business and everyday work as “sacred” work? To develop a healthier and more holistic theology of work itself?

I’m starting this conversation in my own circles and would love to invite you into the dialog. What do you think? Have we misdefined sacred and secular when it comes to our work? Do these walls need to be broken down? If so, how?

4 responses to Does Your Secular Job Make You Feel Like a Second-Class Christian?

  1. Changed my mind – I found it. Hope it is appropriate for your question.
    I no longer work outside the home. I “retired” in December 2009, but I had worked off and on from 1972 – 2009 in different types of settings – Special Education School, Medical Office, Shipping/Logistics Company, and my church for nearly 30 years part-time in addition to one of the other positions. I raised 2 children and both graduated from college, and my husband and I just celebrated 41 years of marriage. Life hasn’t always been a bowl of cherries – there were at least 20 bowls of pits along the way. But I threw the pits away and learned to spit them out when I would eat the cherry. Now, why am I using this analogy? When I was a little girl, we went to church. In fact, I think I was almost born in church, and from my earliest memories don’t remember NOT going until much, much later. My dad drove a dump truck for a gravel pit and sometimes only made $7.00 a week – YES, I said $7.00 a week, and the house payment was $11.00 a month. It was a little 2-bedroom house over by the original ZOO (east of it) and sometimes the smell wasn’t sweet. But we always went to church and my parents were firm believers in tithing. I became a Christian at age 6 in North Hollywood, California when we visited the couple who had pastored the church here and moved back to California. I still remember walking down that big aisle – all by myself.
    My dad decided when they left that he would just stay home, so mom and us girls went by ourselves but something was missing. So we searched and searched and landed at Westside Gospel Tabernacle. It was there that the tug on my heart to seek God’s will began. On Sunday nights after the sermon, the altars were opened for prayer and there was a big prayer room behind the platform/choir loft area. The Spirit was so strong during the prayer times in that room that occasionally, in the midst of the verbal outcry of those in the room there would be a sudden hush – a complete silence in the room. It as in those times that I felt God talk to me. He told me He loved me and that I shouldn’t worry yet about what I was going to do in 8 or 9 years, after all, I was only 10. My most important decisions were what to wear to school. When I started to High School, we had moved to the east side of Indianapolis near Irvington. This is when we began to attend an A/G church not far from our house. Youth group was Christ’s Ambassadors and the ones who ere our mentors/leaders decided they knew more about what God’s plans were for each of us than we could seek out ourselves. Often, if we disagreed, we got the angry, finger-pointing, in-your-face lecture and then they would insist on praying for us – loudly – in front of everyone. I didn’t have the funds to go to college when I graduated – even though if I had known, I probably could have gotten some scholarship and grant money. I attended a vocational school and completed a 6-month Medical Reception Program – graduated top in my class, and I can still tell you the technical name and spelling for one particular surgical procedure!! I loved Etymology – it was my favorite class in H.S.

    All of my jobs were secular jobs, until I started working at church part-time in 1982. But I never felt like a second-class Christian!! It doesn’t matter where you work, where you go, or what you do, God has a plan that will fit. I had always thought there was only one way I could choose to go at that “fork in the road”, but there is no fork like the one in your picture. That is like a turning fork that you would use at the grill to turn meat or cook meat in a skillet. A real fork has 4 tines and if using it as an analogy – there are 3 paths. There aren’t just 2 choices we can make. God does have a perfect will for us, but He also has an acceptable will for us and He can and will bless our efforts as long as we do our job as unto the Lord. Every place I worked from Wayne Township Schools at the Special Ed School to FedEx to Orthopaedics-Indianapolis, I never failed to let my light shine. My co-workers and my bosses knew that I was a Christian and for the most part, they respected me for that.
    So, I would say don’t get bogged down by all this and beating yourself over the head wondering if you are in the right place. God is a big God. He is powerful God and His arm is not short. Whether you feel called to ministry or you choose to work in the business world – God is at work there too. He needs people who are willing to be “Jesus with skin on” everywhere. Every place we put our foot down, or sit in a restaurant, shop, go for coffee, or “ice cream” with your son, the bank, gas station, neighbors, the doctor’s office or dentist, book store – it matters not – EVERYWHERE WE GO IS A MISSION FIELD, AND GOD HAS COMMISSIONED EACH OF US TO BE HIS AMBASSADORS – HIS HANDS EXTENDED, TO SEE THROUGH HIS EYES OF COMPASSION, TO BE SENSITIVE AND READY TO MOVE INTO ACTION WHEN WE SEE A NEED – TO GO THE EXTRA MILE IN HIS NAME.

    I applaud what you are doing with the group you met with over in the Mideast. It makes me proud to know you and to remember you as a 10-month old baby who has grown into a very philosophical man whose thoughts and questions scare me because I realize more and more as I age how different my generation expresses our thoughts in comparison to those who are younger – even my own children think and relate things to me that sometimes make absolutely no sense to me, and when I tell them something I find I have to almost play Pictionary or Charades or something to get my point across. So I hope I haven’t offended you in my ideas because you and I go way back (piano duet at Chistmas, Orchestra, Musical Missions, “Teen Talent” {don’t remember what it was called when you partipated}, participating in your wedding, and now your own kids are growing up quickly and soon they will be gone from home and your days of influence on them will be over. I wonder how they will go about choosing their vocation? With godly grandparents on both sides and parents who love and serve God as well – I’m sure that they will seek counsel from all of you should the Lord tarry, but most importantly trust in what they feel God wants for them and if it’s not exactly the perfect will He has for them – He will still use them and allow them to “bloom where they are planted”!

  2. You are definitely correct, Erik, in both your assessment and your suggestion to blow up that false divide. I doubt if I’ll ever forget hearing the coordinator of our two year missions role call me (with derision) “Mr. Businessman”. Wow. During our two years it seemed that about 75% of our fellow missionaries wanted to help me find my place. The remaining 25% wanted to put me in my place. That was some friendly fire for which I was not prepared.

  3. I grew up in the church and my first two jobs were christian organizations that made you feel comfortable in your christianity. Things changed when I left these sacred organizations and joined the secular workplace. The culture was so different from what I was used to. I went from a peaceful God fearing environment to a faith bashing worldly place I had never experienced before let alone prepared for. My greatest struggle was trying to find a balance of my faith and avoiding any confrontational ridicule for being a believer. I found myself trying to serve two masters oblivious to its final outcome of choosing one or the other. Over the course of two years I had pushed God to the side and chose the world and its short term satisfactions of drinking,smoking cigars and fraternizing with other women outside if my wife. God finally broke me down and gave me a choice to choose who I was going to serve now that I had see the good the bad and the ugly of the world. I chose God! This experience taught me that my service as a disciple of Jesus Christ isn’t limited in the comfort of the christian community but also in the secular world like my job. We can’t compromise our faith to avoid the confrontations of the secular workforce just because its not popular. We have to arm ourselves to respond boldly according to Gods word and direction and keep Gods sacred truths with us into the secular workplace. Its one of the best mission fields to be a light for those in the dark.In conclusion, we as individuals cause the divide of the sacred truths in a secular workplace. The only way to turn it around is every believer doing their part in the field by being bold and standing strong without hesitation to share and live Gods word so others will have an opportunity to come into Gods family.

    • I think your job itself – the value you add, the services you allow, the way you help people – it’s all sacred. In the way we serve people, white collar, blue collar, office complex, outdoors, all of it is a chance to express God’s love and beauty into the world. And because we’ve been fully loved by God, we’re now able to completely love others with that same love. Our work can and should be part of that.

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