The Old Testament Template: Chapter 16

We Need A Biblical View of Vocations

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Ephesians 2:10

“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number, fill the earth and subdue it.”
Genesis 1:28

I love to watch children. They are such a great microcosm of our own adult social and physical concerns. They play out life on the surface without inhibition or subtlety. In watching children, I often understand others and myself better. Children know what they love and love what they are made to do. They will, in a free environment of creativity, play out their God-given gifts. A coworker told me of his daughter, about age three, stopping him as he left for work. She admonished that what he was wearing didn’t match, and began a morning routine that would last for years of picking out his clothes. She was good. Her sense of color, fashion, and flare was all there at the age of three! Another friend of mine, now the scheduler for a nation’s cabinet minister, as a child would create a make believe desk complete with phone, agenda, and calculator and proceed to make fantasy airline reservations. I used to create a little podium and draw all my friends in to give them speeches. From early in life it was clear that my future would involve talking. Children, created in the image of God, know they are gifted and they love what they are created to do.

Work Is Worship
If we are to reveal the Kingdom in all its glory, we need God’s perspective on vocations and work. A large part of how we “know and enjoy Him forever” is in fulfilling the work He created us to do. We reveal God, in part, through the work of our hands. Just as God reveals Himself through His creation, our work reveals who we are, what we believe, and whom and what we worship. One of the most demeaning experiences for human beings is believing they have nothing to contribute or having their contribution devalued or denied. God gave six days to the worship of work and one to rest.

In our focus on evangelism, missions, traditional church ministry, and the secular versus sacred dichotomy we have nearly lost the theology of the laity, or a Godly perspective of work outside of the institution of the church. When I first came to missions in the early 70’s we lamented the “funeral services” churches often had for those “laying down their lives” for missions. We thought missionary service was the greatest calling on earth. We thought God had released us into what He had made us to do. Today, in ministry circles, we tend to have our own kind of “funeral services” for those poor souls who are going back into “secular” work, just getting a job. Having broken the blindness to the call of God in missions we, in missions, developed a new blindness to the call of God to the rest of society.

Tom Marshall estimated that perhaps 20 percent of God’s people are called into the ecclesiastical work of the Church. The other 80 percent are called into other vocations to serve God’s Kingdom. Over the last century we have devalued work outside the church to the point that much of the body of Christ feels they did not get the good gifts like preaching or evangelism. They sit in pews around the world wishing they could really serve God. Our vision for a businessperson is to make money for missions or the church building program. Leaders might serve as church treasurer. Our goal for teachers is the church Sunday school program. Communicators? Well, we have church newsletters and bulletin boards that need preparing. Artists, musicians, and entertainers are always needed in worship and outreach programs. They might help create worship banners too. Scientists, technicians? Those are tough ones. Fix the church plumbing or buses? Do the engineering for our construction program? Political leaders and lawyers really stretch the imagination for service. The result of this thinking is that most of God’s people go to work five or six days a week to make money and wait for Sunday when they can do something for God. How tragic! No wonder we are a church that lacks influence. Once we walk outside the doors of the sanctuary we have no idea what we are to do for the Kingdom of God. What we have lost is a theology of work and God’s purposes in all giftings. If we are to regain the historic influence of believers in their communities we will have to regain God’s view of all the vocations.

Who Secularized What?
I want to make a radical proposition. Today, we talk a great deal about the secularization of societies. Christmas, church, Sunday, etc. And it is true, much of culture, even religious culture has been turned into a business venture void of additional meaning. Who is responsible for that secularization process? Many believers sound as though they think the lost, those who do not know God, are to blame. But that cannot be true. They are just lost. They do not know God and do not have the ability to change. They do live in a secular world because their world does not have the living God. Believers, on the other hand, have a choice! We can refuse secularization because God is in the picture. But society is hopelessly secularized when those who know God, when those who are called by His name, take God out of most of life and most of their work. When we as believers have left God out of our jobs, when we only go to work to make money, then the salt has lost all flavor. When the “light of the world” is dim, it is dark indeed. We, as Christians, are the salt and light. We are the problem and the solution.

God’s View Of The Vocations

When God created the cosmos He gave the human race a very specific and wonderful part in His whole design. We are made by God to steward His material world and to create human culture that reveals the full image of God. His mandate in Genesis 1:28, isn’t for us to be farmers, it’s for us to use our gifts to create according to His image upon each of us. Some of us reveal Jehovah Jireh, God the Provider, through our entrepreneurial and business gifts. Some of us, in our passion for justice and service for others, work to create and serve the community through the justice system. Some of us are literally compelled by God to make life more beautiful, visually and audibly. Our passion is to reveal the God of beauty. Others, who have a passion for truth and knowledge, become communicators and educators. Some who are dying to discover become scientists and explorers, those who go to the ends of the world, cosmos and our reality to learn what God has made. Still more have a passion to reveal the Father God by raising future generations to know and enjoy Him forever. And others desire to help everyone know God better and to be aware of the worship of their lives, families, and work. We seek to reveal the Great High Priest in ministry to the whole body. Our gifts are different, but everyone is gifted to reveal God in their life and talents.

Real Cameos
I have the great privilege of traveling God’s planet and meeting His people. Sometimes the thought of getting on one more airplane seems unbearable. But it is never tiring to be in a new culture with a new body of believers. God’s diversity is exhilarating. From all over the world I have cameos of God’s people affected by the loss of our vocational revelation. There is the successful Swedish businessman who wept as we talked about God’s call on business. He said that all his life he had known somehow this vision for business was true, but he had never heard it validated by the church. An English medical student read this material on my web page and wrote to say that she had intended quitting medical school because she deeply wanted to serve God. Now, she understood that being a doctor was her service for God. There is the sanitation engineer who broke down and wept when he heard the vocational mandate of science. He said that no one in the Christian community had ever validated his work to keep his community healthy. His missionary brother was honored every time he visited church with him. This was the first time his work had been said to be valuable in God’s eyes. An Indian businessman almost leapt with joy at the good news that business ability was a gift of God. Some Christians in India have developed a vocation caste system; business is considered the lowest caste. There is the South African believer who found for the first time that his job of redeveloping old mining compounds into livable communities was a holy calling. He had been assigned millions in tax funds to turn these symbols of injustice and greed that were, in part, to blame for the destruction of family structure in the black community into something that provided quality of life. He was shocked at how much instruction there was for his job in scripture. In an interview for a Swiss Christian magazine I was asked, “What would you say to those who are convinced that a believer cannot be involved in politics today without dirtying their hands and compromising their witness?” This is far from an isolated concept.

If we are to become a church of influence we must embrace God’s perspective of all the vocational callings! This means a reformation of our thinking about the laity or those who are called to serve God in the community outside the church structure. In order to restore God’s view of work we must have God’s view of the importance of community and our role as Christians in serving it. Jesus summarizes the whole of the Law and the Prophets into two commandments: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”1He is radically emphasizing God and community as our focus. We need a generation that will become so saturated in the Word of God that they can again articulate God’s purpose for every arena of life.

Vocational Missions Mandates

The Hippocratic Oath, while not Christian in origin, led the thinking and commitment of medical doctors around the world for more than 2000 years. What might be the result of the world’s largest body of believers getting a hold of God’s thinking on all of God’s work? What would happen if every Christian in the world began to do their work as though it was the call of God and his or her service to the Kingdom? What would happen if, inspired by the Holy Spirit, we began to take an oath for justice, an oath for education, an oath for media, an oath for science that serves? Is it possible that the only thing our communities need is for Christians to stop being secular? Is it possible that the darkness of the world is really nothing at all, and all that is needed is for the light of believers to shine?

I have a dream. In this vision of the future, I see a generation who can articulate and apply God’s view of civil justice, economics, science, education, family, the arts, communication, and church ministry. I see a generation of believers who grew up believing what they love to do is a gift from God and who desire with all their hearts to use these talents in the service of God and their community. I dream of these young people taking oaths to their specific callings in dedication services all over the Christian world. And yes, I will say it, I dream of a generation who is willing to die for the Lord of justice, provision and freedom.

In my search for the Kingdom I have pursued men and women of God who seemed to see the same deficits I saw in the impact of the church. In chapter 4 I told you of Tom Marshall, the New Zealand pastor with an enormous vision of the Kingdom of God, speaking on our campus in Hawaii, I wept for hours with a broken heart over our diminished gospel message. After his message I prayed, “God, you must show us the road back. You must reveal again your great revelations of Kingdom life beyond salvation.” That was ten years ago.

A Call To Develop A Practical Theology Of Every Domain
After ten years of studying the scriptures with vocations and community in mind, I have my first simplistic run at articulating the vocational missions mandate. God’s purpose in and through the domain of:

Government: Justice – King of Kings
Is to provide an independent and objective source of arbitration and conflict resolution for society and between nations, providing and ensuring justice and equity for all its citizens.

Family: Nurture and Love – The Heavenly Father
Is to provide a safe, loving and nurturing environment for the growth, values, and education of the next generation.

Church: Mercy and Holiness – The Great High Priest
Is to provide for propagation of the faith and discipleship of all believers in the whole nature and character of God, His Word applied to the work and walk of faith, and to facilitate the expression of that faith in worship, fellowship and the sacraments of the church.

Science and Technology: Order and Power – The Creator
Is to discover and use God’s natural laws in order to bless all creation by pursuing a higher quality of life, better health, and greater stewardship of God’s resources and created universe.

Economics and Business: Provision – God our Provider
Is to provide the needed goods and services and gainful employment opportunities for the community at large at a fair market price and wage.

Education: Knowledge – The Great Teacher
Is to develop the God-given gifts in every person to their highest potential in the service of their community, believing God gifts every child.

Communication and Media: Truth – The Living Word
Is to provide truthful, objective information of importance to the community at large so that citizens can make informed decisions.

Arts and Entertainment: Beauty – The Potter, The Song of Songs
Is to provide for rest, relaxation, and renewal of the soul through beauty and joy.

This is only a start. We must all work together for God’s reformation of a generation.

“Thy Kingdom come,” Lord, “on earth as it is in heaven.”

1. Matthew 22:37-39