Pastoral Perspectives

Believers in the Marketplace – A Christian Challenge

     Continuing from my last perspective “Where is the Church on Monday?”, I believe many will agree that there are those who make a clear distinction between the sacred and the secular in our everyday lives. It is therefore not surprising that we hear of believers struggling between the realism of the marketplace and the perceived idealism of Christian faith. For example, those in the marketplace may lack the confidence that their pastors can understand the nuances of free market economy or entrepreneurial enterprise. Some feel that sermons with simplistic answers fail to address adequately the complex issues marketplace people face.

     On the other hand, many may find it hard to practice some form of intentional spirituality at their workplaces. Indeed, it does not help when some pastors and church leaders fail to recognize the natural opportunities that God’s people have for incarnating the kingdom of God wherever they are. In addition, many may feel guilty or are at least inwardly torn whenever work commitments keep them from regular Sunday attendance or more active participation in the programs of the church.

     Maybe it is good for us to first clarify that occupation is not to be confused with vocation. Vocation for the Christian is a matter of responding to God’s call on all believers to live out their Christian faith. However, occupation (or career) is the specific skill or job one selects in order to make a living. In other words, God calls all believers to this vocation of being a Christian witness throughout one’s entire life regardless of what occupation we may or may not have. Whether we are a teacher or pastor, doctor or seamstress, God is calling us to use our occupation to bear witness to the kingdom of God here on earth.

     In the Bible, we see that the Old Testament prophets and priests were called and in the New Testament, the disciples and apostles were also called. Although, we generally assume that the Ephesians 4:11 passage (“he who gave . . . pastors and teachers to equip God’s people”) provides the basis for a divine call to ministry, I want to suggest that the calling to OT and NT offices is very different from that of a local preacher. Certainly God does specifically send some to preach (Rom. 10:15), but I think we all too easily assume that this “call” is reserved only for those in full-time paid ministry.

     It is understandable that Christians tend to prize and value the work of evangelists, pastors, and apologists because what they do connect so readily to God’s own work as Redeemer. However, we need to rediscover the fact that the work God does is far broader than Christ’s work of reconciling people or helping them grow together in faith. After all, Scripture reveals God is also Creator, Sustainer, Provider and Lawgiver—to mention only a few of his many other occupational hats.

     All of this means that everyone who does legitimate work should be able to say, “My work is God’s work.” For example, the work of a teacher could be said to reflect something of God’s desire to reveal truth to people. Or the work of a secretary involved in scheduling appointments reflects something of God’s own love of order.

     Research has shown that we spend more time at the workplace than anywhere else. The average person spends some eighty-eight thousand hours on the job from the first day of employment until the retirement. Since our work occupies so much of our lives, it is therefore crucial for the Gospel to interact with this sphere of life. Indeed, Christians have an opportunity to show people that God is interested in our work, that God understands the frustrations of work, that God knows the complexities involved in depending on others at work, that God is also concerned to balance work and rest.

     With the above in mind, what kind of questions should the Christian be asking when it comes to their occupation or career? Hopefully, we will go beyond questions such as “Which jobs pay the most?” or “Which jobs will be the most enjoyable?” for these implicitly reflect an individualistic culture, where one is pursuing self-satisfaction.

     As parents, we have the opportunity to influence our children not only in the choice of their profession but in how to make those choices. Indeed, far more important than being in a specific profession is how the family can both model and talk about how work is part of God’s calling to the Christian in the world. Our work is place where we can model service, where it is not about climbing the corporate ladder or aiming to make the first million within a certain number of years.

     Furthermore, the Apostle Paul wrote “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord…” (Col. 3:23-24). While working with all of one’s heart is at least implicit in most job descriptions, Christians have a far higher motivation.  Irrespective of our career choices, the engineer, the fashion model or the soldier should do our best and use our abilities in a way that honours God.

     There is certainly much that every church can do to encourage and build up our people who are in the marketplace. In Acts 17:17, we find the Apostle Paul interacting in the synagogue with Jews and God-fearing Greeks “as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.” Likewise, pastors equip their people best by getting out of their own offices and into the offices, factories, shops and other settings of our marketplace workers. In this way, pastors and marketplace people can grow to understand each other better away from the four walls of a church building. Even as the church continues to develop a theology and praxis large enough to outfit people whose ministry venue is the marketplace, I trust that it will enable more to be ready for the  ministry opportunities God has placed before them.

Rev Tan Cheng Huat (Non-resident Missionary to SQ)

December 2, 2018