The Great 9 to 5 Opportunity
June 1, 2003 - Does your work matter to God? As we answer a phone, as we type a letter for the 18th time for a boss who never seems to make up her mind, as we close a million-dollar deal, as we change a diaper, as we make an arrest, how many of us feel that this is really for God?
by Mark Greene
Why does work matter? Why does the workplace matter? What ministry opportunities does the workplace present? And why might it be the great mission field of the 21st century?
The Apostle Paul wrote, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" (Colossians 3:23, NIV).
This verse is not necessarily about church work or evangelism or any of the jobs that we tend to affirm in the Christian subculture. It's a clear reference to all forms of work.
The King of the universe would not ask us to do "whatever" we do "with all our heart" if it weren't of some significance to Him. Work is a component of our service—of our worship. And it is one of God's instruments to get the things done that He wants done—feeding us, providing us with shelter, getting us education, enabling us to enjoy the arts and enabling us to give those things to other people.
Through work, God gives us the opportunity to give Him praise for the way He has made us.
The Sacred/Secular Divide
But why don't we see that "ordinary" work is so significant to the Creator-Worker God? Because of the sacred/secular divide. This pervasive mindset suggests that some aspects of our lives, such as Bible reading and prayer, are really important to God and that others, such as work and study, are at best neutral.
This leads to a view that pastors are most special to God. Slightly below pastors are missionaries and full-time Christian workers. Then come tentmakers—builders, mechanics, midwives, teachers, engineers, accountants—those people in the church who take their skills overseas to reach people for Christ through those occupations. For example, if you go to work for IBM in Saudi Arabia, the whole church will probably pray for you, and your picture may well be on the wall. But what happens if you work for IBM in Connecticut? Nothing. Or maybe you're just a "walking checkbook."
We've lost the sense that someone can be called to a so-called secular job—as were Joseph, Daniel and Nehemiah—and that it may be just as strategic in God's plan as pastoring a church.
The Ultimate Mission Field
Mission research reveals that the key element in most people's conversion to Christianity is a relationship with a person.
In the workplace you have relationships—lots of them. And in the workplace people can see the difference that Jesus makes in your life because everything is the same—the boss, the corporate culture, the industry pressure—everything except Jesus in you. If you lose your temper people see it: Do you apologize, or don't you apologize? You get promoted and you don't deserve it; you get promoted and you do deserve it—how do you handle it?
In the workplace, the average Christian knows 50 non-Christians. And in the workplace Christians spend a lot of time with non-Christians—far more time, perhaps, than they'll spend with even their best friends. And they'll spend time with people from all kinds of ethnic backgrounds and from different age groups, which they may not do in their leisure time.
Sadly, many Christians have not seen the fantastic opportunity that God has for them. A while back, I met a woman, about 50 years old, who worked at a hospital. She said, "I've been working for 17 years, and only in the past year or so have I recognized my workplace as a place of ministry. How many Christians die without realizing the ministry God has for them?"
The fact that the average Christian spends 40 hours a week with about 50 people is hugely significant. Many Christians don't even know that they're making a difference. Little things make a difference—a note, a smile, a cup of coffee, a chocolate bar.
The relationships Christians have with the people around them are key to reaching the world for Christ.
Six Levels of Workplace Witness
Too often, we've got a false concept of what it means to be a successful Christian—if you haven't shared a step-by-step Gospel plan, you've failed. In my view, there are different levels of workplace witness:
Level 1: Our mere presence in the workplace. Christ is in us, and He shines through.
Level 2: The very way we do our work. Whom do we do our work for, and in Whose strength do we do it? People can tell the difference.
Level 3: Bringing a biblical perspective to personal issues that people face—relationship breakdowns, raising children, greed, anxiety, bereavement.
Level 4: Approaching cultural issues such as Sept. 11—or everyday topics like movies—from a biblical perspective. Was there a place in America where people weren't asking, "Why did God allow Sept. 11 to happen? How did it bring Him glory?" We can answer from a biblical perspective.
Level 5: Approaching work issues in a godly manner. The Gospel in the marketplace is more than telling how Christ has changed us or can change others—it's about changing the companies, the institutions, the places that we serve in.
Level 6: We witness through opportunities to share the Gospel. Some may argue that there are in-season and out-of-season times for this, but we have to take risks—millions of people are facing an eternity without Christ.
The Lord Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough" (Matthew 13:33, NIV). God transforms our will, our mind, our emotions, our body—everything. And He yearns to transform society and workplaces.
We are called not just to be salt and light, which are essentially passive, but to be yeast—active agents of transformation. And Christians are in the right places to reach this nation—and, indeed, the world.