Since over a year ago, when a group of us began dreaming and scheming for what has now become the fully-funded “Work with Purpose initiative” at Bethel Seminary, I’ve been thinking a lot about the meaning of work. Or, I should say, meanings. Work often creates economic value. It usually serves other people. It can be an arena of fullest self-expression and self-realization as we exercise our particular gifts and personalities. It can be a place of sanctification, of discipleship, as we struggle through the mundane challenges and difficult relationships that mark most workplaces.
But does it have divine meaning, our work? Is such ultimate meaning of our work reserved for pastors, priests, or monastics? Does God ordain and care for our particular work, even if we don’t wear a collar, alb, or habit?
Related to this question, I’m busy right now writing an article on Christians’ understandings of the concept of vocation or calling through the ages. Here’s some reflection that may or may not make it into the final draft:
These days I’m asking pastors this question: “Do you see it as part of your calling to affirm the divine significance your people’s work in their jobs, in all economic spheres—business, non-profit, home?” Few answer affirmatively, and that’s worrisome. Especially in these recessionary times, much tempts American workers to discouragement: we work more hours, for less pay, with less security, less loyalty to our employers, less sense of our work truly mattering. Most of us want to find meaning in our work. But the church has at times behaved as if full-time ordained ministry is the only arena in which people are really working for God.
Many sincere Christians conclude that the only legitimate arena of vocational meaning is the church. In their first history class of each new year at Bethel Seminary, when I have my students share about their sense of calling, many tell the same story. It boils down to: “I quit my job to go into the ministry.” Continue reading