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Why ‘Secular’ Jobs Aren’t for Second-Class Christians – Part 2

What is the connection between our worship of God on Sunday and our “secular” job on Monday? Sadly, business has not been highly valued by most clergy.

“Many business people are hungry to know how to integrate their faith into work,” said David Miller, who currently serves as director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative, in a 2007 interview with Christianity Today. “Unfortunately, most clergy don’t know how to help these parishioners, and they often show benign neglect, or even outright hostility, toward the marketplace.”

Biola professor Scott Rae and Azusa Pacific professor Kenman Wong make a similar observation in their business ethics textbook, Beyond Integrity, noting, “The weight of historical Christian thought seems to lean against wholehearted participation in business.”

As a result, many who work in “secular” careers end up with a sense that their vocations are less valuable in the eyes of God.

“For years, I thought my involvement in business was a second-class endeavor — necessary to put bread on the table, but somehow less noble than more sacred pursuits like being a minister or a missionary,” writes John Beckett, chairman of R. W. Beckett, in his book Loving Monday. “The clear impression was that to truly serve God, one must leave business and go into ‘full-time Christian service.’ Over the years, I have met countless other business people who feel the same way.”

A. W. Tozer, writing in The Pursuit of God, clarifies that, “One of the greatest hindrances to internal peace which the Christian encounters is the common habit of dividing our lives into two areas, the sacred and the secular. . . so that we live a divided instead of a unified life.” This false dichotomy between sacred and secular has become entrenched in an institutional way in the church. A “calling” to so-called “full-time Christian ministry” (missions, pastoring, teaching at a seminary) is often perceived as having greater value to God than those roles without this “calling” (e.g., business owner, plumber, homemaker). Sadly, such hierarchical valuing negatively impacts believers in business.

As a card-carrying member of this so-called “higher order” class, only late in life did I become aware of how my views had been skewed. All of my adult life, I‘ve been employed in the not-for profit sector. I went to seminary, served on the pastoral staffs of a few churches, and have been a seminary professor at a few seminaries. I confess that I bought into this received view within my own Christian culture that “vocational full-time ministry” was a higher calling than other endeavors. For example, when a person moved from being a pastor to the marketplace, he or she was considered to have “left the ministry.”

About a decade ago, God set me on a journey — not of my choosing — to expose me to the business sector, while I was a seminary professor. I had to read John Schneider’s The Good of Affluence: Seeking God in a Culture of Wealth as a comprehensive examination item for one of my doctoral students. A perspective shift began taking place. Two years later, with some men from a Bible study, I joined an LLC that purchased a commercial real estate investment, which we later learned was also a business to manage. After five years, we sold that albatross. I gained experience while losing money on the deal — the usual tuition of a hands-on business education in first attempts.

During these years I examined Scripture with fresh eyes, read Christian business books, and attended business seminars with my brother, Bill, who was the founder of FabSuite software company (later sold to Trimble, that software is now called, Tekla PowerFab). Because of this perspective-shifting journey, I’ve come to appreciate the value of good business for God’s kingdom purposes. Based on the New Testament concept of the priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:5, 9), can we acknowledge that — regardless of which sector we labor in — Jesus expects all of us to engage in full-time Christian service (Matt. 28:18–20)?

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