I recently gave this talk to a group of professional business leaders called the ‘Upper Hill Leaders Fellowship’.
Discussion Question: If you were God, why would you place one of your servants in your current role/position?*
How many of you have watched the movie ‘Amazing Grace?’ It tells the story of a young politician named William Wilberforce. When he became a Christian in 1785 at the age of 25, Wilberforce’s first reaction was to leave politics and join ‘ministry’. He thought, as many other Christians still do today, that ‘spiritual’ affairs are far more important than ‘secular’ affairs. His pastor who was called John Newton (who by the way was the converted slave trader who wrote ‘Amazing Grace’) convinced him that God wanted him to stay in politics. Newton wrote to him, ‘It is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of the nation’. After much prayer and thought, Wilberforce concurred. God was calling to serve Him alright, but as a member of parliament, championing the rights of the oppressed. He wrote later in his journal, ‘My walk is a public one. My business is in the world; and I must mix in the assemblies of men, or quit the post which Providence seems to have assigned me’.
Two years later, already a member of parliament, Wilberforce became found himself attracted to the cause to abolish the slave trade, even though at the time, almost every Englishman thought the practice as vital… and in fact necessary for the survival of the British economy and very few thought there was anything morally wrong or evil about it. As he researched the issue however, Wilberforce became increasingly convicted. In a speech to the House of Commons, he later said, ‘so enormous, so dreadful, so irremedial did the Trade’s wickedness appear, that my own mind was completely made up for the Abolition. Let the consequences be as they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition.’
Wilberforce, the young M.P, had found his calling. He was to spend the next 50 years, practically the rest of his life, working tirelessly to accomplish his goal. He was opposed by powerful corporates and the colonial government, as well as most of the royal family. He was on two occasions waylaid and physically assaulted by his opponents. He retired from parliament in 1825 because of critical illness, but it wasn’t until 1833, 3 days after hearing the news that slavery had been abolished throughout the British Empire that William Wilberforce died. His incredible contribution has been referred to by historians as ‘one of the turning events in the history of the world’.
I wonder what would have been if Wilberforce had become a pastor? Perhaps he would have still been influential; but it is questionable whether he would have accomplished what he did. His story reveals one myth that many of us have believed about calling.
THE MYTH OF ‘FULL-TIME MINISTRY’
This myth is based on the belief that the ‘spiritual’ aspects of life is of more interest to God than the ‘secular’, and that following God’s call means leaving the ‘secular’ realm and working in a ‘spiritual’ setting. One problem with this view is it results in a 2-tier Christianity: the experts, the elite (those with a ‘higher calling’, people in ‘ministry’), and everyone else, for whom the expectations are low except that they support the work of those in ministry. And of course, this distinction is not biblical. Look at someone like Abraham: What was his profession? A rancher, perhaps businessman. Certainly not a pastor or priest! Go through the bible and you will find that a large proportion of people it talks about are people who were not religious professionals of one type or another. God calls people like Abraham, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Esther, Daniel, Nehemiah, Mary & Joseph, Priscilla & Aquila. These are ordinary people who live out their calling in various professions; national leaders, civil servants, business people, craftsmen, mothers.
Martin Luther, the great reformer, in addressing this myth, once wrote, ‘the works of monks and priests do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone… indeed the menial housework of a manservant or maidservant is often more acceptable to God than all the fastings and other works of a monk or priest, because the monk or priest lacks faith’. The biblical truth is that Christ is not just interested in being Lord of the spiritual realm, but of all creation and over every realm of life.
I believe that God is calling the church of our generation to not just tolerate and accept business, but be actively involved in the business world. I believe that God is not just the God of the church but He’s also the God of the marketplace.
A second myth that we sometimes have believed about calling is
THE MYTH THAT CALLING = CAREER
If the first myth elevates the ‘spiritual’ above the ‘secular’, then this does the opposite. Work in and of itself, is seen as sacred, and so long as one is doing their work well, becoming the best at what they do and developing in their career, then they are seen as being faithful to their calling. Popular phrases her include, ‘be all you can be’, ‘follow your dream’ or ‘just do it’ The focus here is living up to your potential, being yourself, serving as productively as possible, and becoming the best at what you do.
At least this view helps us recognize that every Christian has a calling. The problem with this view is that ultimately, it too is unbiblical. The bible teaches that God has a specific purpose for the gifts he has created us with, Eph.2:10 – ‘We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’ You cannot follow a call without listening to what the Caller wants. To simply advance in your career, without seeking to engage in discovering God’s purpose, is to misunderstand calling. Os Guinness, a writer & philosopher says, ‘The truth is not that God is finding us a place for our gifts but that God has created us and our gifts for a place of his choosing – and we will only be ourselves when we are finally there.’
If these are common myths about calling, what can we learn about each Christian’s call? Here are 3 Truths about the mind & heart of God for your career…
1. GOD CREATED EVERYTHING
Gen.1:1, Jn.1:3 He created everything there is. Nothing exists that he didn’t make. (Understands the stock exchange, business strategy, HR issues, the economic recession – whatever challenges I face doing business in this environment)
2. GOD OWNS EVERYTHING
He didn’t just create it & move on but has retained ownership over everything he has created and continues to be actively involved in it
Psa.50:10-12 Every animal in the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills… for the world is mine & all that is in it.
Psa.24:1 The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.
Society says ‘What I posses, is mine’; God’s word says, ‘What I possess, God owns completely’
Lk.12:13-21 – story of the rich fool… in the world’s perspective would be re-named the story of the astute investor!
3. WE ARE MANAGERS (OR TRUSTEES) ON HIS BEHALF
Psa.8:6 You made him ruler over the works of your hands and place everything under his feet…
1 Cor.4:2 Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.
The primary purpose of your career is to serve God’s kingdom! Our business decisions are spiritual decisions! As trustees, each one of us will stand before God and answer the question, what did you do with the career/business I entrusted to you? Here’s what I’m saying…
Your career is a Kingdom Resource to help you fulfill God’s purpose.
Discuss: How different would my career look if I believed that God really owned it?
Too many Christians drift through life pursuing their opportunities and planning to one day serve God when they achieve what they want. They miss out on the awesome privilege of being God’s partners to transform the marketplace. They waste their lives
Let me end with a story I’ve shared at Mavuno, modified from a book called ‘Anointed for Business’ by Ed Silvoso (highly recommended). In a prisoner-of-war camp there are five types of prisoners…
- Submitted – Prisoners who believe that the war is lost and they had better learn to compromise and to live with the enemy. They thus work hard to gain their captor’s favor (perhaps even informing on other prisoners) and to fit in as best as they can.
- Resigned – Prisoners who also believe that the war will never be won and yet feel strongly that they had been fighting for the right side and could never compromise with the enemy. They have resigned themselves to live the best possible lives while looking forward to dying with dignity.
- Activists – Prisoners who believe that even though the war is lost, they can do something to improve their conditions and those of their fellow prisoners. To that effect organize themselves and provide comfort and assistance to each other, especially to those who are distressed the most. They lobby for longer exercise times and larger quantities of bread and cleaner toilets. They don’t always get everything they want but sometimes they do.
- Insurgents – Those who believe they can and should take over the camp. Always whispering in corners, they organize and train themselves, secure weapons and eventually liberate fellow prisoners. As soon as they are in control, they fortify the camp to prevent their former captors from coming back, and they wait for the war to be won and their army to liberate them from the surrounding enemy so they can go home.
- Agents – The most dangerous group – They don’t think of themselves as prisoners but as undercover agents – they don’t just plan to take over the camp; they want to train their fellow prisoners to be an army that takes over all the other enemy camps, setting other prisoners free and to win the war from behind the enemy lines.
In the same way, when it comes to business and the workplace, there are five types of Christians…
- Submitted – Christians who don’t believe the gospel has any relevance for their workplace and feel intimidated by their non-Christian colleagues – they thus try to fit in and act completely similar to those whom they work with – you wouldn’t notice anything different about them when they’re at work.
- Resigned – Christians who have no hope that the workplace can be changed for better, but are determined to hold on and to do the best they can in a bad. Survival is their objective and church is a place of maintenance from the wear and tear of the week. They probably attend morning and lunchtime devotions as well to keep themselves going. They look forward to faithfully holding on until Christ returns and rescues them.
- Activists – Those who believe that even though the world will always remain evil, some basic elements of the marketplace can be changed, and so they speak out against unfairness and discrimination, and lobby their employers to try and get the best possible conditions for themselves and fellow-workers.
- Insurgents – Those who believe they should work to establish God’s kingdom in their workplace so that things can be run according to godly principles. They work hard to establish Christian offices or businesses which are an outpost of heaven on Earth
- Agents – The crazy ones who believe that it is their job to change not just the business they work in but their whole industry and indeed the business environment of the whole city to God’s glory. They’re not waiting for heaven to come but they’re actively bringing heaven’s values into their world. They’re not just thinking of themselves but want to raise up/mentor other Christ followers. They are committed to the total transformation of the marketplace and see themselves on an undercover mission to change the way business is done.
Which kind of Christian are you??? My prayer is that every one of you will desire to be an agent, used by God to advance His kingdom agenda in your industry.
Next time I come (Wed 17th), I would like to talk about how to begin the very important process of discerning God’s purpose in your career. But for now, allow me to lead in a prayer of confession.
PRAY: Lord, if I could be truly honest, I have not approached my career as a resource fully submitted to your service but rather as something for me. Please forgive me. I choose from this day to begin to seek You that You may show me how to be a kingdom professional. In the name of Jesus I pray, AMEN
*Possible Answers: 1. Give to ministry, 2. Impact the marketplace (model kingdom values e.g. integrity etc), 3. Give leadership/wisdom to church, 4. Create employment, 5. Create solutions for people, 6. Impact culture (set different standards/values e.g. compassion)