By Alex Blackwell, Bethel Seminary St. Paul
2015 winner of the 100,000 Hours Colloquy!
There are two concepts that seem to be often separated by Christians: work and mission. There is something inside of some of us that wishes we could just do good work, and not have to worry about the part where others give glory to God because of it. There are others of us who are so focused on getting everyone to glorify God that we forget how that can best be done through good work. A perpetuating factor regarding this issue is the sad fact that the “church offers little specific guidance about why [our] work matters” (Sherman 2011, 100). Work and mission are, in fact, inseparable. Each leads to the other, implies the other, or enhances the other. Sometimes this is despite the natural human inclination to keep the two separate. A proper understanding of both work and the Christian mission will lead to a better understanding and application of their convergence.
Worthy work at its best is something that, in some way, helps to bring aspects of the kingdom into the world. Likewise, the Christian mission is all about bringing the kingdom to earth, according to Jesus Himself (Mark 1:15). Through the pinnacle of the kingdom of God, the two ideas converge. In shamelessly combining the two concepts, Timothy Keller states, “The particulars of how much the gospel works out in each field are endlessly rich” (Keller & Alsdorf 2012, 164). Conversely, the particulars of how work works out through the Christian mission are also numerous.
The understanding that work and mission are inseparable is vital. God is calling those in church leadership “to the work of equipping the saints for ministry” (Sherman 2011, 116). For an exercise of the true image of the kingdom, we must believe that all people are “in ministry” no matter what their work is. Further, the vast majority of the congregants in a church spend much of their time at work. If ministers have trouble seeing work “as a way of making culture and of cultivating creation, they will fail to support, appreciate, and properly lead many members of their congregation” (Keller & Alsdorf 2012, 51).
Those in the congregation need to understand this because they will not only know that what they are doing is bringing the kingdom into this world, but they will also know the importance of using work to share the love of Jesus to those in their spheres of influence. “Faithful work indeed means some kind of public identification with Jesus, in such a way that a coworker might want to know more about [H]im” (Keller & Alsdorf 2012, 4).
Finally, it is vital to understand this convergence for the sake of… everyone else. If we are to truly engage in the Christian mission of the kingdom come in the world, then we must be fully present in all places and with all people within it (Nelson 2011, 59). For the benefit of the world and everyone in it, “Our Father in Heaven… [may] Your kingdom come” both through us and despite us (Matthew 6:9-10).
Keller, Timothy and Katherine Leary Alsdorf, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. New York, NY: Riverhead Books, 2012.
Nelson, Tom, Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011.
Sherman, Amy L., Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2011.