By Amanda Lopez, Bethel Seminary San Diego
Upon first entering into the Work with Purpose (WWP) Colloquy it was understood that members in the group would enter into reading four books about work and then write a paper. Going into the group there was an expectation that it would be enriching, but mostly I assumed it would be methodical and rather dry. While others in previous groups said it would be helpful as I graduate seminary, I was pleasantly surprised and encouraged by how each book enriched my personal theology and the depth within the Colloquy community. Overall, the various books and discussion group allowed me to pinpoint three very distinct aspects when looking at what is the purpose of having a theology of work and how can we implement that in our lives. First, knowing the location of the authors that we are reading, as well as our own theological location on any one subject, will help in being able to articulate our own view and understand the view of others. Second, the outworking of our theology should run parallel to our growing in righteousness to encourage our growth, as well as the faith of those around us. Finally, we cannot compartmentalize our faith in thinking that any and all activity we participate in does not have eternal bearing.
In the beginning
Even from the earliest points in Genesis, people, as bearers of God’s image, were created for purpose and a deep sense of God’s calling over their lives. “This divine image is in part a functional likeness to God—a human capacity and calling to assist God in God’s oversight of, and care for, his creation” (Scorgie, Brown and Ferris 2017, 4). With our purpose uniquely and intricately woven within God’s plans for the world, working and discovering our calling is more than just what we fill our days with; it is holy and it’s process intentional.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward” (Col. 3:23-24, NIV). Paul, in writing that to the church in Colossae, was trying to give Christians a picture of how life and faith are not separate, but flow very much in and through each other. But this just wasn’t a reminder of what we do day-to-day for filling time, but a measure of who we are as children of God, in light of salvation and as an outworking of what we believe.
Vocational stewardship is the “intentional and strategic deployment of our vocational power—knowledge, platform, networks, position, influence, skills and reputation—to advance foretastes of God’s Kingdom” (Sherman 2011, 20). While we can easily say that vocational stewardship or vocational power is most easily meant to be our day jobs or ministries, it extends far beyond that. Being able to define vocation broader than just the “jobs” we do and instead any role or area of influence that would give us opportunity to display incarnational work—or in Sherman’s case the tsaddiqim—would go a lot further in including more people (not just those that work). “Living out my faith in my work seemed relegated to small symbolic gestures, to self-righteous abstinence from certain behaviors, and to political alignments on the top cultural and legal issues of the day” (Keller and Alsdorf 2012, xviii). Funnily enough, even within trying to model Christ in the things we do by small gestures, we can often alienate those we would hope to win.
Gospel as glasses
Paul, in going back to his letter to the church of Colossae, wrote that they [meaning believers in Christ] should, “be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (4:5-6, NIV). But we often parse out Christianity from our work, which is so interesting because a relationship with Jesus is a whole-life decision. In looking at Keller and Alsdorf’s book, Every Good Endeavor, they are not saying to have a Christian worldview is to consistently be speaking about Jesus. Instead, think of the gospel as a set of glasses through which you ‘look’ at everything else in the world” (Keller and Alsdorf 2012, 181). Of course that is easier said than done, particularly when we can easily be distracted by the tasks within the job itself. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus at the house of Martha spoke about this very issue. When Martha was busily trying to take care of tasks, asking Jesus to get her sister Mary to help her out so she too could enjoy the company of those around, Jesus answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her” (Luke 10:41-42, NIV). “‘The priesthood of all believers’ did not make everyone into church workers; rather it turned every kind of work into a sacred calling” (Veith 2002, 19). That is what I think is very common now: to dub vocational ministry as those qualified to share the Good News or preach about God’s Kingdom, when in fact that commission was put on each person who expressed faith in Jesus.
What I appreciated about each book within the Colloquy book list was that each stressed how each person has multiple callings within their relationship with God. The first and utmost calling is to be the tsaddiqim, the righteous daughters and sons of the King. We are called into sonship because of Christ and adopted as heirs. This is a calling that by the work of the Holy Spirit was gifted to us. It is not often that we say our callings are our gifts, but we usually see them as rights or obligations. This is not so with our first calling. “According to the Reformers, each Christian has multiple vocations. We have callings in our work. We have callings in our families. We have callings as citizens in a larger society. And we have callings in the Church” (Veith 2002, 22). It is with these secondary callings that we are able to bless others, bring heaven to earth and join in the dynamic and all-encompassing work of God. As with spiritual gifts, our various callings are for the benefit of the Church and our neighbors. And as we grow deeper in relationship with God, having a gospel-lens everywhere we go, we are then able to step into places and positions of influence to deepen our impact and see the Kingdom now in our very midst.
As I wrap up and think about how the Colloquy deepened my meaning of vocation and calling, I think about how I originally came into the group—as a task-oriented person. Just read some books, write a paper, and finish the task. But the effect was deeper. God, as He always does, drew me into a relationship on a different level. He pointed out where I was being the Martha in the various callings that I had been gifted. He allowed me to see people and tasks each as communal times with Him where Holy Spirit was mightily working. This was not just day-to-day work, but Kingdom work. It was holy work, not because it had to do with vocational ministry, but because it was the Spirit of God working to showcase the love and grace of how God is in the everyday. So all in all, I would say that I got a good pair of gospel lenses as a part of the group. In community with other believers starting from different locations and different ways in which we viewed work, we were able to agree on the high calling that we are given as believers to in some way or another affect change in our places of influence.
So to revisit what I took away most from this group was first, having an understanding as to the location of the authors that we are reading, as well as our own theological proclivities, helps in being able to articulate our own view and understand the view of others. Second, our theology should run parallel to our growing in righteousness or the tsaddiqim, to encourage our growth, as well as the faith of those around us. This is what will also help usher in a deeper sense of our various callings granted to us by God. Finally, we cannot compartmentalize our faith but in all that we do we need to have a gospel-lens for the people and circumstances around us. In this God may have his good and pleasing and perfect will, in and through the lives of those who profess Christ as Lord, and assist in bringing heaven to earth by God’s grace.
Keller, Tim and Katherine Leary Alsdorf. 2012. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. New York: Riverhead Books.
Scorgie, Glen, Jeannine Brown, and Paul Ferris. 2017. Work With Purpose: Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Work. St. Paul: Bethel Seminary.
Sherman, Amy L. 2011. Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.
Veith Jr, Gene Edward. 2002. God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life. Wheaton: Crossway.
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