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Thursday, August 31, 2006


To Work or To Preach?

On the blog Every Square Inch I recently posted some thoughts about “Preparing for Mondays.” In that post, Andre tells the story of George Mueller, a strong Christian who served God through his daily work in orphanages.

The Problem with George Mueller

While I find the story of Mueller encouraging, it also presents some problems for me. It is easy to think of Mueller’s job as serving God, but my job is editing. Mostly, I just stare at a screen all day and work with writers I’ve never met. How can that possibly glorify God? In short, how can normal jobs glorify God?

Andre is keeping me honest. He posted this comment in response to my cynicism:


You make a very thoughtful comment and thanks for sharing Rom 12:1-2.

I like how you reference the solution of your dilemma back to scripture. But I have a followup question - why do you think a businessman or factory worker have a hard time finding a biblical purpose in his vocation?
It took me a long time to respond (in blog years, I guess). In part because my daughter just started kindergarten and my world turned upside-down. But also because Andre forced me to define the dilemma.

Going To Work or To Preach?

Here’s the dilemma in a nutshell:

Does my work itself have value?
Or is my work just a vehicle to do God’s
David Miller of Princeton talks about two approached to work. People tend to see either the intrinsic value or the extrinsic value of work.

TheHighCalling.org encourages people to see the intrinsic value of their work. Someone who believes work has intrinsic value will then serve God by doing excellent work. The better I edit, the more I glorify God. The better an English teacher teaches English, the more he glorifies God. The better a bricklayer lays bricks, the more he glorifies God. The quicker a wood chuck, chucks… You get the idea.

Other people focus on the extrinsic value of work. Os Hillman tends to encourage people to focus on the extrinsic value of work. Workers glorify God by sharing their faith at work or by giving some portion of their salary to the institutional church. Work becomes a mission field where we go to sow seeds. It isn’t so much that the work itself glorifies God, but the explicit sowing of the Word through our work. By this logic, an editor glorifies God by editing text that will explicitly convince people to trust Jesus. A teacher glorifies God by sharing Christ with his students. A bricklayer shares Christ with his coworkers. I don’t know what the woodchuck could do . . . except use his salary to fund the work of the institutional church.

Of course, I’ve over simplified both arguments. And I’ve set up a false dichotomy between Os Hillman and TheHighCalling.org. Os is a great guy, and he helps a lot of people find purpose in their work. (I had breakfast with Os several months ago, but that is another story.) If you are interested in this kind of thinking, Mark Greene of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity masterfully discusses both views of work in a very readable and enjoyable book: Thank God It’s Monday.

Finding Purpose in our Vocation

Finally, I can get to Andre’s question: “Why do you think a businessman or factory worker has a hard time finding a biblical purpose in his vocation?”

This question has two parts:
1) Why do I think this… Well, I’d start by saying it’s just my hunch. As a teacher, I saw a lot of people who didn’t seem fulfilled in their work. As an editor for TheHighCalling.org I’m seeing even more. The rise in books and resources to help people find the purpose of their vocation suggests I’m not the only one who thinks people aren’t finding purpose in their vocation. In fact, Andre’s blog is a way of reminding people of their purpose and admitting our tendency to forget that purpose.

2) Why do people have a hard time finding their biblical purpose in work?
I don’t know.
Jesus makes it pretty easy. Everything boils down to two commandments.

Love God.
Love your neighbor.
That’s it. Even the great commission tells us to make disciples and teach them to obey the commands Jesus has given (which all boil down to the two commandments.)

My daughter and I were talking about this a few nights ago. She’s five. We’re reading Edward Tulane, a great book that’s sort of a twisted Velveteen Rabbit. Edward is a loser bunny, but after some hard knocks he is gradually learning what it means to love others more than himself.

So my daughter asked: “Why is it so hard for Edward to love other people?”

I told her, “I don’t know. People just try to make life more complicated than it is.” Then I got preachy. “Edward doesn’t know how to glorify God in everything he does,” I said. (That’s a phrase from our prayer each night. “God, help us glorify you in all that we say and do.”)

Then I asked my daughter, “Do you know how to glorify God in all that you do? Do you know how to glorify God at school?”

She said, “Yeah, I respect my teacher.”

“Is respect a kind of love?” I asked.

She thought a minute and nodded. “Yeah. I think it is.”

“I love you, honey,” I said with great respect.

“I love you, too, Daddy,” she said and kissed me on the cheek.

Check out my blog on Pastor Shep.

Thanks for answering my question and for the record, I didn't think of your initial response as cynicism. :-)

In response to your post here, I'm marginally familiar with David Miller. His categorization of intrinsic/extrinsic value of work may a way to think about work but I'm not yet convinced that its the most helpful way to get a biblically informed view on work.

Does work have intrinsic value? I'm not sure if we can answer yes without qualification...the type of work certainly matters. That doesn't necessarily translate to glorfying God since an unbeliever can also perform "good work" but not do it in a manner directed to God.

In the end, work isn't the goal of our lives...knowing and experiencing Christ...without that context, work doesn't translate to worship
Shep, welcome to the blogosphere!

Andre, I agree that work isn't the end goal of our lives. Christ is.

And I should have added the proviso that I greatly oversimplified David Miller's arguments for the sake of brevity.

Specifically, you wrote, "That doesn't necessarily translate to glorfying God since an unbeliever can also perform 'good work' but not do it in a manner directed to God." I agree completely. That's why I recommend Mark Greene's book. He is refreshingly honest about this issue without reducing work to nothing more than a platform for evangelism.

As I like to remind folks at in my Sunday School class: We can talk about excellence and servant leadership until we're blue in the face. But if we don't ever mention the name of Jesus we aren't being a faithful witness.

I worship God in my daily work through my actions and my words.

Either one by itself won't work.

thanks - I'm enjoying the interaction and dialogue. It's helpful in refining my thinking. Yes, both words and deeds matter.
Let's stay in touch and keep the conversation going.

Grace to you

I'd like to make a couple of observations out of my own woundedness, if I may.

If we understand that ALL of our life belongs to God, and if we've developed a full-time relationship with Him, it really isn't too difficult to appreciate both the intrinsic and extrinsic values of our work, the more so if we've found our true calling, the thing we were made for.


intrinsic value:
Many professions are discouraged by parents and teachers without regard for God's call on your life,
Often church leaders belittle secular jobs or careers as not being "spiritual",
Many people who attend church have not yet had a close encounter of the God kind, and
Many, many people cannot love others because they cannot love themselves.

While I certainly agree that doing the best job that you can do and being the best person that you can be brings glory to God, It wrankles when I'm confronted with the bar of "objective" excellence. Especially in this information over-loaded world where we aren't just compared to the "other" artist in town, but to millions around the world, that kind of comparison can be devistating, ...crushing.

extrinsic value:
We are not just put into a work situation to mouth gospel words, but to love, to cherish those persons we find in our lives. (I know you know this, I'm just sayin') Some of the nastiest people I've worked for and with talked Jesus talk.

and who said our tithes are supposed to go automatically to the institutional church?

The dichotonmy isn't necessarily all that false at the extremes.

On another note, Drivelswigger ????

Thanks for the thoughtful response! It took me a bit to get to it because things took off down here (in a good way).

I agree, though, extrinsic vs. intrinsic value of work is really a false dichotomy. I put it in those terms to point out the two extremes.

Most of my work on this issue through TheHighCalling.org and FaithInTheWorkplace.com has shown me that the biggest successes are in the field of extrinsic value. Marketplace ministries and His Church at Work--both great organizations--focus much more heavily on the view that work has value because it is a place where Christians can share Christ and act out the great commission.

And I still feel the hair on my neck rise when a pastor tells the story of hearing "the call to ministry." As if work outside the institutional church isn't a ministry. As if, the only way to give money to God is to place it in the plate.

On the other hand, I feel very strongly about supporting my local church with a percentage of my check each month. And I feel very strongly about the importance of volunteering at my local church. You know, drivelswigger and all that.


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