The story is told about an evangelical college that claimed to affirm the sacredness of all work. But did it really believe this teaching? Every spring the school held a special chapel service to lay hands on, and pray for, students who were going off on mission trips. But then a professor asked if the school could hold a similar service for students planning to start internships at big accounting firms.
The school's answer? An emphatic no.
My former colleague Jim Tonkowich tells this story in his online article, "Christians on the Job: Doing Well a Thing Well Worth Doing." "Fine words aside," Tonkowich writes, "the college believes that some vocations are much more sacred than others."
Sadly, many professors "enthusiastically [communicate] that fallacy to its unsuspecting students."
Christians outside the academy sometimes fall for the same fallacy as well. Too many business people "have cut short their careers just before breaking into senior management in order to ‘serve God full time,'" Tonkowich notes. Despite their talk about all work being sacred, their own decisions deny their words.
How do we get back a biblical view of work? We can start with an essay by Dorothy Sayers entitled "Why Work." As Sayers writes, Christians "must get it firmly into their heads that when a man or woman is called to a particular job of secular work, that is as true a vocation as though he or she were called to a specific religious work."
One thinks of a good friend of Sayers, C.S. Lewis, whose "secular" work at Oxford included writing a series of children's books that have for generations pointed children to Christ: The Chronicles of Narnia.
Sayers believed that work "should be looked upon—not as a necessary drudgery...but as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God."
This is why it is so important that Christian young people find out what their vocation is—whether it be law, medicine, ministry, or some other field—and do the work that God designed them to do.
How do we figure that out? We should ask ourselves what we are good at, what we have a passion for, what God has gifted us in. In what kind of work do we find great spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction?
That, Sayers says, is a good indication of the work we should seek out.
Finding the work that God intends us to do may protect us from one of the great temptations of our times: consumerism. Doing our work well, and finding great satisfaction in it, Tonkowich notes, will "keep us from the need to drown out our unhappiness in...[all] the assorted amusements our paycheck can purchase."
What a pity today we can't invite Dorothy Sayers to speak at evangelical colleges about the truth that God calls us to all kinds of work—and that becoming, say, a podiatrist is just as sacred in God's eyes as becoming a missionary.
Doing the work that God gifted us for—whether it be government work, writing, or a plumber—does not make us second-class Christians, but people who are worshipping God with the abilities He gave them—and expects them to use.
This commentary delivered by Mark Earley, President of Prison Fellowship Ministries.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.