Millennials, we’re told, expect to remain in a job for just under three years. That could mean 15–20 jobs in a working life. For many, job-hopping is a strategy to gain more experience, and part of the search for greater job fulfilment.
In the book, Work Matters, Paul Stevens says we need to consider the purpose of God for our lives right where we are, in the job that we’re doing, rather than view life as haphazard chance. With an Esther-like perspective, we’re to recognise that we’ve been placed in ‘such a place and time as this’.
Work does matter, and it matters for mission. We must see beyond the unbiblical secular-sacred divide with its tendency to see ministry and mission as the stuff done by the pastor, evangelist, or church-supported missionary. These ‘professionals’ are a small proportion of the world-wide church.
The Cape Town Commitment encourages ‘all believers to accept and affirm their own daily ministry and mission as being wherever God has called them to work’ and recognises the need ‘to train all God’s people in whole-life discipleship, which means to live, think, work, and speak from a biblical worldview, with missional effectiveness in every place or circumstance of daily life and work.’
With a population of 2.15 billion, how are East Asians going to see and hear the gospel? One of the best places to rub shoulders with non-Christians is the workplace.
This isn’t just about using a skill or profession as a ‘platform’ in order to do real ministry. This is about valuing the work itself, doing a good job for the glory of God and integrating what we do in the workplace with how we live in the wider community and local church.
The Cape Town Commitment urges churches ‘to mobilise, equip and send out their church members as missionaries into the workplace, both in their own local communities and in countries that are closed to traditional forms of gospel witness.’
Based on the Apostle Paul’s strategy, the ‘tentmaker’ model is one that’s been around for a while, but it hasn’t always been well integrated into the traditional mission structure. We use it in places where traditional missionaries can’t go, and the language of ‘platform’ and ‘vehicle’ is sometimes an indication of an inadequate theology of work.
Michael Griffiths reminds us that ‘being church-supported is a relative novelty of the past two hundred years, impossible until the development of international banking. Before that all missionaries had to support themselves…’ From the Jesuit Matteo Ricci who made clocks and maps and gave clavichord lessons in Peking, to the Baptist William Carey with his indigo plantation and college lecturing.
As Griffiths says, ‘On the whole, nineteenth century missionaries were perceived by nationals to have other roles besides that of proselytising, and because of this they were probably more acceptable. The lack of a clear role constitutes a problem both for the missionary, and for the national observer trying to understand why this person is here at all!’