At Work & Theology 101

A Seminary President Sits Down with a Facilities Worker to Talk Faith and Work

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There are only two people with permanent, personally designated parking spots on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. As you would expect, one is for the president, Dr. Danny Akin.

The other spot is for Mr. Eugene Smith, the 88 year-old man who works for facilities.

Mr. Eugene, as he is affectionately known, has been working at Southeastern for more than thirty-five years. He started working for the school about the age many people are thinking of early retirement, but he doesn’t really know what retirement is.

It isn’t just longevity that makes Mr. Eugene special, though.

Faithful to Calling, No Matter the Position on the Org Chart

Every day he makes the rounds to the buildings on campus in his golf cart, emptying recycling bins and picking up trash. He does the same job day in and day out with a smile on his face and always ready with a kind word. Some people say seeing Mr. Eugene and hearing his cheerful greeting is the high point of the day.

Last year Mr. Eugene and Dr. Akin were interviewed together as a part of a course on the doctrine of vocation at Southeastern. The two men with their own parking spots­ – the top man at the seminary and one near the bottom of the organizational chart – sat down together to talk about how their faith integrates with their work.

Amazingly, there isn’t much difference between the two men. One has a PhD and has written a number of books; one only finished elementary school and picks up trash.

Both have been faithful to their calling in life.

Akin noted,

In God’s providence he’s put each of us where we are to do what he’s called us to do. I’d be the first to say…I don’t think my job is any more ordained or sanctified than what Eugene does.

All work has value, something Akin really believes.

Discussing the value of service, Akin said:

As long as you’re faithful wherever the Lord places you, I have to believe heaven is well pleased. I think we’re going to be surprised when we get to heaven – if I might use this playful analogy – who’s closer to the throne and who’s farther away. Some of the folks in this life that have high profile positions may not be nearly as close to the throne as some people think they will be.

“We Need Mr. Eugene”

“Work has always been a part of my life,” Mr. Eugene said, explaining that he’s thankful to be working and for the way the school has taken care of him by changing what they’ve asked from him. As Mr. Eugene noted, “Over the years, Southeastern has lightened my load as I’ve gotten older.”

But being flexible with Mr. Eugene’s duties isn’t charity; it’s for the good of the school.

“We need Mr. Eugene,” Akin commented, “He blesses us far beyond the various tasks and jobs he does around us…by his spirit and his disposition and his encouragement and his pleasantness.”

Mr. Eugene is part of what makes Southeastern a great place to work, based on my experience.  I am encouraged to do my work better because of his example.

He helps me remember who we are in Christ. When I see him walking through my building to take out the trash, I am reminded that our value is not in our level of education. I am also reminded that his work is as important as mine to the institution, probably more.

Through his cheerful attitude, Mr. Eugene also shows me that repetitive work is not a waste of time, and that retirement is not the real future hope we hold onto.

It’s easy to say that all work is good if it benefits other people, but it is another thing to live that out. Putting Mr. Eugene and Dr. Akin together to talk about their respective vocations helps to make that concept more concrete.

This interview is part of a Massive Open Online Course, “Work and Worship: Connecting Sunday to Monday,” that has been made available through Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary because of a grant from the Kern Family Foundation. If you would like more information about that MOOC or would like to enroll for free, click here.

Parts one, twothree, four, and five of this interview are available to view. 

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