It was a pivotal moment for me. The arena in Orlando, Florida was packed with over 5,000 businesspeople attending a one-day motivational conference. I was there with a number of my salespeople from work to listen to some of the greatest inspirational speakers of the day, including General Colin Powell, Dick Vitale, and Tony Robbins.
One of the speakers asked, “If you went home tonight and found that a long-lost relative had died and left you ten million dollars, would you be at work tomorrow?”
A resounding “NO!” came from all around the arena.
The audience’s response was no surprise. A 2017 Gallup poll found that many Americans hate their jobs and only 15% are engaged in the work they are doing. With 50-hour-plus work weeks and long commutes, workers are spending more and more of their lives at work; yet many of them are unfulfilled and frustrated with their jobs.
Even for many Christians, work is often only a means to an end. This is one of the main reasons we started the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (IFWE) in 2011—to counter this wrong idea. Many Christians have bought into the pagan notion that leisure is good and work is bad. They have also been misled by the sacred/secular distinction, which teaches that working in the church is the only “real” full-time Christian service.
This artificial division between sacred and secular has not always prevailed. The Reformers taught that all labor is noble if it is accepted as a calling and performed “as unto the Lord.” This truth has slipped dramatically in both today’s church and contemporary culture. While IFWE has made progress in our effort over the years to engage the church, seminaries, and Christian colleges and universities on this issue, there is still much work to do.
In his book The Callings: The Gospel in the World, Paul Helm says:
Work is part of a Christian’s calling…. This Biblical idea has had a profound influence in Europe and North America since the Reformation but has largely been forgotten, due to the eclipse of the influence of the Christian gospel from national life.
My Faith & Work Journey
As a businessman in the mid 90’s, this was certainly the case in my life. If you had asked me, “what are you doing to further the kingdom of God,” I would have answered, “I am an elder at my church, teach adult Sunday school, and work with several non-profit organizations.”
The idea that my vocational work mattered to God never crossed my mind. I believed that as a Christian I should work in an ethical manner and take every opportunity to share my faith. Beyond that I saw no connection between my faith and my work.
When I heard that question, “If you inherited a fortune, would you be at work tomorrow?” I remember thinking, “Absolutely not! I would quit my job and do something important for God, maybe go to seminary, become a pastor or possibly go on the mission field.” Yet even in that moment I knew something was wrong with this picture. I had a growing feeling that there was a greater purpose for work than just making money to pay the bills and give to the church and good causes.
I eventually went to seminary to explore this issue further. As I studied, I stepped out of my business career in the IT industry to share my experience of turning around unprofitable companies with Reformed Theological Seminary’s then struggling Washington, DC, campus where I served as executive director. Then, God led me to start IFWE over 8 years ago and publish my first book, How Then Should We Work.
The Biblical Doctrine of Work
Still today, I hear stories of people talking about how they plan to leave their secular job and follow a call into full-time ministry. What’s wrong with this terminology?
All of life is to be lived under the comprehensive Lordship of Christ (Matt. 28:18). Few, however, understand that even in our everyday work, the Bible teaches there is no separation between the secular and the sacred. No church-related work or mission is more spiritual than any other profession, such as law, business, education, journalism, or politics.
Scott Rae of Biola University writes,
Business is the work of God in the world in the same way that being a pastor is the work of God in the church and in the same way that missionary service is the work of God on the mission field. All have value to God because of the value of the work done…
As Os Guiness has written, “God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service.”
This is what we call whole-life, wholehearted stewardship. Properly understood, this biblical doctrine of work can give great insight and purpose to our daily work powerfully impacting the world for Christ.
Editor’s note: This article contains excerpts from Hugh Whelchel’s book, How Then Should We Work?
Join us! Help empower Christians to transform the world through their work. Support IFWE today.