At Work

Rethinking Success: Three Views from a Christian Perspective

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How you define success may have a lot to do with your age.

Ask a baby boomer and they may be focused on leaving a legacy for their children and grandchildren.

Ask a millennial and they may be focused on the fast-track to career success that will land them on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list. Millennial Melanie Curtin remarks on this generational phenomenon:

…somewhere along the way we’ve started to truly believe that it’s normal to have made your biggest contribution to society before you’re even old enough to get a rental car.

But, neither leaving a generous legacy nor becoming a famous entrepreneur are goals to build your life around. What we need to shoot for is God’s view of success.

We learn in scripture that success could involve the accomplishments above if God calls you to them, but they are not the measure God uses in judging our faithfulness to him.

On June 9th and 10th, Hugh Whelchel will be speaking, among other topics, on the biblical meaning of success at the HEAV convention, one of the largest gatherings of homeschool parents and children here in IFWE’s home state of Virginia. The topic of success is not only one of our most popular at IFWE but also a key module in our homeschool curriculum on calling. Here’s a look at some of the readings within the module on this topic:

“Monday Morning Success” by Hugh Whelchel

Your kindergarten teacher lied to you. She told your six-year-old self, “You can be anything you want to be!” and “You can be the best in the world.” While she had the best intentions to inspire and challenge you, she unwittingly contributed to a distorted and unbiblical view of success. It’s often called the “American Dream:” if you work hard enough, anything is possible. Because we’ve believed these lies, our definition of vocational success is climbing the ladder and reaching the top before anyone else, making the most money, consolidating the most power, accumulating the most stuff…

Thankfully, the gospel is a powerful antidote to the lies we believe about success. Jesus’ parable of the talents illustrates how we are to view our gifts, our work, and our success. By understanding this parable, a biblical perspective on success can counteract the lies that poison our work. And we can find a definition of success that can guide us not just on Sunday morning, but Monday through Friday as well.

Read the full article here.

“The Lethal Drug in Your Dream Job” by Marshall Segal

Success is a drug of choice among Americans, and it is a slow and subtle killer. I wonder why you want the job you do. There are lots of good motivations. Maybe having a higher salary would free you to give more to ministry. Maybe more power would put you in a position to influence more people with the gospel. Maybe God’s gifted you for more than you’re able to give in your current role.

There are bad reasons, too, though, and one that is especially sinister and murderous. Success at work will play god and make promises to you that it cannot and will not keep. Success promises to fill holes in our hearts. If you only ascend this high or accumulate this much, your fears and insecurities will be resolved once for all. Success promises the love of those around us. They will finally give you the respect and affection you crave. Success says it can cover everything wrong about us. It offers esteem, control, and security—everything we surrendered in our sin. It wears the savior’s costume and presents itself the strong, charming, and trustworthy hero.

But success is a horrible hero, and an even worse god.

Read the full article here.

“Is Career Success A Zero-Sum Game?” by David Leonard

…let’s call it the “Zero-Sum View of Career Success.” It operates under the assumption that for any individual to experience success, this requires someone else to experience failure.

A parallel assumption is sometimes operative in the world of economics, in which it’s thought that, given the limited number of available resources, for one person to make a significant profit, this requires someone else to incur a debt. This assumption is false, since in a thriving capitalistic system, everyone benefits, albeit to varying degrees, when people are allowed to pursue their self-interest, protected by the rule of law.

Similarly, it would be naïve to assume that in order to thrive in one’s profession, this must occur at the expense of someone else’s ability to thrive. Not only is this viewpoint empirically false, it’s also diametrically opposed to the Christian ideal of loving our neighbors.

Read the full article here.

As you can see, the curriculum is relevant not just for homeschooled teenagers but for all who struggle with identity and purpose—millennials, Gen Xers, and boomers alike. As Marshall Segal points out in his article, it’s more than just a “struggle”—striving for worldly success can become idolatry for many of us.

Pray that the Lord would reveal if an unbiblical definition of success has become an idol for you. Are you comparing yourself to others you admire who have different gifts and callings? The biblical definition of success is based on faithfully using the gifts and talents God has given you (not those given to others) to glorify him and serve the common good.

Our holy, faithful, and loving God longs for our wholehearted devotion in our work. May we rejoice in hearing him say someday:

Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master (Matt. 25:23, ESV).

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Further readings on At Work

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