Get to Work – Get to Mission

by Dr. Peter Rowan, OMF UK National Director.

Millennials, we’re told, expect to remain in a job for just under three years. That could mean v15–20 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 ever y 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 wit h 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 theolog y 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 vthey 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!’

Four things about Paul the Tentmaker

  1. It was a matter of principle that Paul supported himself, rather than be a burden, or appear to be profiteering.. (1 Thess. 2:9; 2 Cor. 2:17; Acts 20:33-34).
  2. Although Paul didn’t practise his trade in every place, it provided him with a clear role and identity. He may be overstating it but R. F. Hock suggests, ‘far from being at the periphery of his life, tentmaking was actually central to it. …Consequently, his trade in large measure determined his daily experiences and his social status.’
  3. Paul’s trade provided him with missional opportunities. For instance, Ben Witherington suggests that Paul, aware that the Isthmian Games happened close to Corinth, knew that working in the city as a tentmaker (Acts 18:3) would provide plenty of work making tents for visitors to the games, giving him lots of opportunities to share the gospel.
  4. Paul’s trade provided the context for whole-life discipleship. Paul brought the whole of his life under the Lordship of Christ: ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord’ (Col 3:23). As a friend put it to me recently – words do not lead the way; we bring ourselves to people, our words and deeds emerging from our persons. It’s our Christlikeness that makes the difference and makes our witness authentic.

Restless millennial? Thinking about the next job? Take a providential and missional outlook and read this from Chris Wright:

There is no reason why far more Christian professionals should not make the effort of finding ways of using their skills to earn a living in countries where their presence can be a great encouragement to local Christians, or where they can live out the love of Jesus in situations where open evangelism is impossible.

So, get to work and get to mission!

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