Church & Ministry

Not secular work VERSUS foreign missions

What about global missions? This was the last bit missing for me in the few months I wrestled with issues dealing with my work as a new mother two years ago. So many times, I had heard of the decision to stay or go based on what you “have a heart for” (as in what God’s made your heart to be moved by). But what I found was that the more I understood the greatness of the gospel, the more my “heart” for local ministry AND foreign missions grew. The thing is, while I had a heart for missions overseas, my  (and Jeff’s) desire was increasingly to stay in the US and based on our experiences, opportunities, and gifting, we believe that God has called us here, at least for now. To reconcile the seemingly conflicting passions, I tried to use reasoning that used overseas missions to justify local ministry (e.g. people we work with here may be called there), and that worked, until I had our first daughter.

Finding out the Biblical answer in terms of the relationship between secular work and foreign missions has helped me not only  be freed from constant guilt, but to be fully here as a wife/mom/local church member and be passionate about and involved with what God is doing overseas at the same time. One resource that helped was listening to John Piper’s sermon “The Relationship Between Diversified Domestic Ministries and Frontier Missions“.  Another was the reply that Matt Perman, blogger and writer, gave to a question I sent him through his site. I’ve been wanting to post it for a while (this was over a year ago), but since his book just came out, I decided to finally do it!

Below is the question I sent and his answer that really clarified things for me (slightly edited for posting):

•••

Hi Matt,

I’ve been subscribed to your blog for some time now and although I am not currently in the workplace outside the home (I’m a fairly new stay-at-home mom), have been tremendously helped by your writing about the doctrine of vocation and its application in life. It has been freeing and challenging. I have one question though that I have been wrestling through that I believe has to do with the doctrine of vocation and the Christian life…

I don’t think I ever really learned much about the doctrine of vocation growing up in the church and much of what I learned plus my Christian experience pushed the sacred/secular divide pretty wide in my mind… From those experiences, this is the view that I have been struggling to dissect and examine in the Biblical light: “We only have a short period of time on earth. We should look into investing into what is eternal. Only God, his word and souls are eternal. Therefore, we should spend as much time as possible evangelizing” and, this is unsaid, but “everything else is ancillary.” I have heard it through multiple venues (e.g. at a missions conference: “if you turn the page in the end of your life, the only thing that will be on the next page that you can bring is the name of the people you bring to Christ!”)

These ministries and people would, I believe, say that worship is ultimate and that yes, work is good and from God (we can love people through our jobs, etc.) but I think the implicit logic is that while we know that worship of God, not missions, is ultimate, our time on earth is limited. There is only a small window of time that we can spend evangelizing and bringing people to Christ…Therefore, that task and the task of ministerial vocations (emphasis on evangelism) take priority over all things and everything else either supports it (i.e. it’s okay to do a secular job if it means more people will be saved in the end) or is allowed as necessary. It leads and has led to so much guilt, confusion, and a de facto sacred-secular divide even while in word it is denied. I find many people struggling with this both in ministries I was a part of and outside of them as well. I know that it isn’t the full picture of the Christian life in Scripture, but the logic of the urgency of “soul-saving” is what I feel like gets people (including me) and I don’t know how to address it. Do you have any insights or resources you could point me and the people I know to?

Here was his reply:

Faith,

Thank you so much for your question.

It is an excellent question. The logic of what is being said and implied sounds compelling (“we only have a limited time on earth…” etc.). And, it is a tough issue. I don’t think I have the complete answer. I continue to think hard about it. But here are a few thoughts. God requires of us most of all is not evangelism, but love. 

  • Evangelism and work are to both come from this motive. This makes our work eternal and enduring, as well as (successful, so to speak) evangelism.
  • It is God’s regard of something that makes it valuable. That needs to be our criteria. Since he ordained secular work, those who who are engaged primarily in secular work are doing the right thing, even if the result is that less people (directly) come to Christ.
  • Work itself is a form of gospel witness. I hope to flesh this out in a future book; it is clear in the Scriptures.
  • A close reading of Ephesians 5 shows that as we love people (not just evangelize them!), some will come to faith. The vision Paul seems to have of evangelism in the Christian life is that as we are good workers in all our secular vocations, instances will come up when we can winsomely and rightly share the gospel, and even apart from that people will tend to know we are Christians and our good behavior in our jobs shines the light of the gospel (when in conjunction with the fact that they know we are Christians). The result is that some people will come to faith. I wish I had time to show this to you from the text in Ephesians 5; if you are interested, Peter O’Brien’s commentary goes in to detail. So, with that said, here’s the point: secular work is part of God’s strategy for how the church reaches the world. Meaning: there doesn’t have to be an ultimate choice.
  • What I think God requires of us is that all of us as Christians share our faith and seek to lead many to righteousness, as we have opportunity. As with a war, some will be more on the front lines and some doing other things, but everyone is essential. And the task is not only to share our faith, but to testify truthfully to what God is like, through our words and actions. 
  • I think Paul’s analogy of the body in 1 Cor 12 is key here; some do have the gift of evangelism, but those who are primarily gifted in other areas are no less necessary and no less significant.

Thanks so much for your question. I don’t think I’ve given a perfect answer here, but I hope it helps.

•••

Here are some quotes from What’s Best Next regarding the topic that I just read this week:

Since Gospel-Driven Productivity is about putting our productivity practices — and all that we have — in the service of God’s purposes, that means we will put our productivity practices in the service of fighting large global problems and bringing the gospel to all nations. This is at the heart of Gospel-Driven Productivity, whose essence is the recognition that we glorify God by loving others as Christ loved us, and that we are to go to extremes to do this because Jesus went to extremes to help us. (314)

The gospel spreads through our vocations…But if we don’t know how to serve others by doing our work well and getting things done, we will undermine our testimony to the gospel (Titus 2:7–10; 1 Tim. 6:1). Hence, we must have a robust doctrine of work if we are going to reach the nations with the gospel.  (320)

And here is where you can get the book: On Amazon or at WTSbooks

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