Many Christians struggle with the sense that vocational ministry jobs are more “sacred” or “spiritual” than other jobs. Our terminology probably isn’t helpful: non-ministry jobs are often called “secular” jobs, which would seem to connote that they are less spiritual than ministry jobs. This bifurcated thinking has likely always been present in the church, except when and where the Christian doctrine of vocation has been taught well.
Roots of Sacred and Secular Vocations
Most cultures in human history have had religious doctrines and rites that required some human beings to act as mediators in some way between a deity and other human beings. This required the mediators to be in some sense holy, separated and purified from the rest of the profane world. Pagan religions had this and, of course, Judaism did too, with its Levitical priesthood and temple caste that adhered to strict rituals for holiness.
So the early Christians of both Jewish and pagan backgrounds would have brought into the church their concepts of “sacred” and “secular” vocations. And knowing human nature, it is likely that those who made “their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:14) were frequently seen (and sometimes saw themselves) as having more spiritual jobs. We know that within a few centuries of its founding the church was entrenched by this kind of fabricated bifurcation. A sacred Christian priesthood emerged that eventually took on again a type of mediator role between God and men.
Secular Jobs Are Ministry Jobs
The leaders of the Reformation brought a needed correction to this erroneous understanding and ecclesiastical structure. They saw that in the New Testament God draws no sacred/secular vocational distinctions within the church. The New Covenant vocational distinction is between the Son of God and the rest of us (Hebrews 2:17). For now “there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). We have one high priest, “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens” who offered himself as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 7:26–27; 10:12). And being made holy by our great High Priest, Jesus, all Christians are peers, fellow workers in the Great Commission.
Of course Jesus does call some of his saints (a relative few) to serve the church vocationally in a variety of ways. But these folks are not the spiritual elite or some kind of Christianized Levitical caste who does the holy work while everyone else must soil their hands in the profane. Rather, in the New Covenant, God assigns vocational ministry workers to serve and equip the vast majority of the rest of his saints whom he deploys in the world to carry out “the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:12).
In other words, Christians who serve in “secular” vocations are the ones who do most of the ministry and kingdom-expansion work that happens in the world. It’s the job of vocational ministers to equip these folks so they can do their various ministries effectively.
Your Job Is to Make God Look Great
In chapter eight of Don’t Waste Your Life, titled “Making Much of Christ from 8 to 5,” John Piper explains why secular work is designed to be God-like work:
So if you go all the way back, before the origin of sin, there are no negative connotations about secular work. According to Genesis 2:2, God himself rested from his work of creation, implying that work is a good, God-like thing. And the capstone of that divine work was man, a creature in God’s own image designed to carry on the work of ruling and shaping and designing creation. Therefore, at the heart of the meaning of work is creativity. If you are God, your work is to create out of nothing. If you are not God, but like God — that is, if you are human — your work is to take what God has made and shape it and use it to make him look great.
That is your calling today in whatever God has given you to do: make God look great. According to 1 Corinthians 7:17–24, your job (assuming it’s not inherently unethical or immoral) is a ministry assignment from God. It may not be your career assignment, but it’s today’s assignment. And God wants you to carry out that assignment with dependent faith, diligence, and excellence.
All work faithfully accomplished for the glory of Jesus in dependence on the Holy Spirit is spiritual work.
If God calls you someday to be a vocational minister, wonderful! It will be your privilege to be a servant-equipper to your brothers and sisters whose ministry it is to make God look great in the world. Just don’t long for vocational ministry because it’s more spiritual than other work. All work faithfully accomplished for the glory of Jesus in dependence on the Holy Spirit is spiritual work.
So wherever Jesus assigns you, “remain with God” (1 Corinthians 7:24) and see it as your ministry. Make it your mission “to take what God has made and shape it and use it to make him look great.”