Most Christian ministry is not vocational.
Far and away, those not getting paid to do ministry are collectively doing much more on the frontlines for gospel advance than those getting a paycheck. According to Ephesians 4:12, the paid ministers aren’t supposed to do all the ministry themselves, but “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.”
The Church, in all her glory, is vastly more lawyers, administrative assistants, doctors, construction workers, and mechanical engineers than she is vocational pastors and paid missionaries.
So we do well to think carefully and Christianly about our everyday work. Here are five simple encouragements for the vast majority of Christians who labor vocationally outside the pastoral office.
1. Do your work well.
As creatures made in the image of God, we have been given the privilege to create in a manner that echoes God as creator. The common refrain in Genesis 1 is that what God has created is good. Although we do not create out of nothing, everything we do ought to be done well because we are made in the image of God, and he does all things well.
2. Work to provide for your family and those in your care.
Work pleases God when its results provide for the ones dependent on us. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:8 that “if anyone does not provide for his relatives, especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
Paul says that failure to provide for your family means that you have denied the faith. This means that there is an organic connection between the gospel and our work to provide for our family — and when we do not provide for our family, the link is severed.
3. Work because God uses human means to bless.
Work is important because God often uses the work of people to bless others. Gene Veith writes,
The ability to read God’s word is an inexpressibly precious blessing, but reading is an ability that did not spring fully formed in our young minds, it required the vocation of teachers. God protects us through the cop on the beat and the whole panoply of the legal system. He gives us beauty and meaning through artists. He lets us travel through the ministry of auto workers, mechanics, road crews, and airline employees. He keeps us clean through the work of garbage collectors, plumbers, sanitation workers, and sometimes undocumented aliens who clean our hotel rooms. He brings people to salvation through pastors and through anyone else who proclaims the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the lost. The fast-food worker, the inventor; the clerical assistant, the scientist; the accountant, the musician — they all have high callings, used by God to bless and serve His people and His creation. (God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life, 14–15)
4. Work knowing the results are finally up to God.
The lines of cause and effect are much blurrier than we can see. We often don’t know the long-term effect of our work. Martin Luther helpfully captures how faith affects the way we think about the work:
Work and let him [God] give the fruits thereof! Rule and let him prosper it! Battle, and let him give victory! Preach, and let him make hearts devout! Marry and let him give you children! Eat and drink, and let him give you health and strength. Then it will follow that, whatever we do, he will effect everything through us; and to him alone shall be the glory. (As quoted in Veith, God At Work, 152)
5. Work to give.
Paul writes in Ephesians 4:28, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.”
Paul not only endorses work, but commands it. And he commands it for a reason — so that we can gain money and other possessions in order to give to others in need. Working so that we can give is a way that we can love our neighbor and bring glory to God as we bear his name to the world.