Several years ago a community gathering of Baptist Campus Ministers significantly altered the direction of the ministry at Drexel University. This particular gathering was a retreat for the ministers from the northeastern United States. Everyone in our profession from Maine to Maryland was invited. The intent was for us to come together and pretend we knew what we were talking about, to share stories about what was working in our ministries (or at least what we wanted to be working). It was a time to talk about the calling of God in our lives with others who are doing the same thing. There are people who support campus ministry but very few who actually understand it. This gathering was a small respite available to us to encourage and learn from each other.
For those of you reading this that may identify with not understanding what campus ministry is, allow me a moment to define it. Campus ministry is ultimately a missionary endeavor. It is when Christians, whether they are professional clergy, volunteers or students are sent by the church to minister on a university or college campus. It can be defined as a missionary work because the ministry is in a culture that is not controlled by the church. The university self determines the over-arching environment on a campus and a campus ministry by necessity fits into that environment. As the ministry engages the university it will find varying levels of access and acceptance. As the ministry engages the university it will focus on specific populations of individuals such as faculty, professional staff, administration, and/or students. The ministry may even focus on only specific student populations entirely like athletes or fraternity brothers, or commuters or African-Americans. Some of the individuals who best understand what it means to live missionally within the United States are campus ministers.
But I digress; at this particular gathering a colleague of mine, Rev. Dr. David Buschman, the campus minister at Princeton University, presented his dissertation, a project to prepare graduates for their first work experience after college. Organized around a senior year Bible study, it examined ideas such as ambition, finances, meaning and purpose, time management and other pertinent topics from a Christ-centered perspective. Although David downplays the importance of his work, it was seminal in my trajectory toward what this blog is about and my intentions to organize these concepts into a valuable discussion on faith and work, on theology and employment, on Christ and career, on your beliefs and your job.
Everyone who ministers to college students needs to prayerfully consider how they are preparing them to for life after college.
As I place that retreat among the other stories within my life I notice three things that contributed to me hearing what David had to say. I transitioned from youth ministry into campus ministry. A motivating factor for that transition was the idea that many students “graduate Christianity” when the graduate high school. There are multiple statistical research projects demonstrating the dropout rate of 16 -26 years olds from church. I was concerned that my work with teenagers would be useless if someone wasn’t attempting to impact students on colleges and universities. I was also vocally critical of naïve church based youth programs that never considered how to best prepare students for life after high school. When confronted with the depth through which David considered preparing students for life after college, I was deeply convicted that I had the same blind spot that I was pointing out in others. I was solely ministering to college students without realizing that they would only be students for a little while. I needed to better prepare them for what was next.
A “secular” job could be the absolutely perfect place for you to glorify Christ.
The second major stream was my professional biology experience. I have a Bachelor of Science in Biology. I have five years experience work as a biologist in laboratories. During the day I would do my biology job and then at night I tried to manage my marriage and establish a youth ministry at my local church. I have a work perspective that most professional ministers do not have. I know many clergy have to maintain bi-vocational jobs to financially support their callings. That was not what I was doing. I was doing HIV/AIDS research at the Drexel University College of Medicine. I was the laboratory manager for research projects that could significantly relieve some major areas of human suffering. Then in the evenings I would volunteer with the youth ministry. I was not divided between serving Christ in ministry and working for “the world” or for my own selfish ambition. I was divided between completely serving Christ as a biologist or as a full-time minister. I had two amazing opportunities through which I could have brought Christ glory. I have personally experienced the potential joy that a “secular” job can bring to a follower of Christ. My experience allowed me to ask questions about, how best to prepare students to give Christ glory through their primary occupation. I knew it was possible. I had tasted it myself.
Look for ways that your unique placement by God adds a perspective that can benefit the body of Christ.
The third piece of the puzzle is Drexel University where I serve as the Baptist Campus Minister. Drexel is a unique system of higher education. It is dominated by the Co-Op experience. The Co-Operative education program is an entire system that exalts the internship into a central role of the college experience. When a stereotypical Drexel student graduates after five years they will have had three distinct six month internships with a company in their field of study. So this means that while they are attending Drexel they will go through (at least) three resume writing processes, three job searches, three application cycles, three series of interviews, three work experiences, three on-boarding trainings. This is not including any other part-time or work study job they my pick up along the way or their job search for life after Drexel. I have the privilege of ministering to students through all of this. As a leader in my context, I can’t avoid questions about faith and work. I need to have good answers for those questions. As I develop good answers to those questions through doing ministry in the Drexel environment I hope to make them available to the larger Christian community as well.
Now as I look back, I see God working on me through my convictions, experiences and context to create an intersection between faith and work. I am in a wonderful position to explore questions that will greatly benefit my ministry, but may just even bless the entire Christian church. That is a portion of my story as it relates to faith and work.
How has God been working on you through your workplace experience? If you have a story please feel free to add your insights in the comments below.