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.
This week I posted a blog that people actually read! 10 Things about Your Home Church that You Won’t Find at a New Church. A pastor friend of mine commented on the quality of the humor and encouraged me to be a pastor. Numerous responses raced through my head. Because of the close relationship I have with this pastor I could have said most of them directly to him but not publically on Facebook without explanation. He would get the humor but others wouldn’t. I chose to say, “I’d rather be faithful to God’s call in my life.” Several responses I chose not to say on Facebook were:
“I have something more important to do.”
“Why? We already have too many of them.”
“Maybe then I would actually get paid.”
“I did finally grow up from being a youth minister maybe now I can leave campus ministry and become a real pastor.”
I want to use his comment as a platform to critique the typical church view of God’s calling in our lives. Don’t misunderstand me. This is not me being critical of this one particular pastor for his one particular comment. It’s much worse than that. This is me critiquing a set of ideas that are misleading most of American Christianity.
We often confuse the call to serve Christ with our lives as a call into vocational ministry.
Starbucks is the site for so many of my conversations. A Drexel student had borrowed a book from me. We used the return of the book as an excuse to get some coffee at the Starbucks in Pearlstein on Drexel’s campus. We talked for two hours. With graduation looming on the horizon our conversation naturally revolved around life after college. After five years of paying tuition, studying for exams, completing group projects, working at impressive internships and on the very cusp of receiving a degree in computer science, he was contemplating going into vocational ministry. I started to probe a little deeper and ask questions. I have had this conversation before. As a professionally trained biologist who now works as a campus minister I have had this conversation with myself. As a minister who works at a university that introduces students to the “real” work environment often and early, I have had this conversation with many students. Allow me an editorial liberty to summarize several encounters into one voice.
Student says: I am completely committed to serving Christ with my entire life.
Student says: I don’t know how to do that in (insert major here) the career path I have chosen.
Student says: If I become a pastor (or other full time, professional, vocational minister) I will be able to serve Christ with my entire life.
Student concludes: Jesus wants my whole life. The only way I know how to serve Christ my whole life is by becoming a full time, professional, vocational minister.
God calls every Christian to be completely devoted to Him. Every Christian needs to serve God with our entire lives. Not many of us actually listen to this call but it is there for all of us. Even fewer of us are effectively practicing what that means in our occupational lives. As students ponder their lives after college they need to understand that they can be fully devoted in whatever occupation they have. Many of them have never seen someone actually do that in the field they are pursuing. You might need to be the one who sets the example of what this looks like. Many may have never even discussed what complete devotion to Christ looks like in the field they are pursuing. You may need to be the one who starts that conversation.
Vocational ministry can be a way to avoid being faithful to God’s call in your life.
This reminds me of another conversation at the same Starbucks. I had a Pastor friend whose main emphasis was to get his church to meet the physical needs of the community around them. That particular church and neighboring community has been forever changed by his service there. In the process of getting his church to become more engaged in the community it became evident that God’s call in his life was more to social work than pastoral care. He “dropped out” of vocational ministry. I’m sure his leaving the ministry shows up in the statistics about pastors giving up. It is clear to me that God called him out of the pastoral ministry into a fully devoted Christian life. Staying in vocational ministry would have been disobedient to God.
On some levels vocational ministry is easier than being a fully committed Christian in the marketplace. There is more support. There are more models. There are less hard questions about how your faith connects to the principles that drive your profession. But on another level being a vocational minister doesn’t make the basic parts of being a faithful Christian any easier. If you struggled before with devotions or evangelism or consistency or patience, you will still have those same struggles. You will still have to be faithful.
The church needs to establish heroes of the faith who live out service to Christ in the marketplace.
With the professionalization of the clergy within our faith we have created a hero class of Christians. The models of truly devoted Christians that we present to congregations on a Sunday morning are those we pay. We do not celebrate that Christian who faithfully goes to some other job every single day of his life. The woman, week in and week out, who tries to apply Christian principles to her career gets no mention.
I have a campus minister friend who is transitioning from doing vocational ministry into owning and operating a coffee shop in a university town. His personal story of going through this process was inspiring to my business students as they ponder what it means to be a Christian as a business. The idea that God could call someone to run a coffee shop was eye opening. The fact that someone saw this move as being faithfully following God was encouraging. We need to show off not only our vocational ministers but every Christian who is serving Christ with their entire lives.
Ironically, this is all coming from a vocational minister who was called by God out of biology career. This has also been posted on my Baptist Campus Ministry Blog.
Allow me to tell a story of two brothers. (I’ve completely fabricated this story while preparing for a sermon, so if it bears any resemblance to you or anyone you know that is just a coincidence and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. The similarities are unintentional on my part.) The first brother is John. John works in stocks for a huge financial company in New York City. He and his family live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania near me. Every morning John wakes up at 4:30 AM and drives into the other city (NY) so that he can beat the traffic. If everything goes right he can be at his desk by 7 AM. John works long hours. He never gets home before dark. Dinner is usually very cold by the time he eats it. John seems to be always working. He has to. That is the only way to succeed in stocks. He loves to work because his job is extremely fulfilling. John connects what he is doing directly to his clients. Every time he makes a good investment he feels satisfaction knowing that his client’s future/retirement/college plans/families are little bit more secure. Every time he makes a mistake he personally feels the loss. John works this way and this hard because he is a Christian. Yet, he feels like many Christians judge him because he never has time or energy for church or Bible Study or small groups or family picnics. John frequently whispers to himself, “God must understand because doesn’t the Bible say something about working diligently.” Why can’t these other Christians understand that God is okay with John’s schedule? They don’t seem to mind when John’s tithe check comes in.
How would you summarize John’s attitude about work?
Is it right or is it wrong?
What are some things from his story do you find convincing?
What parts of his attitude toward work would you try to adjust?
Then there is John’s brother Jim. Jim is probably a genius. He can do anything and everything. Yet he really does nothing. Jim is working his third mediocre job in the last three years. He keeps looking for the job that doesn’t interfere with what is really important to him. He is looking for that job that doesn’t get in the way with his real life. Jim’s real life is at church. Jim is the youth leader at a small rural church in Bucks County as well. He works just hard enough to keep his job. He makes just enough to pay his bills and give to the church. But when Jim is working his mind is not there, his heart is not there and you can tell. He has so much talent but it never comes through at his job. He doesn’t want to waste his energy on something as trivial as working. The youth at his church are so much more important. Sunday nights, Wednesday nights he’s with them. Saturdays he usually tries to organize something fun. He has even been thinking about taking a longer lunch break and seeing if he can eat in the local school cafeteria. Jim feels like this is exactly what God has called him to do. His brother doesn’t understand. Jim is tired of his brother’s lectures on diligence and responsibility. He just doesn’t get it. If John was committed to God a little bit more he would understand why work is just not satisfying.
How would you summarize Jim’s attitude about work?
Is it right or is it wrong?
What are some things from his story do you find convincing?
What parts of his attitude toward work would you try to adjust?
Which brother do you most identify with and why?
Which brother would be most accepted by your church?
Which brother would be most accepted by your parents?
Which brother would be most accepted by your friends?
Misconception: I have never been taught theological understanding about work therefore I do not have a theological understanding about work.
John’s and Jim’s theologies effected how they work. What we believe about God, creation, humanity, sin, right and wrong, etc. will deeply affect the way we think about work. Although, you may not have a well developed theological understanding about work, you do have one. Although, you may have never completely thought through how your beliefs affect how you work, they do.