“On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them, and he said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. Then the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. So Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you, as the Father has sent me, even so, I am sending you.’ When He said this, He breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” John 20:19-23
I want to focus on just a single question: What is the Christian mission in the world?
Think about where you will be tomorrow morning at this time. Maybe you’ll be getting your workweek started. Maybe you’ll be sitting at an office. Maybe you’ll be with patients or clients. Maybe you’ll be just dropping kids off of school and coming back to the house.
I grew up in Minnesota, and my wife and I moved to Denver after a short time living in Latin America. And after I finished seminary, I was married, and had two little kids. We were living in a little apartment off of Arapahoe and I-25.
I found myself very vocationally lost. I just got a job to pay the bills. To say that I was disengaged from my job was an understatement at that time. I was asking questions like: God, what possible purpose do you have for me and my work?
One night, after putting the kids to bed, I picked up a book that I hadn’t read in a long time. It was a book called Working by Studs Terkel, written in the 1970s. The book contains stories about the day to day work experience of people, and one really stuck out to me. Her name was Nora Watson. She was 28 years old and she worked for an institution that published healthcare literature.
Listen to how she describes her day to day work:
“A job like mine, if you really put your spirit into it, you would sabotage immediately, so you don’t dare. You absent your spirit from it. My mind has become so divorced from my job except as a source of income. It’s really absurd.”
As I read the story about Nora, I realized something had become divorced from her heart and where she was actually living out her day to day life. And early in my own career, as I was feeling disengaged in my own job, I was thinking, “This could become me.”
Which leads me back to this question of Christian mission, and our mission as Christ followers in the work that we do.
What is work? Is it just a way for us to trade our hours for dollars and then get to the weekend?
Is there something more?
As I’ve led the Denver Institute for Faith & Work and spoken to hundreds of people around the city about their work, one word continually rises to the surface: tension.
People experience tension with their work in various ways. Sometimes they feel isolated from other believers in their workplace, thinking, “I’m the only believer in this company. What does it look like to be a person of Christian faith here?”
Other people experience a disconnect from their faith and what it means for the influence they have in their organization and their company.
In an email I got recently, a woman who was starting a small business shared with me the tension she was feeling.
“It seems often the values of the corporate world, like profit and efficiency, they’re very much in direct conflict with the values of being a Christ-like servant leader.”
Many of us live in this dichotomous world. Oftentimes, it seems like Christian leaders end up forsaking something, their family, their faith, for professional success. Do we have to forsake our faith for professional success?”
Sometimes people experience tension in terms of longing for a sense of purpose.
My friend, Ann, was an educator for her career, and recently retired. And she’s now thinking, “What’s next?” She’s got all sorts of passion and energy. But is retirement just long lunches, golf, and then long happy hours? Or does God have another vision for that season of life?
When we go out into our city and to the world, what is the shape of Christian mission, considering our actual day to day lives?
It’s this tension that we’re going to sit with.
What is the church’s role in the world? What is the Christian mission in the world? And particularly, what is the role of work in that?
I believe our mission is to live with Christ in all areas of our life, to bear witness to the gospel, and to be servants of Jesus. And we’re going to break that into tangible pieces: mission, work, and world.
This post is derived from a talk titled “The Church in The World,” originally shared at Colorado Community Church. Stay tuned for additional blog posts in this series.
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This post was published May 29, 2018
Jeff Haanen is a writer and entrepreneur. He founded Denver Institute for Faith & Work, a community of conveners, teachers and learners offering experiences and educational resources on the gospel, work, and community renewal. He is the author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life and an upcoming two-book series on spiritual formation, vocation, and the working class for Intervarsity Press. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Denver and attends Wellspring Church in Englewood, Colorado.