Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The Myth of Full-Time Ministry

Otto Scharmer, a consultant to some of the world's largest and most influential organizations, typically begins his consulting conversations by asking the same thought-provoking question: What question is your work an answer to?

Sit on that for a moment or two. It's deep, isn't it?

A friend of mine, whom I'll call Tim, told me that when he started working in the insurance industry he would often get up and go to work repeatedly forgetting, even ignoring, the purpose behind his work, which was to provide financial protection for others in the case of an accident or catastrophe. He said that not long after starting his job, he fell into the trap of thinking that he was just there to push some paper around and collect a paycheck. In fact, he described his typical day like "wading into the water alone without catching a wave and then swimming back to the shore at 5:00."

Years later, Tim woke up to the reality that he was not in his position to ultimately serve his company or earn a paycheck. Rather, he was in his position to more intentionally serve the people who trusted his company. What he learned about these people was that while they appeared to be financially well-off or at least secure, many were not. So from that day forward, Tim committed to personally connecting with as many of his company's trusting clients as possible to learn more about their financial situation and express his care and concern for them. What happened over time was that Tim and many of these trusting clients developed friendships beyond their contractual connections, and soon work became an outlet for Tim's ministry of providing free financial counseling to help people and families climb out of debt.

Tim's story is just one of thousands who have discovered a larger, more meaningful purpose to their work. Instead of quitting their 9-5 job and entering "full-time ministry" in a church or religious organization, many people are discovering that they're already in positions of "full-time ministry", serving as store clerks, accountants, stay-at-home moms, etc. just without the robes and collars (or flip-flops and t-shirts, if that's your tradition). The idea that "full-time ministry" is a calling for only a few select super-holy people is bogus. Anyone who professes to be a follower of Jesus is already in full-time ministry, whether they know it or not. It may just not take place in a church building.

Tim's response to Otto's question evolved over time from "How can I financially support my family?" to "How can I offer financial liberation to those who are desperate for it?"

How would you respond to Otto's question?

Perhaps it's too complicated to articulate your question right now, so a better question to consider might be "What question would you like your work to be an answer to?"

May the hours you spend at work each day be filled with opportunities to serve others and may you be a force for good right where you are.