Dave Kahle is a business author, sales trainer and motivational speaker who also happens to be a believer. I’ve enjoyed reading Kahle for many years and even got to spend the day with Dave once when I was able to arrange for him to come speak to a group of managers at the company I work for. While most of Kahle’s work is directed at a secular business audience, he doesn’t keep his faith a secret and over the past few years he’s written frequently on the subject of being a Christian in the secular workplace.
Recently Kahle wrote in his blog about how he hates the way we modern Christians use the word “ministry.” Here’s some of what he had to say:
One of my clients has a salesperson – actually a very good one – who left his job to ‘join the ministry.’ In other words, go to work for a church someplace. Now, he certainly has the right to seek employment wherever he wants. My issue is with the process of elevating some work as ministry and some as not – which was at the heart of his decision. The Bible knows little of this idea and, in fact, proclaims the opposite.
Instead of joining the ‘ministry’ he could have seen his job as a God-given place to exercise his gifts and talents to the betterment of his customers and his employer – his opportunity to be salt and light to the world he occupied. Instead, he became another powerful Christian influence lost to the concept of ministry.
Since the word ministry seeks to separate some of our efforts as special, and proclaim all the others as ‘non-special’ it damages our spiritual discernment and limits our ability to grow closer to God. If the sales person in question had no concept of ‘ministry’ he more likely would have taken a more Biblical view of his work.
So, for Kahle, applying the term “ministry” to only certain activities greatly limits its scope and confers a specialness and formality to those activities as if ministry can only be done by professionals; whatever’s not labeled as “ministry” is mundane and unimportant and not “of God.” However, ministry is not only done by professionals, it doesn’t have to appear as a line item on a church budget in order to be ministry. Ministry happens wherever God’s people serve for God’s glory. If we’re faithful and attentive, it can happen everywhere, all day long and anyone – even you and me – can do it.
I’ve heard Jeff Pierce make this point only about a million times when talking about missions. “Missions,” Jeff will tell us (I’m paraphrasing), “doesn’t require making a trip to Guatemala or Uganda or Mexico or Ethiopia. It doesn’t require going to school to be trained as a missionary or being sent out by a church. All that’s required to do mission work is to be willing to share the story of God’s grace and redemption with an unbelieving world – at work, at school, on the golf course, at a barbeque in your backyard… anywhere.”
Treating your literal and figurative backyard as a mission field is liberating but it’s also a little daunting isn’t it? If I don’t have to fly to Addis Ababa to start talking to people about Christ that means I could start today at the coffee machine or when I’m at Target.
Can I do that? I think I can. Besides, talking openly and non-judgmentally about our faith in Jesus Christ with non-believers is what we’re called to do. 1 Peter 3: 13-16 reads:
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.
Being able to talk about Christ openly and correctly and faithfully is a sign of Christian maturity. What holds us back? Fear of looking silly? Fear of doing it badly? Fear of being ignored or made fun of? Or is it simply that we’ve adopted a limited view of ministry that says ministry is formal and exclusive, something to be done by someone better trained than me?
Here’s the simple fact, however: for the people in your life – your coworkers, your friends, your family – there is no one better equipped or better positioned to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ to these people than you.
Besides, the plane fare to your backyard is lot cheaper than to Addis Ababa, Kampala or Guatemala City.
– Paul Burkholder