(This is the fourth in a series on mistaken beliefs and false paradigms that hinder us from developing our businesses to their full potential. See the others in the series here.)
For much of my Christian life, I’ve struggled with a difficult and painful image of myself: I was a second-class Christian.
No one ever said that to me in so many words, but the practices of the Christian community made it clear. Those practices have evolved in response to a belief that permeates our Christian culture so deeply that few Christians would ever question it. Unfortunately, the result of this belief is that millions of Christians, like myself, lead lives that are far less productive than God wants. And hundreds of thousands of businesses are hindered from achieving their full potential. And that means that the Church’s influence and impact are light years away from that which it could be.
Let’s gain a little perspective.
I became a Christian when I was 24 years old, and have walked with the Lord ever since. For much of these years, I have been puzzled by what I have seen as a mystery. On the one hand, I read in the New Testament about the early church and see that it was filled with the Spirit, enthusiastic, energetic, joyful and victorious. In a very short time, it had penetrated into much of the known world. That’s the church that the Lord established. But then, I look around me and see a church that is apathetic, passive and lethargic. I look at my own life and am disappointed by the feeble expressions of the gifts of the Spirit.
This contradiction between the vibrant church of the New Testament and the apathetic church of 21st Century America has always been a source of puzzlement to me. Why I’ve wondered, is that? When we have the same Spirit as the early Christians, why was the power of that Spirit so much more visible and powerful than it is today?
I’ve come to see that the problem is within us. We have accepted certain false beliefs and errant paradigms that have hindered our fruitfulness by shrinking and distorting our views of what we and our businesses can be.
Here’s one of those false paradigms. See if it doesn’t sound familiar.
Real ministry is defined by the time you spend in the official
efforts of the church to evangelize the lost and edify the saved.
This is the work that God is interested in, that He considers
most important, special and significant.
If you are like most Christians, you are nodding your head, thinking, “Of course, who would ever question that?”
The expressions of this are all around us. Remember, paradigms shape our attitudes and determine our behavior. So we can look at attitudes and behavior and use them to discover the paradigm that lies under the surface.
Here are some examples of this paradigm in practice. One of my clients recently indicated to me that one of his salespeople had left the company to go into the “full-time ministry.” We all know what he means by that. This person is going to make his living in some sanctioned work of some church. That’s real ministry. What he was doing before was just making a living.
A few years ago, I read Bob Buford’s book entitled, “Halftime.” I was impressed with it and bought several to give to friends. The premise of the book, written primarily for Christian business people, was that now that in the first half of your life you have achieved some degree of success using the second half to do something significant. Donate your time, money and talents to a ministry. Another expression of the paradigm.
It’s not unusual to hear a pastor or fellow Christian talking about “God’s work,” or referring to the church building as “God’s house.” This kind of language indicates, of course, that God is more interested in these things then he is other things that are not “God’s work” or places that are not ”God’s house.”
I could cite hundreds of other examples, but you get the idea. This concept of ministry is a deeply held, pervasive paradigm that is embraced to some degree by almost all of 21st Century Christendom.
But let’s take a moment to consider the implications of this paradigm.
Consider that if some work is significant, what does that say about other work? Insignificant. If some effort is special, what does that say about other work? Ordinary. If some work is important, what does that say about other work? Unimportant.
In other words, if we hold “church work” to be special, significant and important, then this says that the rest of our lives are ordinary, insignificant and unimportant.
But is that what the Bible teaches? Hardly. In fact, it’s just the opposite. For example, Paul said that everything we do, if we do it as a service to Christ, is important:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. I Cor 3: 23, 24 (NIV)
Clearly, ministry in the Bible is not determined by what is done, but rather by for whom it is done. Whatever you do for Christ is ministry.
God’s work and will for this world are far greater than just those activities we know as “church work.” God desires to extend the kingdom into every aspect of His creation. And he expects us to be obedient to Him and offer our lives as a ministry, to extend His influence into every nook and cranny of His world. When we go to a meeting at our children’s school, we are taking Christ’s influence with us, extending His impact into that aspect of creation. When we go to work, we are extending Christ’s influence into those contacts with people with whom we connect. When we talk with a neighbor, fill the car up with gas, cut the grass, or shop for groceries, we are Christ’s ambassadors, extending His influence into those realms.
Jesus called us to be the salt of the world. He intentionally chose that analogy. Salt has no value when it is held inside the salt shaker crushed against other grains of salt. It is only when it is mixed with other things that salt imparts its influence on that around us. So too for us. When we are huddled with one another in the confines of church buildings we are not fulfilling the ministry that God appointed to us. While time together is necessary for encouragement and equipping, it’s a means to an end. The end is our influence in our ministries that we call our lives.
Here’s a little self-test. Imagine yourself in two different mental states. In one, you believe that your talents, experience, education and the gifts that you use in your job and your family are of little interest to God. They are just the way to fill your week. The really important things to God occur only on Sunday mornings. You understand that church work is real ministry and that our lives are something that God really doesn’t care about that much. He’s more interested in evangelism and edification under the auspices of a church than He is in anything we might do in our daily lives. Church work is special. And what you and I do most of our lives is ordinary. Church work is significant, and what you and I do is insignificant. And, while you desire to be active and pleasing to God, you know you cannot be because you aren’t ordained, you are not a full-time minister, and you have not enough time to devote to church work.
Now that you are temporarily immersed in that mindset ask yourself some
questions. How energized are you to see your life as meaningful to God? To what degree do you feel filled with the Holy Spirit every minute of the day? How close to God do you feel? How great is your Christian influence on those around you? Record your thoughts and feelings.
Now, consider the opposite paradigm. Image yourself fully accepting and believing this:
God has selected you for a special ministry, that you alone can fulfill. You believe that God has personally and specifically equipped you with experience, talents, gifts, and education to use in your business and your family. He has personally given you a ministry that is incredibly important to the growth of his kingdom and is directly in the center of His will. This ministry is your work and your family. Every moment of it is empowered by the Holy Spirit, ordained by God, and overseen by Jesus Christ. He has appointed you to be his unique ambassador to take His influence into every corner of His creation touched by you. What you do on Sunday morning or in regards to the institutional church is only incidental to your main and special ministry.
Now ask yourself the same questions. How enthusiastic are you? How full of the Holy Spirit? How close to God? How excited to be using your spiritual gifts? How energized are you to see your life as meaningful to God? To what degree are you inspired to and feel filled with the Holy Spirit every minute of the day? How great is your Christian influence on those around you?
If you are like most of us, you’ll quickly see that the first paradigm serves to depress the power of the Holy Spirit, to isolate you under the burden of a debilitating self-image, to hinder the power of the Holy Spirit in the church and your business. Yet, the second paradigm does just the opposite, energizing you with spiritual power and purpose. The second mindset fosters an attitude of joy, peace commitment, and empowerment.
Consider the impact of these two mindsets on your Christianity. Now multiply your thoughts and feelings times the millions of Christians in the world. And imagine the impact on the universal church, and consider the impact on the growth and impact of the kingdom.
The conclusion is obvious. The cultural paradigm that holds “church work” as a higher calling than real work is an insidious, debilitating concept. It’s time to do away with it. It’s time to recognize that our lives, when lived for Christ, are our highest and most noble ministries. We have been selected by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit to extend the Kingdom into every area of creation.