“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” -Marcel Proust
“The first duty of a Christian pilot, is to land the plane.” -Tim Keller
For a while I’ve been passionate about helping people see their everyday jobs as vocations, as calling for ministry.
But this inevitably raises questions like why does “church ministry” matter? If all work is ministry than what is church work?
But to answer that I have to tell you about Strip Clubs in Las Vegas and middle-aged judges named Herbert.
A few years ago, Andres Martinez wrote a book called 24/7: Living it up and Doubling Down. The premise of the book is that he went to his publisher and told them that he needed a $50,000 advance to write the book…for research.
His plan was to take 50 large to Vegas and to live on the money as long as possible.
The publisher loved it.
As you can imagine the story is a bit tawdry, but at one point Martinez goes to a strip club where he says, “I never expected the highlight of my time to come in the bathroom of a strip club.”
He walked in and met Joe, the bathroom attendant, was serving the patrons by handing them towels and soaps, but Joe was also reading his Bible.
All the merry conversationalists in the men’s room suddenly fell quiet. “As if Joe was packing heat.”
“You’re reading the Bible in a topless club?” one patron asked.
“I’m a minister,” Joe replied, “this is where the Lord wants me, there’s a lot of hurt here.”
Joe had been a drug dealer for the majority of his life, and now, after a stint in prison, he had been found by Jesus. For most of his life, he wouldn’t have thought once about taking a menial, minimum wage job, but Joe had found a church, and the church had turned his job into a calling. (obviously not a calling for everyone)
G.K. Chesterton once said that, “every man who walks into a brothel is looking for God.” But that wasn’t true of Joe.
Joe was God’s way of looking for them.
The Sacred Secular
Rob Bell in his most recent book, points out that the significance of the Temple curtain ripping was huge. Because before it meant that there were places that were sacred and places that weren’t. He says:
A Temple was meaningful and useful because it gives humans a way of conceiving of the idea of the holy and sacred….Church services and worship gathering continue to have their place and power in our lives to the degree [that all work and workers do] because they remind us that all of life matters, all work is holy, all moments sacred, and all encounters with others are encounters with the divine.”
A few years ago, I spend the day with Larry James, a preacher who now runs an incredible non-profit. Larry still believes deeply in the church. because, he says, “The people who are sitting in the board rooms on Monday, and the court benches and classrooms and creative meetings on Monday are sitting in the pews on Sunday. The problem is preachers aren’t helping them connect what they do with the Gospel.”
I talk with accountants who don’t know that their job is a ministry. But if Jesus is right, then they see a person heart better than any counselor. I talk to mechanics who don’t see what they do as a ministry, but they give oil changes to single moms for free, I talk to carpenters who don’t see what they do as a ministry…even though it’s the job Jesus had!
A church at her best gives us new eyes to see the rest of the world, and how God is working within it.
Eyes Wide Open
In 2008, Paul Herbert, a municipal judge from Ohio began to realize that he held a position that was a rare opportunity. He was in a place to make a real difference in society, but he wasn’t. Herbert was a Christian, he’d gone to church his entire life, but hadn’t connected his job with his calling.
But Herbert had a minister who prayed for God to open his eyes to use his work as ministry.
And Herbert started seeing things differently.
He noticed that there was a revolving door on the girls who were regularly paraded through court on prostitutions charges. He began to research the demographics of these women, and found that most of them had been sexually abused at a young age, had run away from home, and started masking the emotional trauma with drug abuse.
Suddenly, they became more than just criminals, Herbert started seeing girls.
And Herbert was tired of just putting these girls in jail.
So he started a program for counseling and rehabilitation with an option for Higher education for these women. And it’s working like gangbusters. Women are walking away from the world’s oldest professions, and toward universities and vocations.
Judge Herbert went on to say:
The Holy Spirit continues to reveal how much I’ve been forgiven, and how similar I am to the individuals that come before me. That’s really hard to say! [My] job is to judge. But the farther I go along [in my faith], the more I realize that I’m just like most of them—and that makes me more understanding, more kind, more merciful.
What I love about these stories, is that the church didn’t merely call people out of the world, but in Gospel ways, it called them deeper into it.
Sometimes God calls people to work as a missionary to reach the men who go to the strip club, and sometimes he calls them to change the legislation to reach the girls who work there, and sometimes he calls preachers to help the judge and bathroom attendant see how to re-see their work.
It’s not just a job, it’s a ministry.
It’s the church at work.