Genesis 2:15 records for us how God, as part of his good and perfect plan for his creation, tasked Adam to “cultivate and tend” the Garden of Eden. Then Eve was given as a companion to help him with his assignment. That was work as it was meant to be -- getting into the soil, dirt under the fingernails, and tending to the animals, all with satisfaction and joy. How glorious! But then comes Genesis 3 – the fall – with its resultant “weeds and thistles” and “hard labour.” Work perfectly designed had become work pretty disfigured. Now it seems that creation itself militates against us in our “tending.” And yet, the call to work has not changed, nor has much of the reward God endowed upon work.
There are two key truths nested in that story worth noting at this point. The first is that work, including physical work with dirt under our fingernails, is part of God’s calling on our lives. Physical work is no less a reflection of God’s calling and serving Him than the roles we have traditionally considered “spiritual calling.” Ministry in the marketplace and workplace is no less ministry than work inside the church. In fact, the first person in which Scripture describes as being full of God’s Spirit was a craftsman, not a prophet or priest (see Exodus 31:2,3). God’s calling, God’s gifting, and God’s mission are not the domain of the clergy class. Nothing is further from the truth. The calling to ministry embraces all forms of legitimate work – craftspersons, farmers, construction workers, service industry workers, health care providers, educators, business people, IT professionals, politicians, preachers, pastors -- and most certainly those who make coffee! It is the shame of the church that we have not done a better job of validating and equipping people to “workplace ministry!” God calls his people to ministry in all kinds of workplaces.
The other key truth from that story of beginnings is that work is stained by the fall and its resultant universal sin. And that shows itself not just in the “thistles and weeds” in the ground, but in the challenges we face as we work together with people – and they have to work with us. There are few better examples of this from which we can and must learn than that of Daniel. Daniel served God by serving Babylon, by working in a context that was anything but naturally friendly to Daniel and his faith. Yet Daniel served well, worked well, ministered well. I believe that Daniel never forgot the charge given by God through his prophet in Jeremiah 29.
This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
In other words, don’t seclude yourself from the world around you -- get in there, work, serve, live. Our call to workplace ministry does not cease because the environment is unfriendly.
As Christians we are called to be ambassadors in a world that is not our home. This calling extends into our workplaces, where often the environment is not aligned with our values and priorities. Sometimes we even wonder what holy living is supposed look like down in that den.
Our calling to serve God and work in the world we are in, as godly labourers and ministers, does not change because the environment is uncomfortable. In fact, one might suggest it is all the more necessary and vital in places that have little light of the gospel. This is ministry. And you are God’s ministers.
Terry Kaufman is a Professor at Steinbach Bible College, instructing on Marketplace & Ministry Leadership
This article was originally published in The Recorder Vol 60 no 6