My father's passing in 2004 was one of the most impactful events of my life. Not only was he my father, but we worked together in our family insurance agency. After he died, I didn't feel anger or resentment but rather the weight of obligation and calling on my life as my brothers and I took over the business. This call led me to greater engagement with my faith which, in turn, had a profound effect on my approach to work.
Fifteen years ago, I was not fully engaged in my Christian walk. Despite attending church regularly, teaching a Sunday school class and faithfully contributing my tithe, I lived what could be called a "divided life." I gave parts of my life to God, but other parts I considered my own. I found value largely in my ability to perform at work, and my purpose was centered on business goals. Many Christians in business feel the same way.
Confident to Witness
In a quest for deeper engagement with my faith, I discovered the study of apologetics through listening to an audio version of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. I had never heard anyone present a rational defense of Christianity before, and it was refreshing. For me, hearing Christians present faith as subjective and anti-intellectual had become a major barrier to greater engagement. Like most people, I am pragmatic and saw this as a cop-out and a concession that there was insufficient evidence for rational belief in Christianity.
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Thankfully, there is a very good, reasonable and objective case for the Christian faith. The Bible calls us to have faith but not as a blind leap. Scripture consistently appeals to evidence and reason to support its claims. Anyone frustrated by the anti-intellectual paradigm of faith will be as amazed and energized as I was to discover the intellectual case for Christianity is both robust and satisfying.
The more I studied apologetics, the more confident I grew in my faith. I immediately wanted to share this new understanding, and I no longer shied away from a "religious" discussion. I remembered times in our agency when salespeople were offered significant incentives for sales of a particular product, but few would take part in the promotion. When we researched the reason they didn't participate, we discovered that most of the time the salesperson lacked an understanding of the product and confidence that it was sellable. Until the salesperson was trained on how to sell that particular product and had some initial success, he would not engage with the product no matter the inducement.
In the same way, many Christians lack confidence in either the truth of Christianity or in their ability to effectively communicate their faith. Although they may be confident in their own salvation, they also may be reluctant to talk about their faith publicly. Why? There is something lacking. To be able to effectively engage in conversation about one's faith, it is necessary to have a robust knowledge of the Bible and the philosophical foundations of Christianity. As any salesperson knows, it takes more to sell a product than it does to buy it; it's the same with faith.
Accountable to God
As my study of Christianity deepened, I felt compelled to live out my faith in all areas of life, but I really didn't know how to do it, and it seemed there were few resources that gave any direction. Sensing God's call to enroll in the Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics program at California's Biola University, I sought to apply what I learned in that program. In the process, I noticed I was not following the Bible in many areas of my life, and I held many paradigms that contradicted what was taught in the Scriptures.
Modern culture promotes many ideas antithetical to Christianity, and these counterfeits are sometimes hard to differentiate from true Christian thought. In my life, the dominant false paradigm was the divided life. My religious life was divided from my public life. For example, I thought the Bible taught I was to give to God in my religious life but retain for "Caesar" everything else. But the Lord is Lord of all. All of our actions either line up with God's will or they don't. This does not mean our public lives are a neutral space that has nothing to do with our faith, but we are also doing God's will when we are fulfilling our public duties in areas that are not explicitly religious.
To think there is some neutral area of our lives that does not concern God is too narrow an interpretation of what actually lines up with His will. We can see clearly how explicitly religious activities such as worshipping God on Sunday or giving tithes brings Him glory, but doesn't faithfulness at home and honesty at work also glorify Him? Doesn't God care about how we behave in all areas of our life? Of course He does.
Integrating my divided life led me to adopt a stewardship mentality at work. Drawing from the parable of the talents in the New Testament, we see not only that all of our gifts and resources come from God, but we also are accountable to Him for their use. Most Christian business owners tend to think in terms of ownership. They own the business and only have an obligation to God to tithe. God cares about the tithe, but He also cares about how we use the other 90 percent as well.
Social pressures lead many to live a divided life. Secularists claim that faith has no place in the public square because of a misunderstanding of the supposed separation of church and state. Their call is for a public life scrubbed of religious thoughts and claims. But this is impossible because our business and public lives are dependent on ethical norms and rules of play that are not worldview neutral. All worldviews take their beliefs into the public square, and there is no justification for promoting explicitly secular claims over religious ones. Certainly, a pluralist society will struggle adjudicating between conflicting worldviews, but we cannot allow this argument to bar religion from culture while smuggling anti-Christian-worldview commitments in through the back door.
Some believe engaging with our faith at work would be considered rude or unprofessional in a corporate or pluralistic setting. Of course, Christians should be sensitive to the fact that not everyone believes what we do, but this does not mean we should never mix our worldview with our public life. Conceding a biblical worldview for the sake of pluralism would mean giving priority to non-Christian thought in the sphere where most of us spend the majority of our time. The Christian should strive to engage the public in a subtle and inoffensive way.
To many evangelicals, integration means everything has to be explicitly Christian. This has led to the creation of a subculture where Christians watch Christian movies, listen to Christian radio, send their children to Christian schools and seek friendship and trade only with other Christians. Christian subculture is nothing more than a withdrawal from society and is in direct opposition to the command for us to be salt and light in the world. Many Christians have abandoned industries they perceive to be "secular" so that Christianity has little influence in several of the institutions of culture.
Ordained to Work
The Bible has more to say about how we work than many Christians think. A robust theology of work would help us avoid unbalanced approaches to work. I've found two extremes to be avoided concerning work.
The first is the glorification of work, where we seek to find meaning and identity through work alone. Finding purpose and meaning at work is a popular concept in the business world today. Authors such as Simon Sinek in his book Start With Why show that purpose can be a powerful tool for employee engagement. It can, but work is an insufficient foundation on which to build our meaning. Employing this perspective ultimately leads to the "performance trap."
When a person has a good job that seems to contribute to society or if someone reaches a level of financial success, they can find meaning and satisfaction at work. However, not all jobs are valued by society, and financial success comes and goes. Relying on work for meaning leads to the extremes of arrogance and pride for those who achieve high levels of success or purpose but despondency for those who do not. Also, it is a deterrent from participation in entry-level work that is low-paying and considered menial. Those under the influence of this paradigm will resist doing any work that does not add meaning or financial reward.
Early in my career, I struggled with the performance trap because I did not like identifying with the insurance industry. Also, I would agonize over every major business failure. Identifying my meaning and worth in the context of a biblical understanding of work helped me find balance.
The other extreme view is that work is a necessary evil. The Greeks thought that work was a punishment from the gods, and they prized leisure. Their goal in life was to do just enough work so they could get back to leisure or have enough slaves so they never had to work. Work became merely a means to an end.
The church has suffered from some similar thinking by dividing work between the sacred or perfect life and the secular or permitted life. The implication was that secular work was of no spiritual value and that all Christians should seek a sacred calling inside the church. This thinking downplays the value of work and implies that the only value lay people add to the church is what they can contribute financially. Once, I took a spiritual gifts assessment and assumed my spiritual gift would be giving because I was a businessman. I was surprised it wasn't even in the top five and noticed that many businessmen had the same experience.
There is a subtle suggestion that our goal as Christian businesspeople should be to one day leave business and enter "full-time" ministry. I think the church promotes the myth of the "Big Call." We celebrate those who are leaving to be missionaries in Africa, but we fail to see the value of the person who has worked faithfully in his job for 20 years and has been a good witness for Christ there.
The true biblical view is that God likes work. God worked to create the heavens and the Earth and, as attested to by Jesus in the Gospel of John, is not now sitting leisurely in heaven but continues to work. Because we were created in God's image, we were created to work. Note that Adam was given the job to tend the garden before the fall, not afterward.
The Bible does not talk about a sacred-secular split or the call to "full-time ministry." All of us are in full-time ministry. Most church members are skilled and gifted in ways that are best used outside of church, and for most of us, our call is to use our talents for God's glory at work.
In Revelation, every saint is given a stone with a unique name on it. In the same way, everyone has a unique combination of gifts, skills, passions, resources, relationships, geography and time so they are specially gifted to accomplish that to which God ordained them. I encourage everyone to seek out their calling and trust that a proper understanding of work will allow for a broadened perspective on what that calling can mean. It may take some time, but if you seek, you will find.
Mark Tedford is a partner at Tedford Insurance, a second-generation insurance brokerage, and has business interests in transportation and real estate. After obtaining a Master of Business Administration degree at Tulsa University, he went to Biola University to broaden his studies and received a Master of Arts in Christian Apologetics in 2013. A regular speaker for business organizations, Tedford serves on several boards and is chairman of the Oklahoma Apologetics Alliance. He resides in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
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