Bringing It All Together By Dr. Brian S. Simmons
Steward Leadership, Work, and Life Calling Come Together
During seasons of rest from work, it is essential to reflect and bring what matters most all together. Even God rested from His work of creation! Human beings, created in God’s image, find meaning and purpose in work. And, like God, it is important to rest from our excellent work.
Everything necessary in life takes work! It is working to raise a family, prepare for and participate in the holiday season with and for those we love, invest time in children, grandchildren, and parents, be involved in church and community, be productive in our place of employment, and the list goes on and on. Each of these areas is a vocational realm, and our stewardship roles are synonymous with our vocational realms because all of the roles we play and actions we take in life create and define our vocations. In the broadest sense, vocation, calling, and living life as faithful stewards of God are all synonymous.
Questions to Ponder
So, with these definitions as a context, here are a few questions to ponder. What is truly important in life? How am I directing time and resources to that which is eternal? In what specific ways am I using all that God has entrusted to my care to fulfill His purposes? What are my primary vocational areas or stewardship roles in my life? What is my life calling? How can I best live out my mission in every area? What were my greatest successes last year? Challenges?
Working in Areas of Strength
It is essential to live and serve primarily in our areas of strength. God has equipped us with gifts and experiences to fulfill His purposes and move others onto His agenda in the coming year.
A steward is a person who holds in trust gifts given to him by the Master.
“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to Him.”
Since He created everything and everyone, God retains the ownership rights for all He has made. It is His prerogative, alone, how much or how little He chooses to entrust to the care of His stewards. He lives in the realm of rights. As His stewards, we live in the realm of responsibilities. As His stewards, our responsibility is to faithfully use all of the gifts (time, treasure, talents, and relationships) He has SO graciously entrusted to our care to fulfill His purposes. This brings meaning and purpose to our lives. Of all that the Master has entrusted to our care, relationships are the most precious!
Stewardship and Work
It is essential to realize that stewardship is an “all of life” construct. This is true because every decision we make, how we spend our time, money, etc., is ultimately a stewardship decision. Because the average person spends 40 or more hours per week at work, effective use of time for work is a crucial aspect of faithful steward leadership.
Two Scriptural Mandates and a Great Commandment
There are two primary mandates in Scripture to guide the daily decisions of God’s stewards—the first in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Followers of Jesus are to make disciples. As an example, Bonnie and I are committed to doing all we can to encourage our 14 grandchildren to become fully prepared, devoted followers of Jesus Christ! We all have a radius of influence, and the closer to the center of our radius, the greater our responsibility.
The second mandate in Scripture is the cultural mandate (Genesis 1:26-28). God has chosen to do His work on earth through His faithful stewards. It is true that God once fed the Israelites by dropping food to the ground from heaven (manna), but usually, God meets the needs of others through the people He has created as they work together to build culture and provide for the common good. The farmer plays a role in our morning bagel when he cultivates the soil, plants the wheat, and brings in the harvest. The baker plays a role as he uses the flour from the wheat to bake the bagels. The truck driver brings the bagels to market, and the coffee shop employee serves up the bagels. Every aspect of this work is instrumental in fulfilling God’s purpose of meeting the physical needs of His people.
The great commandment in Scripture is to love God and to love others (Luke 10:27). Steward leaders fulfill their responsibility to love and serve God by loving and serving others.
Understanding Work from a Biblical Perspective
Understanding these two mandates and the great commandment provides the foundation for a proper, Scriptural view of work. Work is not a result of the curse of humanity as a result of Adam’s fall into sin. Work predated this curse! Work is good, and stewards find meaning and purpose in their excellent work.
Work is a gift entrusted to all people by their Creator, God. Further, it is essential to see work as an integrated whole. R.G. LeTourneau articulated this critical point when he said at a Christian Layman’s Crusade in 1941,
“We are going to sell laymen the idea that they are going to work for Jesus Christ seven days of the week or not call themselves Christians.”
Rick Warren, in his famous book The Purpose-Driven Life, wrote.
“The consequences of your (life) mission will last forever; the consequences of your job will not.”
Andrew Lynn, a university sociologist and author of the book Saving the Protestant Ethic, Creative Class Evangelicalism and the Crisis of Work, described four frameworks for understanding how Christianity provides a theology of work. The frameworks are evangelists, achievers, integrators, and activists. Evangelists see faith at work principally, meaning workplace evangelism. Achievers see work and business as endowed with spiritual and economic value. Integrationists see work as having value because God works to benefit humanity and calls human beings to glorify Him by doing similarly. Finally, activists call others to the common good via their jobs.
Closing the Sunday to Monday Gap
Each framework offers a unique perspective on closing the Sunday to Monday-gap. For evangelists, “secular” vocations are only redeemed as they mirror religious vocations. Achievers see stewardship as limited to financial responsibility and thus seek to gain and use wealth for the glory of God. Activists, also called re-embedders, add an ethical component to work. For the integrator, all work matters to God. So, carpenters, like Jesus, seek to make good tables with straight legs to the glory of God, and this slams shut the Sunday-Monday gap! In my work as an integrator in Christian higher education at Columbia International University, we integrate faith and learning so our graduates will integrate faith and life!
Because all truth is God’s truth, it is essential not to bifurcate foundational truth into competing parts. Bifurcation divides a unified whole into two separate and distinct parts and replaces an integrated whole with a dichotomy. For example, there is no secular/sacred divide for the followers of Christ because all of life is sacred! Every decision the believer makes, including but not limited to one’s occupation, is ultimately a holy stewardship decision. For the faithful steward, the word secular means without God, and no part of their life is without God!
Another example would be the bifurcation between ministering professionals and professional ministers. These two concepts are not in opposition to one another or entirely different. Many of a clergyman’s day-to-day activities differ from those of a layman. Both, however, are to live out their unique life callings as ministers of Christ to the glory of God! No life calling is higher, better, or more important than another. Similarly, no paid vocation should be considered or pursued first over any other.
All people have unique gifts and experiences that God uses to direct them to His will for their lives. Further, a profession is a paid occupation, but living as a steward and living out one’s life calling requires faithfulness to the Master, God, and His purposes in every vocation of life, including but not limited to one’s occupation.
The Highest Calling
However, even though there is no highest calling about occupation or career, there is the highest calling for all believers: to make disciples. This begins with sharing the Gospel because evangelism is the first step in making disciples. The world’s most significant problem today is “lostness”; over 5 billion people do not know the Lord!
Life Calling and Work
A related field of study, life calling, teaches the critical truth that meaning and purpose in life include but are not limited to a specific job or even a career. Bill Millard writes about this important idea in his book Living Your Life with the Power of Purpose. Millard writes that vocation is more significant than any job or occupation. Calling goes deeper than a profession or life work. It means finding a purpose for one’s life that is aligned with the purposes of God. Life calling is confidence in these higher purposes that guide all aspects of one’s life. While we cannot be anything we want to be, we can be everything God has created us to be!
Spiritual Leadership and Work
Richard Blackaby and his father, Henry, define spiritual leadership as moving others onto God’s agenda. The steward leader theory brings theology of work, life calling, and spiritual leadership principles together because faithful steward leaders seek to fulfill God’s purposes for all He has graciously entrusted to their care, and vocational realms mirror stewardship roles. There is no dichotomy between faith and work for the follower of Christ because all of life and work collectively comprise one’s life calling and are ultimately acts of worship ascribing worth and bringing glory to God.
“We are not consecrated to Christian work, but to the will of God, to be and to do whatever He requires. The road to victory is the daily surrender of one’s life to the Lord! Lord, in each of my vocational realms, please enable me to do your will and touch lives in my spheres of influence, directing each individual to draw closer to You!”
Pray this prayer for 2024 with me, in Jesus’ name. Amen!
Dr. Brian S. Simmons is the Vice President of CIU Global and a Professor at Columbia International University. He exists as a visionary builder to further the kingdom of God through Christian education, teaching, and influencing others.
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