As Christians, we are stewards of the resources God gives us for serving the human community. Our vocations are one avenue for doing God’s work in the world. Stewardship is the cultivation of resources for God. The Bible tells us that one of the most important resources God has given us is our gifts, aptitudes, talents and abilities. One of the sacraments of the medieval church was the Sacrament of Holy Orders, which divided the world into the “religious” and the “secular.”
Those who went into full-time church ministry as priests, monks or nuns were on a completely different spiritual footing from those who did not. One of the Protestant Reformation’s main planks was to overturn this view with the biblical teaching of the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9). Martin Luther insisted that all forms of work are God-honoring callings. To be a farmer, a craftsman or an artist was just as much a vocation, a calling from God, as to be a preacher. Why?
All Forms of Work Are Participation in God’s Work
God made the created world by his Spirit (Gen. 1:1-3) and continues to care for and sustain it by his Spirit (Ps. 104:30), watering and enriching it (Ps. 65:9–13) and feeding and meeting the needs of every living thing (Pss. 145:15–16 and 147:15–20). Indeed, the very purpose of redemption is to massively and finally restore the material creation (Rev. 21–22). God loves this created world so much that he sent his Son to redeem it. This world is a good in and of itself; it is not just a temporary theater for individual salvation.
If the Holy Spirit is not only a preacher that convicts people of sin and grace (John 16:8–11; 1 Thess. 1:5) but also a gardener, an artist and an investor in creation who renews the material world, it cannot be more spiritual and God-honoring to be a preacher than to be a farmer, artist or banker. To give just one example, evangelism is temporary work, while musicianship is permanent work. In the new heavens and new earth, preachers will be out of a job! Ultimately, the purpose of evangelism is to bring about a world in which musicians will be able to do their work perfectly.
All Forms of Work Are Ways of Serving Others
Imagine how much time it would take to make a chair by yourself. You would not only have to cut and shape the wood yourself, but you’d also have to make the tools. To make the tools, you’d have to mine the ore to make metal. It would take months, perhaps years, to do all the things necessary to create the chair. When you share in the work of others, however, you can buy a chair with money equivalent to some number of hours’ worth of your time, not months or years of effort. Even if you want to make the chair yourself, you can buy tools made by someone else. All work, according to God’s design, is service. Through work we enrich one another and become more and more interwoven.
When Christians do “secular” work, they function as salt and light in the world (Matt. 5:13–16). Farming and business, childcare and law, medicine and music—all these forms of work cultivate, care for and sustain the created world that God made and loves. We are all ministers (priests) to the human community on God’s behalf. Work is taking the raw material of creation and developing it for the sake of others.
Musicians take the raw material of sound and bring the meaning of art into our lives. Farmers take the raw material of soil and seed and bring food into our lives. This means we are God’s ministers in our work not only when we are witnessing or talking directly about Jesus, but when we are simply doing our work. A musician is serving God when she makes great music, not solely when she is singing about coming to Jesus.