by J. B. Wood
For years I was stuck in a mindset that placed an irrationally high value on ministry while under-appreciating God’s interest in using my talents, skills, and interests to pursue His kingdom in a variety of alternate forms.
God has created a pretty big world out there, but many of us Christians have a tunnel-vision tendency to block out a huge portion of it. We lose sight of the sacredness of work, the benefits of education, the spiritual value of a career, the impact of our potential influence in the marketplace.
Here are five of the most entrenched mistakes that can tangle up your career path.
1. Over-spiritualizing your career situation. There’s nothing wrong with praying for direction when it comes to your job, but don’t get into the annoying habit of expecting God to do everything for you. This leads to a victimized, passive stance, waiting around for a sign instead of getting yourself mobilized. You can pray and fast and hang out the fleece all day long, but understand this: God is not going to hand over your life-long career path on a flaming silver platter. You have to pay your dues, fight for your life, and figure it out as you go, just like everyone else. Ironically, your spiritual growth will come mostly through the struggle in this process.
2. Ignoring what’s right in front of you. It’s great to believe God has some grandiose plan in store for you, but you’ll probably have to do a boatload of grunt work to get there. Some folks want to skip all the unpleasant parts and get right to the end, but real life generally doesn’t happen that way. I remember once complaining bitterly to a wiser friend about the many shortcomings of my job. He listened patiently for a while, and then gave me the best advice ever by pointing out the vast opportunities I was overlooking because of my bad attitude. Don’t let your self-limiting ideas cause you to ignore the potential of right where you are today.
3. Being afraid of the big bad secular world. For years, I was surrounded with a subculture that had this notion that “secular humanism” was infiltrating the world, threatening our Christian sensibilities. Its evil shadow fell over not just corporate life, but also suspect were prestigious universities, art galleries, music venues, and pretty much any secular expression that wasn’t dunked in a certain theological soup. This shunning of higher learning and culture creates a Christian ghetto filled with fearful and judgmental souls who will never learn to navigate, much less infiltrate, the world. Want to change culture? Be part of it. Want to be an influencer? Get a decent education. Want to impact the world? Be engaged in it. This is salt, and this is light.
4. Using your job as a stomping grounds for evangelism. Look, I know you want to spread the Good News everywhere you go, but your place of employment is not just a raw mission field. Sure, you can reach others at your workplace, but I am firmly in the camp that says doing a good job is pleasing to God in and of itself. There’s no need to artificially load layers of mission and outreach on top of it. You are plenty glorifying God by doing excellent work. Oh, and by the way, this is probably the best path to building credibility among the folks on the job so they’ll even want to listen to you.
5. Underestimating your own power and potential. In Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great, he describes the most effective CEOs as “Level 5 Leaders,” possessing a paradoxical combination of humility and fierce resolve. As Christians, we’d like to rally around the humility and servitude part, knowing that Jesus would heartily approve. But assertive leadership requires a tad more than that. There’s no need to feel guilty for being ambitious, visionary, or intensely focused on a goal or outcome. Embrace your inner drive because you can be both humble and fiercely resolved at the same time. Otherwise, how is God going to accomplish anything through you?
Christians are notoriously confused about the spiritual value of work. I believe we need role models, young and old, supporting each other as the voice of God himself, shouting out words of hope and encouragement to those called to work outside of ministry. It’s all good! If only we had faith enough to believe it.
J.B. Wood is an executive who lives and works in the Philadelphia area. He is author of the book, The Next Level: Essential Strategies for Breakthrough Growth and the e-book, At Work as it is in Heaven: 25 Ways to Re-imagine the Spiritual Purpose of Your Work. He is also a frequent contributor to The High Calling.