The second threat to our corporate witness is careerism, in which career advancement is a person’s chief aim in life. Making the most of your gifts and talents for service to God is good stewardship, but it becomes a problem when people are consumed with personal advancement. The more that ministry staff obsess over advancing themselves, the less authentic our corporate witness will be, because God often wants us to do something for someone else’s benefit, not ours. In fact, he wants us to love sacrificially and unconditionally, and this may impact our careers.
Have you ever felt a sales person had no interest in your welfare, just their commission? You can tell when they genuinely want to help you and when they see dollar signs instead of you.
“Oh, that looks so beautiful on you!”
“You deserve the best!”
If that degree of self-interest comes out in a ministry employee, it disheartens everyone else who wants and expects ministry staff to be passionate about their mission more than themselves.Great ministry staff don’t have a job, they have a cause.
I talked with a church secretary a few weeks ago and she couldn’t stop singing the praises for her church, her board, and her pastor. She was so exuberantly enthusiastic as she told me how she just loves coming to work as a church secretary because it is so fulfilling to be doing important work every day for God. I loved her passion for her job and her commitment to it. Does she make her church attractive to me? You bet! And if I didn’t already know Christ and she told me about him, I would pay serious attention because of her passion.
In fact, if you feel the same way about your ministry workplace as this secretary does about hers, please make a comment as an encouragement to others.
Ministries don’t have careers, but they do have a corporate existence that they’d like to maximize and sustain into the future. This makes it possible that ministries could behave in similar ways as careerist individuals, and have similar negative effects on their own corporate witness and on the welfare of the community of Christian ministries.
Negatives of Careerism
When most employees are working for a cause, careerist employees can have some negative effects on the ministry and its team:
- They tend to focus on themselves rather than on mission, which for them is a means to an end, not something they are passionately engaged in as an end worthy in itself. Their dampened enthusiasm for the mission could be a drag on everyone else’s motivation.
- Their loyalty is to themselves, so their employment relationship is transactional. They are invested in the ministry they work for only to the extent that it helps their career.
- A person who is in it for themselves can’t help but give out signals to teammates that they are not all in it together. Team spirit will suffer when someone is more concerned with their own welfare rather than the team’s welfare. They are unlikely to sacrifice for the benefit of the team.
This threat can be overcome with the truth that your ministry is called by Christ to do something great for him. And that means we have a high calling worthy of our greatest aspirations! Replace careerism with response to a call. It makes a big difference whether you focus on what you do as a means of furthering your career or as a means of accomplishing a mission you passionately believe in.
At CCCC, for example, we are not called to provide information and services, we are called to equip Christian ministries as organizations so they can do what God has called them to do. We do that by providing information and services, but we are working for something much more important — the accomplishment of our members’ missions. Your mission! The church’s mission! I want people working at CCCC who are jazzed by that! I want people who are passionate about the mission, who are sold out on making it happen! I know you want the same for your ministry too.
Whether someone feels called to vocational ministry or to secular work, when they know they are serving God in the place he wants them to be, they don’t have a career, they have a calling. And that makes all the difference because, as Paul says, we are working for the One who called us, Jesus Christ.
All Christians share a general call to serve Christ. In the absence of a personal call to a specific ministry or task, they have the freedom to discern for themselves where and how to fulfill their general call. What’s important is that they know they are fulfilling God’s call to service in what they are doing. They are pursuing God first and career second. They engage with mission because it is how they serve God.
Some Christians also have a strong personal call. This is my experience. As I wrote in Discerning Your Call, I knew from my preteen years that someday God wanted me to serve the church, something I didn’t know how to do, so I did not pursue it.
But on May 25th 2001, I asked God a question while driving home from an early morning prayer meeting, “Why have you given me so much vision for my church, for my clients, for everyone around me and nothing for me?” The answer was so clear that I pulled over to the side of the road in shock. I knew instantly that God had given me a call and that the call was still valid this many years later! I didn’t know what ministry God wanted me to do, but I did know I’d have to prepare for it, so I went home and told my wife I was going to go to seminary. She instantly agreed without reservation (now that’s confirmation!).
My personal call is to serve the church, and CCCC lets me do that. Does that affect how I see my job? Absolutely it does!
The benefits of having a sense of call, whether a general call or a particular call, are significant.
- We will have great passion for our work because it is more than a job, it is a calling. My self-identity includes my call, so my job is part of my self-identity.
- Our work has great meaning and is very fulfilling because it is a call.
- Our sense of team will be heightened as we work with people who have an equal call to the ministry and together we become part of something bigger than ourselves, a ministry serving God’s mission.
- We will work with excellence because that is what our high calling demands of us.
Special Warning to Employers
It is all too easy to abuse someone’s sense of call. We can pay too little because we know they believe God wants them doing this, and after all, aren’t we as Christians called to a sacrificial lifestyle? Not quite! As an employer, you are caring for God’s sheep and you will be held to account for the level of care you gave. Pay the worker the wages that are due. Be fair. Christian workplaces should be the best workplaces. You are a workplace, not a workhouse!
I don’t want someone working at CCCC because they can make more money here than anywhere else. I want them here because they believe in our mission. But I do want to be able to stand before God and the public and say that we paid fair wages to everyone. Not too low, and not too high.
So don’t abuse your staff’s sense of call.
Building a Shared Call
Here’s what you can do to prevent careerism from hampering your ministry:
- When interviewing people, ask:
- Why do you want to work with us?
- What has God been doing in your life in the last three months?
- How does this particular job fit with your career aspirations?
- Constantly talk with staff about how the work you do ties into the church’s mission
- Keep the vision in sight, not the activity. For example, you might
- Provide meals (activity) to relieve hunger (immediate outcome) so that everyone experiences God’s provision (long term outcome) and ultimately is able to be the whole person God made them to be (vision).
- Provide church services (activity) so people can praise God and learn from the Word (immediate outcomes) so that they become mature believers (long term outcome) and become the image of Christ (vision).
- Keep the vision in sight, not the activity. For example, you might
- Bring theological discernment into your decision process, and encourage theological reflection at leadership and staff meetings.
- Encourage people to talk about how they feel about what they do. What makes them feel significant? Fulfilled? In a mission-driven organization, this should bring out stories that are a springboard to talk about God’s call on the organization.
- Talk with staff about how God is leading them now. God may be laying something on their heart that relates to your corporate call.
- For an organization, you could think of your vision, End statement, or Social Value Proposition, as a call. What is the end good you are working to achieve? Keep that in mind as your call and it will lift you up to the greater purpose you are serving.