Understanding Your Calling – A Reflection on Work and Culture
By Georgie Lee
As I was walking out of a church building, suddenly a voice from behind me bellowed, “Georgie, when are you going to retire and go into full-time service in the church?” I turned around; it was a pastor whom I have known for many years.
Taken by surprise, I quickly gathered my thoughts and retorted half in jest: “Pastor, I am already serving full time in the marketplace. I am a priest as much as you are a priest. Don’t we believe in the priesthood of all believers? You are called to equip saints. I am called to reach out to businessmen and workers in the marketplace. Most times, you are in a clinical environment like an aquarium, surrounded by good Bible-believing people. Unlike you, I am frequently out there in the ocean infested by tiger sharks and ‘loan’ sharks! I am there to be a fisher of men in the marketplace. Business people come to me because they have a need – to find solutions to their business and financial problems. God has placed me there to meet not only their financial need, but their greater needs. These include issues concerning their personal life whereupon lies the opportunity to share my testimony with them. They get to receive the full counsel of God, not just financial advice.”
The pastor is not alone in making these remarks.
Many believers similarly do not see their ‘secular’ vocation as serving God. Their response reflects a commonly held secular-sacred dichotomy in how they view what they do. The dualistic worldview stems from Greek philosophy, from which the world inherited much of its worldview.
For those who hold a Christian worldview, the process of integration of faith and work must involve the deliberate and conscious effort to allow our faith to permeate and transform the way we think, the way we see the world, how we interpret reality and how we conduct our lives. It must be a Kingdom perspective to understanding God’s world, and His order and standard for things and for our lives. In short, our thinking, our attitudes, and our behaviourial patterns must be informed and transformed by biblical Christianity which is radical in its demands.
Integration should enable us to relate our faith to life; building connections between everything we do in the home, workplace, community and nation. We cannot compartmentalise life by putting, for example, the way we behave at work in one box, and the way we carry out ‘spiritual’ disciplines, such as prayer, fasting, Bible studies, life in church, etc., in another box. To do this is to fall into the trap of dualism, where we deny the lordship of Christ over every area of life. Dualism is alien to the unity of God’s truth. It is a false dichotomy to try to compartmentalise faith and work. Faith should not be separate and private. Our faith has everything to do with how we live and carry out day-to-day activities. Every aspect of life must come under the sovereign rule of God. We must live ‘coram Deo’ [live daily in the presence of God or before the face of God].
How do we see our vocation? The word ‘vocation’ from its Latin origin refers to the call of God.
However, believers often equate answering the call of God with being a ‘full time’ pastor, missionary, evangelist or church worker. There is an unspoken hierarchy of calling. Clerical vocations like pastors and evangelists represent the highest calling and are highly valued because they are ‘spiritual’ vocations. Next would be those working in Christian or charitable organisations or those involved in the ministry of ‘helps’ or service like educationists, doctors, medical and social work professionals. At the lowest level would be those in ‘secular’ vocations like businessmen, executives, salespeople and factory workers. Though lowly ranked, they can, however, find redemption in what they do when they render financial support to the church or missionary organisation. Some thus see their calling in holding a ‘secular job’ as providing financial support to the church. Their so-called secular employment gains legitimacy when they give money to the church. As the Lausanne Committee paper on Marketplace Ministry commented: “Clericalisation produced the ‘taming of the pew.’ Lay people were to pay, pray, and obey.”
Believers desiring to serve God, therefore feel impelled to move up the hierarchy. And this often means leaving their ‘secular’ jobs to take up full-time church or missionary work. In the New Testament church, all believers are empowered to be prophets, priests, and kings and this, therefore, is an antithesis to the clergy-laity dichotomy. No sooner were the people of God liberated at Pentecost than the early church fathers disempowered them through a reversion to Old Testament, and the pagan sacred and secular models of clerical leadership. Exacerbating this erroneous concept is the monastic teachings of the early church which encouraged believers to withdraw from a tainted and contaminated world.
The Biblical model is that of a body of Christ with multiple parts and not a hierarchical ladder or pyramid with the clergy at its apex. God has given believers various giftings to fulfill His calling for us to be His co-creators in the work of bringing His creation to fulfilment. He expects us to be involved in all kinds of creative work to fulfill His plans for His kingdom.
Everyone has a calling and a role in God’s grand design and therefore, no one’s work is more important than another’s.
Genesis 1:28 commands us to ‘rule’ the world and subdue it – God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” And in Genesis 2:15, we are told to till the garden – “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
God’s directive to Adam and Eve is commonly called the ‘cultural mandate.’ This is a call, according to theologian Gordon Spykman, for man to “image God’s work for the world by taking up our work in the world”. Well known author, Tim Keller adds: “It is a call to develop a culture and build a civilisation that honours God. Gardening (the original human vocation) is a paradigm for cultural development. A gardener neither leaves the ground as it is, nor does he destroy it. Instead, he rearranges it to produce food and plants for human life. He cultivates it. The words ‘culture’ and ‘cultivate’ come from the same root (colere to culturare). Every vocation is in some way, a response to, and an extension of the original Edenic act of cultivation.”
The vocation, business or work that God has called you to is your high calling to help build a culture that honours God and reflects His Kingdom. This is the marketplace paradigm.
We are to bring glory and honour to Him through the works of our hands. Work and worship in the Hebrew language share the same root word, ‘avodah’. Work, therefore, is an expression of our worship when we do it as unto the Lord. At FGB Gatekeepers Singapore,
Gatekeepers are regularly reminded of the marketplace disciples’ mantra: “Our work is our worship, our career is our calling, our posting is our parish, and our position is our pulpit.”
Work is not, as some mistakenly assume, a curse, or the result of the Fall. Work was part of Adam’s and Eve’s activities in Eden before they sinned. They were to “work” the Garden “and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). It is an expression of the creativity inherent in human nature made in the “image of God”. After all, God is continually working, as Jesus pointed out: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working” (John 5:17). Only work that is drudgery is a consequence of the Fall. However, in Christ, we can experience a substantial redemption from drudgery to meaningful, enjoyable work and achievement. Whatever your job, it is an expression of worship when you do it unto the Lord.’
For the Christian, vocation is not merely a job to earn money; it is that but much more, his vocation is his calling, a sacred mission from God to contribute to the world. He sees his vocation beyond making a living to making a difference. He is a missionary in the marketplace.
He needs to understand that God has given him special gifts to make a unique contribution to humanity’s task of reversing the effects of the Fall and extending the Lordship of Christ in the world. A Christian entrepreneur must see his creative enterprise as a mission in itself. The products and services he provides must be seen in the context of enriching the well being and lives of people in his community. A worker must see his service as part of God’s calling for him to serve the common good. Failure to recognise this would result in what author and social critic,
Os Guinness remarked: “God has His people where He wants them. The problem is that they are not being His people where they are.”
The primary way the church participates in the ‘missio Dei’ (Mission of God) is through the day to day involvement of its members in the life of the Arts, Entertainment and Sports; Business and Finance; Church; Distribution, Media and Communications; Education; Family and Community; Government and Law. When Christians work in the world, they will either assimilate its culture or they will become agents of change. Underlying every culture are values. If God’s Kingdom is not at the centre of the culture, then the world’s values will predominate. When business people recognise that business is mission, they will bring a Kingdom perspective to their enterprise.
Business corporations which adopt Kingdom culture see themselves as responsible stewards of God’s resources and seek to align their interests beyond that of just shareholders only but also, with that of stakeholders such as employees, the environment, community and nation.
(See case studies below)
Very often believers think of Apostle Paul’s ‘tent making’ just as a means to provide for his missionary or evangelistic activities. A closer examination will reveal that Paul viewed his trade or vocation as integral to his identity and calling. Tent making was central to his mission. Paul was a missionary but his trade was not mutually exclusive or compartmentalised from his mission. The two roles intertwined, and he was a tentmaker with the intention of the Great Commission. Just as Paul did not wander into the marketplace, he did not simply engaged in tent making in desperation to pay for his needs. Using his trade was intentional, not expedient. Paul purposely entered the marketplace and used his trade to reach those in it. Tent making provided him an opportunity to preach the Gospel in the marketplace. In Acts 18:3, we read that Paul went to see Aquila and Priscilla who were of the same trade and to stay and work with them. And in Acts 17:17, we are told that he “reasoned …in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.” Many of the people he met in the marketplace would invariably be his customers and suppliers.
Marketplace Ministry Mentor, Paul Stevens, cites banking executive Sandra Herron’s helpful description of the threefold ministry of prophet, priest and king, at work in her industry: “The prophet helping organisations discover what God intends for them to become, the priest caring for people and serving as a model, and the king acting as a faithful steward of people and resources.”
When we recognise our vocation as God’s calling for our lives, we will be motivated to excel in our work. 1 Corinthians 15:58 remind us to be “always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.” Also Colossians 3:23 remind us that: “Whatever work you do, do it with all your heart. Do it for the Lord and not for men.”
When believers work with excellence and distinction, they not only glorify God but bring cultural transformation in the workplace and the community. Culture transformation is not about exerting control. It happens when believers let the gospel change how they do their work, and that means they work for others rather than for themselves.
The exercise of ‘rulership’ as expressed in the cultural mandate is about servanthood and that can only happen through the power of the Holy Spirit who enables God’s people to overcome their humanness as selfish beings and be others-centred.
As Tim Keller says, “The most powerful way to show people the truth of Christianity is to serve the common good.” We are also reminded in Jeremiah 29:7 to “seek the welfare of the city.”
A 2013 Gallup Poll survey ranked Singapore amongst the few countries to have one of the world’s highest proportions of employees described as “not engaged” – meaning they lack motivation and are less likely to invest effort in organisational goals. 76 percent of Singaporean employees surveyed are in this category. Another 15 percent are classed as “actively disengaged”, that is, they are unproductive and potentially hostile to their organisations; these are the ones who would, for instance, spread negativity to co-workers. With 91 percent of Singaporean workers either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged”, it leaves the remaining 9 percent classified as “engaged” at work, that is, being emotionally invested in and focused on creating value for their organisations every day. In other words, if we see an organisation as a boat, roughly one out of ten workers in Singapore is actively rowing the boat to its desired destination, seven or so are indifferent, rowing when they feel like it and two are actually trying to sink the boat. If true, this does not auger well for Singapore workers, many of whom are believers. It reflects a lack purpose in life and in the work they are doing. They do not understand their calling.
As Christians, we are called to live lives that reflect the values of God’s Kingdom in our personal lives, family life, in the workplace, in our relationships, and in all other spheres of life.
Matthew 5:14-16 reminds us:
You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
However, we cannot be light in a dark world in our own strength or in our own power. It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we can be salt and light.
Doing My Father’s Business
Bringing the Kingdom into the Marketplace
Chinese entrepreneur, Dr Nie Shengzhe showed how he expressed the Kingdom culture through his radical management philosophy in his highly successful business, Tecsun Homes (Suzhou) Co Ltd in China. He became Christian while studying in the US. On his return to China, he wanted to preach the Gospel to the Chinese but encountered problems from the authorities preventing him from doing hum from doing so. He decided to build a business to demonstrate what Christianity is like.
In 1992, he founded Tecsun which is involved in research and development, design and manufacturing of American-style wood and steel homes. Determined to establish a Kingdom culture in his company, he enshrined the company’s values and policies in the Tecsun Employee Code of Conduct which he wrote himself. The employee handbook is now hailed as the ‘Management Bible for the Chinese enterprises”. Now in its third edition, it has been reprinted 30 times with more than 500, 000 copies sold. It has also become a popular business book even among non-Christian business leaders.
Tecsun which now employs over 1,200 workers, is attracting visits by many business leaders who are curious about its success and management philosophy. The company has become a case study in business schools.
Tecsun is also believed to be the first enterprise in China to have a chapel building within its location. Its policies are built around its core values of ‘honesty, diligence, care and no shortcut.’ The company aims to provide the best product to its customers and therefore, takes its product quality very seriously, even promising rectification within 24 hours if a problem arises.
Employees’ welfare is paramount. Employees must imbibe the culture of taking pride in their work. Family friendly policies include the requirement for every employee to entertain up to 10 family members a year with an allowance provided by the company. The company also subsidies their children’s education needs. With its strong emphasis on honesty and loyalty, employees are not required to seek management approval for reimbursements and expense claims. They are also not required to clock in or clock out as they are expected to observe the company’s working culture faithfully. It’s emphasis on employee welfare extends even to a rule on sickness whereby workers who fall sick must not turn up for work to avoid jeopardising their own health. To deter non-compliance, the company imposes fines for infringements. Its punishment system includes fining workers for turning up for work when they are sick. Unheard of in China, Dr Nie disclosed that the company paid the entire medical bills amounting to RMB 6 million for one of its worker who suffered 95 percent burns and its continuing to pay his salary to his mother who is caring for him. Tecsun has a pension plan to take care of every employee till they die. The company also has a clear stand against corruption and bribery, and forbids gambling.
In an interview with a business magazine, Dr Nie who has been dubbed ‘the chairman who washes toilets’, commented the Tecsun is a management experimental field for transforming Chinese culture. “Our Chinese culture grants social status to people who gives order but do no physical work believing that ‘those who work with their brains, rule and those who work with their strength are ruled.’ If we fail to change this mindset, China’s manufacturing will have no future. People should be equal despite their jobs or professions.” Tescun is also actively engaged in education and educational causes. “The soul of management lies in education,” Dr Nie was quoted as saying.
Gatekeeper Singapore’s James Chia who is Group President of Pico Art International (Pte) Ltd, gave the example that in his company all the staff are fully cognisant of his company’s stand against corruption and bribery. He testified that his company was in negotiation of a contract in a developing country but it came with a requirement to pay bribes to the customers. They decided to walk away from the deal. Some months later, they were offered another contract from another customer, but this time without strings attached. Not only that, it was a better and bigger contract than the one they decided against. He believes this is a blessing from the Lord for taking a stand for righteousness.
Another FGB Gatekeeper, Philip Ng, CEO of Far East Organisation, aligned his company’s value statements to that of God’s Kingdom and initiated family-friendly human resource policies. Staff are given a day’s leave on their birthdays as well as restaurant vouchers for them to celebrate their birthdays with their families. In addition, staff medical benefits have been equalised irrespective of their rank or position to reflect the company’s value statement that every life is precious. Corporations which adopt Kingdom culture see themselves as responsible stewards of God’s resources and seek to align their interests with that of stakeholders such as employees, the environment, community and nation, beyond that of just the shareholders’ interest.
A sterling example of how a junior employee can be ‘light and salt’ in the workplace is the testimony of Young Gatekeeper, Zechariah Neo, who works in one of the largest Singapore investment houses. He testified that he was given a prophetic word: “A charge and promise is given to Joshua the high priest – If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.” (Zechariah 3:7)
Almost immediately after the prophetic word was given to me, the CEO of my company, at a strategic retreat for senior management in Bali, highlighted me amongst a select band as ‘Company Heroes’ who have exhibited the culture that employees should embody going forward. I was the only junior staff in that select group, everyone else was senior management, with 5 or more years in the company! Praise God! Indeed in a small way, I have been used by Him to “model” and “change” the culture within my company for the better – bringing Kingdom values into the marketplace as a Kingdom Ambassador.” Zechariah said.
In Malaysia, Dato’ George Ting, executive chairman of Dommal Food Service Sdn Bhd which is the master franchises of Domino Pizza in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, is focused on integrating Kingdom values into business. He has transformed a loss making enterprise when he took over the business to a highly successful operation with a 112 outlets in Malaysia and 15 in Singapore. Since taking over the loss making business and transforming it into a successful enterprise, Ting’s concern for strong family bonds is embodied in his human resource policies. He changed the company’s six-days working week to five days, at tremendous cost to the company given the sizable workforce of a few thousand employees. He also disdains executives working prolonged hours and late nights, and holding seminars and events over the weekend which he believes to be rightful family time. To underscore his commitment to honour his creditors, Ting, on taking over the business, brought down the company’s owing to creditors from as long as a year or more, to a much shorter period. Corporations which adopt Kingdom culture see themselves as responsible stewards of God’s resources and seek to align their interests with that of stakeholders such as employees, the environment, community and nation, beyond that of just the shareholders’ interest.