Thursday, June 5, 2014

Not ‘Just a Layman’

We all, to one extent or another, think about status. In school we see smarter, more studious classmates earning the lion’s share of recognition and rewards. High-performing athletes receive applause for their accomplishments. In the workplace, pay raises, bonuses and promotions are based at least in part on how we rank among our peers in the quality and quantity of our work.

Parents proudly display bumper stickers on vehicles to proclaim their children are honor students at such-and-such school. They watch and listen as their offspring perform at various functions – dance or instrumental recitals, athletic competitions, even spelling bees – and take note of their children’s standing compared to those of their friends.

We rate ourselves according to the cars we drive, houses we own, portfolios we accumulate, vacations we take, even places where we eat. We can equate much of what we do in terms of status – perceptions of who we are.

Where did we ever get the idea that legitimate
spiritual service must be confined to a
sanctuary or religious facility?
Life in the spiritual realm, I’ve noticed, can be very similar. I attended a Christian institution’s send-off for young people advancing to the next level in their academic climb. The speaker gave the customary challenge, encouraging them to lofty aspirations, suggesting roles such as pastors, missionaries, even business people – adding the latter can contribute financial resources to support various ministries.

I’m sure the speaker meant well, but it seemed implied that pastors and missionaries – those engaged in vocational ministry roles – rank as the elite in the institutional church realm. They are holders of the greatest status. Everyone else, as a business friend described himself to me years ago, is “just a layman.”

That perception lacks biblical support, however. Years ago we attended a church where at the close of the worship service, people regularly walked forward to declare their commitment to “full-time Christian service.” This always confused me, since there is no such thing as a part-time follower of Jesus Christ (either you are or you aren’t), and as His followers we’re each called to serve God and other people. Sure sounds like full-time Christian service to me.

Yes, I know these fine people meant they were determined to give their lives to pursuits such as preaching, working full-time with specific segments of the congregation, or expressing their willingness to venture to a foreign land, live in an alien culture and learn to speak an unfamiliar language, all in the name of telling other people about Jesus.

There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. What troubles me is the perception that if you’ve not done any of those, you’re somehow a second-class citizen in God’s kingdom.

I remember having lunch with a business executive who told me, “I’d do anything to go full-time for God.” Looking him in the eyes, I asked, “Why do you think you haven’t already done that?”

A good friend works with business owners and top executives, meeting with them monthly to encourage them to live their lives and conduct their businesses in a manner that honors God and upholds the truths, values and principles of the Scriptures. To remind them that as business people, they have a high calling from God to serve their customers, employees and suppliers in His name, my friend gives each leader a little sign they can affix to the inside of their office doors. Walking out they can read, “You are now entering the mission field.”

Somehow we’ve been seduced by the notion that if you’re really serious about God, you need to attend a seminary, get a degree, and then have people refer to you “the reverend” or “pastor” or “sister.” I once thought that myself, and appreciate people that qualify for such titles, but the Bible doesn’t make this distinction. For His closest followers, Jesus chose lowly fishermen, tradesmen, even a despised tax collector. The author of one gospel, Luke, was a physician, not a clergyman. None of them attended Jerusalem Theological Seminary, nor did any hold diplomas from Bethlehem Bible College.

Jesus told His followers, “...let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). That exhortation meant any good works, not only those performed in a religious context.

Later, the apostle Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men…. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:23-24). Again, he didn’t offer these remarks at a graduation of seminarians or commissioning ceremony for foreign missionaries; he was writing to every follower of Jesus in the ancient city of Colossae.

So next time you’re tempted to spiritually demean your vocational role, whether as a teacher, engineer, grocery clerk, corporate executive, burger flipper or business manager, and the thought, “I’m just a layman,” crosses your mind, remember: You – and every worker that professes the name of Jesus Christ – are in full-time Christian service!

No comments: