When I pastored in The Netherlands, one of my first objectives was to gather the church’s formal leadership and wrestle with the future direction of the church. Many of the congregants were corporate and governmental leaders, so I invited one of them to come and advise us. At the time, this man was with Fluor Daniel, overseeing the largest construction project in the world.
It was on the trip back from the retreat that he said something I will never forget—“I never knew I could use my leadership skills to advance the kingdom of God. And now I need to see my present work in a whole new way.” A light went on—both for him and for me. Somehow in the church’s messaging, he had not heard that all of our work is infused with a holy calling. Be it marketing shoes or repairing pipes, engineering oil refineries or preaching sermons, each endeavor has the potential to be a divine vocation, a gift from God. Scripture affirms that we all wake up to fulfill a godly purpose.
Thursday, on the flight to Los Angeles, I sat next to an Alaska Airlines safety engineer. After introducing ourselves, he eventually asked about the conference I was attending. I told him that a core of us are meeting to think through how men like himself can find divine purpose and dignity in the workplace, and live a flourishing life. I could tell he had never thought of this—ever thought of life this way. But this is the point of the Karam Forum, a gathering of approximately 150 leaders from around the world who annually come to affirm the dignity of work, the stewardship of creation, and the need to live thriving lives. For two days we talk about everything from economics to law, discipleship to immigration, to how to become truly human as God intends.
Returning home now, I realize more than ever how necessary it is that believers live with kingdom intentionality in the workplace—no, in every place. We must wake up from our passivity, renounce unintentional and mindless living, speak into culture and expose the rampant lies. More than ever, we are in open, roiling, uncharted waters. Many, both within and without the church have lost their fixed points. 25% of the country say they have no formal religion today. That’s 80 million people! Philosophy at the university has degenerated into relativism and nihilism; literary study has devolved into political correctness; and faith is viewed more and more as misguided myth. (check out Robert Barron’s disturbing new article, “Evangelizing the Nones”-First Things, Jan 2018).
Writing in the same journal, Mary Eberstadt in her “The Zealous Faith of Secularism” notes that the United States has entered a time of paganization, even re-paganization, where the gravitational pull of traditional faith seems to be diminishing, and anti-religious elements are accumulating mass. On the rise is an increasingly systematic, zealous, secularist faith that views Christianity as “a competitor to be vanquished, rather than as an alternative set of beliefs to be tolerated in an open society.” Nothing has done more to shape this post-Christian world than the sexual revolution. And now we are seeing its bitter fruit (e.g. #MeToo).
A conference like this reminds me that the church has to get serious about restoring its divine role in society. We have such a great opportunity to confront the lies and declare the truth. But it will require, as Barron puts it, “the recovery of a radical form of the Christian life.” We will need to regain our moral and spiritual credibility, Faith will need to be radically internalized. Christ followers will have to live out missional lives, lives that call for justice, that model compassion, share the gospel, and flourish in their calling.
Maybe we can then be the church again, helping a lost world find its bearings, turn from the sexual disorientations that plague our age, and find a purpose for which to live. But it will begin with how each one of us wakes up and how we approach the work God has set before us. Will we live each day as a divine calling, praying “Thy kingdom come” as one of our most subversive acts? Will we rise above our personal agendas with a faith more zealous than the one confronting us?