Of work and ‘Christian work’

Below is another attempt to immortalise and, at the same time, paradoxically, carry forward a conversation about the relationship between Christian work (what I here call ‘Word-ministry’) and all other types of work.

Feel free to join the conversation:

My initial question was: from a theological perspective, is Word-ministry (the study, exposition, explanation and application of the Word of God in ecclesial, para-ecclesial, academic settings) a more important type of work that all others (e.g. writing software, banking, plumbing, knitting etc.)?

It was initially highlighted (by Daniel Manastireanu) that the answer would be affirmative only if the Kingdom of God and the Church were identical, but since they are not, all vocations are important. The question however is: Are they equally important? Before answering that question we honed in on the relationship between Kingdom and Church – a difficult and controversial topic.  Daniel pointed out that, “the Church is an outpost of the Kingdom of God. The church is the visible body of Christ in the world, setting an example of what the Kingdom could be for the whole world. The Kingdom is a wider concept. It is basically whereever God’s will is done, wherever God’s justice prevails, wherever there is obedience to God’s vision for life. Sometimes it happens in the church. Sometimes outside of it, sadly.”

But even if we highlight the distinction between the two, isn’t Word-ministry still more important insofar as it points people to the Ultimate Good/Truth/Beauty, which is salvation/union with Christ/reconciliation to/a living relationship with God? Sure, plumbing is good, it’s necessary; writing software is good, it’s necessary. These are all endeavours which contribute to the common good of God’s creatures, but the common good is not the ultimate good – knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection (Phil 3:10). So I ventured to say Word-ministry IS more important than other types of work INSOFAR it is a ministry which points people to the Ultimate Good.

But what do I mean when I say ‘more important’? There is a real danger that importance is equated with the intrinsic value of persons, in which case such inquiries are motivated by sheer vanity. Daniel explains: “I think there is a beautiful balance in the Kingdom. I cannot live out my vocation if others do not live out theirs. If we talk about importance, we talk about value. What would be the point of ascribing more value to one vocation instead of another, other than to, perhaps, stroke our egos of ministers of the Word? We need to be careful that we do not set ministers of the Word as more valuable than other people. If one can make the difference between one’s role or vocation and one’s value, then we can talk.”

Indeed, it is important to clarify that we are talking strictly of functional value  relative to the Ultimate Good – persons coming to know Christ. Saying, tentatively, that Word-ministry is more important than other types of work does not mean that the persons involved in Word-ministry (e.g. ministers/pastors/priests, academics, teachers in any number of settings) are intrinsically more valuable than persons fulfilling other vocations. Not at all. It simply means that the activity of ministering the Word is more important than, say, plumbing, insofar knowing Christ is of more value than the fixing of broken pipes in the grand scheme of things (key words are:’ insofar’ AND ‘in the grand scheme of things’). But broken pipes still need to be fixed. And it’s a good thing to have plumbers that can fix them. Code still needs to be written. And it’s a good thing to have software developers to write it. Histories still need to be put together and it’s a good thing to have historians teach us the ways, wisdom and folly of those who precede us. Different people will ‘hear’ different calls and come to fulfil different ‘callings’ (even those who prefer an alternative vocabulary for speaking about their work). There is a beautiful balance of vocations in the world . For some out there, the call is to minister the life-giving and life-shaping Word of God. It is a sobering, most important calling. But is it the most important?

I guess this question takes me back to where I started. And at this point I’m tempted to ask, self-deconstructively: Should we even be asking this question?  Or, more generously, can this question be asked and discussed in a way that is not motivated by or leads to vanity?

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One thought on “Of work and ‘Christian work’

  1. DanutM says:

    Reblogged this on Persona and commented:
    This is an important conversation.
    As for me, first, I would not equate ‘Christian service’ (I prefer ‘service’ to ‘work’, though in Romanian we usually use ‘work’, which, I think reveals the fact that we often equate ecclesial functions with busyness rather than service). Besides, as an Anglican, I would add ‘sacrament’ to ‘Word’.
    And, second, I simply doubt that ecclesial work – however we describe it, is more important than other kinds of work, simply because I doubt that verbal witness – be it preaching or evangelising, is the best or most effective way of inviting people in the Kingdom.
    There is much more to the story that ‘word’. For instance, in Muslim contexts, ‘dreams’ and ‘visions’ are much more effective than words – classic missionary work, in effecting conversions.

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