Anyone who has spent much time in the church is likely aware of its hierarchy of occupations. At the peak of the pyramid are full-time clergy and missionaries, followed closely by other paid workers in Christian ministry. Their jobs are seen as genuine callings, often validated by special ceremonies and rituals. Just below them in rank are the so-called helping professions—social workers, nurses, and the like—whose work aligns neatly with the church's ministry priorities. Moving further down the pyramid we find the vast majority of Christians—salespeople, postal workers, accountants, business owners, electricians, corporate executives, lawyers, and countless others who compose most of the body of Christ. Seldom are their jobs described as callings or celebrated by the church. [While researching this book,] we interviewed a high school teacher who astutely summed up the harm done by a cast system that devalues much good and necessary work:
I don't think many people understand how a sense of vocation applies to their work, especially if they are not in a ministerial or helping profession. It's clear to me, since I'm a teacher, but how do accountants know their work can be pleasing to or glorify God? How do attorneys hear the Holy Spirit in contentious cases? How can retail managers exhibit the love of Christ?
I was astonished recently to hear this hierarchy colorfully depicted in a sermon by a well-loved, retired minister. He declared that the church is like a circus that requires all kinds of workers—some to pitch the tent, some to take tickets, and even some to clean up after the elephants. At first he seemed to be working toward a rather strained metaphor for Romans 12:45 ("Just as each of us ...1
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