Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Second Class Christianity

Somewhere along the line Christians in the West picked up the notion that serious believers in Jesus, if they truly listen to His call, become either a pastor, a missionary or a full time ministry worker in some para-church organization.  Any other job ends up being less than the higher calling of preaching or serving others.  Ministry related professions are considered sacrificial while other vocations are perceived  to be about personal gain.

Although we don't say it out loud, this notion is always in the back of our minds.  And the way our churches operate affirms it in many different ways.  For example, pastors receive special prayer because they are "in charge of the flock".  Missionaries also need extra prayers because "they are on the front line".  Ministry staff deserve applause because they often work long hours that are "above and beyond their duty".

While pastors, missionaries and ministry staff all deserve our prayers, support and applause, the indirect affect of putting them on pedestals is the suggestion that lay Christians are mere spectators surrounding these champions.  Lay Christians become dependent on paid pastors to interpret the Bible for them, rather than learning to understand Scripture and integrate God's teaching into their particular situations.  This dependency is both dangerous and unscriptural.

In addition to the dependency problem, there's the motivation problem.  By elevating a few ministry related professions, we tend to view all other vocations as secondary in God's eyes, depleting the motivation to pursue excellence in areas that are also part of God's domain.  Doctors heal.  Lawyers uphold justice.  Business owners provide employment, goods and services.  Artists shape and influence culture.  Scientists, philosophers, anthropologists all are seekers of truth.  Christians working in regular jobs can certainly devote themselves sacrificially; it doesn't have to be about personal gain for them either.   Everyone can serve Christ in their vocation.

The term "Sunday Christians" is often used to label people who live religious lives only when they are at church.  But if there is little encouragement to understand Scripture in ordinary contexts and if we fail to see the kingdom significance of "regular professions", then how are believers supposed to avoid being "Sunday Christians"?

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