Serving God in the “Secular” Workplace

by Lucas Bostdorff

There is a prevalent and erroneous idea in the Church today that “work” can largely be separated into sacred and secular categories. According to this view, the sacred category includes vocational ministry and employment at overtly Christian organizations doing overtly Christian work, while the secular category includes the various other types of jobs in the marketplace that are not directly involved with church ministry. Unfortunately, this type of thinking has grown prominent and has led to the tendency to view those in full-time vocational ministry as the only ones truly serving God, while those in other professions are not. Of course, that view is not rooted in the Bible – a truly biblical view of work is much more inclusive and comprehensive.

What the Bible Says About Work

The Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul, clearly addresses the erroneous sacred/secular divide with the following two complimentary statements in 1 Corinthians:

1) “…Let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which the Lord has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.” (7:14).

2) “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (10:31).

If believers are called to lead the life that the Lord has assigned to them (including what they do for work) and bring God glory in everything they do (including what they do for work), then it is clear that believers are called to serve and glorify the Lord in their job, even if they do not work in vocational ministry. In fact, all believers are called to serve the Lord and others with their whole lives – not just pastors! Martin Luther explained it well when he wrote, “It is pure fiction that Pope, priests, and monks are called the ‘spiritual estate’ while princes, artisans, and farmers are called the ‘temporal estate’. This is indeed a piece of deceit and hypocrisy…All Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them except that of office.”1 However, once it has been established that we are called to serve the Lord in all types of work, the question remains: How does one serve the Lord at their job?

How to Serve God at Your Job

Many limit the idea of serving the Lord at their jobs to explicitly spiritual activities such as workplace evangelism or tithing one’s wages. Others focus completely on the ethical dimensions of work, considering the main way a Christian contributes to the workforce in a godly manner is to not lie, steal, or cheat. All of those are important and cannot be forgotten, but serving the Lord at your job begins with a simple yet crucial step: Do your work well. Colossians 3:23 and Ecclesiastes 9:10 both state in unambiguous terms that all work you do should be treated as service unto the Lord and therefore done “heartily” and “with all your might”.

Dorothy Sayers—the famous 20th century author among the first women awarded a degree from Oxford—promoted that same biblical principle when she wrote that, “The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.”2 Despite the commands of Scripture, some may still struggle with the necessity of serving well in their jobs, especially if they don’t think their jobs have value.

All Jobs are Valuable

I want to be emphatic on this point: All jobs have value and creating a hierarchy of value for jobs (e.g., doctors and lawyers being of higher value than housekeepers or homemakers) is an example of worldly thinking and not godly thinking. Consider how all of the roles within the Church are described as parts functioning within a whole body, each one dependent on the others (see Romans 12:3-8 and 1 Corinthians 12:17-20). According to authors Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger, “…this principle can be applied to God’s wider purposes in the world as well…[God] certainly intended there would be police officers, teachers, carpenters, businesspeople, salespeople, inspectors, waiters, legislators, and all of the other ‘parts’ that would function together to keep the larger ‘body’ of human society functioning smoothly.”3

You may feel as if your job is of little value, especially in comparison to other vocations, but all legitimate work contributes to society and is used by the Lord to providentially care for creation. Even though you may not work in vocational ministry, your work is still part of the life that God has assigned to you and comes with real value and opportunities to serve the Lord and others.

Lucas Bostdorff is the Dean of Work and Service and oversees the Practical Christian Ministry program at Calvary Chapel Bible College.

For further reading on this topic, please consider the following resources:

  • Every Waking Hour: An Introduction to Work and Vocation for Christians by Benjamin T. Quinn and Walter R. Strickland II (A short introduction to the topic with an extensive list of additional resources for deeper research.)
  • The Gospel at Work: How the Gospel Gives New Purpose and Meaning to our Jobs by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert (A solid introduction to the topic that leans toward practical issues.)
  • Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf (An excellent introduction to the topic that leans toward theological issues.)

1. Martin Luther, Three Treatises

2. Dorothy Sayers, “Why Work” in Letters to a Diminished Church

3. Gilbert and Traeger, The Gospel at Work