Work & mission meld together in today's interconnected world
RICHMOND, Va. (BP) -- An American executive working for a major automobile company in Asia is just hitting his stride: top salary, big results, great industry contacts.
But it's not enough. He wants more than anything to tell the people around him -- many of whom have never heard the Gospel -- about the joy and hope he experiences in knowing Jesus Christ.
What should he do? Quit his job and go into mission work? Maybe. On the other hand, maybe he's ideally positioned to do mission work. Maybe that's why God nudged his company to send him to Asia in the first place.
"I had to bite my lip a few times when I was talking to him," admits Scott Holste, IMB vice president for global strategic mobilization, who encountered the executive during a trip to Asia. "My gut reaction was to say, 'It sounds like God is calling you to be a missionary,' because that is so much a part of our thinking."
Indeed, God still calls people to be missionaries every day. But in a complex, economically interconnected world where thousands of Americans live and work in places missionaries can't access, there are other possibilities. He can use all kinds of folks to accomplish His purposes.
"God may indeed be calling you out of a vocation as an engineer, for example, and calling you into full-time missions," Holste says. "But He may be wanting to build on the fact that you are an engineer -- that you have the skill set, the problem-solving ability and the creativity to bring to the task of expanding the Kingdom of God."
Holste is heading up an effort to encourage and equip "marketplace professionals": business people, teachers, medical workers, artists, students pursuing degrees abroad and others already working overseas or open to the possibility. The marketplace is the world. Countless American Christians already practicing their vocations have the professional skills the world wants -- and the hope the world needs.
More than one-third of the world's nations impose "high or very high" restrictions on religious activity, including mission work, according to the Pew Research Center, which tracks such restrictions in 197 countries. About 75 percent of the world's approximately 7 billion people live in those nations. The trend toward increasing restrictions, even in supposedly democratic countries, appears to be accelerating, Pew reports.
But God, the ultimate Creator, is endlessly creative. Governments, cultures and borders may prevent certain types of traditional mission work, but they cannot stop the spread of the Gospel. Church history has demonstrated that again and again, when merchants, teachers, artists, explorers, even slaves, have taken the Good News with them along the globe's trade routes –- they transform the places and peoples they met along the way.
There are other spiritual principles here. Work is holy, beginning with God's own labor: "The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands" (Psalm 19:1, NASB). Work done unto God glorifies Him. And work and mission need not be separate; they can be an integrated whole. We often forget that in our fragmented, hyper-compartmentalized lives.
Johann Sebastian Bach provides one of the most inspiring examples of integrating work, worship and mission. Bach was a towering creative genius, but he also was a working musician. Many of his hundreds of works were composed for the regular worship services in the German churches he served. Perhaps it felt like a grind at times, even for the great master. But every note he wrote was dedicated to God.
"In a simple way, such consecration is seen in Bach's own hand," Southern Baptist theologian Jason Duesing wrote in a column on Baptist Press. "As he started each composition, he would mark 'J.J.' at the top of each page as an abbreviation for Jesu Juva or 'Help me, Jesus.' Once he completed the work, Bach routinely concluded with the initials 'S.D.G.' representing Soli Deo Gloria or 'To God alone, the glory.'"
When God gives you unique gifts and a particular vocation, they're not intended for your glory, but for His. Could He use those gifts among the nations? Maybe you're already living abroad, like the auto executive in Asia. If you're a student, perhaps you see yourself working for an international company one day.
If you'd like to explore possibilities and network with others seeking to fit their vocation into God's global work, there's a global gathering place for you: Skybridge Community. The online network, which launched Sept. 26, offers a range of tools, resources and ways to connect with likeminded professionals. Check it out at www.skybridgecommunity.com. Among other tools, SkyBridge Community features: "SkyCafes," where you can start a conversation with other marketplace professionals living in your country or region, or with whom you share a vocation or interest; "SkyBlogs," blogs tailored to specific interests from career transition to culture; and "RightNow Media," which includes thousands of videos to help you live your faith in the marketplace where God has placed you.
The world is God's creative workplace. Make it yours.
Erich Bridges is the International Mission Board's global correspondent. To watch a video about Skybridge Community, click here. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).