August 13, 2019 • Life for Leaders
When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the same basic story told with different details. It goes something like this: “I was a Christian, working in secular employment. But I really wanted to be a more faithful follower of Jesus, so I left my job and became a pastor (or a missionary, or an employee of some Christian organization). Now I’m really following Jesus and it’s awesome.” When we hear this story, we applaud. We pray. Maybe we even chip in to support this person in his or her ministry.
It’s a wonderful thing when someone truly hears God’s call to leave “secular” employment and get more directly involved in some kind of explicitly Christian organization. I have the greatest respect for those who follow Jesus on a disruptive and personally costly path. There is no question in my mind that sometimes God calls people away from one line of work (fishing for fish, for example) and into another line of work (fishing for people). Those who say “Yes” to Jesus are to be affirmed and supported.
But, I am concerned about the underlying message that is often communicated by those who leave their jobs to “follow Jesus.” They can imply that their former life in “secular” work was somehow less Christian than their new life in “ministry.” They might even suggest that radical discipleship of Jesus would mean a similar thing for all Christians, that working in an “ordinary job” is somehow less honorable, holy, and faithful than working “for Jesus.” Many Christians, when they hear stories of those who give up well-paying jobs to become missionaries or pastors, feel as if they are second class Christians. They are following Jesus, sort of. They are Christians, but not “all out for Jesus.”
Of course, one might say that the gospel stories of the call of the disciples show that, in fact, real discipleship requires leaving our jobs. After all, Simon and Andrew stopped being fishermen in order to follow Jesus and fish for people (1:16-18). James and John did one better, actually leaving their father in the boat to take off after Jesus (1:19-20). Don’t these stories teach us that radical Christians should leave their jobs so as to be true disciples of Jesus?
You can probably guess how I would answer this question, but I’m not going to offer my answer until tomorrow. For now, I’d like you to reflect on this question and on your own life. Should you quit your job in order to follow Jesus?
Something to Think About:
Do you think every Christian should quit his or her job in order to follow Jesus? Why or why not?
Have you ever felt like a second class Christian because you’re not in “full-time ministry”?
Have you ever given up something (a job, an opportunity, financial gain, etc.) because you were following Jesus?
Gracious God, thank you for the exemplary faith and obedience of Simon and Andrew, James and John. Help us to understand how we might imitate their example. Show us how to think about our jobs in relationship to our discipleship. Give us boldness, Lord, to follow you wherever you lead, even and especially when this requires sacrifice and courage. May all that we do honor you, every day. Amen.
Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online: Is Church Work a Higher Calling?.
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.