[real-time connections] chapter 3: your job is your ministry

Written by Sam Van Eman

Sam Van Eman was a public school teacher before joining the Coalition for Christian Outreach in 1998. As a staff specialist with the CCO, he develops wilderness leaders, writes about the intersection of faith and work, and speaks on pop culture advertising as both a critic and fan. In 2005, he wrote "On Earth as It is in Advertising? Moving From Commercial Hype to Gospel Hope." Find Sam and some of his writing at High Calling Blogs or at his own blog, New Breed of Advertisers. Sam lives with his wife and two daughters in central Pennsylvania.

March 3, 2010

Stouffer’s – you know, the frozen meal makers – recently started the Let’s Fix Dinner campaign. The website asks compelling questions (e.g. “Can you give your daughter a better body image by setting the table?”), offers statistic-based answers (“Studies show that teen girls who have family dinners 5 times a week are 33% less likely to develop eating disorders.”) and invites you to take a test to see how well you do as a family regarding eating together.

Stouffer’s motives? As I see them, the Let’s Fix Dinner campaign is aimed 1) to increase profits for the company and 2) to strengthen families.

Sounds pretty good for business goals. I don’t know if spiritual convictions played a role in creating this campaign, or if Christians are behind the effort, but I do see an important connection between occupation and calling, and here’s why:

Stouffer’s makes food. That occupation gives them a distinct entry point (read “opportunity to live out a calling”) for strengthening families.

In Chapter 2 of Real-Time Connections, Bob Roberts Jr. used these terms when he wrote, “God may use an occupation as the vehicle that carries us into our calling” (54). It really isn’t rocket science (nor should it be manipulative, as Stouffer’s could easily use the family thing as a gimmick to make money). But it takes observation and willingness to make the necessary connection.

Observation

Roberts tells an inspiring story about Melinda Needs in Chapter 3. The Needs’ son, Jacob, was born with autism in the 80s when very little information was available about it. Melinda used her speech therapy background and determination to help diagnose and then care for their son. The years were difficult financially and emotionally, as you might imagine, but what may have started as something she simply had to do as a mother eventually became not only a calling to her family but to many others as well.

Reflecting on her service to parents of autistic children in the U.S. and Vietnam, she said, “I have so much to give that I didn’t know I had. I always wanted to help people, but I didn’t know I could make that big a difference” (64).

Melinda made an observation, perhaps (and I’m giving them the benefit of my cynic-tainted doubt) the same kind of observation Stouffer’s made: Your job is your ministry.

Willingness

Seeing is one thing. Doing is quite another. Stouffer’s gathered research and built the interactive website for families. Melinda went to bat for a local single mother in the school district and works with FEAT (Families for Effective Autism Treatment) in Texas. Neither simply made an observation and then sat on it. They responded.

Roberts begins Chapter 3 with the Needs story and then transitions into how to begin turning your occupation into ministry. If you’ve read books like The Call by Os Guinness or Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, you won’t find much new material here, but Roberts steadily advocates turning your occupation into ministry as opposed to leaving your occupation to do ministry.

“One of my biggest jobs,” he writes, “is to keep these people from making this change. I help them to see that they are in the ministry already, and usually they are serving much more effectively then they could as a seminary-educated, church-supported pastor.”

Let’s just say that a Christian inspired Stouffer’s to create their family campaign. How unfortunate would it have been had he or she gotten fed up with “just selling food” and left to start a family ministry at a local church?

I’m with Roberts on this. Stay where you are. Try to make observations that connect occupation and calling. Then be willing to respond in a way that Christ can say, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matthew 25:21).

.

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11 Comments

  1. laraj

    Great post, Sam. I think this hits on a real time problem in our churches. Too much observation, not enough action? I heard a preacher on tv one time ask, why are so many of you leaving your jobs and going to seminary? don't you know your work is your ministry?

    there's that old saying, Grow where you are planted. Sometimes the way to make a ministry out of our current life situations can be challenging. Sometimes we think in bigger terms. But life is a series of small events, isn't it? If we all work harder to make a difference (turn our world upside down, as Christina said in the ch. 1 post) then change will come. Hopefully.

    Now I'm thinking about Stouffer's vegetable lasagna. Thanks, Sam.

    Reply
  2. Sam Van Eman

    Smaller events, yes, I remember having conversations about this at HighCallingBlogs.com a while back. Don't tackle the entire problem, just tackle a little and trust God to bear fruit, or something to that effect.

    By the way, I finished the leftovers at lunch today!

    Reply
  3. renewaltalent

    This is great! Thinking about possibly a Christian influencing that campaign with Stouffer's reminds me of Matt 6:1-4 “…..so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

    Can a ministry or church worker do good things in secret? Of course. Not that we have to keep our faith a secret, but imagine all the Christians out there already answering this call in their work places that we don't know about?

    I hope they're out there. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Sam Van Eman

    I'm sure they're out there, Christina, perhaps behind most of the good we see in the work world from big corporate decisions to little inter-office memo decisions.

    It would be fun to create a heat map of sorts to show this happening by country, state, town, office…

    Reply
  5. renewaltalent

    Hmmm, sounds like an idea for a cool little website!

    Anonymous reports of cool ways the world is being turned upside down!

    Reply
  6. Billy Coffey

    “I have so much to give that I didn’t know I had.” That quote haunted me. It's easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking I could be of better use to God if He'd only move me somewhere else. I'm with Roberts, too.

    Reply
  7. Sam Van Eman

    Billy, it's interesting to me that I can't make this statement until I actually do more than I did in the past. It shows a new (and surprising) vantage point.

    Reply
  8. @bibledude

    Laura, you make me think of one of my favorite movies… Facing the Giants. I love the part when the coach is talking to Brock (the defensive leader) about Nehemiah and building a wall. The idea is just what you are saying here. Each person covers their spot, and together we build the wall.

    I agree that it can become overwhelming if each of us tries to do it all, but that's not what we are called to do. I can only imagine what each of us would feel when we (collectively) 'build the wall' and realize what we've just accomplished (together).

    Reply
  9. @bibledude

    I like the way you guys are thinking here! This would be a really cool idea!

    Reply
  10. @bibledude

    Great thoughts Billy! I think that many of us are in the same boat regarding that statement. That is a powerful concept… and one that requires (I think) a great deal of honest self-examination.

    I defintely want to be used by God, and this is the kind of reflection that helps me to keep things in their proper perspective.

    Reply
  11. goodwordediting

    We could create a heat map of “good business” using geo tags and twitter or facebook or social media in general…

    Reply

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[real-time connections] chapter 3: your job is your ministry

by Sam Van Eman time to read: 3 min
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