The Sacred-Secular Divide In Our Thinking

Many Christians subscribe to a spiritual hierarchy that elevates those in full-time ministry to the top and relegates laypeople in secular vocations to the bottom. A sacred-secular divide is deeply entrenched in our thinking.  Since “secular” work competes with our time for “real” ministry, and money (confused with the love of money) is a necessary evil, demanding for-profit businesses should be avoided if the purpose for going overseas is to do ministry. 

The Sacred-Secular Divide On the Field

When this unbiblical worldview is taught on the mission field, zealous and gifted converts are encouraged to give up their jobs or businesses to go into full-time Christian work, even if they were in positions of influence for the gospel.  In Central Asia, some believers would rather “live by faith” than work for their living because it is “more spiritual”.  As a result, underemployment and poverty weaken the churches, making them dependent on outside support. 

Meantime, Muslims in the community conclude that people convert to Christianity or become pastors because they are paid by foreigners to do so. Such misgivings do great harm to the cause of the gospel. Likewise, when non-believers perceive that missionaries don’t do “real” work, they question their source of income. In hostile regions, missionaries could be accused of being secret agents, spies funded by western governments.    

Spinning Wool To Start A Church

After college, a young Christian returned to his hometown in a Muslim country, zealous to witness to his friends and neighbors. But they ignored him.  However, when he purchased a spinning machine and started a small business, buying wool from the village shepherds to produce yarn for sale, he earned everyone’s respect. In time, people would come and hear what he had to say. Before long, a church was born. The story illustrates how BAM gives believers credibility, a voice and a witness. The misconstrued sacred-secular divide and spiritual hierarchy must be debunked for the health of the Church and the advance of God’s Kingdom.

To Debunk the Sacred-Secular Divide

The Bible teaches that work was man’s first mandate from God before the fall, when the ground (not work) was cursed.  The Reformers teach that caring for God’s creation and managing the earth’s resources for the common good offer us the opportunity to create a culture that honors God and serves our neighbors. 

While most “secular” work that deals with products and technology does not have intrinsic eternal values (gadgets and software get outdated quickly), they do have significant temporal values (cell phones connect family and friends).       

Furthermore, we need to see that all work comes with eternal instrumental value because the workplace is where we have the most opportunities to reach non-believers, and workplace relationships is often the context for shaping Christian character.

It is not what work we do, but how and why we do our work, and the impact of our work that determine whether there could be eternal value.