Living Into Our True Job Titles: A Reframing of the Usual Categories (part 1)

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The most important title you hold in your workplace is not the one given to you by the company or organization for which you work. The most important title—actually, titles—are those bestowed on you by God’s Word.

God has given His people some special names. In the scriptures we are called:

  • Salt
  • Light
  • Servants
  • Prophets
  • Priests
  • Kings

Living into these titles is what brings God glory, others good, and us purpose and joy at work. So what does that look like? In this post we’ll tackle the first three titles and in the next, the latter three.

 

SALT

To act as salt in your occupation means working to preserve that which is good. Furniture-maker Harrison Higgins is a good example. Higgins is carpenter who preserves fine craftsmanship. He uses the same kinds of hand tools that furniture-makers from a hundred years ago employed. He celebrates the beauty of natural woods and his goal is to make furniture that literally will last for 100 years.

Higgins is “salty” because his approach to his craft preserves something valuable from the past. He’s pushing against the contemporary industrial standard of everything being done with cheap and chintzy materials. Moreover, by seeking to make furniture that is truly durable, Higgins resists our culture’s ethic of disposability.

Higgins is a craftsman preserving a way of working. In other fields, we act as salt when we work to preserve customs and traditions that contribute to the good of employees, customers, or vendors. These could range from preserving the annual community service day for employees, to a generous return policy for customers, or a commitment to pay the company’s bills within 21 days of receiving service. Being salty in other circumstances might mean advocating for the retention of certain time-proven products, designs, or processes in the face of pressures for changes to less expensive (and perhaps inferior) ones.

 

LIGHT

Acting as lights in our vocations involves showing the way forward, shining the path on new ways of doing things that are good for human flourishing. The medical research scientists who participate in the Rare Genomics Institute are great examples.

Rare Genomics is a network of talented medical researchers founded by Dr. Jimmy Lin. The association’s goal is to provide hope for families with children who have extremely rare genetic diseases, a population that Lin estimates at 300 million worldwide. Because the illnesses afflicting these kids are so rare, virtually no research is conducted on them. That makes a certain sense: with scarce funding, dollars are invested in researching the diseases affecting the most people, like cancer and heart disease. But this leaves patients with very rare diseases with almost no insight into potential interventions for healing or palliative measures. The volunteer scientists with Rare Genomics Institute commit to coming alongside one family and creating a genome sequence map for the patient. This is the first important step research-wise in gaining information that can help.

Although the scientists’ labor is free, there are still costs involved for experiments and equipment. So Rare Genomics offers an online platform for crowd-funding through which donors can select individual patients, read a little about them and their families, and participate in their specific fund-raising campaign to raise the resources needed for the map.

By engaging in this innovative work, Dr. Lin and his team are shining the light of hope for families living in the oppressive shadow of rare diseases. In our various professions, we can bring hope by offering suggestions of new ways of doing things or designing innovations ourselves.

 

SERVANT

We act as servants in our work when we lay down our lives for our co-workers and empower them. Rich Dean is a partner at a top Washington, DC law firm. As such, he is in a position to take the biggest, best, sexiest cases, the ones likely to garner attention, fame, and acclaim. But instead of doing so, Dean often shares these coveted cases with the younger associates at the firm, in order to help them develop their skills and advance in their careers. This practice is counter-cultural at large, competitive law firms. So it quickly gains the surprised attention of the younger lawyers.  Over the years, Dean reports, it’s prompted these young guns to ask him why he is so different. And that, of course, has provided a wonderfully open door for Dean to talk about his relationship with Jesus.

Rich Dean may have a lot of vocational power, but everyone has some power. That means everyone, to some degree, has an opportunity to share that power for others’ good. It requires intentionality, sacrifice, and humility: perhaps the key components of servanthood.

A basic tenant in the biblical theology of work is that God cares about our work, both how we do it and what it actually is. Scripture clearly enjoins us to do our work for Him, not for mere men (Col. 3:23). Yes, human beings in the workplace grant us our titles, from the grandest to the lowliest. But our true boss has given us other titles, like the three we’ve considered here. It’s living into these identities that give our work meaning.

Dr. Amy L. Sherman is a Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute and is author of Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (IVP).

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