In a previous post I argued that the most important titles we hold at work are not the ones bestowed on us by the company or organization that employs us, but rather the ones given to us by God. Scripture gives God’s people several names, among them: salt, light, servant, prophet, priest, and king. Living into these identities is what can make our work truly meaningful for us, pleasing to our Lord, and helpful to our neighbors. We looked at some real-life models of salt, light, and servants earlier. In this post, I offer some examples of people living into the titles of prophet, priest, and king.
There’s no shortage of things wrong in the world. To be people who are willing to stand up that wrong and point the way to what’s right is part of our calling as believers. We’re to do so without arrogance or mean-spiritedness but rather with a sense of lament. An important part of being a prophet is to grieve what’s wrong and humbly but courageously show what’s right.
Author Lauren Winner acted as a prophet when she wrote Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity. In it, Winner denounces the objectification of women and our hyper-sexualized and promiscuous culture. Instead, she shines the spotlight on the joys of chastity, sex within marriage, true beauty, and modesty. Winner endured some scathing reviews, including one from a fellow Episcopal priest whose progressive perspective scorned and ridiculed her. In the midst of a culture that defends individuals’ “rights” to just about any kind of sex, at any time, Winner’s defense of chastity outside marriage was brave act in the prophetic tradition of calling a spade a spade.
The apostle Peter calls Christians a “royal priesthood” in his first epistle (1 Peter 2:9). In his book, A Theology as Big as the City, urban missiologist Ray Bakke offered a Bible study on the various roles that the priests played in Israelite society. He compiled a list of all the activities that priests did in cities—and it was a long one. In addition to specifically religious tasks, the priests were involved in ministries of healing; marital counseling; the public education system; the distribution of public welfare; promoting urban renewal projects; and maintaining public worship, among others. In short, the Bible depicts the priesthood as a broad life of holistic service to the whole community.
Donald Coleman from Richmond lives up to the appellation “priest,” and not only because he is a pastor in the city’s East End. The title also holds for his other job as Chairman of the Richmond City School Board.
Coleman grew up in inner-city Richmond, navigating the foster system and the harsh realities of struggling public schools. Today he’s trying to improve those very schools for the sake of kids who are from similar circumstances. For Coleman, this has meant persevering to win a seat at the decision-making table. He ran twice unsuccessfully for the school board before winning on attempt number three. It wasn’t long before his fellow school board members recognized Coleman’s gifts for listening, analysis, and consensus-building and elected him Chairman.
During his tenure, Coleman has advocated better parent access to the school board, more partnerships between schools and community organizations, and the championing of high-quality teachers. He says he has sought to be “the kind of leader that can bring together a diverse group of people towards a common goal.”
We act as kings in our work when we take the influence, position, and skills God has granted us and use them for making, managing, and building in ways that reflect how God deploys His creative power. This involves asking questions like: How I am managing my workplace and my subordinates? How I am managing the organizational systems and resources—the various assets under my control—in ways that honor God?
Mechanic Alfonso DeLuna is a “kingly” owner and operator of Ponchie’s Auto Shop in Princeton, Texas. An ex-offender who’s been given a second chance, DeLuna uses his position as a small business owner to treat customers and employees generously. Knowing what it’s like to be down on one’s luck, DeLuna makes every effort to keep repairs affordable for those in tight financial circumstances. He has also chosen to hire young men lacking opportunities, including one who struggled with substance abuse, out of a desire to mentor, train, and give them hope. These young men say they see DeLuna as a father figure. Under his tutelage, they have become certified mechanics. DeLuna surprised one of them by trusting him enough to promote him to the role of shop manager.
Some of us are proud of our job titles; others may feel embarrassed. Regardless, we should hold those titles loosely for they are not the ones that best define our role in the workplace. The titles that really matter are the ones God has given us. The roles He has assigned us—as salt, light, servant, prophet, priest, and king—bestow a dignity upon on labors that no mere human can take away (or add to). Each new day on the job affords opportunities to live into one or more of these titles. With intentionality, creativity, and the help of the Holy Spirit, we can step into these titles and advance the common good.
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).