Availability for the Kingdom of God and a Career The elder and deacon and their availibility for the church office
Elder X has a high position in a financial institution. A reorganisation within this company is currently in the planning stages. In his district he is charged with the leadership of this project: this involves reassigning people or having to tell them to look for another position elsewhere. Because of this significant workload he has asked to be relieved from his position as an elder.
Brother Y has a family with growing children and is involved with a course of studies for his work which requires a lot of time and attention. For him to make advancement in the business, he cannot do without these studies. After a nomination, brother Y is elected to serve in the office of deacon and now faces a difficult deliberation.
These problems are recognizable. Church councils are struggling to fill vacancies for the office of elder and deacon as a result of obligations that candidate – office bearers have entered into in their jobs. The question is how we should evaluate such matters. Is the daily work subordinate to the calling to the office or may this calling be dispensed of with a clear conscience in connection with either the daily work and/or the related studies? What is the relationship between a social career and one’s availability for the kingdom of God?
Readily and Fully Available
In itself there is no contradiction between a social career and the availability for the kingdom of God. Jesus does not call us firstly to the office, but to follow him. This may not only take shape in the church, but also in daily life and a career. Whoever is called by Jesus and follows him is thus fully — always and everywhere — available for his kingdom. There should be no misunderstanding about this. This may also be evident in the performance of our daily job.
In principle there is no question of a competitive relationship between service in the kingdom of God and our daily work. When we work in the service of the kingdom, it does not distract from our service in daily life, and when we are engaged in a career, it does not subtract from our service to God. The availability for his kingdom is not limited to availability for ecclesiastical work, but also takes on shape in our daily work. Whoever follows Jesus and serves him in his daily work is no less subservient in the kingdom of God than a preacher who prepares sermons during the week.
God and Neighbour
The availability for God and his kingdom can be summarized in two things: service to God and service to one’s neighbour. When Elder X can demonstrate that his choice of a new position within the enterprise is subservient to God and neighbour, he is thus available for the kingdom of God. A promotion in business and a related higher income are in themselves not in contradiction with a life of imitation.
How can we demonstrate our service in the kingdom of God in the pursuit of a social career? There are functions in society that are directly or indirectly related to the impact of the kingdom of God in society. As an example one can point to a political function. Is it not obvious that the law of the kingdom of God is heard in political life, and that there are people working in key positions who give heed to this law? Another example is a function in the field of education. Education and upbringing are directly related to service in the kingdom of God. The great deeds of God may be proclaimed to the next generation.
There are also functions in society in which it is more difficult to make a connection with the impact of the kingdom of God in society. Does not the management of a financial institution in our Western society that is saturated in capitalism, often run counter to the word of God about love for the needy neighbour and our care for his creation? Often there is hardly any apparent connection between a social career and service to his kingdom, yet even then the word of Jesus remains true that wherever we find our work, we are called to follow him. In these matters the decisive element is always the question about the will of God. This is characteristic of the life of a Christian. He tests and explores what brings joy to God and searches for his will and commandment.
The only motive for attaining to a higher social function is service to God and the neighbour. Personal job satisfaction, the desire for a higher income or the striving for greater prestige are secondary to this. The decisive factor in the choice must always be service to God and neighbour. Anyone who can demonstrate that a higher position in the social career benefits serving in the kingdom of God needs not feel weighed down by asking to be relieved from serving as an office bearer. It is different for those who put their own interests first. Before the face of God they will have no peace with their decision.
Dangers of the Career Path
In this context, however, there is a need to warn against the dangers of a career in society. Anyone who climbs the rungs of a social career ladder is exposed to two temptations. The first temptation comes from the side of praise. Whoever takes pleasure in receiving praise and prestige from people, who wants to be honoured for his achievements, already has received his wages. He should not expect any wages in the life that is to come. Jesus teaches us that in daily life we are no more than servants of God.
A second temptation comes from the side of wealth. Often a progression in one’s career is accompanied with a higher level of income. This is not without danger. Jesus speaks about the thorns and thistles of the deceitfulness of riches (Matt. 13:22), by which the word (of the gospel) is being choked. The danger is lurking that we are going to serve the god of money, a thing that is impossible in the light of the gospel (Luke 16:13). In this connection we should bear in mind that it is difficult for rich people to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10:23-27). With the increase of possessions and riches, maintaining distance from these is indispensable. Anyone who professes the name of Jesus and is attached to his social position in his thoughts, emotions and aspirations, needs to listen to the word of Jesus: “One thing is lacking: go home and sell all you have and give the money to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come and follow me” (Mark. 10:21). This word of Jesus should always be kept in mind in the deliberations about a social career.
A sign is given for us in the actions of the disciples, who left behind their boats and their nets and followed Jesus (Mark 1:16-20). When he sent them out to proclaim the gospel, they were only allowed to take a staff with them: no bread, no bag, and no belts with money; but they did have to put sandals on their feet (Mark 6:7- 8). In the light of the coming kingdom of God a social career is relative, because the world in its present form is passing by (1 Cor. 7:31). God does not ask us to give up a social career. But he does command us to let go of things on which we have set our hearts and which obstruct our service to his kingdom. A social career is not an end in itself, but must serve his Name and the welfare of those who are near and far.
Career and Office
It has already been said that we may and must serve God in a social career. At the same time, this activity can be at odds with the service in the midst of his church. Time and energy spent on one’s career puts pressure on the time and energy that can be spent on the ministry within the community of faith. How should brothers X or Y act, faced with the tension between diakonia (ministry, service) and a social career? The question can also be asked in more general terms: what should we do if we are called upon by the church to make commitments while on the other hand we want to live up to commitments (or to make them) in regard to our social careers? And how do we arrive at a proper evaluation?
First of all, we need to find out what our motives are. The only right motive for our choice must be service to God and to the neighbour. Whoever asks for exemption from his calling in the office for the sole fact of pursuing success in his social career, makes a choice in which the Lord takes no joy. Anyone who asks to be released from office for the sake of the service of God in the broad social sphere and the service of his neighbour in the family, makes a choice that is justified in every way.
Someone who asks for exemption because he wants to become (even) richer in material respect has made a bad decision. The gospel warns against the thorns and thistles of the deceitfulness of riches that threaten the growth of the (plant of the) Word that was sown. It is better to be poor and available for the kingdom of God in the church, than to be rich and introverted. Someone who is more attached to a social career than to Jesus is not worthy of him. At the same time it also applies to those who do not ask for exemption from the office: Those who attach more importance to fame and prestige in the church than to service to God and neighbour are not worthy of him. In the field of tension between service to God and neighbour in society or the church, the question about the motivation is essential.
In the second place, those aspects are important which always play a role when an important choice has to be made. As such we can think of prayer. We may pray to the Lord for wisdom and the love that orders our lives according to the pattern of his kingdom within and outside of the church. Furthermore, consultation with others is essential. A decision about a social career is not an individual enterprise, but a matter for the community in which we find ourselves. We should think not only of the fellowship of the family and our circle of friends, but above all the fellowship of faith. It is also important that once a choice has been made, we are at peace with it. Anyone who chooses a social career and asks for exemption from the ministry, must continually ask himself the question regarding the fulfilment of the calling to serve God and neighbour.