Careers and the Search for Significance

There are thousands and thousands of different job roles out there in our increasingly diverse economy, and it is impossible to understand, much less explain all of the complexities of these various job roles and their significance. Finding a career path, and a job within that path is as much an art as it is a science. It is very hard to answer the question “What do you want to do?” when you do not understand the options of what you could do, and more importantly the significance of taking any of those paths.

Christians are blessed because our lives have innate meaning — to reach lost people with the Love of God. The tension arises when the work we do to put food on the table has no correlation to this overarching goal. We can easily become bored and long for something else. Therefore, Christian job happiness is often tied to our ability to see a path from where we are to something that fulfills this great goal.

Traditional “career wisdom” says all jobs are created equal and you just need to find the one that is “right for you.” This makes us feel better, and there is of course truth that almost every job has people that love it, but I do believe for the Christian especially that some paths generally lead to more long term fulfillment than others. The goal here is not to denigrate any one’s occupation, but to help everyone find an occupation where they are fulfilled in serving God. The key here is not what we are doing at the moment — since most of us will have to work through periods where our work is not fulfilling — but the long possibilities. Even an unfulfilling job can be enjoyable if we know it is merely a stop on the way to something that is fulfilling.

Many people consider full time ministry roles to be a “dream job” that they hope to find their way into because every aspect of the job has significance. The primary careers are local pastor, missionary, traveling speaker or author, and denominational administrator. The vast majority of these are in a local pastor roles with the most common roles being youth ministry, worship ministry, associate and senior pastor. With good stewardship of resources and a rapidly growing church movement many more people can have full time ministry as a long term goal, but this will still only address a subset of the people in a congregation. Many others are looking for different ways to serve God with their time and talents. I believe the key here is what degree does your “secular” career provide you to perform significant activities. Some careers are innately more fulfilling because the job itself includes an aspect of ministry. We tend to find fulfillment when either our current job or the path we are on to a future job is has some element like this.

First among these are careers where our work can impact the culture. These include Law, Politics, Journalism, Publishing, Academics, Music, Entertainment, and Entrepreneurship. These are elite battleground careers where the fulfillment comes from bringing God’s truth into the secular sphere. They are usually hard to enter because they can have such a significant impact on others.

There are other jobs which can be fulfilling because they help people. These include things like Medicine, Teaching, Counseling, Social Work, the Military, and Law Enforcement. The challenge in these careers is that often there are fairly tight boundaries which prevent you from sharing your faith with others, which limits the ministry and therefore degree of fulfillment.

The fact is that it is generally easier to fall into the jobs that are not as innately fulfilling. We generally have to make specific targeted effort to enter fields where there is built in significance. And many people find themselves in jobs where they do not have a sense of innate fulfillment. This often includes things like retail, manual labor, and even a large number of professional careers. In these jobs, either the work is hard, or it has no innate purpose which gives it meaning. This does not mean that people cannot be happy in these jobs, it just means that Christians often end up feeling like a lot of their time and energy is wasted because no one is directly ministered to through their work. Helping to sell business process enhancement software, for example, might have its moments, but overall leave you feeling exhausted and looking for a way to serve God with all of your time, not just your “off” time.

The traditional solution has been to tell people that they are ministers in their job, and that they can reach out to people there. This is of course true, but not usually a satisfying long term goal for most people. Or we might tell them that their purpose is to bring in financial resources for the Kingdom. Now, for those who truly do make large sums, they might find some fulfillment in this idea, but not normally for the average person.

Another way is to switch careers, but this can be very difficult and costly. Or possibly scale back your current career involvement enough that your ministry pursuits can be the real focus of your life. This can be either by working less hours, cutting out a commute, or switching into a role with less advancement potential but less stress. A third solution is to find a way for your skill to be used to build God’s Kingdom instead of the Business Process Widget Kingdom. One way is through entrepreneurship, but another way is to support someone else’s Christian enterprise. An accountant, for example may be tired of his or her daily work for XYZ corporation, but working as the CFO of a small Christian startup could completely change the situation, even if the pay is less and the risk greater.

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