In his book Every Good Endeavor, Tim Keller recounts the story of why Mike Ulman took the position of CEO of JCPenney.
It wasn’t for the money. It wasn’t for the recognition.
MIke was retired from a long and successful career in management when he was offered the position and he was reluctant to go back to work. However, a conversation with Starbucks founder Howard Schultz changed his perspective. Shultz said to Ulman, “This opportunity is made for you. They need to put service back into the mission of that company, and you’re the guy to do it.” Ulman came out of retirement to take the role of CEO because he saw an opportunity to reorient twenty-five thousand retail employees to seeing that their work matters and that serving their customers is an honorable career.
He believed that God called him to serve as the CEO of JCPenney.
God calls each one of us to serve the world. That calling to serve the world could be in any number of arenas: teacher, banker, realtor, preacher, engineer, and so on. It is unbiblical to think that only “spiritual” work can be a calling from God endowed with purpose. “Secular” work can be a calling as well. God cares for the both the spiritual and material well being of all people.
In 1 Corinthians 7:17, the apostle Paul writes, “Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them.”
Paul is telling new Christians that it isn’t necessary to change what they are already doing—construction, business, commerce, house cleaning—in order to fulfill God’s purposes for them as a Christian. In fact, Paul identifies the dignity and purpose of their present work by using the words “called” and “assigned.” Elsewhere, Paul says that God has “called” people into a saving relationship with him and “assigned” them spiritual gifts to do ministry. Paul uses the exact same words in 1 Corinthians 7:17 to refer to social and economic tasks. These too are callings and assignments from God.
Keller drives the point home: “Just as God equips Christians for building up the Body of Christ, so he also equips all people with talents and gifts for various kinds of work, for the purpose of building up the human community.”
When we can see our daily work as God’s assignment to serve the people he loves and further their flourishing, we can engage that work with a deeper sense of dignity and purpose. And the degree of dignity and purpose in our work is not tied to the nature of the assignment, but to the nature of the One who has assigned it.
This sets Christianity apart from other religions that place people into castes and assigns them different values based on their position in life. Christianity uniquely endows both the CEO of JCPenny and a Stock Boy at JCPenney with great dignity and purpose, according to his calling.
How would your perspective on your daily work change if you saw it as your calling from God to serve the world?