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Q&A: Sebastian Traeger on the Ministry of Work

Gospel at Work

This is the second part of an interview with Sebastian Traeger, co-author with Greg Gilbert of “The Gospel At Work” (read part one). He discusses work as ministry, and the relationship between business and missions.

Is there a danger we can conflate ministry with self-interest? In other words, we get comfortable with our job and wrongly justify keeping it by claiming that we are doing ministry.

Loyalty to Christ takes precedence over our job. There is a temptation to make an idol of our work, or to over-identify with our work. And I think that person is going to be tempted to not rock the boat at work. Over time they might pick work over ministry if they come into conflict. We can’t christen our work and dial back on ministry.

The answer to fighting that complacency is recognizing that you work for the Lord in all that you do. He’s not primarily calling you to your job; He’s calling you to belong to Him. Understanding the gospel in light of our work helps us to understand that we are to be sold-out disciples in all things.

Give an example of someone you know who has made an impact for the kingdom at her/his job, but in a way that is not confined to evangelism.

There’s a fellow elder at my church who stays at his job because it allows him to stay involved as an elder at a church. He could go on to bigger salary and a better title, but he might have less time to commit to ministry. Of course, he shares the gospel at his job, but that’s not his entire ministry focus at work. His job allows him to serve God in other ways.

Can you talk about some emerging paradigms in the missionary field and how more overseas efforts are becoming business-oriented?

I started thinking more about Christians in the workplace but soon also began thinking about how missions are being done. It seemed that missions wasn’t accounting for how the world is currently structured. Modern missions largely hasn’t adjusted for globalization and technology. It used to be that you went and got on a boat and went to some totally unreached, distant place. It was a one-size-fits-all model. But there are lots of unreached people in major cities worldwide. Cities are hubs of human enterprise. Now there are many more places that people with professional skills can do missions work. You don’t have to quit your job and reorient your whole life. You can take your job overseas.

[pullquote]    Understanding the gospel in light of our work helps us understand that we are to be sold-out disciples in all things.[/pullquote]

If you can import an American church planning model internationally, maybe you have 2,000 church plants around the world with 20 people in each one of them. You’ve created 40,000 people doing pro-active, deliberate gospel work overseas. But not all those people are supported by a sending organization. If they can run a business to support themselves, they are self-sustaining, and don’t have to depend on raising support.

How can professionals in the United States mobilize to impact unreached areas?

You can have a missionary mindset in whatever field you are in. You might want to connect with, pray with and strategize with other Christians in your field. You might think strategically about how to make your field reflect God’s image.

I was at the South by Southwest tech conference in Austin—I had never thought about the internet entrepreneur space and how to be strategic for the gospel in it. It is a very secular environment. I thought: “How can I use the connections that I have in my field to meet other people?”

Also, if people are giving faithfully, then some percentage of all of their time is ultimately being used for the kingdom. If you give 10 percent of your money, then six minutes in every hour goes to kingdom work.

How do you see the relationship of business and missions playing out in the future?

Ideally, you have mature Christians who are on fire for Christ and have a solid idea of what it means to be members of a church, but don’t trade in their skill set or their job for something new. They just do what they know how to do, but do it somewhere else.