Michael Hidalgo is an alumni of one of Leadership Network’s Next Generation Pastor cohort groups. He’s written a new book, Changing Faith: Questions, Doubts & Choices About an Unchanging God. Here’s an adapted excerpt from the book.
The Difference Between Our Jobs and Our Work
When I graduated, quickly found a good paying job, but I was miserable. I didn’t so much hate my job as I hated that my life lacked meaning. I wanted something more out of life, and not just for me. Then something unexpected happened.
My friend Dan, a youth pastor, called one morning and left a message. He said, “I need you to teach the students this Sunday.” He didn’t really ask me if I would, which made me feel like I couldn’t turn him down. It was Tuesday. I had four days to prepare something.
The next morning I prepared my teaching and met with a friend, a teaching pastor at a church. He read it over, winced, looked at me and said, “If you preach this to the middle school students, they will laugh you out of the room.”
At least he was honest.
We spent the next few days together, and he helped me reconstruct my teaching. I wrote a new outline, and we walked through it on Saturday. Before I left, he smiled and hugged me. It felt like the kind of hug you give to someone when you know something bad is going to happen.
Sunday morning came. I stood to teach and saw hundreds of students staring at me, begging me to say something they could bear listening to. I stared back at them, and in that silent moment, which was both a second and an eternity, I spoke from somewhere I never knew existed.
That day when I left the building, I got into my car, and my future wife said to me, “That was the most you you have ever been.” She saw what I felt, and I knew it was right. I still had my good paying job, but for the first time I realized my work and my job were two different things.
When I talk about work, I am not talking about the thing we do because we have to do it or get paid to do it. Genesis calls this “painful toil” (Genesis 3:17). Toil dangles the promise of meaning in front of us, but always fails to deliver. Toil promises everything and delivers nothing.
But we can’t say the same thing about work. When I talk about work, I’m talking about our calling or our vocation. Frederick Buechner said vocation is “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Work is part of what it means to be made in the image and likeness of almighty God. God called us to this from the very beginning; the question is whether we will hear his call to work with him. This is why Paul wrote we have been given the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
Now there’s that word ministry.
Too often we have been led to believe ministry is “sacred work.” Many believe that working as a pastor or a missionary is more sacred than working as a waiter, a CEO, a bus driver or a salesperson. This belief is toxic.
In the midst of our changing faith, we must reclaim what it means to be ministers. All of us have a vocation or calling. All of us are ministers. It’s tragic to believe we have little to offer this world because we believe our work is not sacred.
We must lead others to understand our work is not limited to any one place. It’s done in our neighborhoods, our schools, our workplace, with our family, in our local churches, and in our communities. Our work is to bring the reconciliation of God to bear wherever we are.
This is the kind of life I have witnessed in my friend Pamela. She is an attorney who gives much of her time to meet the legal needs of men and women living in poverty. But she doesn’t stop there. She has a background in theater. So she coaches or acts on theatrical productions to bring life and grace to others. She and her husband rent rooms in their home. Every time I see her she tells me a new story about how she cared for someone who stayed a few nights. She understands her vocation so well I wonder if she knows how hard she works.
This is the kind of life and work we are invited to. And it’s for all of us. It doesn’t matter where we are employed. I did not have to quit my job to do God’s work, and I do not have to work for a church to do God’s work.
You may wonder if you are truly joining with God in his work in this world. To answer this question it would do us well to ask a few more questions: If someone were to follow me around for a week, what would they say I am really about? What are the things I care about? What do I spend most of my time paying attention to? How do I treat others? How do I view myself?
How we respond to these questions may reveal what we believe about our work in this world. But we must always remember: God is here, he is working hard, and He invites us to join him in his work.
Michael, his wife and three children live in Denver, Colorado. He is the Lead Pastor of Denver Community Church. Michael writes frequently for Relevant Magazine, and is the author of, Unlost: Being Found by the One We Are Looking For and Changing Faith: Questions, Doubts and Choices About the Unchanging God. Follow him on Twitter @michaelhidalgo