Climbing the Corporate Ladder

Question
From my experience and observation, the pressure of the corporate world is such that it's very difficult to maintain a passion for Christ when your primary goal is to move up the corporate ladder. This leads me to a few related questions: Should the dangerous potential of dulled love for Christ discourage someone from pursuing a secular job over a (more explicitly) ministry job? How does one make sure to guard against the (usually unchristian) pressures of the corporate world? Does pursuing a comfortable vocation and lifestyle stunt our spiritual growth when so many of the mature believers we read about developed their faith by trial and suffering?
Answer
The dangerous potential for a dulled love for Christ exists in every job. In fact, it might even be worse in the ministry. Richard Pratt has a saying, "If you make your living by your faith, you always lose one or the other." That's a hyperbole, but the point is that keeping a job in the ministry these days frequently isn't conducive to a relationship with Christ. To keep from getting fired, you often have to compromise your convictions. Also, when you work within the bowels of the ministry, you see a lot of things that repel you from it. And when you spend all your time on holy things, there is a significant danger of them becoming common in your eyes. For pastors in particular, the ministry can be a very dry place because if often happens that there is no one who ministers to them - pastors minister to others, but few if any minister to pastors. Then too, even jobs that are more ministry-oriented often include the temptation of "ladder climbing." Pastors and teachers are tempted by prestige and influence, by bigger churches with more people, by popularity, by rising in the ecclesiastical ranks, etc. Even in the most perfect ministerial setting one's faith can die: a certain Judas Iscariot comes to mind...

The "ladder climbing" problem has multiple pitfalls, such as: the desire for success; dissatisfaction with your current status; consumerism; greed; lust for power; etc. But whatever the motivation, if climbing the corporate/ecclesiastical ladder becomes our "primary goal," then we're in big trouble. A Christian's primary goal should always be love for God and neighbor (e.g. Matt. 22:36-40), and one of the big ways we express this is in seeking Christ's kingdom (e.g. Matt. 6:33). We shouldn't let the world set our agenda, regardless of our sphere of employment.

But one need not succumb to the world's agenda even in a secular job. It is right to expect God to use, protect and mature us in the secular environment. One reason for this is that God himself has ensured us that he will do this without the qualification that we must work in a place that nurtures our relationship with him. It is worth noting in this regard that the Bible does not encourage everyone to work in the ministry, and it even discourages the idea that there will be many teachers in the church (Jam. 3:1). Consider the example of Old Testament Israel: only one tribe (the Levites) was called to ministry, and the rest were assigned secular tasks.

Besides, the way to a good relationship with Christ is not through a job, whether sacred or profane; the way to a good relationship with Christ is the Holy Spirit who indwells us, who ministers to us, who works in us both to will and to do according to God's pleasure. Yes, one of the means God has created through which the Spirit works is the church - but the church is to do this for all its members regardless of how they make a living.

On the subject of pursuing a comfortable vocation, personally I think that's a great idea. But in saying that I would suggest that thinking of a "vocation" is a special way of looking at a "job." John Muether of Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, makes a helpful distinction by pointing out that when we speak of "careers" we are often thinking in the world's terms and focusing on ourselves. He suggests that the older, less consumeristic view was of "vocations" or "callings" in life in which we serve others. That is to say, whether we are flipping burgers or running the country, we can approach our jobs in ways that glorify Christ and that serve others. A comfortable vocation would be a place where you fit into a community of people, where you interacted as part of a whole rather than as an isolated individual, and where you were able to live in a way that glorified Christ. It would be a way of looking at life that recognized the ephemeral nature of the goals of "ladder climbing," and saw the eternal significance of laying up treasure in heaven.

As far as suffering goes, I'm not sure it's such a great thing in most cases. Suffering for Christ is a great thing, but suffering for other reasons isn't. This is not to say that God doesn't use all sorts of suffering to mature us (e.g. Rom. 8:28ff.). But generally when the Bible speaks of the benefits of suffering it has in mind suffering for the faith (e.g. Rom. 5:1-5; 2 Cor. 1:5; Jam. 1:2-4; 1 Pet. 4:13). Suffering can include being in need rather than living in luxury, but in the modern corporate world lack of means usually isn't the result of suffering for the faith. In any event, wealth is a covenant blessing that we should seek, not a pitfall to be avoided (e.g. Gen. 32:9,12; Lev. 26:3-13; Deut. 28:11-12,63; 30:15; 2 Chron. 24:20; Pss. 1:1-3; 25:12-13; 122:6-7; Prov. 28:25). Moreover, although we ought to take advantage of opportunities to suffer for the faith, we're also supposed to pray for such opportunities to be few in number (e.g. 1 Tim. 2:1-2).

Answer by Ra McLaughlin

Ra McLaughlin is Vice President of Creative Delivery Systems at Third Millennium Ministries.