As marketplace Christians, we are called to help the marketplace to reveal the glory of God, beginning with the industries to which God has called each of us.
You may be wondering, “To what industry has God called me?”
Now that we have clarified the primary purpose of our work in the marketplace, let’s explore three criteria we can use to identify the specific industries to which God has assigned each of us.
1: It’s an industry whose mission you’re passionate about.
When I was in business school, I attempted to start a website that would be a “one-stop shop for purchasing fitness services” (i.e. gym memberships, exercise classes, etc.). I lost $5,000 in the process by paying a poorly-vetted and untrustworthy web developer to build the prototype of the website.
As soon as I lost that money, I decided to learn how to build the website myself. As I started to list the various fitness service providers on the website, I quickly realized that I wasn’t as passionate about the fitness industry as I thought I was. Or, at least, I didn’t enjoy the industry enough to build a company in it. Although I exercise six days out of most weeks and had been studying the fitness industry rigorously throughout the year prior, only when I started working in the industry did I realize it wasn’t the “right fit” for me.
Primed and ready to start a company, I asked myself, “Which industry’s mission am I passionate about?” My answer came back almost immediately: the publishing industry, whose mission is to help people by sharing literature and information online and offline (i.e. books, podcasts, courses, etc.). I love books, learning, and teaching. This was an important clue about my industry calling. Working with authors and books is wonderfully fulfilling for me.
God wants us to be fulfilled in our work. King Solomon wrote, “I have seen that nothing is better than that man should be happy in his activities, for that is his lot” (Ecc. 3:22).
What is the mission of the industry you’re working in currently? Get clear about that. In the publishing industry, it would be foolish for a printing company owner to assume printing is the primary mission of the publishing industry. No, it’s about publishing information, which increasingly is happening digitally rather than through print… as many newspapers, magazines, and book publishing companies now are finding out the hard way.
Once you have identified the mission of your industry, ask yourself, “Am I passionate about this mission?”
As an example, if you work for an airline company, you are in the transportation industry whose mission is to move people and things where they need to go. Are you passionate about improving people’s lives by providing this type of service? If not, you’re probably in the wrong industry.
2: It’s an industry you have experience in.
Discovering my calling to the publishing industry came through reflecting on my past professional experiences. I considered that I already had published a book, majored in English in college, taught writing at the university level, edited several doctoral dissertations, and served as a marketing director. With these experiences, I was prepared to make an impact in an industry focused on publishing and marketing information.
While I was majoring in English in college, I had no idea how to answer people when they started asking me, “What are you going to do with that English degree?” Now, I realize that God was using that experience to prepare me to start a publishing company.
In many cases, God has allowed us to have these past experiences to equip us for and lead us into the industry He has called us to transform for His glory. The Bible says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Rom. 8:28). “All things” includes all of our past professional experiences.
In what industries do you have experience?
As I discovered, the only way to verify that you are truly passionate about the mission of an industry is to gain experience in that industry. If you think God might be prompting you to explore a new industry, it could be the next step toward identifying the industry to which He has called you.
3: It’s an industry in which you can create economic value.
Our unique abilities to create economic value are linked to our God-given spiritual gifts, which have been given for accomplishing the work of the Church in the marketplace. (Refer to my book, The Marketplace Christian: A Practical Guide to Using Your Spiritual Gifts in Business, for a spiritual gifts assessment as well as 23 specific examples of marketplace Christians who have applied each of the 23 spiritual gifts I describe in the book.)
Two of my top three spiritual gifts are knowledge and teaching. The books published by my company, High Bridge Books, are inherently teaching and knowledge tools for which people pay money. The primary way I use my gifts of teaching and knowledge is through coaching authors, helping them to craft and spread their messages in the most effective ways possible.
My spiritual gifts certainly are in great demand in the publishing industry, which enables me to create economic value, make money, and make an eternal impact daily.
Without a doubt, your spiritual gifts are also in demand in the industry to which God has assigned you.
Discussion and Application: What industry has God called you to transform for His glory? What are some practical ways that you can make money in the industry 1) whose mission you’re passionate about and 2) you have experience in?
Editors’ note: On Sunday, June 14, 1981, John Piper preached on 1 Corinthians 7:17–24, which begins, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Cor. 7:17). The point of Piper’s message, he said, could be stated as a declaration and as a prayer:
As a declaration it would be: How you fulfill the demands of your vocation is an essential part of Christian discipleship. Or to put it another way: How you do your job is a big part of your obedience to Jesus. Stated as a prayer, the main point today is: Father, grant to us all the grace to be conscious of your presence at our work and to obey your commands in all our vocational relationships.
He then explained how that declaration and prayer related to Paul’s letter to the churches in Corinth. He concluded his sermon by offering four helpful and practical implications for our work. [To read and/or listen to the sermon in its entirety, click here.]
First, God is much more concerned with the way you do the job you now have than he is with whether you get a new job. We have in this congregation nurses, teachers, carpenters, artists, secretaries, bookkeepers, lawyers, receptionists, accountants, social workers, repairmen of various sorts, engineers, office managers, waitresses, plumbers, salesmen, security guards, doctors, military personnel, counselors, bankers, police officers, decorators, musicians, architects, painters, house cleaners, school administrators, housewives, missionaries, pastors, cabinet makers, and many more. And we all need to hear that what lies most on the heart of God is not whether we move from one to the other, but whether in our present work we are enjoying God's promised presence and obeying his commands in the way we do our work.
Second, as we have seen, the command to stay in the calling in which you were when converted is not absolute. It does not condemn all job changes. We know this not only because of the exceptions Paul allowed to his principle here in 1 Corinthians 7 (cf. verse 15), but also because Scripture depicts and approves such changes. There is provision for freeing slaves in the Old Testament, and we are familiar with a tax collector who became a preacher and fishermen who became missionaries. Besides this, we know that there are some jobs in which you could not stay and obey God's commands: for example, prostitution, numerous forms of indecent and corrupting entertainment, and others in which you may be forced to exploit people.
Paul is not saying that professional thieves or Corinthian cult prostitutes should stay in the calling in which they were called. The question at Corinth was: When we come to Christ, what should we abandon? And Paul's answer is: You don't need to abandon your vocation if you can stay in it with God. His concern is not to condemn job changes, but to teach that you can have fulfillment in Christ whatever your job is. This is unfashionable teaching in contemporary Western society, because it cuts the nerve of worldly ambition. We need to think long and hard about whether what we communicate to our children about success is biblical or just American. The word of God for all us “success seekers” is this: Take all that ambition and drive that you are pouring into your upward mobility and pour it instead into a spiritual zeal to cultivate an enjoyment of God's presence and obedience to his revealed will in Scripture.
Third, for you younger people who have not yet entered a profession, the implication of our text is this: When you ask yourself the question, What is God's will for my life? you should give the resounding answer: His will is that I maintain close fellowship with him and devote myself to obeying his commandments. God's revealed will for you (the only will you are responsible to obey) is your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), not your vocation. Devote yourself to that with all your heart, and take whatever job you want. I have no doubt that, if all our young people are bending every effort to stay close to God and to obey the commands of Scripture, God will distribute them in the world exactly where he wants their influence for him.
Fourth, and finally, this text implies that the job you now have, as long as you are there, is God's assignment to you. Verse 17 says, “Let everyone lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him.” God is sovereign. It is no accident that you are where you are. “A man's mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established” (Proverbs 19:21). “The lot is cast in the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33).
You are where you are by divine assignment, even if you got there by fraud. Your job is your ministerial assignment, just as much as mine is. How you fulfill the demands of that job is just as essential in life as what you do here on Sunday. For many of us that may mean turning over a new leaf tomorrow morning. Let's all pray before we set out to work: “God, go with me today and keep me conscious of your presence. Encourage my heart when I tend to despair, and humble me when I tend to boast. O God, give me the grace to obey your commandments, which I know are all summed up in this, to love my neighbor as myself. Amen.”
This excerpt is adapted from “Your Job as Ministry” by John Piper. Copyright © 1981. Used by permission of Desiring God, www.desiringgod.org.
Editors' note: TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a weekly column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have yet discovered and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life.