Every Christian should see themselves as a minister and their work as a ministry.

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to compartmentalize our lives into separate spheres – work, church, family, and so on. However, this mindset can lead to a disconnect between our faith and our daily lives, especially in the workplace. Many Christians struggle with the question of how to live out their faith in a so-called “secular” environment. They wonder if their work has any spiritual significance or if it’s simply a means to an end. This episode of the Radically Christian Bible Study Podcast addresses these concerns and offers a fresh perspective on the role of work in the life of a believer.

Drawing from biblical examples such as Daniel and the teachings of the apostle Paul, this episode explores the concept of every Christian being a minister, regardless of their occupation or workplace setting. It delves into the idea that our work is not just a secular pursuit, but an opportunity for ministry and discipleship. The discussion emphasizes the importance of viewing our work as an extension of our walk with God, where we can glorify Him, demonstrate our trust in Him, and live out the mission of making disciples.

The guest for this episode is Rusty Tugman, a seasoned minister and leadership trainer. After 30 years in full-time ministry, 21 as the preacher of the Alameda Church of Christ in Norman, OK, Rusty became the Leadership Trainer & Workplace Coach for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. He is also a trainer for Strata Leadership, a True Dads Educator, and the owner of Tugman Coaching & Consulting, LLC. With his unique perspective and experience, Rusty shares valuable insights on how to approach work as a Christian and how to be an effective witness in a secular environment. His journey serves as an inspiration for those seeking to integrate their faith and work in a meaningful way.

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Transcript (Credit: Beth Tabor)

Welcome to the Radically Christian Bible Study podcast. I’m your host, Wes McAdams. Here, we have one goal: Learn to love like Jesus. 

Who is a minister? Is it just the people who are financially supported by the church or is it every follower of Jesus? Today’s Bible study will reveal why every Christian should think of themselves as a minister and their workplace as a place of ministry. My guest today is my friend, Rusty Tugman. Here’s what Rusty has to say about his life and his work. He said, “After 30 years in full‑time ministry, 21 as the preacher for the Alameda Church of Christ in Norman, Oklahoma, I became the leadership trainer and workplace coach for the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. I’m also a trainer for Strata Leadership, a TRUE Dads educator, and the owner of Tugman Coaching & Consulting, LLC, and I still preach, but now as a guest preacher.” He says, “I’ve never left full‑time ministry, I just changed context.”

But before we get into my conversation with Rusty, I want to read from 1st Peter chapter 2, starting in verse 9. Peter says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

I hope that you enjoy today’s conversation, and I pray that it helps all of us learn to love like Jesus.

WES: Rusty Tugman, welcome to the podcast, Brother.

RUSTY: Thanks, Wes, I’m honored to be on. Thanks for inviting me.

WES: Man, it’s good to have you. I’m really excited about having this conversation. You and I get to hang out at Camp Blue Haven every summer, and I’ve grown so much from your wisdom and from our friendship, and so I’m excited for other people to hear your thoughts today.

RUSTY: Well, I appreciate you saying that. Yeah, I’ve had so much fun hanging out with you at Blue Haven and it’s been good to just get to know you and develop our friendship.

WES: Likewise. So I want to talk about ministry, and I think when we hear that word “ministry,” we automatically think about people that are working for a church full‑time or part‑time, and we think about ministry in those terms. In fact, one time I remember I was preaching and I was talking about how your preacher may be a minister, but he’s not the minister, but we tend to attach that term, “the minister,” to a preacher or somebody that is in that sort of, quote‑unquote, “full‑time ministry,” but I think there’s a better way to think about that, and that’s what I want to talk about today, but maybe the best way to do that is you tell us about your story in ministry.

RUSTY: Yeah, absolutely. Well, and you’re exactly right. I mean, that’s how I’ve thought of it; that’s how a lot of us think of it, and so ‑‑ yeah.  So recently, I’ve kind of had a transition in my life that’s made me rethink all of that. And so, you know, the pandemic changed a lot of things in our world, and it made us rethink a lot of things, including church, what it means to be the church, how we go about doing church, so to speak. And so I remember, during the pandemic, you know, I’m sitting there in my nice church office and I’m waiting for the world to come to me, and I’m thinking, they’re not coming to me anymore, but it also made me realize just, as a preacher, how I have allowed myself to just kind of be swallowed up in that church bubble where most of my interactions, you know, were with church members and Christians and all of those kinds of things, and so that really just started to kind of gnaw at me. And so I started praying and really discerning about just this idea that, man, I need to get out there. I need to go to where the world is and truly live out the Great Commission, perhaps in ways that I haven’t before. And so I started praying a lot about that, and, really, that process of prayer and discernment was about a year‑long process. 

So as I’m going through that process, an opportunity came along to join the Learning and Employee Development team at the Oklahoma Department of Human Services. And so I have a background in leadership and, through the years, I’ve done a lot of leadership training with different groups and nonprofits and things like that, and it just seemed like a really great fit and a great answer to this prayer that I’ve been praying, and so after about 30 years of full‑time church work, I transitioned into a secular role, secular environment, but for the purpose of ministry. And so what I tell people is that, you know, I didn’t leave full‑time ministry; I just changed context, and so that’s kind of how I view it, and it’s been wonderful. I mean, I’m able to have conversations with people that I would never have crossed paths with. I’m able to have an audience with people that I would never have had an audience with before, and the ministry opportunities just have been amazing. 

And so what I do there is I do leadership training and coaching for their supervisors, managers, and executives, and it’s an organization of about 6,200 employees, so a lot of people, and, in fact, I’m right now working on just developing an internal coaching program there. And so a lot of great opportunities, but it definitely just has shaken up my world, but it’s just really caused me to rethink our approach to work, to ministry. Like you said, who is a minister? What does that look like in the real world?

WES: Yeah. Well, I think about what Paul says in Ephesians 4.  He’s talking about Jesus giving gifts to the church and, specifically, the gifts that he gives are apostles and evangelists, but he says, about shepherds and teachers, that their job is to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that every saint, every Christian should be a minister and that it’s the job of the church workers to equip the members, to equip the saints, the Christians, the disciples for that work of ministry. And, I mean, I think it would change the way that we think about so many things. I think it would change the concept we have of the church, like what is the church? We often pay lip service to the idea that we are the church, the people are the church, but we have this very institutionalized way of thinking about the church. 

I remember one time I was on social media and someone was, you know, asking for help, needing help with something. I don’t know if it was financial or needing somebody to do something for them, and one of the members of our congregation commented and said, “You should ask the church and see if they can help.” And I thought, what a weird way to say that, because you are the church. What she meant was ask the people in leadership to see if the church collectively can help you, but she was removing herself from that equation, and that’s so often what we do. We think about the people that are financially supported, or the people that are in leadership roles, these are the ministers, these are the people that are running the ‑‑ you know, I don’t know how we even conceptualize it, but we take ourselves ‑‑ the members take themselves out of the equation and they think of the church as this business or this organization that they financially support, but it’s the business or organization that’s doing these things.

RUSTY: Yeah, that’s right. And that way of thinking, it also causes us to separate out our lives into church and work and that these are completely different things, and there’s a lot of danger in that, I think. And I think we miss a lot of opportunities that God is putting in our path to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to tell others about Jesus, to help disciple others and to make disciples because of that way of thinking.

WES: I don’t want to go down a rabbit trail with the money aspect of things, but I think it even goes into the way that we think about church funds. Like we often say this is God’s money, and I’m like, you know what? The money in your pocket is also God’s money. The money in your bank account is also God’s money. And yes, this is money that we put in the collection plate or that we give to the collective church. We’re sharing these funds and we’re doing something collectively with these, and so there is a place, I think, for people in, quote‑unquote, “church work.” I like the way you said that. There is a place for that, that all the members collectively share their funds to support this person’s work and their ministry, but we can’t ‑‑ the person in the pew can’t remove themselves from that process and start to think that, “Well, I gave my money, so now it’s his job. It’s their job to do these things.” They have to see that this is a cooperative work that we’re doing, not just in financially supporting something, but, like you said, every single day when we go to work, we’re on mission for God. We’re part of ‑‑ we are the church. You are the church, whether it’s Sunday or Monday or Tuesday or Wednesday, and whether you’re in the building or you’re out in the community.

RUSTY: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. And so when I was making this transition ‑‑ and by the way, I am so grateful that I’ve been able to be a full‑time minister and have decades of service in that way. And I still preach. You know, I guest preach and interim preaching and things like that, so I still get to scratch that itch a little bit, but I’m so grateful that I had that. But this has been so rejuvenating for me and has really helped me to see things in a lot bigger way. And so, for example, I think about ‑‑ because I had to think about ‑‑ just rethink work, okay, because I’m leaving all I’ve known. I mean, all I’ve ever worked at, up until this point, has been in church. I mean, even from a young age, I was doing internships and all of that, so nearly my whole working life has been in a church setting. And so now, transitioning out of that, I really had to rethink, okay, what is work? What is it about? How does this fit into what God has called me to do? 

And so, in my study of that, I went to a couple of places, and this is just kind of getting to that divide that you’ve spoken of that we kind of sometimes think about, that kind of ‑‑ you know, church, well, that’s ministry; work over here is not. But that’s not supported by scripture. So I think about like Romans 12:1, you know, where Paul tells us to present our whole selves as living sacrifices, that this is really what worship is about. And in that context, you know, what he’s saying is that our proper response to our Creator is the shaping of our total lives by God’s gracious will, and so there’s no separation there. There’s no compartmentalization, that every area of our life is to be formed by and shaped by the grace of God. But then I think a clearer picture of that and how work fits into life is in the creation narrative. And, you know, I think a lot of people, we look at work and we think that it’s just kind of this necessary evil, you know? We kind of have this love/hate relationship with work. And I remember, as a kid growing up in rural Oklahoma, my dad making me get out and work on our land, and, especially during the hot summers, I could have sworn, at that time in my life, that work was from the devil. And that’s a lot of times how we see work, is that, well, it must be a product of the fall and the curse in that work was borne out of the brokenness of sin. But when you go back and look at the creation narrative, work is actually borne out of God’s blessing, not sin’s brokenness, because in Genesis 1 and 2, work is given before the fall, and so ‑‑ but, also, work, in that narrative, it’s given for human flourishing, that this is a good thing, and it’s good for us. 

And so when I look at work through the creation narrative, through Romans 12:1 ‑‑ of course there’s other passages that we could cite and look at, but when I look at work through that lens, I want to embrace work as a gift from God that’s good for me ‑‑ it’s good for me to work; work is good for me ‑‑ but, also, I want to approach work as just an extension of my walk with God, and when I do that, now, work becomes something different. It actually becomes more exciting because if I put work in that perspective and look at it through that lens, well, now, work is a pathway for me to glorify and honor God. It’s an arena where I demonstrate my trust in God and my allegiance to God, but, also, it’s a mission field where I can live out the disciple‑making mission that we’ve been given. Well, now, work is not just this mundane thing that I have to do to pay the bills. It’s exciting, and there’s so many opportunities that come with work to be on mission for God. 

And a great example of this is, several years ago, I got to be part of a small group of preachers who had a meeting with Shodankeh Johnson, who does a lot of work with the Renew Network, and he’s a disciple‑maker in Sierra Leone, leads a disciple‑making movement, but he’s been to America many, many times. And he was talking to us about just our proclivity, as Americans, to always introduce ourselves by what we do for a living, you know? Or we’ll even ask, you know, “What do you do for a living?” And then we respond by literally saying what we do for a living. He said if you were to come to Sierra Leone, if you were to ask the members of our congregation that question, “What do you do for a living,” he said nearly all of them would respond in the same way and they would respond by first saying, “I’m a disciple‑maker who…” So “I’m a disciple‑maker who drives a taxi.” “I’m a disciple‑maker who’s a doctor.” “I’m a disciple‑maker who works in a factory.” “I’m a disciple‑maker who’s a baker.” And, man, I just remember all of us preachers who were there, we were just blown away, and I thought, that’s it. That’s what I want to do. That’s how I want to approach work, because I think that’s how scripture approaches work.

WES: I remember hearing a lesson one time ‑‑ I was probably in high school ‑‑ very similar to the picture you just painted, and the preacher said something that shocked me, and he meant for it to be provocative. He said, “You can’t be a Christian and a doctor. You can’t be a Christian and a policeman. You can’t be a Christian and a garbage man.” And we’re like, why is he saying that? And then he said, “You have to be a Christian doctor, a Christian policeman, a Christian garbage collector, that your Christianity, your discipleship has to be part of that.” But I love that idea, what you just said, taking that even further, that it isn’t just that I’m being a disciple of Jesus while I am in this career or while I’m in the workplace, but that I’m actually being a disciple‑maker and that I’m actually trying to make disciples while I am doing the job that I’m doing. 

So I love your thoughts around Daniel and how Daniel gives us a pattern and a picture for being on mission for God while we’re in the workplace. Talk to us about that a little bit.

RUSTY: Yeah. I love the story of Daniel, and Daniel has been obviously an inspiration, you know, for thousands and thousands of years to Christ followers. And so as I was making this transition from full‑time church ministry to now going to work in a completely different environment, different role, all of that, I really wanted to go into that in a purposeful way, and so I turned to Daniel just to kind of learn some lessons, because Daniel, he’s in a foreign land. Well, I was going into an environment that was very foreign to me. But Daniel did that in such a God‑honoring way, and that’s exactly what I wanted to do, and so I turned to Daniel for some lessons, and, man, I learned so much. And one of the first things that stood out to me when I just went back to his story and started reading it and studying it is that God will put us in secular environments and that’s okay because there’s a purpose for us being there. And sometimes I think, you know, we lament where we’re at, and when we do, we miss the purpose that God may have for us to be there. I’m sure Daniel did not want to be where he was. You know, none of the Israelites did, but God placed them there, but he also had a specific purpose for them, had a specific calling for them in that context, and a mission to fulfill. And Daniel is just a great example of just embracing that calling, embracing that mission, and embracing even where he was. And so his location did not change his allegiance to God, and even though he’s in a foreign kingdom and eventually serving a foreign king, his allegiance is always to God. Well, how did he do that? And that’s what I wanted to figure out. 

And so when I looked at Daniel, several things stood out to me, and I think one is that Daniel, he was commendable. You know, at the very beginning of his story, he and a few others, they’re chosen and, you know, some versions actually use the word “commended” or “commendable” because of his abilities, but also because of his outstanding character. And so I think, you know, as Christians in the workplace, I want to be commendable, not in the sense of, you know, I want praise to be heaped on me.  But being commendable in our abilities, but also in our character, it makes us stand out, but we’re standing out to bring glory to God. And so what that helped me to do is it helped me to realize that the greatest thing that I can bring into this workplace that I’m stepping into is not my degrees, but it’s my character. And I think that’s true for all of us, that a lot of us ‑‑ I mean, man, we bring so many ‑‑ you know, education, experience, and all of that, but don’t underestimate the power and the contribution of your character as a Christian in the workplace. And so that’s what Daniel brought, and so he was commendable. 

I also think, too, just in Daniel’s story, is that he was competent. He was good at what he did. And you think of Daniel’s perspective, it seems to me that Daniel kind of had this mentality that he wanted to do excellent work in order to praise an excellent God. And I think, wow, that’s a great perspective for us to have, is we ought to want to be good at our jobs, be competent. And so one of the ways that I can live out my faith in a secular work environment is to be a good employee, you know, to be responsible, to be trustworthy, to be dependable. You know, I want to be that employee that my boss doesn’t have to worry about because, you know, he or she can trust me, and I want to do good work as an extension of my service to a good God. If you’re a boss, be a good boss and treat your employees well. Care about your employees, have compassion on them, have empathy for them. So be competent; be good at what you do. And I think sometimes we think that, well, you know, for us to say we’re good at this or that or whatever, that that feels a little selfish, and so we’re not boasting, but we’re saying, hey, I want to be good because this is an extension of my walk with God. You know, just like what Paul says in Colossians 3:17, you know, do everything in the name of Christ. So if I’m to take that literally, then I want to be good at my job. I want to do good work and make good contributions. 

You know, I also see in the story of Daniel that, you know, he was convicted. I mean, we see that all throughout his story. And in a secular environment, you’re going to be tempted to compromise your values, your beliefs, your standards. Daniel was placed in so many different situations where he could have been tempted to compromise, but, also, when you look at Daniel’s story, Daniel had enemies, and so Daniel had people who were actively working against him because of his faith. Well, we may encounter that, as well, in a secular work environment. There may be people who actively work against us and try to sabotage us or undermine us because of our faith and our allegiance to Christ, but through all of that, Daniel stayed true to his convictions. 

And then I also just think about, to me, Daniel teaches me to be Christ. And I know Daniel’s story comes before the incarnation of Christ, but I think about like in Matthew 25, you know, when Jesus is saying ‑‑ you know, talking about how when you give food, you give shelter, you visit me, that we’re doing it for him, and so, I think, be Christ by serving others. And Daniel, he served; he did it in the name of God for the glory of God. And what’s interesting is that several times in Daniel’s story Nebuchadnezzar confesses that Daniel’s God is the true God of gods and Lord of lords, and it’s because Daniel, through his character, through his competency, through the strength of his convictions, he made God known to Nebuchadnezzar and others, and they saw God because of Daniel. Well, that’s exactly why God has the Israelites in Babylon, is so that they can show God, and that’s what Daniel does. And so I just thought his story and the way he approaches work as a true mission, man, that was so inspiring to me, and it really helped me to craft the way that I want to approach work in a secular environment.

WES: Man, I love that, and I can see that pattern that you laid out. I see that pattern not only in Daniel’s life, but even in what Paul taught the first‑century church, the way that he taught them to live when he was talking to slave masters or to slaves and telling them how to live out their faith within the context of those relationships, or husbands and wives and children, and in all of those contexts, this is the way you live out your faith. And so much of it was because he knew, not only for their own sake, but for the sake of their influence, that they were going to be influencing other people, that people were going to draw conclusions about what sort of people are these Jesus followers, what sort of people are these based on the way that they live their lives. 

And I was thinking about the fact that the world was turned upside down, not primarily by church workers, people that were supported by local congregations to preach messages on Sunday; the world was turned upside down by ordinary, everyday disciples, followers of Jesus living out their faith, being Christian bakers and Christian blacksmiths and Christian whatever ‑‑ Christian wives and Christian children and Christian fathers and living out their faith in all of these contexts, and it changed the world. It turned the world upside down by people living this out in everyday life.

RUSTY: That’s right, and people notice that. And so I’ll just give you a couple of examples. One of my favorite stories so far is that ‑‑ so there was a person that I’m working with in this secular job, in this secular environment, and he knew my background as a preacher, and so he felt compelled to tell me that he was an atheist, and it’s like, okay, you know. But anyways, we worked together, and worked together really well, and, you know, hit it off and had a good connection and all of that. So at one point he comes to me and he wants to know about forgiveness, and so he asked me about forgiveness. Well, you know, what I know of forgiveness is how scripture teaches forgiveness, so I begin to kind of teach a lesson, so to speak, you know, the Christian standard of forgiveness and how Christianity defines forgiveness, things like that. So we’re talking about forgiveness. So anyway, I’m just thinking, okay, he was just interested in this topic and we had a great conversation and all that. A couple of months go by. He reaches out to me and he says, “Hey, do you have time for a quick call?” And we use Microsoft Teams, so a video call, and “Do you have time for a quick Teams call?” I’m like, “Sure.” So anyway, I get on this call and he says, “Hey, I just wanted to share something with you,” and said, “It’s pretty exciting to me. I couldn’t wait to share it with you.” I said, “Okay, yeah, what’s going on?” And he said, “Well, I just wanted you to know that I was able to forgive my mother.” And he had had some issues and things, you know, through childhood and all, and I said, “Wow, that’s huge. Tell me about it.” And so he’s just telling me about the experience, and you could just see that this huge weight had been lifted off of him. And he said, “You know, I never would have been able to do that if it hadn’t been for our conversation about forgiveness.” And, I mean, I’m just, you know ‑‑ sorry, I’m getting teared up thinking about it because I’m sitting there thinking, well, we’re just having ‑‑ he’s just interested in the topic of forgiveness, and I had no clue that all this other stuff is happening in his background and in his life. 

And so when he calls and says that, it was just one of those moments where you just go, okay, this is what I ‑‑ I’m where I need to be, and that’s not to pat myself on the back, but it’s just to say exactly what you said. The influence that we can have as Christ followers for the purpose of Christ is incredible if we will take the mission of Christ seriously, and instead of compartmentalizing our lives between church and work, but see that it’s all together, we have opportunities like this all the time. I have people at a state government agency ‑‑ maybe I shouldn’t be saying this on a podcast, I don’t know ‑‑ who call me and just ask me to pray for them. Well, I’m not advertising that or I don’t have some sign that says, hey, if you need prayer, call. It’s just they’re seeing Christ and they’re responding to that. And, again, that’s not highlighting myself, but it’s to say that God will put us in secular environments for this exact purpose, to show Christ. And when we lift up Christ, he does exactly what he promised he would do. He draws people to himself if we, his followers, will lift him up.

WES: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I was thinking ‑‑ I don’t know that we defined the word “minister” earlier, but, I mean, it just means to serve. To minister to people is to serve people, and if we see ‑‑ if every single one of us ‑‑ I am in full‑time church work and my work is a ministry, but so is your work a ministry, and so is the work of our sister who works at the front desk at the church building. Her work is a ministry, and so is the person who works at the government agency and the person who works at the school. Their work is a ministry and they’re serving people, not just to serve them ‑‑ anybody can serve ‑‑ but as you said, serving in the name of Jesus, and that service in the name of Jesus, it draws people to Jesus. I think, so often, when we think about our work, especially, quote‑unquote, “secular work,” and we divide it, we just are trying to get through it and we’re just trying to keep our head above water and just get through it and move on to things that are more important, whereas if we really adopted this way of thinking that you’re promoting, that I think scripture promotes, is seeing our work as a ministry to reach and influence other people. So what advice would you have for people that really want to reach their neighbors, they want to reach their co‑workers, but they’re not really sure how to go about that in the workplace?  

RUSTY: Yeah. Well, and before I answer that, I just want to go back to something you mentioned, that ‑‑ you know, earlier you were talking about how sometimes we think of the minister as ‑‑ we kind of leave it all to one person, you know, and all that. But what you just described, if we’re truly doing that, think about the reach that we would have as the church, that if we’re not just putting this on the shoulders of one person or one specialized group of paid ministers, but instead, every Christ follower is seeing that they have a mission to live out in their different contexts, now think of all the people that we’re able to reach for the cause of Christ, because, you know, I mean, you’ll reach people that I’ll never have the opportunity to meet or talk to, you know? I’ll reach people that you’ll never have the opportunity to meet and talk to. But if we’re both doing that, now, all of a sudden, the kingdom is expanding, you know, and so I just think about just the possibilities of what you described, and, to me, that’s so exciting. And I think it’s exciting to be part of the cause of Christ and to see that I can be part of it in my work, that I don’t have to leave what I’ve known and go ‑‑ I can be part of the cause of Christ right where I’m at, and that is really exciting to me.

But to get to your question about just, you know, how do we reach people in our work environments ‑‑ so I think about, again, the story of Daniel. You know, that’s part of a larger story so you think of one of Daniel’s contemporaries, Jeremiah. Think about what God says to the Israelites in Jeremiah 29, where he says, you know, “I have a plan for you.” He’s put them in this secular environment, but he has a purpose for them, and so he tells them to work, to marry, to have children, to live their lives, but he also tells them to seek the welfare of the city where they’ve gone because they’ll benefit from that, too, and then he also tells them to pray for the welfare of the city where they’ve been placed. And so, if I take that and put it in my context, well, then it tells me a couple of things. It teaches me a few things about how I can reach people in my environment or be on mission in my secular workplace. 

And so one is, I think, just accept the assignment. You know, I mean, in Jeremiah 29, God’s given the Israelites an assignment. Okay, you’re in this foreign place. You’re in this secular kingdom, but God has given them an assignment to live out while they’re there. So that’s the first thing, is I’ve got to accept the assignment that God has given me as a Christ follower. That assignment is true for us no matter where we are, no matter what we do for a living, and it really kind of goes to our identity, that being that disciple‑maker ‑‑ you know, that’s what I love about that story with Shodankeh Johnson, you know, “I’m a disciple‑maker who…” because what they’re doing is they’re identifying themselves first as a disciple‑maker, then, secondarily, I do this to make a living. Okay. So I accept the assignment, and so I’m going to be on mission for Christ. 

So, again, just going from Jeremiah 29, well, if I put that in my context, then I want to be part of the team, and that’s what God tells the Israelites. Be part of the community. Don’t separate yourself off, make yourself this own little clique. He’s saying be part of the community, be part of the city. So I want to be part of the team; I want to be with the team, you know, I want to be alongside the team. And so be part of the team that you work with at work, but also be a blessing to the team. That’s what God was telling the Israelites to do. Be a source of blessing to the people that you’re around and in the city you live in. And so, you know, in work, okay, how can I be a blessing to the people I work with and to the team I’m on? And I think about that in terms of how do I add value? What value can I add to this team? 

And then also pray for your team. So just as God told the Israelites to pray for the welfare of the city, I want to pray for my team. I want to pray for their welfare. And I do; I pray for my team by name, and I pray for the things that they have going on in their lives. But then, also, you know, we see God telling them to always be on God’s team. Okay, yeah, you’re part of this community, I want you to be part of this community, I want you to be a blessing to them, but remember that we’re always on God’s team. 

And so I think if we can keep those lessons in mind, again, it helps us to approach work. So, for example, like being part of the team and things like that, well, you know, there’s some lifestyle choices that some of my teammates make that I would not approve of, you know, scripture doesn’t approve of those kinds of things, but I still want to be part of that team because I can’t have influence if I just separate myself from that person or those people. I want to be part of the team. I don’t want to adopt their standards or their lifestyles or their beliefs or their values, but I still want to be among them and be part of them so that I can be an influence in their lives. You know, that story I told about the forgiveness, well, that would ‑‑ you know, like I said, he described himself as an atheist. Well, I would never have had that opportunity to have some kind of influence if I had just said, “Oh, well, you’re an atheist, then forget it. I can’t be part of you.” You know, God says, hey, be part of the community. So I think it’s important for us to really understand that, but, again, we’re there for a purpose, so always be on mission for God.

WES: I love it. It’s such practical advice. I think we would be remiss if we didn’t end with maybe pointing out some of the dangers, the pitfalls, the obstacles that we face. The examples that you’ve used about Daniel and then Jeremiah, they’re written to and written about people in exile, people that are, in a sense, behind enemy lines, and we do need to recognize that we are in exile. That doesn’t mean, as you said, that we withdraw and we have nothing to do with the people and say, “Well, we’re Christians and we have to be separate.” That’s what the Pharisees did. They were separatists. They didn’t want to have anything to do with people that weren’t like them. So we do want to be on the team, but there are also some dangers when you’re living in exile, when you’re living as God’s people in a foreign land, so help us to see some of the dangers we might look out for.

RUSTY: Yeah. Yeah, and I’m glad you brought this up because you’re exactly right, and we have to be aware of that. And, you know, that’s one of the things that scripture even encourages us to do, is we need to be wise and discerning of our environment and people that are around us and things like that. There are some real dangers. You know, I think about like in Daniel’s story ‑‑ well, part of the danger that he had to face was that he had people actively working against him. That may very well be one of the dangers that some of us face as Christ followers, you know, and so we may face some different threats, even feeling like we’re kind of being ostracized at work because of our faith and our beliefs and things like that. So there are some real dangers that we have to be aware of, but I think one of the biggest dangers is idolatry. I mean, as we know in scripture, I mean, this is kind of the foundational sin running throughout the narrative of scripture. And you think about idolatry, it’s ‑‑ you know, in a simple term or simple way, it’s really putting something above God or looking to something or someone instead of God for meaning and fulfillment, for comfort, even, for strength, things like that. So it’s replacing God with something, and so that means that even good things can become idols. And so work is a good thing, but even work can become an idol because I can make work the source of my identity, the source of my fulfillment, the source of my meaning in life, and replace God with work, and so I think we have to be really concerned about the dangers of idolatry in the workplace. 

And there’s several, but three that I have found and that I’ve kind of encountered in this transition of mine is ‑‑ I mean, I guess, four, because, like I mentioned, work itself can become an idol. But I think one workplace idol that we need to be really mindful of is the idol of success, and this is where we root our identity in our performance rather than in Christ or in God, and, man, that is so tempting, you know, because we want to be good at our jobs, we want to be recognized as being good, we want to be successful. I mean, you know, even when I was a full‑time preacher, I still had that draw. I want to be successful; I want to do good things and good work and things like that. The same is true in a secular environment, and so it’s really intoxicating, you know, to chase success, and so that can be a real danger because, now, if that’s where I’m getting my validation is in my achievements and recognitions and awards, well, now, you know, I am subtly ‑‑ sometimes not so subtly, but I am subtly getting off the Jesus path and I am getting off mission and now I become self‑serving rather than God‑serving. So I think success is one of those. 

I think money, obviously, is a big‑time idol that we have to be careful about. But what’s interesting is ‑‑ and there’s all kinds of studies and research about this ‑‑ is that money is also one of those examples of idols always overpromise and under‑deliver, because there’s a ton of research that shows that money does not accomplish what we think it will accomplish in our lives, and yet money can be a big idol.

And I also think fitting in is a workplace danger that can become an idol, and, to me, the challenge there is, you know, am I trying to please people more than I’m trying to please Christ? What am I doing? What’s really at the heart of my ambition here? And the reason I think of those three things is because, in a secular workplace environment, those are kind of the metrics that you measure yourself by, is how successful are you in terms of titles, promotion, all of those things? How much money you make is kind of the symbol of your worth, and your value is how much money you make, and then just fitting in and networking and being known. Man, that’s how people in a secular work environment are measuring themselves. 

And so I think we have to be careful at not falling, ourselves, into those traps, and, again, that can be really easy to do. And so I think about, just in terms of success, we’ve got to ‑‑ our standard of success has to be faithfulness. Am I being faithful? You know, I think about like Isaiah and Jeremiah. You know, they’re told to be these messengers for God, but if we were to measure their success by the standards we measure preachers today, they would be miserable failures, but they’re not failures because their measurement of success was they were faithful. They were faithful to the task that God gave them. And so that’s how I want to measure myself. Am I faithful to the task God has given me to carry out in this secular work environment?  And if I can stay focused on that, it can help me to not fall prey to these dangers of these workplace idols.

WES: Yeah. Oh, that’s so helpful because I think that ‑‑ even as we were talking about the idea of being on mission for God and doing this for Jesus and being in the workplace for the Lord and for influence and being a positive impact and ministering to other people, I think sometimes we can fool ourselves into thinking that’s what we’re doing when we’re really stoking our own ego, when we’re really doing things for selfish, idolatrous reasons, and we’re telling ourselves, oh, no, no, this is for the Lord, and I want to be in the in‑group so that I can influence them, and I want a better position because the better position I have, the more people I’ll be able to influence and reach for the Lord. And we tell ourselves that we’re doing it for the Lord, but, in reality, there’s an ulterior motive, and that’s why I think that there’s so much value in quiet time, in study of scripture, in prayer, in being introspective, because we have to examine our own motives and ask ourselves ‑‑ I love the question you come back to, faithfulness. Am I being faithful? And if I am, then I am a success. And the freedom, the liberty, the joy of knowing that I may not be the highest‑paid employee here, I might not be the most well‑liked person here, I might not be the person with the most prestigious job or office, but I am being faithful to Jesus, and that’s what really matters.

RUSTY: Absolutely right. And like you said, that’s something that requires constant introspection and examination. And so one of the things that I do just as a simple idea is ‑‑ so I have written out for myself what I call a workday startup prayer and a workday shutdown prayer. And so, I’m kind of an organized guy, but what that helps me to do is ‑‑ so I begin my workday with this same prayer, but I’ve written some specific things in that prayer that I want to be mindful of because it’s helping me to start my workday remembering what my real purpose is, where my identity comes from, that I want to be an instrument of peace and an ambassador of Christ in this place. And then I end my workday ‑‑ kind of a way to just kind of turn my brain off from work, you know, is I end my workday with another prayer that, again, is helping me to just kind of evaluate, okay, was I faithful today? You know, was I a good ambassador of Christ today? 

And so I think, just as followers of Christ in these secular environments facing these real dangers, we’ve got to put some things into the routines of our day that are helping us to stay on task, helping us to stay on mission and that incorporates some of that introspection and examination, because if I’m not doing that, it can be so easy for me to get sucked into measuring success in a worldly way and all of those kinds of things. So I think the point you made is really good, and I think we need to just adopt some disciplines and kind of rituals, so to speak, that help us to stay on task.

WES: I love that. I love the fact that you used the word “rituals,” that there are religious rituals that should be part of our, quote‑unquote, “secular work.” And, really, we keep using that term “secular” because we need sort of a handle to talk about it, but it really isn’t secular. For believers, it is religious work. The work that you’re doing now is just as religious, just as spiritual as the work you were doing before. It’s just as much ministry. In fact, Peter calls every believer part of the royal priesthood, that we are being priests, whether you’re a man, whether you’re a woman, whatever your job, whatever your role, even if you’re working at home. My wife is a stay‑at‑home mom and she is homeschooling our boys, but she is doing a priesthood work. She is doing ministry in our home. And if everybody thought of their workplace like that and thought of their workday that way, that I’m going into my realm of ministry where I am going to be a priest for the Lord and I’m going to bring the blessings of God to my co‑workers and to the customers and to the people I interact with, it would change the way that we do everything, and like you said, it would expand the work of ministry across every city and every state and every country throughout the world and would be what Jesus calls the kingdom to be, this leaven that is working through the lump of dough.

RUSTY: Yeah, absolutely. And you’re right; it changes how we think about our work. Now, all of a sudden, work is more exciting. And so here’s an interesting thought. So one of the things that’s happening in the workplace today, kind of across the board, is there’s real struggles with employee engagement. So a couple of years ago, kind of the buzzword was “quiet quitting,” things like that, and so employers are having a real challenge with retaining talented employees, things like that. Well, what’s interesting is one of the factors in that is that ‑‑ there’s a leadership group called McKinsey & Company, and they recently did a survey and found that 70% of the employees that they surveyed ‑‑ it was a large survey sample ‑‑ 70% say that work is their primary source of meaning and fulfillment in life. Okay, now think about this. One of the reasons for that is because here, within our country, we’ve seen kind of the role of the church or the influence of the church in culture has been in decline for some time. You know, we’re really shifting from kind of a religious culture to, now, very non‑religious, you know, in a lot of ways. So what that means is that fewer people are looking to God as a source of meaning, and so if you don’t have God, where does that come from? Well, work is kind of the only place that it can come from, but work cannot deliver what God is meant to deliver and what only God can deliver. And so I think there’s a lot of people that ‑‑ they’re frustrated by work because that’s the only place they’re looking for meaning and fulfillment, and they’re disappointed, you know, and disgruntled, and all of those kinds of things, and so they’re really frustrated with work and it’s because they’re looking to work to provide them with something that only their Creator can do. 

So as followers of Jesus, we get this, but, again, we can be tempted to make work the source of our meaning and our fulfillment. We can be just as tempted to do that as others. But when we keep work in its proper perspective, like what we’ve been talking about, now work is energizing and I can also deal with the frustrations at work in a more positive and productive way because work is not the ultimate source of my meaning or even of my identity. And so I think if we can put work back in its scriptural perspective, I think not only will we be more satisfied, will be more energized at work, but also we’ll be able to see how the kingdom of God and the opportunities we have to be on mission for the kingdom of God are literally all around us and we can take more advantage of that.

WES: Yeah. Amen. Amen. What a great place to stop. Rusty, thank you for this conversation, and thank you for your work in the kingdom, Brother.

RUSTY: Well, thank you, Wes. I love the podcast. Love what you’re doing, so keep on going, Brother.

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