Over a cup of coffee, Wendell—an entrepreneur with a PhD in biomedical engineering—told me that he was thinking about making a career change. “I don’t want to waste my life,” he said. “I want to do something that has real significance, where I can glorify God and actually love people.” He went on to ask me if I thought he should become a pastor, a missionary, or a nonprofit leader—jobs he thought really mattered in God’s economy.
Wendell is a member of Redemption Tempe, the church where I serve as pastor of communities and cultural engagement. At our church, we preach the lordship of Christ over all aspects of life, offer classes about the theology of work, and repeat our favorite phrase every Sunday: “All of life is all for Jesus.” In spite of his intelligence and our initiatives, however, Wendell still didn’t see that his work as a biomedical engineer was as significant as my work as a pastor.
To my shame, I had never asked Wendell about the specifics of his work. We mostly talked about how he could serve at church. Over coffee, though, as he explained how his company develops devices that help doctors detect cancer at early stages, his eyes were full of excitement. In this conversation, I realized that I had failed him as a pastor. He was clearly skilled and passionate about his work, but he didn’t see how it applied to Jesus’s command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk. 12:31).
So we talked about how we love our neighbors through our work—even if we don’t personally interact with them—by providing goods and services that help them flourish. We talked about how Martin Luther said, “God milks the cows through the vocation of the milkmaids,” and how God cares for cancer patients through his biotech work. He walked away from the conversation encouraged, but I walked away perplexed.
We Value What We Publicly Celebrate
As I wondered why Wendell didn’t understand our church's message about the broad scope of the gospel and its implications for all of life, I realized that the issue wasn’t with what he heard, but with what he saw. He frequently heard teaching about the importance of vocation and all-of-life discipleship, but he never saw anyone’s work—apart from pastoral, missionary, and nonprofit work—publicly celebrated.
When I mentioned this observation to Riccardo Stewart, our lead pastor who wrote a paper in seminary about commissioning people in all kinds of vocations, we decided to figure out some ways to celebrate the work of our congregants. Thus, the “All-of-Life Interview” was born. For the past year and a half, we have devoted five minutes before the sermon to interview people from various occupations so that we might celebrate their work, pray for others in their field, and affirm the goodness of a broad range of vocations as opportunities to glorify God and love our neighbors.
All-of-Life Interview Questions
While there is some room for customization, we ask four basic questions in each interview. We repeat the same questions, because they give our congregants a weekly reminder and opportunity to reflect on their own work.
Question #1: How would you describe your work?
We want a snapshot of the daily life of the interviewee. This answer often builds common ground between the interviewee and others within the congregation, even if they don't work in the same field.
We want to ground the intrinsic value of work in the character of God and frame our work as an act of “image-bearing” (Gen. 1:16-28, 2:15). Therefore, we ask the interviewees to connect their work to some specific aspect of God’s work. In Kingdom Calling, Amy Sherman offers six categories of God’s work that give us a helpful framework for our vocations:
- creative work (artists, designers, architects, etc.)
- providential work (entrepreneurs, janitors, civil servants, bankers, etc.)
- justice work (lawyers, paralegals, diplomats, supervisors, etc.)
- compassionate work (nurses, nonprofit directors, social workers, EMTs, etc.)
- revelatory work (scientists, journalists, educators, etc.)
- redemptive work (pastors, authors, counselors, etc.)
Some people subconsciously think their work should always be fun and fulfilling, often assuming that the presence of pain and struggle invalidates the goodness of their work. We want them to see that, in a fallen world that is filled with sin and its effects, each occupation has unique hardships and comes with its own thorns and thistles.
We want to broaden the application of Jesus’s command to love our neighbors. Many people assume this command is mostly applied as interpersonal acts of kindness, but we try to demonstrate that love can also be indirect and systemic.
Fruit of the Interviews
Apart from the direct effect of the interview on the interviewee, we’ve a witnessed a cumulative effect in our congregation over time. These interviews have slowly helped all of us to understand that “vocational is integral, not incidental, to the mission of God in the world,” as Steve Garber says. We have noticed increased theological depth and gospel intentionality in our congregants and their work. This is the work of the Spirit, but we are delighted that he is using the interviews as an instrument of his grace.
The interviews also give us a glimpse of God’s brilliant attributes and actions. An artist at our church points to God’s creativity, an accountant talks about God’s order, a pediatric oncologist reminds us that God will one day heal all wounds, and a handyman reflects God’s restoration. The one thing that really matters, of course, is the gospel—but because of the gospel, all things matter (Col. 1:15-23), including the work of the butcher, the baker, and the biotech maker.
This article by Jim Mullins was originally published on the Gospel Coalition Website. Jim is on staff with Surge Network and is a husband, dad, pastor, gardener, and resident of Tempe.
Cover Photo by April Maura Photography