Mark S. Mitchell

Pastor, Writer, Follower of Jesus


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Does Your Work Matter to God?

It’s Labor Day and perhaps a good time to ask the question, why do you work? There can be two extremes in answering that question. There are those who see work as a necessary evil. They work because they have to. Work is a means to an end. “I work because I have to pay my bills.” Or “I work because I want to be able to pay for the things I want out of life.” Or “I work because some day I want to retire.” For these people, work has little intrinsic value. It’s something they do because of something else they want. Some of these people, of course, aren’t neutral about their job; they HATE their job. Like the David Allan Coe song from 1978, Take This Job and Shove It, they loathe their work. Tim J. McGuire, former editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune once said in a speech: “Work is brutal. Work is a four-letter word. Most people don’t think that work could possibly have anything to do with spirituality. They assume that these two worlds cannot mesh.”

The other extreme sees their jobs and their work as central to their worth and identity as a person. Not only do they love their work, their work is everything to them; it’s their religion. One study showed that Americans work an average of 49 1/2 weeks a year, more than any other developed nation. My oldest daughter used to work for Facebook. It was great because you could eat three very nice meals a day there; they would even do your dry-cleaning. All this for free! But after awhile she realized part of the deal was you never needed to go home! For some, work is an obsession.

God is the One who invented work. When God created Adam and Eve, he gave them work to do. He told them to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 2:28). Before sin ever entered the world, there was work in paradise. The Bible also hints strongly there will be work in heaven. But work isn’t everything. God also instituted the Sabbath; a day of rest. Life is to be lived in a sacred rhythm of rest and work.

How do we capture God’s purpose for our work? How can work become for us more than just a necessary evil? How can our work take on it’s rightful place in our lives? I believe the answer to that question lies in the whole idea of what the Bible calls our calling. We need to understand how our jobs connect with our calling. Paul wrote about this in 1 Corinthians 7:17, 20, Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk… Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.” Paul calls our job the place “the Lord has assigned to each one.” He says, “Wherever you were at when Christ called you, that’s your assignment.” Then in v. 20 he says something very surprising. The word translated “condition” is actually the same word he uses in the rest of the passage for “calling.” It should read like this: “Each man must remain in that calling in which he was called.” You see, our jobs are a calling. You might say, there is Calling with a big “C” and calling with a small “c.” Calling with a big “C” is the same for every believer; we are called into a relationship with Christ.  Calling with a small “c” is a little different for every believer. Our different jobs are a kind of calling; they are an assignment from God. This is where the word “vocation” comes in. We use that to speak of our careers, but the word comes from the Latin root which means “to call.” We each have a vocational calling. Our vocation is the unique place God has called us to live out the implications of our big “C” calling.

Paul gives us a a very strong hint of what that might mean later in v. 24 when he says, “Each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.” Those two words, with God” make all the difference in the world. The idea seems to be that, whatever our work is, God is not only right there with us, but we do our work for Him; he is the One we are to please. In Colossians, Paul put it this way, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col. 3:23-24). Paul says do you work as if it were an act of worship. What difference would it make if you did your job every day before an audience of One?

It would make a difference in how we work. When we are doing our work for God we strive for excellence in all that we do. Sweeping floors, pounding nails, pulling teeth, fixing computers will be done with diligence and conscientiousness. It should never be said of Christian workers that they are halfhearted, chronically late, irresponsible, whiny, and “too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.”

Working for God should also make a difference in who we are. This goes beyond just being good workers. The idea here is being people of Christlike character in the marketplace. We should be marked by integrity. We should be known as people who don’t shade the truth to make the deal. Expense accounts are not padded. Petty cash is not pilfered. That’s only the start. We should actually model a lifestyle that is directly opposed to the typical standard. The typical marketplace mentality centers on the bottom line: profits, quotas, sales reports, balance sheets and getting ahead of our co-workers. Yet, we should be people marked by compassion, servanthood, putting people above the bottom line. Its so easy to slip into self-centeredness. When you go to work tomorrow, who do you need to reach out to? Who needs your encouragement? Who needs you to listen?

Being Christlike also means being vulnerable — admitting when you make a mistake. As followers of Christ we are going to blow it at times. We will lose our tempers, say something unkind, fall into gossip, or just fail to do a good job. We should be known as people who refuse to shift blame or rationalize, but who say, “I’m sorry. I blew it. I shouldn’t have said that. I was wrong.”  We can also be vulnerable by just being honest when we’re struggling with something. We don’t have to be “Joe Christian” with a plastic smile. We need to be human, sincere and transparent.

Finally, working before an audience of One should make a difference in what we say. Once we earn credibility in how we work and who we are, then we’ve earned the right to share Christ with our co-workers. I like what Bill Hybels says about this, “Jesus never commanded us to engage in theological debates with strangers, flaunt four-inch crosses and Jesus stickers, or throw our Christian catch phrases. But he did tell us to live and work in such a way that when the Holy Spirit orchestrates opportunities to speak about God, we will have earned the right.”

At the end us his life Jesus prayed something to his Father we would all want to be able to pray. He said, “Father, I have finished the work you have given me to do.” That work was his calling to be obedient to his Father in everything, including the work of dying on the cross. Jesus finished his work; he fulfilled his calling. But sometimes we forget that for twenty-plus years that obedience found expression in climbing out of the sack six days a week to make plows and repair broken furniture. When Jesus went to his hometown of Nazareth and began to teach in the synagogue like he was a rabbi, his old buddies came by to see him and said, “Is this not the carpenter?” We forget that for most of his life he was the carpenter; it was only the last three years of his life that he was a preacher. But whether he was at the workbench pounding nails or in the synagogue preaching, he did his work before an audience of One; what drove him was His call to live for the Father. And at the end of his day his reward was to hear his Father say, “Well done! Well done in your calling. Well done in your job.” Would that be what he could say to each of us?


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Raising up Preachers Through the Multi-Site Model

For the past five years, the church in which I serve as Lead Pastor on the San Francisco Peninsula has adopted a multi-site model. Being a church of almost 3,000 people with only 2 acres in Foster City, we outgrew our facilities and felt this was the best way to continue to grow and reach the Peninsula for Christ. Our original campus is still in Foster City, but we have started two additional campuses. About five years ago, we started our North Campus in Millbrae (now in San Bruno), and then this past September we started a campus in Redwood City. We continue to function as one church on three campuses, with one budget and one board of elders. Each of our campuses has its own Campus Pastor and its own “campus specific” staff, but several of our staff serve all three campuses.

One of the challenges of doing multi-site has to do with preaching. With three campuses meeting every Sunday, we now have 156 Sundays a year (52 on each campus) to cover on the preaching calendar. Many multi-site churches have chosen to leverage the speaking and leadership gifts of one preacher and so they have him preach “in person” in the original campus and show a video of the sermon on the other campuses. It is argued that this is also a wise use of resources, in that it takes most guys 15-20 hours a week to prepare a message. But that approach has been criticized for several reasons: it just furthers the “celebrity” status of one person; it doesn’t allow young, emerging pastors to grow and develop their own preaching gifts; and it is contrary to an “incarnational” model of ministry.

What our church has adopted is a hybrid approach. Trying to cover 156 Sundays is a lot, so we still use video some of the time, usually when I am preaching on the “hub” campus. But we have also found that the multi-site model is a great way to train young preachers. Each of our Campus Pastors preaches “in person” several times a year on his own campus. On those weeks, I have an opportunity to work with them on their messages and debrief the following week. They benefit from that in several ways. First, if we never chose to go multi-site, we would only have 52 Sundays to cover, and they would get much less opportunity to preach. Second, if we had started a church instead of a campus, they would be burned out by trying to preach 52 times a year! Third, hopefully they benefit from the coaching I give them as well as the interaction between themselves as they prepare their messages on the same text. The bottom line is that more young guys are being trained to preach under this multi-site model than otherwise possible.


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Shout Out to Coaches

Last weekend I had the opportunity to hang with and speak to about 55 coaches and their spouses. This was a weekend conference at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley put on by a group called Coaches Time-Out (CTO), which is part of Pro Football Outreach. My good friend, Steve Stenstrum, is the President of Pro Football Outreach and he invited me to be one of the speakers. I was joined by David and Kelli Pritchard, who spoke on marriage; Don Christiansen, who spoke on managing money; and Steve Kennelley, who spoke on leadership. Joe Broussard, the National Director for CTO, did an excellent job hosting the conference.

Part of the reason this was fun for me is that I have a heart for coaches and their spouses. As I think back to my own growing up, I can see how influential coaches were in my life. Men like Tom Burt, Bob Baird, Ron Moser at Los Altos High School and Jim Sanderson at Cal Poly had a huge impact on me. I was like wet cement and they made an imprint on me that has lasted to this day. Growing up, I never understood how much they sacrificed to invest in me and others. It makes me also appreciate the many coaches who are now part of the church I pastor and I am reminded of the important ministry they have in the lives of children.

Coaches were so important in shaping my life that I went to college as a P.E. major with the intent of being a coach. God re-routed me to pastoral ministry, but I have still done some coaching along the way. I coached varsity football for a year at Mountain View High School. I also coached wrestling for a year at Amador Valley High School in Pleasanton while serving as a youth pastor at a nearby church. One of the joys of my life was coaching all three of my kids in soccer, football and baseball. I’m not sure I was all that good at it, but I wanted to coach because of what my coaches had meant to me. Even now as a pastor, much of what I do with our staff is more like coaching than pastoring.

Coaches continue to be an important part of my life. I have a son-in-law who is a football coach at Stanford University. I am very proud of him and my daughter, who see coaching as more of a calling than a job. My own son, Matt, has had a lifelong dream of being a Division One football coach. He is now approaching his senior year at Wheaton College where he plays football. I’m more than grateful for the coaches at Wheaton College, like Mike Swider and Rodney Sandberg, who have invested in my son and have provided a sterling example of what it means to be not just a football player but a man of God.

If you get a chance, find a way to say thanks to the coaches in your life. Better yet, pay a coach’s way to one of the conferences put on by CTO next summer.


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The Skill of Friendship: Part IV

The fourth skill is the most difficult skill of all—forgiveness. Ray Stedman used to say that there three things that we must do for a friendship to last—forgive, forgive and forgive! Proverbs says the same thing. Look at 17:9: He who covers a transgression seeks love, But he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends. Look also at 10:12: Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions. Both of these proverbs speak of forgiveness in an unusual way. They speak of “covering a transgression.” That doesn’t mean we ignore it; it means we see it and acknowledge it for what it is and by an act of our will we choose to forgive that person and not to make it public. We don’t repeat it; we don’t stir it up so that every angle of the scandal is exposed and every last drop of shame is drawn from the offender. A good friend will try to contain the damage of our sin. She will see all of our quirks and idiosyncrasies and be willing to stay with us and cover them.

Every close friendship progresses to a point where a decision has to be made. Will we cover the offensive actions and annoying traits of that person, and will the relationship then move to a deeper level, or will those things cause us to move away from our friend? Since we’re all sinners every friendship will have to deal with the reality of sin, weakness, failure and conflict. Any friendship that hasn’t had to deal with those things can’t be considered close. Many people get to that point in the friendship and because they’re unwilling to endure through the sin they bail out and move on to the next relationship. But, unless we’re willing to love someone at their very worst we can’t have the very best of friendship.

How are you doing in the skill of friendship? It’s not easy, is it? As a matter of fact, when we start talking about the kind of loyalty and forgiveness described here I would say its virtually impossible in our own strength. But all of this was meant to be a picture of the kind of love God has for us. Remember what Jesus said to his disciples, “No longer do I call you slaves, but I call you friends.” Jesus has given to each one of us the promise of friendship. A friendship in which he displays every one of the skills we’ve talked about this morning—sensitivity, truth, loyalty, and forgiveness. The old hymn says, “I’ve found a friend, O such a friend, he bled, he died, to save me. And not alone the gift of life, but his own self he gave me. Naught that I have my own I call, I hold it for the giver; my heart, my strength, my life, my all are his and his forever.” And here lies the real key to being a friend. To be this kind of friend, we have to know the friendship of God in our hearts.


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The Skill of Friendship: Part III

A third skill that’s needed in friendship is loyalty. By the way, we’re progressively moving to a deeper level, and as we do it doesn’t get easier, it gets harder. Proverbs 17:17: A friend loves at all times, And a brother is born for adversity. This is a very simple but profound verse. Both lines say essentially the same thing in a different way. A true friend is one who loves us at all times, in every circumstance of life. There is a hint here that the true colors of friendship are seen in the midst of adversity. When our lives are falling apart a true friend will stand with us. Or when our friend has failed, we’ll be their to pick them up.

We have many examples of this kind of loyalty in Scripture. I think of how Jonathan was a friend for David in a time of need. He went out of his way to help when David was in danger of being killed by King Saul, who happened to be Jonathan’s father! I think of Barnabas who proved to be a friend to the apostle Paul after his conversion when the rest of the apostles were ready to turn him away. It’s not easy to be a friend like that and it’s not easy to find a friend like that. It means moving beyond friendship that’s rooted in enjoyment or convenience to one that’s rooted in the raw will to love. It requires tenacity to stay with someone when there isn’t anything left in it for you.


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The Skill of Friendship: Part II

The second skill is truth-telling. Healthy friendships are based on truth, even if it hurts. Proverbs 27:5-6: Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy. These two proverbs speak of the need for truth-telling that’s sometimes painful in a genuine friendship. An open rebuke is better than concealed love. Concealed love refuses to show itself by saying something that’s needed but possibly hurtful, and that really isn’t love at all. It’s soft love; it’s morally useless love; it’s love that isn’t tuff enough to say something to a person when their behavior is destroying themselves and everyone around them. But “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” A friend who will tell you the truth, even when it might wound you, is precious. Their willingness to wound you is born out of faithfulness to you. It doesn’t always feel that way. Nobody likes to be wounded. But, it’s true.

This is an aspect of friendship that we have to be willing to both give and receive. If you have a friend in your life who cares for you and comes to you and tells you something about yourself that’s hard for you to hear then thank God for that person and take what they say seriously. We say we want to grow in our faith; we want God to direct us; this is often how God does it. He puts a friend in our path who loves us enough to reflect back to us some of the things about ourselves, some of the choices we’re making, that are unwise. Sure, sometimes we have to consider the source, but more often we should consider the criticism, and if we hear it from more than one person, consider it even more. An old Yiddish proverb says, “If one man calls you an ass, pay him no mind. But if two men call you an ass, put on a saddle.”


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The Skill of Friendship: Part I

Friendship is crucial for us to be the people God has called us to be. But what does it take to be a friend? I have over 600 “friends” on Facebook, but what does that mean? Studies show we have less people we can really confide in than past generations. Our society does very little to help us in this area. Fifteen year-olds spend months learning how to drive but rarely learn how to be a friend. College students spend years learning the skills of engineering or business but the skill of friendship is left up to osmosis. We have a generation of people who aren’t succeeding in this area and it affects everything. How can we learn the skill of friendship? There is no better place to learn about friendship than the book of Proverbs. Proverbs has taught me at least four skills that are required to be a friend.

First, there is a need for sensitivity. We’re talking here about being sensitive to what’s appropriate or offensive. Proverbs 25:17 says, Let your foot be rarely in your neighbor’s house, Lest he become weary of you and hate you. Here is a warning against wearing out your welcome. Don’t be in your friend’s house too much because sooner or later he’ll get sick of you and loathe the sound of your voice at the door. It doesn’t say that we shouldn’t ever be in our friend’s house, but don’t overdo it. It helps to understand that culture. In that culture hosts were obligated to welcome and provide for guests, even if they resented it. It’s the same thing in many countries today. In my travels in Eastern Europe I’ve learned I have to be careful about staying in homes with families. In those cultures they’re expected to go overboard in extending hospitality even if they don’t want to. Often it’s very genuine, but since it’s a cultural expectation you have to be careful not to take advantage because they would NEVER say anything. That’s what this Proverb is talking about–being sensitive to those kinds of issues. Yes, we should show hospitality to one another, but that doesn’t give us the right to take advantage.

Sensitivity is also needed when a friend is hurting. Prov 25:20: Like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar on soda, Is he who sings songs to a troubled heart. Two images are given and they both speak of actions which cause an immediate unpleasant reaction. One who takes a coat off on a cold day immediately reacts to the cold. And the acid in vinegar combined with the alkaline in soda immediately creates a bubbling reaction. When we sing songs to a troubled heart an unpleasant reaction takes place. When a person is hurting, the last thing they need is for someone to come along and try to get them to think positive or to look on the bright side. What they need is for someone to come along side of them and weep with them and be tender with them. George MacDonald writes, “Tears are often the only cure for weeping.”