Author Archives: Johan Mostert

Sacred-Secular Divide: A toxic concept!

For many of us, when someone goes into “full-time ministry” we have referred to them as entering a “higher calling”. In fact we commonly speak of someone going into “THE ministry” as if there is only one ministry that is of note in the Kingdom of God. All activities that are related to the church (preaching, worship, music, Sunday school, Bible-study, etc.) are elevated into a special class of high value activities: they are “spiritual”. Everything else that we do (pursuing a career, studying, taking the kids to soccer, eating, paying our bills, even sleeping) are strangely demoted to a class of activities that don’t seem to interest God. It is only when we finally leave our homes on Sunday mornings, and go to the “house of God” that we can “enter into His presence”. This is spiritual. This is important. It’s almost as if God is at rest in “His house” from Monday to Saturday and when we enter the doors of the “house of God”, we gently rouse Him from His slumber so that we can perform our spiritual service of worship to Him.

But even a cursory reading of the Bible should reveal to us that this is a dichotomy (the Sacred-Secular Divide or SSD) that is hard to support. I think it is more a reflection of our Western cultural heritage than our biblical understanding. Paul tried to explain the concept of ministry when he wrote a letter to the church in Ephesus (see Ephesians 4:11 and 12). In his explanation he turns our conventional thinking on its head! He affirms that God did indeed give the Church some important gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. But he clearly describes their function. He says they are there to equip all of us for ministry! Their primary function is to use their training and calling and leadership gifts to prepare an army of ministers to infiltrate the world; equipping them to encounter their communities with a mission. They are to become ambassadors of a Kingdom that is governed by the superior laws of a God who passionately loves the world that He is sending them into. He is sending all of them so that they can demonstrate how His ways work, and that these laws are higher than any other ways of doing things. And as they are going on their way, making disciples of all the nations they encounter, He promised that He would go with them even if they went into the ends of the earth (Mathew 28:19 and 20). This is not a picture of a god who slumbers or sleeps, He’s hard at WORK (John 5:17) as His Spirit is actively involved in the task of daily empowering believers to accomplish this mammoth task!

There is nothing in the biblical narrative to support our habit of separating spiritual things from the rest of life. Quite the contrary. God wants to penetrate every aspect of our lives with His holiness: our occupations, our activities, our families, and our communities. He wants to elevate all of us into “full-time ministry” so that we can bring a sense of His wisdom, His “way of doing things” into every aspect of our lives.

And those of us who are functioning in the role of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers? We have only one task: make and equip disciples. Our number one priority is to develop systems, teachings and resources that will form their character and build their skills so that they could more adequately represent the holiness of God in their respective worlds. We are not “higher”. We are not more “spiritual”. We are their servants (Matthew 20:25-26)! We are not going to be evaluated one day in terms of how many people come to listen to us preaching, or to how much money we have raised, or how large our staff is. The only metric that counts is how we succeeded in using our assets and skill sets to make and equip disciples!

For a brilliant exposition of the SSD watch this video of Mark Greene at the Lausanne Conference in Cape Town

Entrepreneur Shaun Lee: “But he’s a skiver!”

I was delighted to meet Shaun during my recent visit to Singapore. He has a problem: his future mother-in-law thinks that entrepreneurs are “skivers”. “Before you get married, you need to get a proper job. Working for yourself is not acceptable!” According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a skiver is evidently someone who is absent from work without permission and in Singaporean culture has come to refer to people who are slack, or idle or who dodge the responsibilities of a real job. Even if Shaun could produce impressive balance sheets and show that he is earning a living wage, the skiver label would stick!

When Shaun finished his compulsory military service, his A levels (British system) and a tertiary diploma he started a business after he saw the exorbitant prices people were paying for bicycle spare parts. He searched the Internet and found that he can import spare parts from overseas, sell them for less than local merchants and still make a handsome profit in the process. Using his own savings, he invested in stock and quickly learned what products move quickly to provide him a quick turnover. He has been able to build up stocks worth many thousands of dollars and his business is successful enough for him to pursue a long-held dream; to study pastoral ministry while supporting himself financially. When I highlighted Shaun’s creativity, his entrepreneurial talents and his investment of capital to produce income as an excellent example of good stewardship, students were not sure how to process my enthusiasm for Shaun’s talents. Eternal bachelorhood was a distinct possibility for their friend!

But Shaun’s skills remind me of the Proverbs 31 woman. She did not have a “proper job” but she was surely not a “skiver”. When you read this passage you get to know her as a very shrewd businesswoman. She was an importer, an estate agent, a capital investor, a market researcher, and a product developer. She had a supply chain that included contingency planning for unforeseen circumstances (cold winters) and while she was making handsome profits she did not forget her social responsibility to the poor. She had an excellent work ethic and on top of all of that, she must have been an outstanding “two career woman” as well because her children and her husband were extremely proud of her. One actually wonders what the old man did while his wife was so successful! The passage doesn’t say!

I sure hope that Shaun will be able to convince his future mother-in-law of his God-given entrepreneurial talents. We need people like Shaun who think outside the box and create opportunities where none existed before. His talents reflect several of the Discipleship Outcomes that are part of our Discipleship Assessment: creativity, the dignity of labor, working for the common good, and the fact that my work adds value to the economy!