By BBC Admissions Office
“Be a lawyer! Be a doctor! Follow your dreams! Make money! Do what you want!” American culture is frantic about work, so much so that we commonly ask, “what do you want to be when you grow up?” In that question is a hidden lie – what we do for a career defines who we are as people. We even start asking this question as early as Kindergarten! Think about what this question does to our self-perception over time.
America might have been a “Christian nation” at one point in time, but it now follows another religion – the religion of workism as one writer for The Atlantic called it. Workism is “the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.” This oppressive religion, that even Christians worship, has seeped down into the youth of America. Pew Research Center reports that teenagers are experiencing higher rates of depression and anxiety, and the pressure to find a “job that they enjoy” is one of the biggest reasons why.
Workism is “the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.”
The bait that usually entices us to bite the hook of workism is this advice: “find your passion.” The word passion in Latin originally meant “to suffer or endure,” and over time it came to mean “strong desire or emotion.” There is irony in this – we are encouraged to find a way to make money doing what we are passionate about, but in doing so we suffer because we succumb to the mania of workism. Paul O’Keefe, assistant professor of psychology at Yale—NUS College, logically points out that “finding our passion” conditions us to believe that if we do anything that feels like work, then we feel dissatisfied because it is not our passion.
To be clear, the issue is not having a satisfying career or even making money – joy is necessary and money is necessary. The problem is when a career, or even the search for a career, becomes our god – our religion. The truth is that passions are not hiding out there somewhere, and nor are they predestined to make us money. Living in the paradigm of “passion” ultimately fails because the true joys of work are rarely fully formed from birth. True passion in work – whether or not we are paid for it – is matured through discipline, investment, focus, and practice.
There is irony in this – we are encouraged to find a way to make money doing what we are passionate about, but in doing so we suffer because we succumb to the mania of workism.
The more American culture demands that we work for the twin gods of money and passion, the more the Church in America sees fewer young people going into church ministry, and church pastors are only getting older. In 2017, the Barna Group reported that the average age of church pastors was 57 years old, compared to 44 years old in 1992. In 2017, 68% of church pastors are between ages 40 and 65, but only fifteen years earlier 76% of church pastors were younger than 55 years old. That is a huge change. Churches are desperate for more pastors and younger pastors.
Church pastors are not exempt from the exploitation of workism; any human being can be deceived into believing that the sole purpose of work is for income and identity. However, most church pastors start out in ministry because they want to demonstrate the power and love of God to the world. The Church has always been destined to be the physical representation of Jesus Christ to the world. Yes, we are human and mess up sometimes, but that is precisely the point. God loves to transform and redeem sinful people, making us walking testimonies of His grace. There is no shortage of jobs in churches, only a shortage of workers.
As Jesus Christ himself wisely advised, “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Luke 16:13). This leaves us with a choice: serve American workism or serve the God of the Universe. Work is so much more fruitful, purposeful, and joyful when we submit it to God and allow him to mature us into Christlikeness through our careers, whatever they may be. Work was never meant to define us; it was made to refine us.