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Lifestyle Versus Lifework


10/14/2008 12:57:02 PM

by Cedarville University

If our vocational endeavor is really a “life-ministry,” then we will resist the attraction of “lifestyle” decisions and honor the God-given gifts we have at our disposal.

“There appears to be a significant difference between student perceptions of lifestyle and lifework.”

This is a quote written on my office whiteboard, based upon interactions with scores of students, regarding their life''s employment choices. As Director of Career Services at Cedarville University, I have a profound opportunity to interact with students as they attempt to deal with these issues as they try to connect their education to real life.

One of the pervasive tensions found in a Christian university of arts and sciences appears to center upon the issue of ultimate career choices on the one hand and the notion of God's initial design – in terms of a graduate's skills, interests, abilities, personalities, and values – on the other. Initially, admittance to such a university would presume some level of Christian testimony; in addition the academic matriculation process over four or five years is understood to be jam-packed with Biblical integration throughout each of the many majors and minors in offered coursework.

Throughout that educational process, students are challenged to consider summer ministry teams using mediums such as drama, music, puppetry, and healthcare. They attend daily chapel and minor in Bible. The campus “ethos” would seem to be centered upon a wide-range continuum of ministry opportunities from one-on-one mentoring through small group ministry to street evangelism groups.

When incoming freshmen students arrive on campus at our institution, they are encouraged to take an assessment tool that provides them with a wealth of research – based on information regarding their skills, interests, personality and values. Additionally, we have the opportunity to meet with all of them in several group settings and discuss strategies to prepare themselves appropriately for their eventual careers. During that session we ask three questions.

* What is their desired future job title
* What is the name of the company they had in mind
* What would be the realistic salary expectation

You should see their eyes bulge when we indicate that we just asked the wrong three questions!

We stress that the educational journey upon which students are about to embark is not to prepare for careers, but rather, to prepare for “life ministries.” Therefore, with that view in mind, their education ought not to be about job title, name of company, or salary. It should be about preparing to do kingdom things, that is, to be so capable, as a nurse, or engineer, or accountant or an educator that people ask for “a reason for the hope that is within them.”

When given the opportunity, students are asked if they think that biblical integration in all of their courses would help prepare them to “have their lives read as a living gospel before men,” they nod their heads in the affirmative. Subsequently, when they are asked if their desire is “to be salt and light in places where there isn't any,” they answer in the affirmative. Additionally, they would universally agree that they are training to do kingdom things.

How do student responses mesh with their “having difficulty perceiving the differences between lifestyle and lifework?” Actually, they speak to the “lifework” part of the construct. It is almost a universally-held view by students that these would be the expected outcomes of a Christian education, searching out God's purpose for their lives and studying “to rightly divide the word of truth” as they find ways to share with the world at large.

Then what then causes tensions mentioned in the quote?

While it is true that students, perhaps also their parents, agree with the “lifework” notions, they also ardently hold on to their American Dream notions. These are “lifestyle” notions. The fast food, on demand, “I want the wife, the baby, the house and two cars, all within the first two years after graduation", instant gratification dream! To achieve it, significant numbers of them seem to have compartmentalized their paradigms. In particular, it seems that while students philosophically hold that their career choices should be about how God has designed them, they nevertheless make decisions when choosing employment that satisfies the three wrong questions of title, company name, and salary.

Why? In my thinking, it is to satisfy a lifestyle that in many (if not most) cases will require both marriage partners to work, that will create a series of credit card, loan, and mortgage debts that will enslave them for years, perhaps cause a need for serious marriage counseling, and may commit their children to an early life of child care. Make no mistake –decisions made on these lifestyle criteria alone will prevent experiencing the pure joy and freedom of a life ministry resonating with God-given design. A recent survey, published in the Dayton Daily News showed that over 67% of Americans are in jobs “they can't stand.” No wonder!

It has been said that while we may be able to do many different types of work, the one that we would select without salary would most closely match and resonate with our God-given design. So, why are students not doing that in large numbers? It appears that we've become too experienced in the art of “compartmentalization.”

We seem to have developed a way to deal with the tensions between lifestyle and lifework, between how we act at church or home and how we act in the business place or the ballpark. That is, we've created several varieties of public and private standards. Integrating a biblical worldview in the arenas of music/arts, politics/public sector employment and media/advertisement/private sector employment ought to be the sole perspective to our daily activities.

Consider the often cited quote from Ray Kroc, the McDonald founder and multi-millionaire: “My private priorities are God first, family second, and hamburgers third. When I go to work on Monday, that order is reversed.” That standard demonstrates one set of values for the private life and a graphically different one for the public life.

Acknowledgement of God-given skills, interests, personality, and values (on the one hand) and avoiding “playing by the pursuit of the American Dream rules” (on the other) ought to demarcate the normal Christian life. When job description, company name, and salary take precedent over family, home, and church we tarnish the “sacred” sphere of God-valued work. If our vocational endeavor is really a “life ministry,” then we will resist the attraction of “lifestyle” decisions and honor the God-given gifts we have at our disposal.

In addition to assisting with the Cedarville University Admissions effort, the Career Services Department provides assistance to students and graduates in career and life-ministry employment disciplines, among which are: skills, abilities and personality and values assessment, job searching, networking, application and resume assistance, interviewing, and life-long career strategies.