Are You In a Job or Ministry? Reframing Work to Change Your Whole Experience

Remember the story about the stonecutter centuries ago? He was chiseling a huge piece of stone, pieces of rock flying from his pounding hammer. All the while he was whistling and humming as he worked.

A passerby stopped and asked him why he could make music while doing such mundane and arduous work. He said, “I’m not just chiseling stone. I’m making a cathedral.”

courtesy of istockphoto.com/Thomas_EyeDesign

courtesy of istockphoto.com/Thomas_EyeDesign

It’s true. What can reorient our experience of work is capturing the right vision. Reframing our reality. Seeing what it is beyond what our eyes perceive to what our souls believe.

I used to think this was possible for some kinds of work but not others. I mean, how is this possible for someone stuck in a deadend job that doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere; or for someone caught in work that is filled with not just mundane and repetitive tasks but dysfunctional environments? Is it really possible to see these kinds of jobs as ministry? What does this mean anyway?

Work As Ministry Instead of Job

Let me suggest a framing of work that provides a transforming reality. I was inspired by my devotional reading this morning. It helped me gain a powerful refocus.

A job is merely an exchange of energy, while a ministry is the platform for my highest service. It is the place from which I serve. I am not on earth just to do a job; I am on earth to fulfill the spiritual mission of becoming God’s light and love on earth. As I dedicate my work to higher purposes, my work shall be lifted, transformed to serve that mission.” Marianne Williamson, A Year of Miracles, Day 182

Three Principles for How to Reframe Your Work

Here are three principles for how to do this reframing of work.

  1.  Be clear on what a job is and isn’t. Williamson’s opening line is profound–the word “job” is essentially describing a simple exchange of energy. You give energy in what you’re doing. You receive energy by how you do it and where you’re doing it. Energy exchange. If the energy at work is positive, you take that on–you feel positive. If the energy at work is negative, you take that on, too–you feel negative. With this paradigm, though, you’re basically a victim to whatever happens at work. You’re a reactor, nothing more.
  2. Change your vocabulary. But change the word for your work to “ministry” and that supplies an entirely new energy. It’s now about your sense of mission, purpose, the bigger picture. “Ministry” is literally a word for service–you’re there to serve people–your bosses, your employees, your colleagues, your clients and customers, the world. And that brings a whole different energy.
  3. Focus on the deeper nature of your service. The most profound shift here is when you define your actual service. This is where I am inspired by Marianne’s perspective. Your highest purpose is to be God’s light and love wherever you are, including at your work. It’s true, you have specific roles at work, specific duties and responsibilities, specific outcomes you’re suppose to achieve. Some of those may be energizing to you. Others not at all. But imagine what could happen in your experience if you saw your primary purpose there, with all the people you interact with, to be light and love. Light and love to the people and to the tasks.

Scenarios for the Ministry of Light and Love

Your boss comes to you and demands a report sooner than later. He has this tendency to throw things at you at the last minute. It means you have to disrupt everything else you’re doing to satisfy his demand. And what’s more, he never affirms you or your work. Just demands.

Light and love? What would that even look like?

  • Being light and love to him might mean being willing to have an honest conversation at some point about your desire to give your best work but how difficult it is when his requests are last minute. Asking clearly for what you need from him while being willing to give your 100% to him.
  • Being light and love might mean not throwing him under the bus with your colleagues, complaining and criticizing his job as a boss or supervisor. Not that you aren’t upset. But you’re choosing to bring it up to him not your peers.
  • Being light and love might mean being willing to affirm the things you can with him–affirming honestly not just to kiss up. It might mean trying to understand his wider context about why he has such a difficulty validating you and/or others.

A peer at work is saying mean things about you behind your back. It’s like she’s jealous of you and wanting to make you look bad. Or she steals your ideas and takes credit for them with your boss.

Light and love?

  • Being light and love might mean you speak directly to her and ask her about what you’ve heard she’s saying about you. You’re choosing to go directly to the source instead of throwing her under the bus with your other peers to try to get their support for you and against her.
  • Being light and love might mean drawing a healthy boundary with your interactions with her as much as possible if she’s constantly negative about everything. And at the same time, you choose to forgive her and not hold her actions toward you against her on an ongoing basis.
  • Being light and love might mean you make the choice to see everyone at work through the lens of, everyone is doing the best they can given what they have in the present. You are willing to cut people some slack, even if they hurt you. You are willing to get to know them better in order to understand the wider context of their lives and what they’re going through.

Light and love. A job becomes transformed into a ministry of service–your opportunity to live God’s light and love toward your tasks and the people around you.

The Stonecutter’s Vision of Mission

This is what the stonecutter did. His framing impacted his experience of his work.

“I may be pounding and chiseling a rock, perspiring with the difficult work, at times hitting my fingers and bloodying them. But truth is, I’m building a cathedral. And that makes me whistle and hum with the joy that comes from this higher purpose. I’m involved in ministry.”

How might you live out this spiritual mission of being Light and Love at your work? What could it look like for you? What tangible ways can you live out your higher purpose each day?

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If you or someone you know in your organization is looking for a keynote speaker or workshop teacher for events in your company, congregation, or association gatherings, I would be happy to come speak on this theme or others like it. And interested in coaching for how to be an effective culture architect in your groups? Feel free to email me at greg@gregorypnelson.com or look at the Speaking or Coaching pages of this site.