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Both-And: Good Work and Gospel Work

Tom Devas

Both-And: Good Work and Gospel Work

Tom Devas is currently the Curate at St Mary's Wollaton Park. This blog is the first post in a new series in which we look at the necessity (and difficulty) of holding onto two important things at the same time. It is based on a talk Tom gave at last autumn's Midlands Student Conference.

Aged six, I’d decided that I was going to be a firefighter. I would fight fires during the week and – after a family holiday to Switzerland – I decided my weekend job would be driving trains up the Swiss mountains.

I have not yet been a firefighter or a driven a train. I have worked in outdoor pursuit centres, delivered “promotional material” for an estate agent, and have been a landscape gardener. I have also been in paid gospel work, initially part-time as a church youth worker, and now full-time, helping pastor a church family. 

My employment history is not a rising through the ranks in God’s sight. Being in full-time gospel ministry now doesn’t mean I somehow give God more glory than when I was teaching people to kayak or landscaping someone’s garden. 

My employment history is not a rising through the ranks in God’s sight. Being in full-time gospel ministry now doesn’t mean I somehow give God more glory than when I was teaching people to kayak or landscaping someone’s garden. 

And yet it hasn’t always felt like that. And I know it doesn’t always feel like this for many others. 

So how can we address these feelings? How can we begin to see that you can glorify God in both full-time gospel work and other kinds of work?

The first step is seeing that gospel work is for every Christian.

At the end of Matthew, Jesus outlines what gospel work is:

“Go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20)

The heart of these verses is making disciples. We are to go out to the mix of people on our doorstep and make Jesus known to them. And we are to help other Christians grow by being stuck into the life of our church family. 

Just in case we’re tempted to think gospel work isn’t for us, Jesus speaks of his continued presence, making it clear this wasn’t just for his first disciples – it’s for every Christian until Jesus returns. 

For some, a big part of their gospel work will be being paid or supported so they can focus on it full-time, and there is a great need for more full-time gospel workers. But gospel work is for every Christian because it flows out of discipleship. It is not a job description and, unlike any other work, it has an eternal impact.

We need to make sure other things don’t push gospel work to the side and that we don’t excuse ourselves by thinking other people are better at it than we are or, unlike us, are paid to do it.

At the same time as being involved with and prioritising gospel work, we need to recognise that there is other work with which God wants us to be involved. And so the second step is seeing that good work is for every Christian.

It might seem strange to talk about gospel work and good work separately, as if I’m suggesting gospel work isn’t good work. But a distinction is needed so we can be clear that there is good work. That there can be work which glorifies God that doesn’t always have making Jesus known and helping other Christians grow as its main focus. 

This good work finds it roots back in Genesis 1. It flows out of being made in the image of God, and our involvement is renewed by being remade in the image of Jesus. It is work in the broadest sense – not only what people get paid to do.

Just as there is a need for more full-time gospel workers, there is a great need for Christians to be doing good work as mechanics, teachers, builders, engineers, nurses, carers, stay at home parents, lawyers, academics, fork lift truck drivers, deep sea divers, or shelf-stackers at Tesco’s. 

These things in and of themselves are not gospel work. Their impact is temporary, but this doesn’t mean they’re unimportant. Good work done in a way that reflects the goodness and greatness of God – whether anyone acknowledges it or not – is valuable in God’s sight.

Good work done in a way that reflects the goodness and greatness of God – whether anyone acknowledges it or not – is valuable in God’s sight.

Good work and gospel work should never be totally separate. Good work is often an arena for gospel work and we should expect there to be an overlap. The extent of that overlap will differ from person to person.

Seeing that good work is for every Christian should lead us not to undervalue good work. At the same time, seeing that gospel work is for every Christian should lead us not to undervalue gospel work, and instead to make sure we are involved with making Jesus known and helping other Christians grow. 

I don’t think I will ever be a firefighter or a Swiss train driver. I am excited to be involved in full-time gospel work and I hope to be an encouragement to other Christians in their good work and gospel work. If I do find myself putting out fires or driving trains I pray that I will do it to the glory of God.