Time saver

Interview | Author and pastor James Emery White on vocation, Christian influence, and the church's chief priority

Issue: "Bush: Hail to the chief," Jan. 29, 2005

With so many worthwhile time-users pulling at the sleeves of Christian students -career preparation, politics, compassionate volunteer activities, church functions, and so on-it's not surprising that the question they most frequently throw at Christian professors involves use of time both immediately and long-range; in essence, how can I make my activities matter? Older Christians report that such decision making doesn't get any easier, and it's the question of not just success but significance that James Emery White, senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., deals with in Serious Times (InterVarsity, 2004).

WORLD: How can we help move current fascination with "finding your spiritual gift" to an understanding of the biblical idea of calling, or "finding your vocation"?

JW: The idea of vocation is that everything is to be done to the honor of God. It stands against any trend that would compartmentalize our work from our spirituality. The focus on "finding your spiritual gift" is a helpful trend in that it can build off of the larger idea of vocation and help individuals pursue the design of God written on their life (of which spiritual gifts are, without a doubt, a part). Unfortunately, spiritual gifts have been ripped from their theological moorings and divorced from the larger idea of vocation, the life of the church, and any sense of personal sacrifice.

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WORLD: You note that the world changes when individuals touched by Christ turn around and touch the lives of others. What implications does that have for Christian political activity?

JW: I do not believe our primary goal is the formation of a Christian nation, but a nation of Christians-who will, in turn, influence a nation increasingly toward Christian values. That said, we must be Christ-marked in our political thinking and in the exercise of our political rights and duties. To be given the freedom and right to influence a culture through our vote, our voice, and our vision is a precious privilege and responsibility before Christ. There is a Great Commission and, as Charles Colson recently proclaimed, a "cultural" commission.

WORLD: You write about the "bystander problem": the more people who are around to help a person in need, the fewer respond. What implications does that have for poverty fighting in America?

JW: The dynamic of the "bystander problem" is that as the number of witnesses increases, the assumption that someone else will respond to the need increases. Poverty fighting in America is a strange mix-some of us have fallen prey to the bystander problem, muting the call of Christ on our lives to care for the poor around us. We simply assume that a needy person is being cared for by either agency or saint. Many others, however, do not think about the poor at all. Families living in tony suburbs, commuting to work in their SUVs, often fail to even see the poor except for the occasional homeless person who attempts to beg for money. If the bystander problem is "in sight, out of mind," perhaps the larger issue has become "out of sight, out of mind."

WORLD: What should a church's chief priority be?

JW: The idea of "priority" can be taken in many ways-the church's five-fold purpose (worship, ministry, evangelism, community, discipleship), the chief end of a human life (to glorify God and enjoy Him forever). But I will answer at face value: The church's chief priority should be evangelism. We will have all of eternity to worship the living God; we will have all of eternity to grow in our relationship and knowledge of God; we will have all of eternity to enjoy community with the people of God. Only here, and now, can we engage in evangelism and ministry to a fallen world. This is at the heart of what I believe Christ meant when He spoke of building His church, and what I believe was His chief priority-reclaiming a lost and fallen world.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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