Chris Townsend, former Charlotte Fellow class of 2013, reflects back on his life and lessons learned from his Fellows experience. Chris currently lives in Charlotte with his wife Laura and works for a wealth advisory firm.
I came across this quote by Dorothy Sayers in a sermon by Dr. Timothy Keller and believe it highlights some of the misconceptions we often hold about work. During my year as a Charlotte Fellow I began to see the way these errors played out in my own life and understand how the Gospel of grace totally transforms our understanding of vocation.
While I grew up in the church, I did not allow my faith to impact the way I pursued my interests during the week. Sure, I tried to be a “good” person, but everything from school work to athletics were simply a means to an end of building a life full of worldly success. From the outside, things seemed to be going well. I was still involved at church, played on multiple sports teams and even received a partial academic scholarship to a top twenty-five university. However, once I arrived on campus my constant resume building kicked into high gear as I fixated on landing a job on Wall Street. By senior year, I achieved my goal. I accepted an offer with an investment bank in New York City, but I was totally blind to how my idol of achievement was affecting every area of my life.
During Christmas vacation the Holy Spirit changed everything. I was given the grace to see I was living a double life: I had a spiritual/moral life that was submitted to the Lord, but most of my time and energy was devoted to living for myself and my own glory. I felt called to lay down this idol and turn down the job offer in finance, and while I felt peace, I had no idea what type of career to purse next.
Unfortunately, I fell into the trap Dorothy Sayers described and decided all “secular” work must be of second-rate importance to God. Since I was trying to follow Jesus wholeheartedly, I obviously needed to work full-time for (a) a campus ministry, (b) a church, or (c) a non-profit. Ultimately I decided on the latter and spent the summer after graduation with a large faith-based non-profit. It was a great organization, but I still wrestled with what to do next. By the grace of God I was introduced to the Fellows Initiative through a friend and eagerly stepped into the opportunity to spend a year with great mentors and community that showed me how the Gospel should transform every aspect of my life.
Here are 3 of my biggest takeaways from my time as a Charlotte Fellow:
1. There are no Varsity/Junior Varsity Christian distinctions
After giving up the job in investment banking, I began to think my only career options were either full-time ministry or working for a faith-based nonprofit. I had this idea that Christians in secular careers were “JV” and if they were really committed they would be doing something with a specific ministry focus. While this is a common view, I now understand there truly is no distinction between “sacred” and “secular” vocations. While the brokenness of sin is evident in our jobs, work itself is a gift from God given to us before the Fall (Genesis 1:28, 2:15). As image-bearers of God, we can take satisfaction in our daily work, even if it has no specific “ministry” value. We all possess different gifts and we can serve God by being good stewards of our abilities, regardless of our particular vocation (1 Peter 4:10).
2. Work as Worship
Another misconception I held was viewing work as a necessary evil, something I had to get through so I could focus on the “important” things for God. Since we spend most of our time at the office, this mindset was quite self-defeating. It led me to either a) try to be a good witness at work or b) try to start a bible study with co-workers. I was totally missing the fact that my actual day-to-day work could be done as an act of worship out of my love for God. What a freeing idea! I can go into my job on Monday, be it typing numbers into a database or serving the poor, and worship God using the abilities he gave me to his glory! (1 Corinthians 10:31)
3. God desires my heart, not just an external change of behavior
I naively thought my struggles with money or achievement would end once I stepped away from a high intensity finance career. However, through the Fellows I realized that while I had taken an important first step, I still needed to let Jesus transform the posture of my heart. If I continued to find my self-worth and affirmation from others, it wouldn’t matter if I was in banking or ministry: I would still give too much importance to what others thought of me! By understanding the depth of God’s loves for us displayed on the cross we can focus less on seeking man’s approval and begin to rest in the love of the Father.
After graduating from the Fellows, and in God’s perfect timing, I actually accepted a job with the same bank I turned down as a senior in college. While I am far from fully living out of these principles, I know I can rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross and trust him to complete the work in me (Philippians 1:6, 2:13). Perhaps more importantly, I have continued to be a part of a gospel-centered community that can remind me of these truths when my heart starts to stray.