Often when we are introduced or being introduced to new people a common question prefaces the discussion.
“What do you do (i.e. for a living)?” or even “What are you(i.e. what is your job)?” Most of us just answer this without thinking of the implications of the question. The question, in and of itself, doesn’t do much more in the context of the conversation than attempt at a starting point to find out more of the person being questioned, such as: possible interests, goals, financial acumen, etc. Peeling back some of the layers of explicit intentions by the questioner, perhaps some implicit ideas of what you are answering of yourself are right beneath the surface of your response.
A small tangent before I continue. What follows are my gleanings and present actions when being asked the question. I do not necessarily need people to do as I do in this situation, only to think of the intentions in your answering the question within your professed worldview (assumed to be a Christian one). Starting conversations with people whom you’ve never met is difficult, and I do not think there is a correct conversation starter question to be had. Different situations call for different approaches. Now I’ll move on ahead to making some people angry, some confused, and others just reading this and moving along in tacit agreement.
People (including myself) answer this on occasion with responses not even in the category of occupational. Some responses I’ve given in the past are; Rock Climber, Cyclist, Mod, Punk, and a Baseball Player. Some people have responded to me with answers depicting (what I presume to be) their greatest passions: Vegan, Vegetarian, Yogi, Hippie, Retired etc. Regardless if one answers with hobbies or occupational titles the answer encodes something you believe about yourself, “I am a(choose your title).”
At the core the response should give the person(who doesn’t know you from Adam) a first impression as to what is your greatest desire. To put it another way,
you’re giving them the identity through which all other interactions will take place.
Let that sink in a bit.
If someone where to ask me, “What are you?” and I answer with “I’m a Landscaper.” what may be the next question? It’s probably going to have to do with landscaping, right? If I ask someone the same question and they retort with, “I’m a Vegetarian.” what is the tendency? To ask questions or make statements regarding vegetarianism, right? This is only natural and not an error in and of itself. But as a Christian I do believe there should be more intentionality with our conversations than mere temporal matters. What’s worse, is the response may signify that all the person answering is concerned with are these temporal matters.
I am going to make a slight detour and make some points on why I think this is an evangelistic endeavor. I promise it’s going to come right back.
If we as Christians are to be united and identified with Christ (Gal 3:27, 1 Cor 6:15, 2 Cor 5:17, Eph 2:6, Rom 7:4, etc) , who has ultimate authority (Matt 28:18); witnessing the gospel in both active (Matt 28:20, Acts 10:42, 2 Tim 4:2) and passive ways (1 Pet 2:11–12, 3:15–16, 2 Cor 6:3–10); teaching believers to obey everything he has commanded (Matt 28:20); living holy (set apart) lives for the glory and praise of God (Rom 15:6, 1 Pet 1:14–15); then how we respond to this and conduct ourselves within the occupations we have is paramount to our gospel witness.
Not everyone loves the job they have, not everyone seeks different employment, and neither of these is necessarily bad; but what does it communicate when all you hear from someone is how awful their job is? How much they desire a “better job”? A job that pays more/better? Even still, what do you think when someone sings nothing but praise for their job, bragging about the income and/or benefits of it? One sounds bitter and the other sounds arrogant. Neither, I would argue, are a Christian response (1 Cor 10:31).
God, no matter your employment, gave you the job (James 1:17, 1 Cor 4:7). You don’t deserve it, at all (Rom 2:1–3, 1 Cor 4:7). In fact he is your boss; not the supervisor, manager, owner, or whoever may be the authority over you (1 Pet 2:18, Eph 6:5, Titus 2:9, Matt 24:46, John 13:16) . They in fact also work for Jesus Christ (Rom 13:1, 1 Pet 2:18, Col 4:1, Eph 6:9, John 13:16), even if they have no clue. This should lead us to perform our jobs dutifully and joyfully to his glory (1 Cor 10:31, Col 3:17). If we have a job that brings us little to no pleasure, we should perform them with Christ-like humility until circumstances outside our control dictate a change. It communicates something the world has no idea how to parse; that this “great” or even “dead end” job has its end in magnifying the one who created everything.
Now back to the main point…
My identity is in Christ, therefore my response (in most every situation) should be “A Christian.” If I feel they are seeking a bit more specificity I’ll respond with something akin to, “I work in Landscaping for income.” or “I used to be a Climber, now I’m a Christian who likes to climb.” I admit it sounds odd, but it brings the conversation to places it may have taken more time to get to, or maybe even never at all. I love what I do, not because I like to be out in creation; not that my managers, coworkers, and owners are wonderful people; all these are true. I love what I do because through my employment I have ample opportunity to display God’s blessings of the gospel to a world lost amidst its own self destruction.
Please don’t misunderstand me, I haven’t always thought this way and still don’t respond accordingly every-time the question is posed, but with the intention to do so and the more I reflect on it, the more it becomes second nature. Practice makes perfect they say. What better thing for a Christian to do than practice magnifying the glory of God in Christ and his authority over every single aspect of our lives, including even your job that you despise/love, or a “throw away” conversation starter such as “What do you do?”