John Beckett, a graduate of M.I.T., in addition to his responsibilities as president of R.W. Beckett Corporation, also serves as the president of Intercessors for America. He is co-founder of Advent Industries which offers job training for those who have employment difficulties.
John D. Beckett, president of R.W. Beckett Corporation, the largest manufacturer of residential oil burners, believes his profession was God's choice for his calling. As a businessman in the public eye, Beckett has worked hard to demonstrate the unity of faith and business that is possible, and which should be sought by believers. His outspoken faith has pitted him against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and its efforts to restrict religious expression in the workplace.
Beckett recently wrote a book called Loving Monday (InterVarsity Press, 1998) which chronicles his journey of faith in business and the spiritual lessons he has learned along the way.
We conducted the following interview with John Beckett because we felt his unique and proven insight into the calling of a Christian in the workplace would be inspirational to Christian faculty at secular campuses, and to Christians in any profession.
RI: Can or should Christian faculty see their position as an opportunity for ministry?
Beckett: We're dealing here with the whole area of calling. If a person is called to a particular vocation, he or she is able to embrace that call with zeal, commitment and the conviction that it is direct ministry. I like to think of the decade during which Jesus was a carpenter--before He was baptized. In a way, these were years of ministry as well. I'm sure He was highly dedicated to His customers and to craftsmanship, learning life-lessons from situations, the people with whom He interacted, and the example of His earthly father. All of that ultimately factored into His ministry effectiveness once He moved into His primary call.
The same could be said of many other towering figures in scripture of whom we normally think in terms of their spiritual impact: Moses and David during the years they were shepherds, Nehemiah as a cupbearer to a king, and Daniel as a public servant; they held those responsibilities with all their hearts and, I believe, carried them out with distinction. They were, in fact, in ministry.
RI: What do you see as barriers to viewing a profession as a calling?
Beckett: Probably the primary barrier is that we simply haven't heard the Lord on what He wants us doing. Knowing we arc called by the Lord is essential to our having peace in our vocations. But even if we do have a clear sense of calling, we may still have a major barrier to overcome. Through cultural influences many of us think of our work as something secondary: something less than God's highest for our lives.
Western culture has been shaped by the infusion of ancient Greek ideas. Early in church history, philosophy tried to accommodate and blend the Greek concept of "higher" and "lower" realms of thought and behavior into Christianity, using the terms "sacred" and "secular." It didn't fit because the New Testament abolishes the sacred and secular distinctions. Despite that fact these distinctions remain and affect the worldview of many of us today. As a result we have real difficulty seeing our "secular" work as a high calling.
RI: Is one cause of that view due to people choosing a profession without regard to their calling?
Beckett: Many do, and that can produce conflicts that may never be resolved. But I've also discovered that people may be in their calling and not know it. An indicator is if we truly enjoy what we are doing--if we find it fulfilling. There are exceptions, of course, as when God, for a purpose, puts us into a situation which seems to be counter to our natural gifting. Then He will provide the faith and the capacities to function effectively. The problem comes when we presume that because a vocation appeals to us, it's the call of God. It may be, but it may not.
I believe the Lord wants us to have a conviction that what we're doing is His will. For believers this requires "praying it through" so that they will have confidence in their decisions. Without such guidance the results can be tragic, such as people reaching the end of life to discover they've been out of the Lord's calling. Such people may have struggled to be effective without ever realizing they were a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.
RI: How can people change that perspective to one in which they see their position as a calling?
Beckett: I can share out of my personal experience: I came to a point when I was working through this question myself: could I really fulfill God's desire for my life and remain in business? I prayed without getting any real clarity or direction. Then one day I felt God ask me a question I was not expecting: "Are you prepared to lay everything down regarding your business involvement and do whatever I want you to do?" I had a lot of reasons why I didn't want to hear that question. I enjoyed being in business. I had a sense of responsibility for the company my father had begun and on which now my widowed mother was dependent. I saw my work lining up with the talents and giftings I had. But I realized that this wasn't a negotiating session. God was peering into the depths of my heart to know whether I was really going to release everything to Him.
Well, by His grace, I did release everything to Him, thinking I very well could have been repositioned into some form of direct ministry such as the mission field. But that was not His intent. What I sensed God saying was, "John, you're right where I want you to be. Business is your calling." This encounter produced a wonderful sense of His affirmation and presence. Prior to this I had been presuming I was where He wanted me. From that moment I had a deep conviction I was in His calling for me, and I haven't doubted it since. This certainty has helped me through the many challenges I face in my work. It produces faith. I know I'm where I'm supposed to be.
RI: What if a person says that they are where they are because they brought themselves there.
Beckett: It's possible they are there out of pure self effort, ignorance or even rebellion. But God works with His people more than they know.
There really are no accidents with Him. Often an invisible hand is working in our lives when we face critical turning points. We can make wrong choices and move out of His will, but if our desire is to serve the Lord and be aligned with Him, He won't let us go far down a wrong road before redirecting us by His Holy Spirit. So we may actually be exactly where God wants us, yet we're short-changing ourselves by trying to do it all on our own. God wants to be active in our lives--right at the center.
RI: How would it affect a person to change from seeing their profession as self-made to seeing it as a planned calling?
Beckett: Their perspective could be totally transformed. They would see their work as real service to God. Christian professors who are in a position out of a sense of calling and conviction can be enormously effective. They will look for where God is working and see opportunities they never saw before: a student who has a hunger for spiritual reality; moral issues on campus that they must address from a biblical standpoint; a conflict between two colleagues where they'll be able to bring a godly perspective. Professors will see spiritual opportunities because they know God has placed them on the campus to be salt and light in the darkness. Everything they do will link back to God's sovereign purpose in their work. It's a tremendous release. It becomes a ministry.
RI: Is fear a factor in preventing some from realizing their calling?
Beckett: Fear is a very real issue. The Lord Himself never drew back from conflict. He spoke with clarity and decisiveness to the religious leaders of his day. I believe He imparts that same kind of courage to us.
Having said that, I believe we have to be wise. We are, after all, to "fear the Lord"--to have for Him the awesome respect He deserves. We are in what the New Testament calls a "wicked and perverse generation." Wisdom and the fear of the Lord help us know how to pick our battles. This is really one of the main roles of prayer: to help us discern where He wants us to be engaged. If we pick those battles correctly, under His direction, then our efforts can be multiplied a hundred-fold.
In the last chapter of my book, Loving Monday, I talk about my being drawn into a particular battle with the E.E.O.C. over proposed guidelines which well could have restricted religious freedom in the workplace. The outcome of that encounter was so dramatically different from its inception that it resulted in a 100 to 0 vote in the U.S. Senate to withhold funding from the E.E.O.C. to promote its ill-conceived ideas. In the flesh I saw this as a daunting, overwhelming task, but God gave me a strategy and strength. The battle was His. Fear gave way to faith.
RI: What would you say to Christians who try to keep their faith "undercover" to avoid the kinds of conflict that a public faith can bring?
Beckett: Maybe God doesn't want us to be undercover but rather, in wisdom, confront the darkness. In Revelation 22:11, John speaks about a coming time when evil will become more evil, yet the righteous will become still more righteous. John describes a separation in the culture where we simply won't be able to hide, be neutral, or avoid making the kinds of choices that align us as believers with one camp or the other. I believe we're in such a time--very much so on college campuses.
RI: How was Jesus a model for us in this age?
Beckett: The Bible describes Jesus as a man of sterling character, sacrificial to the core, mentally and physically tough, and spiritually rock solid. But let me focus on His courage and determination. I love the image of Jesus as He, knowing what was required of Him, "set His face like flint" toward Jerusalem. In fact, on that final trip from Jericho the Bible states that He was walking out ahead of His disciples. Think of it! There He is, in full-stride, face set like flint, knowing He will imminently face shame, brutality and death. But He doesn't flinch. He doesn't look for cover. He faces it full on. If that isn't toughness, I don't know what is.
How does this apply? I look at opportunities that Christian professors have to be bright and shining lights in the midst of all the immorality and pagan intellectualism on campuses. If professors walk closely with the Lord, I believe He will draw people to them in almost the same way moths are drawn to a bright light. They will represent Christ as ambassadors in the key institutions for change in our nation. There, away from family influence, the brightest of our young people are shaping their worldviews and making moral choices by following their peers. They are tomorrow's leaders. If godly mentors will stand and say, "This is the way to address some of the critical choices you are facing," then they can have a profound impact.
RI: We have found that the courage of Christian faculty is multiplied when they discover they are not alone "out there." What does that say to you?
Beckett: God is not pleased when we're in a siege mentality--where we feel we are the only ones out there. It turns into a kind of self-pity. Take Elijah, who, within a matter of hours, went from his stunning triumph on Mount Carmel to hiding, defeated, in a forsaken cave. Such was the spiritual battle he faced. We also are contending with spiritual forces that press us into retreat rather than inspiring us to attack. I admire Christian Leadership Ministries' role in linking the "7,000 who had not bowed their knee to Baal."
In reading Luke 14:31 recently, I saw that we will always be out-numbered. The ratio there was two to one. The opposition will always have more resources and be able to out-flank us. Why? Because God doesn't want us acting independently. He wants us to be in a position where we're always dependent and have to exercise faith and humility. If we were to have an army larger than our enemy, we would proudly take the credit for victory. But God, in His mercy, keeps us where we must depend on Him.
RI: How does this apply in the university setting?
Beckett: On college campuses the whole intellectual system reflects pride, arrogance, and intellectual superiority. But there is a barrenness at the end of the line for pure intellectualism. Fortunately, the Bible shows us another way. Romans 8:6 says "to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace."
The natural mind is at war with the spirit. Being spiritually minded is to have minds that are submitted to Christ. That's true intellectual horsepower. The Apostle Paul realized that even a finely trained mind operating with reason alone wasn't the answer. He could not effectively represent Christ on a purely intellectual level.
RI: Please explain the subtitle to Loving Monday, "succeeding in business without selling your soul."
Beckett: God wants us to be successful, but in His way, not the ways of the world. We need to properly define success. So often success, in the business world anyway, is defined as the bottom line. We have to took above the bottom line. We have to consider the infinite worth of people. We need to measure our adherence to the great truths that have come down through history and stood the test of time--character qualities like endurance, integrity, excellence, honesty and diligence. We need to recognize that those are the kinds of criteria by which ultimate success is defined. We have to took beyond human ideas and human systems and search out the mind and ways of God.
We've fallen into a snare in how we define success. The implications of that snare are enormous because, frankly, we can do so much without God. In our highly materialistic society we can acquire what we want, do what we want, go where we want, and do it all without God. But He is looking at us differently--at our hearts, thoughts, and motives. He's looking at our willingness to put Him first, others second, ourselves third--to embrace the role of the servant, to take up our cross daily and follow Him. Radical ideas! They are not so culturally appealing, but ultimately, and from God's perspective, they are the means by which we will fulfill our destinies in God and know His love, joy and peace--both in our work and in every area of our lives.
[Editor's note: Through a special agreement with InterVarsity Press, Beckett's book, Loving Monday, is available to read in its entirety on the World Wide Web. Please look up the Loving Monday site and follow links.]