“Opportunity cost refers to a benefit that a person could have received, but gave up, to take another course of action. Stated differently, an opportunity cost represents an alternative given up when a decision is made. This cost is, therefore, most relevant for two mutually exclusive events. In investing, it is the difference in return between a chosen investment and one that is necessarily passed up.” Opportunity Cost
Investors will consider opportunity costs when deciding on the best financial vehicle to place their money in. Once the money is placed in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, money market funds, CDs or saving accounts the money does not gain the returns of another opportunity. Investors will carefully weigh financial objectives on a scale of time. We must do the same with our life choices.
When we choose a path and wonder about the path we veered from, we are likely to wonder if we made the right choice. I see this as especially true when our heart wants to go in one direction and we must choose to go in another. We may feel that we have given up on a dream to pursue uninspired options. We may feel “the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen”.
Will our speculative investment bring returns that are greater than the investment that we didn’t make? If we choose a so-called “secular vocation” have we chosen a lesser return on investment instead of a greater one? These questions came to mind recently as I reviewed the opportunity cost value of my own full-time work. And that of my father before me.
Early in his career life my father was presented with life choice alternatives or “vocations” as it is called today. Around 1950 my dad and mom attended Moody Bible Institute as married students. (I was born before they graduated. I slept in a crib in their apartment which was located above a nearby Chinese Restaurant.)
My parents attended Moody so that they could go into ministry. After their graduation my dad accepted an offer to pastor a small church located in the frozen tundra of northern Minnesota. The congregation, being just a handful of low-income folks, could not support our family. So, my dad had to work another job to make ends meet. During that time mom gave birth to my brother. She kept us kids from going cabin crazy during the frigid days. She chipped the ice off of the milk bottles that the milk man had delivered to our porch that morning. And, she moved my crib around when the spring thaw delivered leaks through my bedroom ceiling.
I relate these things to show that our Lord has a way of turning us around and sending us in a new direction where unthought of opportunities lie outside of our ministry dreams. This happened to my dad and mom.
After serving in this church for a time my dad eventually brought our family back to Chicago. Economics played a roll in my dad’s vocation change. There were mouths to feed.
I wonder if some weighing of opportunity cost was on my father’s mind in those days. I don’t think it was easy for my dad to leave behind a ministry calling and choose to work full-time to support a family. My dad went on to work in what some have called a “secular vocation”. In doing so he provided for our growing family. He worked and worked hard, and sometimes at two jobs. And yet he maintained his ministry vocation.
My father was a Sunday School teacher. On Saturdays I would see him sitting at the dining room table with the Bible and concordances laid out before him. He was preparing his lesson.
My dad was our church’s chairman for many years. He oversaw the budget and the practical matters of the church. Both him and my mom were also on the mission’s board. They wanted the world to be reached with the Gospel. They invited many furloughed missionaries to our home for Sunday dinner. That is how I learned about the Congo, Ecuador, New Zealand, Japan and many other places
My dad’s opportunity “trade-off” benefitted many. What my dad “lost” in a specific ‘calling’ he gained in a much wider ‘calling’: he was able to support his family and to continue the work of the Lord he so desired to do.
Like my father I chose to go into full-time ministry at the start of my career life. And, like my father, I was influenced to do so by the church. My folks brought me to church every Sunday. I attended a Bible church most of my life. In this environment there were altar calls to “be saved”, to “rededicate your life’ and to “go into the missions” every Sunday. These impassioned appeals became so engrained in me that I attended Moody thinking that I would go into a Christian Education/Music ministry and perhaps the mission field. I ended up in a career as an electrical engineer.
During those early church days, I never gave a thought about going into “secular work”. By its absence from any message or challenge in church I never thought of such work as something to invest my time in. And, how could anything ordinary measure up to the ‘glamor’ of ministry or the mission field? In my world, import, credence, and “value” were given to being in “ministry”. I heard, “ministry”, “ministry “, “ministry “. I feel now that I was shortchanged by the lack of talk about vocations other than “ministry”.
Looking back over sixty years of church life there is only one time when I heard a preacher say something good about a “secular vocation”. The preacher had learned that my father would run for a trustee post in our suburban village. I heard the preacher endorse my father’s running for that office, as my father and I sat in the pew.
My father won the trustee position. He would subsequently become the village’s mayor.
Where am I going with all this talk about opportunity cost and ministry and vocation?
In churches I generally see social professions blessed. Professions like teaching and missionary work are professions that deal directly with people. But what about someone like me who deals indirectly with people as an electrical engineer? I work in the power distribution industry. I help keep people’s lights on and their heat flowing. What about a geneticist who discovers a gene which triggers a disease? Or, a physicist who smashes atoms to find the beginning elements of life? What about the businessman who provides products that sustains us?
“Secular vocations” go unnoticed in the church. Why? I wonder if the lack of blessing on secular vocations has help create the Bible vs. science warfare? Or, the big business vs. the poor rhetoric? Or, the polarization of sacred and secular? Jesus came to reconcile the two forever.
Now, I do not like the term “secular vocation”. I see all work as a gift of God. In the Kingdom of God on earth, the works of our hands should be an offering to our Lord.
What I would like to see happen in the church:
1. At least one Sunday where vocations are talked about, honored and then blessed. Perhaps the Sunday before Labor Day when everyone is still in town.
2. I would like to hear STEM careers being promoted in messages and in teen gatherings as vocations that God can richly bless. (I have read the Bible through several times. I attended Moody Bible Institute. And, I am as excited by what God has revealed in nature as I am when reading the Scripture. The study of science has been an enormous blessing to me.)
3. Perhaps a short bio of a member be put in the church bulletin every Sunday. The bio would provide info of the profession of that member, e,g., “John Doe is a CPA…”
By now I hope you can see where I am going with this. My father and I started in “ministry” vocations, then at a point considered the opportunity cost and switched to less “spiritual “vocations. And that has made all the difference, even for the church.
II. For Commerce and Industry
Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life
shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with
thy people where they work; make those who carry on
the industries and commerce of this land responsive to thy
will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just
return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who
liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
The Book of Common Prayer
The world celebrates vocations. Why can’t the church?
February 11th is International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Here’s someone’s recent Tweet: