Rather than go to seminary to become a pastor, I decided to devote my life to serving others as a plumber
It’s been ten years since I was at a crossroads in my professional life.
I studied theology, prepared sermons, went to hospitals, and prayed for people because I wanted to be a pastor for a long time.
However, like many other millennials, I was strapped for cash. As my family grew, I had to honestly consider whether or not I could go to seminary, how much money I would make as a minister, and how much spiritual growth I had experienced. How could I possibly guide people down a road I had not yet explored?
A pastor at the church I was going to heard that I was jobless and that I get in touch with a member of the congregation who had a plumbing business.
I prayed to God, “Make me the sort of person who can one day be a pastor in your church,” and decided to pursue plumbing since it didn’t require a graduate degree and could instantly offer stability for my family.
I’m still a plumber ten years later. The talents necessary for people who want to lead the church are not easy to come by, but it turns out that work, and manual labor in particular, has been sitting right under my nose the whole time. Assuming I’m not alone here. If we examine the demands and spiritual reality of our employment, we can all improve our ability to follow Jesus. If you look at it the right way, your job is the place where you learn to be a good Christian to the world.
If becoming “partakers of the divine character” in and through Christ (2 Peter 1:4, ESV) is a summation of the Christian life, then I would argue that prayer is the central action of the Christian.
One 19th-century Church of England priest described prayer as “the soul’s approach to God,” and he went on to say that a person whose soul had approached God took on God’s attributes. It’s ready for soldering in much the same way as a copper pipe is: chilly to the touch, reflecting of outside light, and finally taking on the properties of the flame.
For this is God’s wish for you in Christ Jesus, Paul writes to the Christians in Thessalonica: “Rejoice continuously, pray continually, offer thanks in all situations.” (1 Thess. 5:16-18).
Basil the Great, a bishop in the fourth century and one of the celebrated Cappadocian Fathers, was instrumental in the reform of monastic communities in his region and created a model for an ascetic life—a disciplined life lived with God, a life of prayer—that was intended for all Christians.
For Basil, love for God and love for neighbor, as Jesus taught his disciples, is the beginning, the middle, and the conclusion of the Christian life. In addition, Christ taught that every service done for a neighbor out of love is service done to Christ himself.
Basil writes in his Long Rules that “he who loves the Lord loves his neighbor in consequence.” To love one another as I have loved you is my commandment, because the Lord has stated, “If anybody loves me, he will obey my commandments.” Conversely, “he who loves his neighbor as himself satisfies the love he owes to God, for God regards whatever love He receives as love toward Himself.”
As Christ is present in the person receiving our assistance, and as our hearts are inclined to please God in our service, it may be argued that doing our labor for the sake of our neighbor is itself a type of prayer.
In a subsequent statement, Basil explains that
Just why is it that manual work is necessary? Just a couple hundred years later, another well-known monk named Benedict of Nursia will come to our aid. Instructing his monks to follow a routine of gentle alternating manual labor and times of meditation, Benedict, a follower of Basil and sometimes referred to as the “founder of Western monasticism,” invented the term Ora et labora, “Pray and work.”
The fact that physical work is the only item Benedict specifically labels as “monastic” in his Rules tells us that it was of the highest significance to Benedict. A lack of productivity on the part of the monks would lead to subpar worship. If the monk wasn’t praying, as is the case for all Christians, he wasn’t working.
For a task as complex as installing a water heater, I need to draw upon all aspect of my being: my determination, my knowledge, my body, and my senses. Doing physical work provides a chance for me to reassemble the pieces of myself that are usually dispersed.
So, I take the lessons I learn while working with my hands and apply them to my prayer life, coming to God with my full being present—my intellect, my heart, my soul, and my strength. As many questions as Paul’s teaching generates, this is just one response.
The last decade of my life as a blue-collar worker has put me in the middle of a centuries-long, devout experiment that has taught me at least two things: in Christ, I am praying precisely because I am working, and I am becoming a better pray-er because I am a worker.
My hands have learnt to turn wrenches and are learning to pray constantly; they have helped create peace between homeowners and their houses; they have helped construct the kingdom; and they have helped me bring order to the world around me.
Practicing God’s presence and developing one’s Christian faith is something I’ve found we can all do, not just church leaders and pastors. Even though I never imagined making a living as a plumber, this is the life for which I hoped.
Journeyman plumber license: that’s what Nathaniel Marshall has. He and his family (a spouse and two young kids) are active members of Christ the King Anglican Church in Marietta, Georgia, and he is an oblate of the Benedictine order.