In his answer last week as to whether all jobs have the same intrinsic value, Matt Perman made the distinction between economic value and moral value: Not all jobs have the same economic value because, clearly, some jobs pay more than others. But this doesn’t make some jobs more important than others, because all jobs have the same moral value—that is, we are able to serve God fully and completely in any job (assuming it isn’t unethical by nature).
Matt’s answer spawned a lot of good comments and questions. One in particular brought up a point I wanted to hear Matt talk about a little bit more. In a nutshell, the commenter stated: “In addition to the moral value and economic value for a job, wouldn’t you say there is also a third category that we could call ‘impact value’?” He defined impact value as “the amount of good it does or can do for the kingdom.”
So I asked Matt if he would give us his thoughts on this, and once again he kindly obliged (He’s good that way). His answer:
This is an excellent question and I would say: yes, absolutely. That is a great and important point.
So we really have three categories here: moral value, economic value, and impact value.
Moral value is our standing before God in our jobs. All (legal, ethical) jobs stand equal before God. God “shows no partiality” (Ephesians 6:9, et. al.) and does not give higher regard to anyone based on their job. People with “greater” jobs as society judges them do not have more privileged access to God. We all have the same access to him, through Jesus.
Economic value is what a job pays; it is a reflection of how needed and valued the job is judged to be in terms of the operation and economic functioning of society. All jobs have the same moral value, but they don’t all have the same economic value.
Impact value, on the other hand, is the amount of good a job does. Sometimes economic value and impact value sync up. But often, they do not!
The notion of impact value is very important because it actually helps us determine how much value to place on the economic value of a job. For example, some people take very low paying jobs even though they could make a lot more money. This is because they regard the impact their job enables them to make more highly than the additional money they would be making in another job. Impact value is more important to them than economic value.
Impact value also helps us assess jobs in the ministry and non-profit realms, where economic value is not the primary measure of effectiveness. How do you measure the effectiveness of a pastor, for example? It’s certainly not by how much money he brings in (even if you could measure that). Instead, you look at the impact he is having in relation to the biblical purposes of a church in general and the mission of your specific church in particular.
The one nuance I would make to the commenter’s definition of impact value is that I would say we don’t have to define it simply in terms of the amount of good a job does for the kingdom. Rather, we can define it in terms of the amount of good a job does for society generally, or in relation to the kingdom. The reason is that since creation is a legitimate sphere in its own right, we don’t have to justify all of our jobs in relation to their spiritual and evangelistic usefulness. Some people will and ought to seek jobs with more direct kingdom impact; but it is OK to seek work where the impact is more cultural, legitimized by creation rather than the work of redemption per se.
Are jobs with greater impact value more important?
Now the notion of impact value has a danger with it, for it seems that it can subtly take us back to a “two tiered” concept of the Christian life. Having rejected the notion that some jobs are more important based on how much money they earn, we can easily fall into the notion that Christians who are working in jobs that have greater apparent “impact value” are in a better state than Christians who feel that the impact value of their job is low.
In response, the most important thing to say here is that the Lord determines our impact value, not us. Consider the instance of the poor widow in Luke 21:1-4. The rich go by and put large amounts in the offering, but then a poor widow puts in two coins, worth a mere one hundred and twenty eighth of a day’s wage.
This is a really important story. At a human level, we might be tempted to say “the rich are able to make a much greater impact than the poor. If you are poor, God has ripped you off you because, even though you aren’t less important for having less money, you are able to do less good than the rich. And therefore you will have less reward in heaven.”
But Jesus doesn’t see things that way. Instead, he says “the poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
So who had the greater impact value—the rich who gave large sums of money you can do a lot of good with, or the poor widow who gave a penny? The widow. Jesus clearly says so.
Which means: Jesus defines impact very differently than we do. We need to define “impact” not merely, or even mainly, in terms of results, but in terms of our heart and our abilities. A very small act which takes everything in you is worth more to the Lord than a very large act than only takes half of your heart.
Impact value must be defined in relation to Jesus, not merely our human perception of the amount of good done. Our human perception here does matter. But, rightly defined, impact is that which pleases the Lord. And you can please him immensely in whatever situation of life you are in.
Let this be encouraging to you if you are in a job, for example, where you feel that your impact value is low, and you aren’t able to find something else. Do keep looking if you are so inclined, but don’t worry in the meantime. Give your whole heart to what you are doing, do it for the Lord, and go out of your way to help others wherever you have opportunity, and he will regard your impact as truly great.