Editors' note: The weekly TGCvocations column asks practitioners about their jobs and how they integrate their faith and work. Interviews are conducted and condensed by Bethany L. Jenkins, director of TGC's Every Square Inch.
Tim Clark, 35, is a house painter in Greenville, South Carolina, where he lives with his family and tweets as @DailyKeller with about 145,000 followers.
How did you become a house painter?
Tim Clark and Tim Keller
Tim Clark and Tim Keller
I never planned on painting houses as a career. I started doing it in college in order to pay for school. When I graduated, though, I was married, and we had a fair amount of debt. So I needed a job. Although my degree was in health, fitness, and recreation, painting houses paid better than the jobs I could find in my major.
For a long time, especially when we were paying down our debt, I hated my job. All I could think about was how expensive college was and how many financial mistakes we made when we were first married. Those dark days were full of accusation: "You're never going to be debt-free. You've made too many bad decisions."
Did something happen that changed your perspective?
Yes and no. My heart changed, but my circumstances didn't. Through John Piper's ministry, I discovered what I was missing—the pursuit of joy. Then I downloaded Tim Keller's talk from the 2006 Desiring God conference. I probably replayed that message 20 times. The real turning point, though, came when I listened to The Reason for God. (One perk of painting houses is getting to hear sermons and audiobooks on the job.) It helped me to see God's grace in my work. I discovered that my job is a gift, not a punishment. I started seeing how my work mirrors God's work. In house painting, we spend most of our time preparing surfaces—filling in cracks and holes. We can't even think about putting paint on anything until the surfaces are made smooth and clean.
Can you tell me about a time when you really loved your job?
One of our clients loved the fact that my boss and a few of the guys on our crew were into hunting and fishing. So he threw us a big fish fry with an all-you-can-eat buffet. This was special because house painting really isn't about relationships. Clients usually want us to come in and get out as quickly as possible because we're invasive. We have to create a giant mess before we can eventually make a house look beautiful. Very few of them get to know us. We go unrecognized and unseen most of the time. Also, sometimes they assume we're not intelligent since we're blue-collar workers. That's why this client was so unique. He saw us as people, not just painters.
What type of work do you think you'd be doing if you weren't painting houses?
My heart is drawn to mercy ministries. I would love to be doing something full-time that's focused on helping the poor and marginalized. What's hard for me, as a full-time painter, is that most volunteer opportunities happen during work hours. I also want to be writing. Again, though, it's hard to find time for that because I have a full-time job. I don't think I'll be a house painter for the rest of my life, but I'm not sure what I'll be. I'm not worried about it. I know God has a plan. This year, we got out of debt. So I feel more freedom and see more opportunities than ever before.
When TGCvocations interviewed Max McLean, he said that the first step in adapting a book to a stage is finding the "narrative through line" that connects seemingly disconnected stories into one theme. As you think about your various activities—from tweeting to painting—can you find a "narrative through line" in your life?
When I first joined Twitter, I found that I really enjoyed the accounts that gave encouraging words. It's amazing how much power is in 140 characters. Since Tim Keller was the pastor who most encouraged me and since he wasn't on Twitter, I started @DailyKeller to encourage others. It wasn't about me. In fact, it wasn't even about Tim. It was about God. Last year, when I finally met Tim, I said, "You made Jesus beautiful to me." He replied, "That's the point." That's what I want @DailyKeller to be about. And that's what I want my painting to be about. I'm a beautician, taking broken things and making them beautiful. I guess beauty is my "narrative through line."
Bethany Jenkins directs Every Square Inch, the faith and work initiative of The Gospel Coalition. She is the founder of The Park Forum, a nonprofit that seeks to plant urban Christians in the Bible daily. She is writing her first book, 'Having All That Matters,' which is a faith-based contribution to the 'Lean In' discussion. Previously, Bethany worked at the New York Stock Exchange, the U.S. Department of State, and the U.S. Congress. She received her JD from Columbia Law School. Bethany lives in Manhattan and attends Redeemer Presbyterian Church, where she was a Gotham Fellow through the Center for Faith & Work.