Studies have shown that the average person will spend over a third of his/her waking life at work. Since most Christians are not engaged in full-time vocational ministry, how do we integrate our faith into one of the biggest portions of our lives–our work?
Recently I attended a seminar at my church on that very subject entitled Work & Identity. The conversation was led by our pastor and a member of our church who had a long and successful career working for a Fortune 500 company.
Note: most of what follows is a summary of the teaching from the seminar mixed in with other teachings from my time in the Charlotte Fellows Program.
All Work Matters to God
The first concept they explained is foundational to a solid theology of work: the idea that all work matters to God. Most believers (including myself, for a long time) hold the misguided notion that some work is “spiritual” and other work is “secular,” the former being more pleasing to God than the latter. We assume that God cares far more for the work of the pastor than the work of the plumber. But the biblical view on work is totally different. Martin Luther, the famous German reformer, had this to say on the subject:
“…the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks…all works are measured before God by faith alone.”
All work possesses dignity, because work is integral to what it means to be made in the image of God. In the Genesis account of creation, we see God working, creating, and then declaring it all “good.” He then gave the work of cultivating the garden to Adam and Eve as a gift. Indeed, when God himself came to Earth clothed in humanity, he worked as a carpenter for the majority of his life.
It is crucial we understand first and foremost this notion that all work matters to God. If we do, it brings a totally new energy and dynamic to our work. Though it may seem hard to believe, the amazing truth is this: the work of the janitor can be just as pleasing (if not more) in the sight of God as the work of the youth pastor. The same is true for bankers, accountants, lawyers, teachers, doctors, nurses, and electricians. Imagine how our work would be transformed if we actually believed this truth.
‘The Kings and Their Glory’
But simply saying that all work matters to God still does not offer us practical answers to the issue of how we integrate our faith and our work.
The answer to that question is much more nuanced, and to find it we must turn to the conclusion of the Biblical narrative, the book of Revelation.
Another commonly held misconception is the idea that heaven will be an ethereal, airy place where believers will float around in ghost-like form. But the Bible makes it perfectly clear in Revelation 21 that the New Jerusalem will be a redeemed city filled with redeemed people doing redeemed work. But that’s not all. Consider this passage from Andy Crouch’s book on faith and work called Culture Making:
“But God’s handiwork, artifacts, and people alike, are not all that is found in the city. Also in the city are the ‘glory and honor of the nations’–brought into the city by none other than ‘the kings of the earth.’”
This means (incredibly) that in the New Jerusalem there will be buildings, streets, architecture, art, science, music, economics, and other cultural artifacts–many of which were created by humans in this life. Undoubtedly they will experience the same refining process that our bodies will go through, but nonetheless, do you see what this means? The products, services, and cultural goods we make today could make it into the New Heavens and the New Earth!
3 Ways to Integrate Your Faith & Work
As believers, we’re called to anticipate this coming Kingdom. And how do we do that with our work? To find out, Christians in every industry must ask themselves: what would a redeemed version of our industry look like? What does it mean for us to be Christian bankers, doctors, lawyers, or teachers? How will we work in a distinctly Christian way?
The answer will look a little different for everyone, but at the very least it will include these three components:
Work with Integrity
As believers, it goes without saying that we must hold ourselves to the highest standards of ethical behavior in our work, knowing that we work not just for human bosses but for the Lord (Colossions 1:21). This means we will not cook the books, take shortcuts that might harm the environment, our employees, or our customers. It means we will not take advantage of our customers by overcharging or overpromising. It also means honoring our employers’ time by not slacking off or browsing Facebook or Buzzfeed for hours on end.
Work with Excellence
When Martin Luther was famously asked by a cobbler who had just become a Christian what he should do with his life, Luther responded by saying: “make a good shoe and sell it at a fair price.” We should seek to be excellent in all that we do because we serve a God who is excellent in every way.
Also, as Andy Crouch says again in Culture Making: “We should ask the same question about our own cultural creativity and cultivating. Are we creating and cultivating things that have a chance of furnishing the New Jerusalem?”
Furthermore, being excellent at our jobs is a big part of earning the right to be heard by our coworkers.
Work with Love
Above all else, we must seek to love our bosses, coworkers, and employees to the best of our ability, knowing that as fellow image-bearers of God they deserve to be treated with the utmost dignity and respect. Practically, this means caring for our coworkers by forming relationships with them. It means getting to know them, their problems, their fears, and their dreams. If you’re a business owner it means compensating your employees generously or at the very least fairly.
My Faith + Work Manifesto
As I listened to the seminar, I realized that I hadn’t answered a lot of these questions for myself and my vocation. Therefore, I decided to write up a little faith + work manifesto. Hopefully it will inspire you to think through your answers for your vocation.
Question: What does it look like for me to be a Christian writer and designer?
-I will seek to tell the truth, no matter how ugly or inconvenient.
-I will seek to communicate everything with clarity, simplicity, and beauty.
-I will not overpromise what I know can’t be delivered.
-I will treat every person and their story with the dignity, time, and energy it deserves, knowing that God cares about every person’s story, no matter how small or insignificant it may seem.
-I will do everything in my power to encourage, inspire, inform, and challenge my audience to think, pray, and do what is most honoring to God and for the flourishing of humanity.
-I will not be a part of any piece of communication that explicitly endorses or encourages behavior that is against the will of God as revealed in the Scriptures.
-I will seek to find creative ways to “tell of all the wondrous things” (Psalm 9) that God has done and is doing.
To go along with the seminar, the leaders included a list of recommended reading on the topic of faith and work. It was too good not to share:
Seven Men: And the Secret of Their Greatnessby Eric Metaxas
Note: I would add to this list Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling by Andy Crouch. According to Tim Keller, it is one of the best books ever written on the subject of faith and work.
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