Much of what we call Christian “discipleship” has often neglected that part of our lives that consumes at least half of our waking hours.
We seek to follow Jesus in our church life, our family life and our devotional life. We hold one another accountable for our thoughts, our morals, and our relationships. We develop skills for Bible study and witness. We learn to practice spiritual disciplines and exercise spiritual gifts. All of this together we might call “being and making disciples.” For all of our disciple-making intentionality, however, we may barely touch the one aspect of our lives that fills most of our days: our work.
When we think about “faith in the workplace,” we usually mean “taking a stand for God at work. ” This might mean keeping a Bible on your desk, talking to co-workers about Jesus, or organizing an after-hours office prayer meeting—all of which are good, worthy endeavors for the any Christ follower. Rarely, though, do we stop to ask, “Does following Jesus have any bearing on my work itself?”
Why this neglect? How did we come to isolate the work of our hands from the devotion of our hearts? We tend to be functional Gnostics, driving a false wedge between the spiritual and the material world, assuming that our piety is to be practiced in strictly private and/or religious ways. We live our faith in our quiet time, at church, and on mission trips – perhaps even in a witnessing conversation in our neighborhood or place of business. But the real “work of God,” we assume, is done by pastors and preachers and missionaries – those who have devoted their lives to “full-time Christian service” – not by mechanics and computer programmers and office managers. Conversely, the “real work of the world,” as done by people in business, education, medicine, construction, or service industries has very little to do with our faith.
I would suggest in this series of blog posts that the work of a Christian mechanic is as much the work of God as is the work of a Christian minister. The sacred-secular divide misses the point of the Gospel. Christ has come, has died, and has risen again to transform all of life, including our work. The Kingdom of God is not an ethereal, otherworldly reality, but an earthy, work-a-day world-changing power. If we are to apply all of the Gospel to all of life, however, we need a sound theology of work.
In the fall of 2014, the preaching team of the church of which I am a member decided to spend six weeks exploring this question. I offer here a summary of the fruit of our study. At the outset, I want to acknowledge the contribution of my fellow preaching team members, Kelly Reid and Robbie Booth. We spent many hours in conversation, hammering out together the implications of the Gospel for the work that our people do every day in offices, grocery stores, construction sites, hospitals and schools. A larger group of work-place disciples within our church also made valuable contributions to the conversation in a focus group we had on Kim and Marty Pangrac’s back deck one beautiful Sunday afternoon. We gleaned much help along the way from books on the topic, especially Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor, and Andy Crouch’s Culture Making. I mention these for two reasons. First, though I will acknowledge specific citations as I write, you should know that their thinking has also shaped the broad strokes of what I have to say. Second, if you are interested in reading more on this topic, these books are a good place to start. Both have been conversation starters among North American evangelicals. The conversation has yielded much creative thought, expressed in many publications and blogs. If you are interested, a couple of good websites to explore are faithandwork.com and theologyofwork.org.
I’ll get into much more detail as we go along, but for now, here are the major points I’d like to make in this series:
1. The importance and dignity of work is woven into the entire story of God from Creation to New Creation. Work is neither a necessary evil nor the curse of the Fall. It is God’s gift to us, a reflection of his very image in every person.
2. Our work, like everything else, is marred, tainted, distorted by the Fall. Because of sin, work has been marked by drudgery, strife, idolatry and futility.
3. Our work, like everything else, is redeemed by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel frees us to see all of life, including our work, as worship, and to see our work from the perspective of God’s activity in the world.
Being a disciple of Jesus is not just something we do in our free time, when we are not working. We are called to apply the Gospel to our work, in our work, and through our work. I hope in these posts to explain why, and to provide some hints as to how.