Tag: vocation

Another Way to Integrate Faith & Work

“What matters to God is the way we work, not what we do for work.” This is a common perception of work; assuming, of course that your work is ethical. But apart from this assumption, does God really care what we do for a living? Does God really care whether we install urinals or pacemakers? Or is God primarily concerned with how we do our work?

More Than Ethics

To be sure, God is concerned with the how of our work, that we don’t lie, cheat, or steal.. But assuming that your vocation and ethics are God-honoring (or, the “what” and “how” of your work are good), I suggest that God still cares what you do for a living, that he is intimately concerned with the essence of our vocation. In fact, if we can identify the essence of our vocation and reflect on it theologically, work can even become worship.

The Essence of Your Vocation

The “essence of vocation” is shaped by its principal goal or discipline. For instance, the principal discipline of medical surgery is biology. In order to make the proper incisions, a surgeon must know where human organs are located and how circulatory systems function. After you have identified the principle goal or discipline of your vocation, try to connect that principal to the nature and character of God. For instance, medical surgery reflects God as an orderly, creative Designer and as a merciful Redeemer. Here’s how.

Surgery exists because God created the human mind and body. Surgery works because God made the body in an orderly fashion. Surgery repairs because God has built redemption into the very fabric of life; our bodies can be restored. With the discipline of surgery in view—biology—and a little theological reflection, we can worship God through our work. In this case we get to witness his creativity, orderly providence, and merciful redemption. As a result, we worship God in Christ as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer (Col. 1:16-17, 20). Another term for this activity is theological integration, the integration of academic disciplines and/or vocational principles with the knowledge of God.

Integrated Work in the Bible

Theological integration is not an esoteric practice, but rather a mundane activity celebrated by Jesus. In the Gospels, a Roman centurion came to Jesus seeking healing for his servant. Jesus agreed to go with him; however, the centurion replied by saying that Christ need merely speak the word, not come to his house, and his servant would be healed. The centurion came to this conclusion by considering the essence of his work—authority—present in military principles. His reflection on the essence of his work, joined with faith, led him to conclude: “For I, too, am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes, and to my slave, ‘Do this!’ and he does it” (Matt. 8:9). In response, Jesus praised the centurion for this great faith. By reflecting on the essence of his work through faith, the centurion was able to glorify God. His work must have never been the same.

God is concerned, not merely with how you work, but what you do for work. Consider the essence of your vocation and try connecting it to the nature and character of God. Identify what discipline or principle drives or sustains your line of work—science, math, language, arts, sanitation, service, construction—and trace it to the nature and character of the triune Creator. In cultivating theological integration, work can become worship.

This article originally appeared at The High Calling.

My New Article: Community and the Cubicle

By 2000, forty million American white-collar employees were using the cubicle. What began as a customizable work environment eventually turned into an urban dungeon. Cutting us off from contact with the real world, the cubicle is scorned for suffocating productivity and community. Attempts to correct these individualistic work environments, such as co-working or collaborative workspace, have met with little to moderate success. Does work have to be so isolating?

Tobacco and Community

In a thoughtful essay on tobacco production from Sex, Economy, Freedom, & Community, Wendell Berry lists the benefits of tobacco work. (The morality of tobacco work is another issue altogether.)  Among them is the practice of “swapping work.”  Tobacco, Berry points out, is a very “sociable crop,” one that calls upon the entire community for help in the setting, cutting, stripping, and harvesting of tobacco. He comments:

At these times, neighbors helped each other in order to bring together the many hands that lightened work. Thus, these times of hardest work were also times of big meals and much talk, storytelling and laughter.

I suppose that tobacco farmers could have insisted on doing the work alone, but it wouldn’t have been near as fun or efficient as swapping work. But there’s more merit to work swapping than efficiency. Berry’s reflections reverberate with community. Words like: neighbor, each other, together, many hands, big meals, storytelling, and laughter seem foreign to the professional workplace, even to contemporary expressions of church. Yet, many of these words and concepts occur frequently in New Testament descriptions of the Early Church.

Early Church Community

For example, Acts consistently describes a church that experienced a steady state of Christian community, not just meeting one another on weekends. They devoted themselves to sharing meals, sharing needs, sharing possessions, and sharing a mission (Acts 2:42-47). This radical community was in response to the gospel of Christ, a community-cultivating message that enriched the surrounding social fabric of Jerusalem (Acts 4:32-37). The gospel promoted community in private and in public, through the ministry of reconciliation. They sought God-centered reconciliation (Acts 2,7,17), ethnic reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles (Acts 10,15), and social reconciliation of the poor, sick, and lame (Acts 3:1-10; 5:12-16). The gospel of reconciliation brought very different people together publicly and privately, renewing Jerusalem socially and spiritually.

Gospel, Community, & Work

What would it look like to extend the community-cultivating power of the gospel into our cities, into our workplaces, into our churches? How would the workplace change? In the city, when our workload increases, community often declines. We buckle into the cubicle for days, only to emerge a worn-out mess. Berry recounts an increase in community when hard work sets in—more laughter, more meals, and more hands. On the contrary, urban work deadlines often bring about despair, fewer meals, less sleep, and less time at home with the family. Far from enriching community, office work can isolate individuals from coworkers and families. Ironically, Tom Rath has demonstrated that community can increase productivity. In his book, Vital Friends, Rath points out that people with best friends at work are proven to be seven times more engaged in their job!

It would appear that the city has much to learn from the country. Although some vocations are not as sociable as others, the gospel compels us to work for community and reconciliation. To honor, serve, and love those that are different from us, even the employees that get on our nerves. What if you became an agent of reconciliation and community in your workplace? Company morale and output would likely increase, and so would the glory of God in your life. Perhaps some repentance from go-it-alone work is in order. The rural wisdom of “work swapping” could take us a long way in cultivating better work, better relationships, and better communities. Wouldn’t it be great if Christians led the way?

Originally published at The High Calling

More on Creative Thinking

  1. Write it down. – Encourage your team to write and share their lives with others. (More blogging!)
  2. Hire smart. – Hire risk-takers. You need people that are willing to embrace change.
  3. Bring in outsiders. – Bring in outside perspective to expand your thinking. (That’s how we arrived at our live-streaming technology for multi-site.)
  4. Be flexible. Very flexible. – The same strategy doesn’t work for every situation.

See the rest of the article here (HT:MC).