Christian faith is not a part-time activity. It is to be lived out 24-7-52. For many Christians this involves living out our faith at home, in our communities, and in our workplaces. But several myths about faith and work can prevent us from being effective witnesses in this area of life.
Kara Martin is Associate Dean of the Marketplace Institute at Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia.
When we met at Ridley a year ago I asked Kara if she could condense some of the most important messages she had learned that would help Christians be more effective witnesses in their workplaces. Kara’s response has been published by NZ Christian Network in our series of |Notes (one-page resources), and forms the first part of this publication.
One of the discussion groups hosted by NZ Christian Network is focused on ‘missional living’ – what does it mean to be a witness and follower of Jesus in every area of life. The group includes a number of locally and internationally respected leaders. As we were discussing Kara’s |Note, we realised that many people interested in this topic might find it useful to ‘eavesdrop’ on our conversation.
So, five of the group members agreed to write a brief comment on Kara’s original |Note (hence ‘6 views’). Once completed these were circulated to the group, and everyone then wrote a brief reflection on each other’s comments. Kara Martin added a conclusion.
The interaction between the six authors not only acts as a refining process – enabling you to see more clearly God’s intention for how faith and work are connected. Hopefully it will also serve as an example of how Christians can discuss different ideas in a way which is honouring to God.
One of the biggest potential shortcomings of this project and of the individual contributions is the strict word limits we imposed on the authors. We did this so that the final publication would be more accessible to a wider audience. It does mean though that the authors have not been able to explain themselves as fully as they would have liked.
We trust that they have each managed to communicate enough to help stimulate your own thinking, and that you the reader will extend to them all the same grace they have shown to each other.
To God be all the Glory,
Myths about Faith and Work
Faith is to be lived out 24-7-52. For many Christians this involves living out our faith at work. But several myths about faith and work can prevent us from being effective witnesses in this area of life.
Work is cursed
We all know that work is tough and hard and frustrating. It is tempting to think that the one good thing about heaven is that we won’t be able to work there! Around us, everyone wants to retire early so that they can stop working. However… A careful reading of Genesis 3 shows that the process of working is cursed, not work itself. In fact, work is a good gift from God, and God himself is a worker who is still working (John 5:17). Work may be frustrating, but it is not impossible, and God will often bless us through our work
God doesn’t care about my secular work
The focus of so many sermons and talks is on evangelism and worship. It feels like Gospel work is the only work that God values, and he only cares about the spiritual parts of our lives. However…
If you read Genesis 2 from verse 15, you will realise that the first work assignment from God was to till the earth (physical work), and the second assignment was to name the animals (creative/knowledge work).
God describes himself working through the prophets as a builder, gardener, singer, shepherd, potter and farmer.
God doesn’t just create the world, and leave it. He works to sustain his creation, and provide for his creatures, through all of us.
The only way I can be a Christian at work is to evangelise my workmates
Often there is pressure on us to use work as our opportunity to evangelise our colleagues. It sometimes feels that our pastor sees that as the only useful part about our job, aside from giving to the church. However…
Although proclaiming the Gospel is necessary, people often read our lives before they listen to our words.
There are many ways to express our faith in our work, and the most important way is to be excellent at our job. Peter in 1 Peter 2 encourages us to live such good lives that God might be praised.
In Colossians 3, Paul tells slaves to work whole-heartedly as if for Jesus. This suggests that our work can also be our way of serving God, of worshiping him.
If I am a serious Christian, I should leave my job
We may have heard sermons about how God wants us to leave our jobs and go to the mission field or plant a church… Often it feels selfish to hold onto our jobs and ignore those calls. However…Serious Christians should seek to serve God wherever they are placed. (See 1 Corinthians 7:17) All of us need to continually ask God to prompt and guide us to the work he wants us to do, using the gifts and skills and passion and experience he has developed in us.
Truths about Faith and Work
Your work is good
God created work as a good gift for us. Working is actually part of human flourishing. Those denied work struggle in many ways. We are all made in the image of a God who works. We notice that God took pleasure in his work of creation, and we can take pleasure in our work also. We need to separate work from employment, and learn not to value our work according to how much we are paid. You can worship God through your work. In Genesis 2:15, humans are told to work the ground and keep the garden. The Hebrew words for “work” (avad) and “keep” (shamar) are later used in reference to worshipping God and keeping his commandments. Work is one of the ways that we keep the Greatest Commandment: to love God and to love others. You can work with Jesus to redeem the workplace. Evangelism is one aspect of redeeming the workplace. We also do Jesus’ work of renewal when we are creative, we do good work, we act for justice, we build positive relationships or we right wrongs, or we stop evil.
Missional Living discussion group members comment on Kara’s original |Note.
I had the privilege of studying under the great advocate of workplace theology Paul Stephens. And a statement he made once has never left me, ‘a call comes to someone not to something’. His emphasis on calling, the Latin term vocatio, was helpful and has guided my emerging thought.
Unless we feel called, summoned, by God and to God, we will live (and work) overly invested in performance or live (and work) cynically giving only what seems necessary. When we know a sense of God-calledness all that we do potentially has meaning, purpose and kingdom imagination.
Elizabeth O’Connor comments, “we ask to know the will of God without guessing that his will is written into our very beings”. She challenges calling (God’s will for us) being external to us, rather it is deeply internal. We are wired to glorify God in our bodies. Assisting people in the discovery of their sometimes mysterious, always deeply humanising, sense of who they are seems to be a crucial part of the disciple making mission of the church.
I strongly agree with Kara that work is good – the adam was placed in the garden, a locality, to work, to complete creation. It intrigues me that gardening was pre-fall and, therefore, part of God’s good ordering of creation. The original commissioning of humanity to fill and subdue suggest that the wilderness described outside the garden was anything but the ideal – humanities creative partnership with God has always been kind of wondrous and deeply significant.
I suspect that the old school exaltation of Christian ministry has, by and large, subsided. The younger generation is much more inspired by the creative/lucrative world that offers so much (though may not deliver so well). This cultural shift values the goodness of life affirming work – and mentoring those with social influence is neglected within the church. Vocational guidance, then, becomes a critical part of the activity of the church.
Work enables us to externalise what is internal – to embody in our efforts our very hearts. This, in itself, can be worship. A beautiful garden, a piece of art can inspire wonder – service graciously given can also restore our humanity. Our work – paid and unpaid – can fulfil us (I feel it every time I teach, make a risotto or harvest tomatoes).
As a recently returned New Zealander, I found Kara Martin’s “Myths about Faith and Work” to be a breath of fresh air. In common with many churches overseas, NZ churches convey a message to their congregations that work is “good” as a forum for evangelism and as a source of income. Similarly, the message Christians often hear is that work should be regarded with skepticism. If a Christian is at work, this competes with doing church stuff. NZ Christians hear little about the intrinsic worth of their daily work.
As a result of the strength of this message in NZ, there is relatively limited involvement by NZ Christians in large corporate settings, or indeed in many of the roles that James K Smith identifies as the forums for creating a receptive culture for the gospel. My impression is that we have many small businesspeople in our churches, but few working in the Auckland CBD, for example. This is directly connected to the way we devalue the intrinsic worth of daily work and overemphasise the worth of explicitly religious activity.
To give just one example, a woman I know moved a few years ago from working as a doctor to take on a senior public health role. She commented to me that many Christians conveyed to her that this was an unspiritual step for her to take. It is true that her new role offers fewer opportunities for evangelism, but she felt (and I agree) that this took no account of the redemptive value of her work in God’s eyes.
I want to affirm what Martin writes about the intrinsic worth of daily work, and I long to see this understanding take root in NZ churches. Our daily work fulfils a mandate given to humanity before the fall, and which will continue after the God’s redemptive mission ends.
If we can grasp this, then we can reframe the part church plays in Christians’ lives, and how we share the gospel with those outside. Church and its activities can be the glue that holds Christians’ lives together, as Thom Rainer urges, instead of competing with daily work. And we will be able to show how the Christian message is good news to outsiders in their own daily work—a vital part of their identity our gospel proclamation rarely engages.
Rev Dr Lyndon Drake, pastor, lecturer, marketplace ministries
Kara presents us with a useful, quick access summary of myths and truths commonly held by Christians regarding their work and workplaces. Her text raises two big questions which she does not have opportunity to explore. These questions are:
What are we giving effective witness to?
If we reject the spiritual / secular dualism what is the spiritual nature of unredeemed work?
Giving witness to: At the heart of the call to be witnesses (Acts 1:8,22; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39; 26:16, 28:23) is the truth of the resurrection and ascension of our Lord. To His being today alive and ascended to the right hand of the Father. It is possible, in our reaction against insensitive evangelicalism, to leave a secularised world to interpret the “creative, good work, justice, positive relationships and the righting or wrongs and stopping of evil”. It is a sad truth that when we ‘think biblically and speak secularly’ the world will be inclined to interpret secularly. The witness may in the end be about us rather than about Him.
So if we don’t have dualism: We are quick to call work / employment spiritual and so we should. As Kara states work is good and God can be worshipped through work. Work was in fact God’s idea and creation. So work is spiritual. Unredeemed work is also spiritual, only it is subject to a different spiritual regime. Work does not just become or remain secular when it is unredeemed. Jesus describes the unredeemed world as being under the “prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Paul points out that we fight not against flesh and blood but against the rulers ..authorities ..powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Eph 6:12) and “against every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.” (2 Cor 10:5) It is important that our witness to the world in the context of work does not only have secular, organisational expression, good as that might be, but that it is also confessional of Christ and have access to “divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Cor 10:4) And unredeemed work has spiritual strongholds. The demonic reality of secularism, rationalism, individualism, consumerism, capitalism, socialism etc It seems to be about those “isms.” Acts 1 only expects us to witness with the power of the Holy Spirit upon us. Without him we have a major loss of effectiveness.
Martien Kelderman, pastor, marketplace ministries
I like this article firstly because, although it is prompted by the request to talk about “witness at work”, it goes much further than just talking about workplace evangelism. Survey work that I have done talking with more than 100 Christians about their faith and work makes plain that Christians from evangelical, charismatic and Pentecostal church backgrounds primarily value their work for what it means in terms of evangelism and face-to-face people-helping. The intrinsic value of work and the value of other dimensions of service provided through our work are not generally understood. This article begins to push beyond this and clearly promotes a broader understanding of what “witness at work” means.
Secondly, it seeks to earth what it says about the intrinsic value of work in the biblical story. Like most other introductory articles about the value of work from a biblical perspective it is heavily dependent on Genesis 1 and 2, 1 Corinthians 7 and Colossians 3. This may leave readers with a sense that the Bible doesn’t have much else to say about work. As a member of the Boston-based Theology of Work Project that has just spent seven years producing a set of commentaries on every book of the Bible explored from a work-related perspective, I am concerned to help Christians understand just how much more the Bible has to say about work. These commentaries are all available to be downloaded free from www.theologyofwork.org. Have a look yourself and be amazed with me at just how much the Bible has to say about work. Try the Song of Songs commentary if you want to start somewhere you probably haven’t thought of looking for a theology of work before.
One tension that I feel in reading this article and in writing about work myself is related to the way work in our culture is identified with having a paid job. Contemporary Western culture has made an idol of work. “What do you do?” is one of the first questions we ask a person. Identity, status and personal well-being are closely connected to our paid job. But for Christians I think identity and status and feelings of personal well-being ought to be grounded in our relationship with God. I want to say with this article that our work definitely does matter to God. But this includes our whole life’s work, paid and unpaid, domestic work, church work, voluntary work, and our paid jobs. All our work matters to God. It is the way we demonstrate in practice in every sphere of life we are disciples of Jesus.
Alistair Mackenzie, theologian, lecturer, marketplace ministries
I have spent much of my 20 years in full-time ministry trying to help Christians live out the whole gospel in their everyday world. This good news needs to be both demonstrated and proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit. But how does one do this in the workplace? In my experience this is a most challenging environment. How do we practically reach out to our work colleagues and not only show them the kingdom, but the King himself?
Of course our praxis should be founded in good theology and in the space allowed her Kara does an excellent job of setting our theological compass to true north. I was still disappointed though to find little practical advice on how to live out my faith in the workplace other than a broadened Protestant work ethic – be exemplary, build relationships, work for justice, right wrongs, stop evil. These things are absolutely important and it is right to devote time and energy in opening the eyes of Christians in the workplace to this wider gospel context. But we cannot truly ‘redeem the workplace’ without talking about the Redeemer.
The reason why Kara doesn’t go there may be because gospel proclamation in the workplace is downright difficult. Although we spend most of our day with particular people and might feel we know them well, the norms of the workplace can make spiritual conversations at work taboo. We can respond by emphasizing the non-proclamatory aspects of our Christian duty in the workplace as I feel Kara has done, but surely it is important that we also wrestle with how a Christian in the workplace can get to have spiritual conversations with colleagues they would love to see come to faith.
Is it a lack of theological understanding that is holding Christians back from being effective witnesses in the workplace, or might they need more? Perhaps they need a toolbox of practical skills, such as how to be a safe person for others, how to ask good questions, how to invite others to a safe ‘third place’ where real conversation can happen, how to tell their own redemption story. Perhaps we should be talking about the support networks that workplace Christians need to encourage them, because if you are the only Christian in your workplace it can get lonely.
As we explore together through brief Notes like these what workplace ministry should feel and look like I would be excited to hear the wisdom and stories of practitioners who have found ways to be both salt and light in their work context.
Howard Webb, Love Your Neighbour, evangelist
The Missional Living discussion group members reflect on each other’s comments.
While I enjoyed the articles/reflections of all my contemporaries I have been freshly bemused by the rather evangelical fixation of right belief leading to right practice. While no one says this specifically it is a dominant subtext. If only people had a theology of work, a kingdom view of vocation…
And I kind of agree with this and kind of wonder if it would make any difference at all. We have had 500 years of correct belief fixation and it has not served us particularly well! Orthodoxy does not necessarily lead to orthopraxy (sometimes it seems a substitute for any kind of practice!). I do resonate a little with Howard – I currently lead a church littered with high level civil servants and creative and some have great (workplace) theology though all, I suspect, would lament their Christian invisibility in their brutally secular environments.
I think that our sense of being part of a community that is the kingdom of God on earth has been lost. That we are called to God, to each other, to our world as a counter cultural community seems to me to be central. Our sense of being called, summoned by God, needs to be the spiritual epicentre for an orthopraxy in life. This would involve a communal life that forms practices – through shared prayer and reflection and mentoring – that is transformative and identity forming. A work place theology that is pure doctrine and more of the usual Christian individualism seems doomed from the start.
So I commend this journey but question if we are just asking more of the people we usually ask things of. What are the communal-ecclesiological foundations of supporting people in the Jesus way? This seems a church focus problem and we certainly do little to develop peoples’ called-ness and forming a spirituality for living in liquid modernity…
I was encouraged to see the idea of work as central to creation and our God-given humanity in the responses to Kara Martin’s article. Nigel Dixon referred to Paul Stevens, who rightly identifies the heart of a Christian doctrine of calling to be the call to a true image of God, one that includes daily work. Alistair Mackenzie helpfully pointed out the way Martin’s article engaged with the whole arc of the biblical narrative, paralleling the work he has done for the Theology of Work Project.
By contrast, I felt that the second half of Martien Kelderman’s response reverted to a degree of dualism. There is a cosmic battle, but that battle does not place “unredeemed” work entirely under the power of evil. The verses he cited in support of this dualism don’t speak of work, and I struggle to recall a place where daily work is presented in the Bible in dualistic terms.
Kelderman’s and Webb’s responses both reflect the modern evangelical priority given to individual proclamation. I think we need a greater recognition that the church collectively, more than the individual Christian, has this mandate. I felt that individual proclamation in the workplace was being used as the yardstick for the value of daily work by Christians.
Recently I’ve been reading Bruce Winter’s book about the early church, “Seek the Welfare of the City.” Winter highlights Erastus, the city treasurer in Corinth (Rom 16.23). The daily work of people such as Erastus was part of the early church’s mission, rather than simply being an opportunity for other, more “spiritual” work.
When a Christian gets a job offer today, we ought to celebrate because that person has a new opportunity to worship God in their daily work, not just because it gives more opportunity for talking about Jesus in that workplace.
This understanding of work lies behind Paul’s command to slaves in Eph 6. Slaves are not instructed to win opportunities for talking about Jesus—though I am certain that like me, Paul would have celebrated if their daily work had won such opportunities. Instead, Paul instructs them to direct their work towards the Lord, who rewards each person for the way they carry out their daily work.
I long to see God pour out his Spirit and save many people in New Zealand. I believe we need to have confidence that a biblical theology of work is no obstacle to this, but an important step towards seeing this happen.
Rev Dr Lyndon Drake Pastor, lecturer, marketplace ministries
I am prompted by Howard’s words to affirm the need for a theology of work that has legs, is accessible to the average working person, showing them what they can do and be legitimately a ‘witness’ to fellow workers and to work itself.
Over 10 years, I have taught an engagement with work course which framed this very practical application of workplace theology through five different lenses. Each of these is also portrayed as salt and /or light. We use “live with flavour, shine with intent” (Matt 5:13-16) as the by-line. Feedback indicated this was helpful. The five lenses are;
The importance of sound Christian character as a foundation for witness was found to be vital. Integrity expressed through an understanding of ‘the good’ is essential authentication of an action or words we deem as witness. (mostly salt)
The fundamental action of the believer is service. Service of other workers and of work itself. Service that is unconditional is frequently inexplicable to the beneficiary of such service and to observers. A willingness and preparedness to give explanation “of the reason for the hope within us” (1 Pet 3:15) in response to that expressed curiosity is an important ingredient that makes such acts “witness.”
The workplace provides participation opportunities to be more intentionally visible in redemptive activity. This is also consistent with the “Go” of the great commission. Social clubs, union membership, OSH delegates, first aid certification and other similar gathering and networking structures provide visible platforms for appropriate ‘shining of light.’ Certainly they allow a believer to relate and mingle far more widely within organisational structures while also contributing well to the good of the organisation.
Confronting the Principalities and Powers in a work context is an activity that recognises that philosophical paradigms that shape that context are both structural and spiritual. Action to challenge these P&P may range from political to prayer. Wisdom is to discern when either is applicable and in what form. As believers we would see that prayer is always important and action comes after wisdom. Words ending in ‘ism’ provide a quick reference list of P&P in both workplace and society.
Finally, there are Wise Words which give confession to the truth of the faith and the nature of its Lord. There is a spoken wisdom in life and work which is attractive and leads to conversation about all manner of life experiences. The wisdom of scripture and God’s people can and should fuel this environment. There is also a spoken wisdom which answers well and willingly the person who asks “What must I do to be saved?” in its variety of renditions. A knowledge of the gospel message presented well and appropriately with the purpose of leading to a salvation experience in the inquirer.
Martien Kelderman Pastor, marketplace ministries
I am very pleased to be part of this discussion about the meaning and purpose of daily work for Christians. It is a sign that some progress is being made in stimulating a wider conversation about issues of faith and work. At the same time, I am not as convinced as Nigel Dixon that the old school exaltation of Christian ministry has subsided. I think it is still our default position, although among some younger Christians it has been replaced by a new emphasis on the importance of community ministry and mission engagement rather than church leadership. I see a clear valuing of people-helping work among Christians, but not the same valuing of other dimensions and forms of work. Most Christians still think that what they do most of the time doesn’t matter to God. Unfortunately, I think that Howard Webb’s description of his own “20 years in full-time ministry” also reinforces this sort of thinking. All Christians are called to full-time ministry, although God gives different gifts to equip believers for different ministries. The language we use so often elevates the significance of some ministries at the expense of others. And seldom is the value of the important ministries of ordinary Christians in everyday life affirmed.
Personally I think that the future for the church will be decided by its ability to mobilise and support all its members in ministry. The largest mission force that God has in already mobilised every day as Christians engage in the life of the world through their daily work. Although few see this as a missionary engagement. And even fewer are intentionally resourced by the church for this mission.
A recent piece of research conducted by the Barna Group for the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University shows that most church-goers still doubt the significance of their work to God.
This research revealed that 70 percent of Christians do not see how their work serves God’s purposes, and 78 percent see their work as less important than the work of a pastor or priest. Although this was an American study my own research in New Zealand supports similar conclusions.
As a person who has spent most of his working life as a church pastor I have a particular interest in the role churches can play in equipping and supporting Christians for their daily work in the world. This includes people’s whole life’s work, paid and unpaid, at home, in the marketplace, in the community and in the church. With Nigel Dixon I would love to see the church reclaim its ministry of vocational guidance. But this will involve some serious rethinking in a number of areas, including:
- Rediscovering the length and breadth of God’s work and the biblical vision of God as a worker who invites us to join as partners in God’s work.
- Rethinking our theologies of vocation, work and ministry as these apply to all the people of God every day.
- Moving beyond retreating models of prayer and spirituality to explore how we practice the presence of God while we are at work in the world.
- Developing better tools to help Christians find where they fit in God’s purposes at different stages of life. Also equipping and commissioning and supporting them for this work.
- Providing more help for Christians to clarify the core ethical values that will shape our discipleship. Positive values that define what Christians stand for and that move beyond becoming identified only by what we stand against.
- Church life that bridges the gap between Sunday and Monday so that church is not just another set of pressures for Christians already struggling with competing time demands, but rather part of the glue that helps promote more purposeful and better integrated lives.
For a lot more practical examples of what churches are doing about these things see The Equipping Church.
Alistair Mackenzie Theologian, lecturer, marketplace ministries
As I read the reflections of others on Kara’s original piece I am struck by two things. One is our universal appreciation of the fact that work isn’t just a necessary evil or merely a vehicle for our spiritual ambitions; it has great intrinsic kingdom value in and of itself. The other is our various sensitivities to the value and place of proclamation evangelism in workplace ministry.
We would all agree that there existed a narrow paradigm for evangelism that did not serve the church well, and workplace ministry least of all. Regarding not-yet-Christians as nothing more than souls to be saved at all costs led to practices and behaviour that were disrespectful (and therefore offensive) and which reduced the gospel story to the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus as though the rest of the gospel account (including how we should live) was of secondary significance. It is sobering that in some of the world’s most-evangelised countries crime and corruption remain rife because of a dissociation between beliefs and behaviour. Authentic Christianity must be transforming of every part of me.
However, for workplace ministry to truly be mission it must include both demonstration and proclamation. As Martien Kelderman says in his response, ‘It is important that our witness to the world in the context of work does not only have secular, organisational expression, good as that might be, but that it is also confessional of Christ and have access to “divine power to demolish strongholds”.’ We are not just trying to make the workplace and the world a nicer place; our goal is kingdom transformation. And transformation is impossible without repentance, which implies being confronted with a crossroads – my way or God’s way? For this, words are necessary.
Going forward, I would wish to see the conversation dwell not only on gospel demonstration, as important and worthy as it is, but on the admittedly tricky and thorny question of the why, where, what and how of gospel proclamation in the workplace. Grounding in the theology of work is vital and necessary; but unless we help resource God’s people in the workplace to navigate spiritual conversations it is not yet mission.
Howard Webb Love Your Neighbour, evangelist
Kara Martin Associate Dean, Marketplace Institute Ridley College, Melbourne, Australia It has been a privilege to be involved in this discussion and unearth some of the possibilities and the challenges of integrating faith and work. I see three main areas of tension, and three areas of opportunity.
First tension: What is driving a desire to integrate faith and work?
I started this enquiry 30 years ago as a young TV reporter trying to figure out how I could be true to my identity as a Christian in my workplace. Being good and looking for opportunities to share the Gospel seemed a minimum requirement, and did not satisfy my sense of why God had gifted me as a journalist and placed me in that workplace.
I suspect there are a lot of workers in congregations who feel the same way.
So, in response to Nigel’s question about source and respose: it is more an existential disconnect that is driving a quest for a mental and spiritual framework, which will then guide spiritual formation and behaviour.
People respond in different ways to the need to integrate. Some focus on evangelism and promoting biblical truth, some seek character transformation, some are guided by the Holy Spirit, some look for God’s justice or righteousness, some see their work as a means of worship, and some see their work as the means of personal spiritual formation.
Second tension: What does this have to do with the church?
While I agree with several respondents that the church needs to be the centre of kingdom work, I think that the church needs to empower people to work as citizens of that kingdom in the ‘foreign countries’ that represent various workplaces.
Mike Baer (Business as Mission) has commented that if the church does not lead this process then ordinary Christians will, and there is a danger then of a disconnect from a solid biblical basis, community movement, pastoral support, the resources to disciple new believers, and there will be a temptation to perpetuate the sacred–secular divide.
Third tension: What about the importance of evangelism?
One of the overwhelming issues that I hear and see is the guilt that evangelical Christians in the workplace feel about the evangelism prerogative. For some, this is the only teaching they have received in church about work: “your workplace is your missionfield, tell everyone about Jesus and invite them to church”.
Generally I find that actions springing from guilt are a lot less effective than actions springing from a more integrated foundation.
I think 1 Peter traces out for us a different trajectory for the interplay between evangelism and our work. First of all, there is intrinsic value in our work. We are still serving God with our work, even if there is little opportunity for evangelism, and we are accountable to God for how we work (1 Peter 1:17).
Secondly, we should work so well, that people cannot find fault with us, but instead honour the God we are imaging (1 Peter 2:12).
Thirdly, work hard and well for God rather than human masters, for the one who is the Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25).
Fourthly, always be ready to respond to those who want a reason for why you work differently to others (1 Peter 3:15).
Fifthly, ensure that the way you behave does not contradict your message (1 Peter 3:16).
Sixthly, do all this in the strength and power that God provides, giving people a glimpse of what the kingdom looks like (1 Peter 4:7–11).
I suggest we would do well to see the dynamic and creative tension between a spiritually-formed view of work and evangelism; to recognise that gospel promotion starts with who we are and what we do, and then flows to proclamation.
Having recognised and made peace with the tensions, there are three clear directions that lie before you:
Opportunity 1: Lead the way.
I fear the temptation will be to keep talking rather than leading and doing. It is already clear that some churches have successfully wrestled through these issues and are pioneering in the faith/work integration. I am impressed with what Lyndon had to share, and Alistair has years of experience in this space, and even a blueprint for moving forward.
Opportunity 2: Empower churches to equip workers.
There are lots of tools and resources available for churches to begin this process. I have attached a document of different books, weblinks, apps, Bible studies, videos, church programs, songs and simple illustrations. I would recommend creating spaces for collaboration and mentoring.
Opportunity 3: Collect practical examples.
Tim Keller has lots of practical examples in his book Every Good Endeavour of individuals who have been changed and are kingdom change agents through their working. However, we need local examples that feel more real and achievable. They also need to be vocationally specific, and at different levels within organisations. The Gospel Coalition has a good model for questions to ask: http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/tag/vocations/.
Finally, a word of encouragement. God is already at work in the world, apart from the agency of his people, sustaining his creation, and giving all humankind an appreciation of justice, beauty, truth and love. He invites us to join him, naming the “unknown God”, and partnering him in the renewal of workplaces and workers. In the words of poet David Whyte: “Put down the weight of your aloneness and enter into the conversation… Everything is waiting for you.”
Kara Martin, Associate Dean, Ridley Marketplace InstituteTransforming Work – Resources to go!