A Conversation About the Intersection of Faith and Work

Mt Angel Abbey viewLast week I spent an hour with my friend Paul Pastor at the Mt. Angel Abbey. Aside from the great view on a beautiful day, we discussed the topics surrounding an upcoming event put on by Christianity Today and Leadership Journal on faith and work.

The event is in Portland, and as a reader of this blog, I’m able to offer you $40 off the Redeeming Work event! When you register here, just enter promotional code BL40.

Here’s my conversation with Paul Pastor, one of the speakers at Redeeming Work (check out his website and Twitter profile):

Tyler: Why is it important for Christians to focus on the intersection of faith and work?

Paul: Several reasons.

1. Work occupies so much of our lives. So any theology or pastoral practice that doesn’t speak toward our work misses a key component of life.

2. For emerging adults today, many of our questions and angst about identity come out in the conversations surrounding work.

3. I’ve heard from many pastors who feel ill-equipped to handle the questions and struggles of their congregants. What we’re doing with Redeeming Work is offering theological foundation and practical pastoral guidance within a local context to help change that.

What would you say to the Christian who doesn’t see any aspect of faith in their work?

The Bible’s vision of creation is one where everything has the capacity for sacredness. Even though the world and our work are suffering as the result of a broken and bent world, “there’s no creature whatsoever that does not have a beam of God’s glory in it” (Richard Sibbes, para.). That principle, the idea that God is everywhere, and his presence sanctifies, it turns the streets we sweep, and the toilets we scrub, and the stocks we broker, and the engines we tune, and the people we teach, it all turns all of that, all of creation, into beams of God’s glory. That’s the source of our inspiration for work: seeing God at work in all things.

That can sound like a thin answer, and there are many ways that I’d caveat it. For those, join us for the Portland Redeeming Work event on March 10th and let’s chat in person.

What are some ways that Christians understand work in an unChristian way?

First, if they act as if it doesn’t exist. Often we do this out of fear. Some pastors fear that if the implications of this conversation came to fruition in their church, it would diminish volunteerism within the church, or the level of involvement within the local church for what some see as “sacred work.”

Within this, we sometimes propagate a stark sacred/secular divide, where we see “ministry work” as sacred work, in the church, and all other callings, careers, or jobs as just . . . work. This is theologically flimsy and pastorally damaging.

The other way we get this wrong is by having the conversation without recognizing the difficult areas inherent in it. Such as:

  • This can be a conversation for privileged people (people who have time, education, and interest to sit around and think deep thoughts about the work behind the paycheck).
  • The systemic and ethical implications of work.
  • Making work exclusively a personal (not a communal conversation).
  • Passing over Christian callings that much of the world ignores or devalues (stay at home parent, service employee, blue collar worker, assembly line worker, and so on).

How would you encourage people who can’t make the event but care about seeing conversations like this happen in their context?

Read a few books on this subject to get new language and vocabulary. This gives you the ability to see new things and to grow in life for your context.

Everybody works in a “contribution” capacity, even many who aren’t necessarily “compensated” for their work–stay-at-home parents, for example. Listen to and affirm diverse callings.

Start a conversation with your pastoral staff to push your church toward putting greater emphasis and focus on the faith/work conversation. Be willing to discover what this means for you–that Christ has come to redeem all things, including the work of our hands, hearts, and minds.

If you’re in a pastoral role, listen to the people in your congregation. Ask questions of people that take more than a “yes” or “no” response. Visit people at their place of employment. Devote sermons and small group time toward issues of work and career.

Don’t see this as the next big thing for your church to “go through,” but important for the life of the church. Our commitment to this should become a lifelong desire to value people and their callings.

What books, individuals, organizations are engaging these conversations well?