Eternity News publishes my blog on toxic workplaces

 Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

Photo by bruce mars from Pexels

What to do when what you do is bad for you

KARA MARTIN | NOVEMBER 15TH, 2018 02:15 PM | 

I meet many people who feel their workplace is toxic. I have spent a lot of time thinking and writing about the good of work. I’ve also considered the bad – and I have an ultimatum for the toxic situations: Stay, pray and persevere as long as you can, especially if you have good support. But if you feel the battle is impacting on your soul — the deep connection with God that keeps you grounded — then leave.

I spoke at an inner-city church on the good of work. Afterwards, the minister introduced me to his daughter who was working for a prestigious management consulting company. He was concerned she was struggling in her job, and it was impacting on her faith.

There was a complete mismatch with her values and the values of the organisation.

I met Louise and she was delightful, but there was a tightness about her face which I recognised. She was someone who was holding her outer self together.

I asked her about her work. She enjoyed the work itself, but the workplace was becoming increasingly difficult.

She felt there was a complete mismatch with her values and the values of the organisation.

She was being encouraged to cut corners to save money, to over-inflate good results and cover up or minimise bad results, and to convince clients to take on additional work that they didn’t really need. Several times she had protested these directives, but been over-ruled, and now her team did not trust her.

She felt isolated, and did not feel valued for the good work that she was doing. Increasingly there was a sense that she was being squeezed out, made to feel so uncomfortable that she would have to leave.

Would God want her to stay and fight? To make a difference for the clients who hired her? Was there a way of changing the corporate culture? If she left, would that be removing Christian influence from the organisation? What about this other worker, should she stay to support him?

We talked for a while, and I shared with her my ultimatum: Stay if supported, leave if your faith is eroded.

It was at that point she told me another point of pressure in terms of her work: she didn’t want to disappoint her father who had been so excited about her getting the role.

Leaving would impact on her career, and the success he had invested in. I was able to reassure her of his concern for her, and encouraged her to speak openly with him.

Toxic versus flourishing

Workplaces can become toxic, impacting not just the ability to work, but health and wellbeing. Sometimes the toxicity can extend to clients, customers, suppliers … all those impacted by the organisation.

God’s vision for business is the flourishing of individuals who work there, and innovation in products and services that add to creation. A toxic workplace is not just a workplace routinely impacted by sin; it is a place that negatively impacts on people to such an extent that it hardly seems sustainable.

Louise was not the only one impacted by the organisation, but often our silence is mistaken for complicity. She was also not simply uncomfortable because of her Christian faith. The organisation was disingenuous in its dealings with clients as well as employees.

The occurrence of toxic workplaces is quite widespread. I know a teacher who is desperate in a school that has become toxic as a new leader has caused major divisions among staff and parents. Her job is crumbling around her, and she is finding her self-confidence being undermined.

In her case, as in Louise’s, there is a sense of being trapped. Louise felt she didn’t want to let her parents down. The teacher faces demotion if she leaves, and the possibility of being posted to a school a long way away.

Biblical advice for survival

Chapman, White and Myra have written a book Rising Above a Toxic Workplace which has some advice for surviving toxic workplaces:

  • Don’t expect people in a toxic workplace to respond “normally”. Give up your expectation of a healthy response to your good work. Instead, serve the Lord (Colossians 3:23).

  • Accept the fact that you cannot change the culture unless you are the leader.

  • Set clear boundaries regarding what you will or will not do, and stick to it. Do not lose the person you are “in Christ” (Romans 8:1), for the sake of pleasing your manager or your company.

  • Don’t accept false guilt, from those trying to blame others.

  • Don’t take it personally, remember that toxic culture is an outworking of rampant sin, not your personal responsibility. Pass the burden to Jesus (Matthew 11:28–30).

  • Have people who will affirm you, preferably who can give you clear feedback on your working, so that you can evaluate yourself with sober judgment (Romans 12:3).

Making Ethical Decisions

Christie worked for a large toy-making company in sales. She enjoyed her job which involved playing with the products to get to know them and plenty of travel.

We talked a few times about how she applied her faith to her job, and she was really challenged. She could not work out how to do her job without exaggerating the benefits of the product, and misleading outlets about what deals she had with their competitors.

She seemed very comfortable with being a Christian and, basically, lying.

Values Framework from the Bible

Michael Cafferky, author of Business Ethics in Biblical Perspective, has developed a biblically-based Values Framework for considering the decisions we might make. It can be summarised as a series of questions:

  • Is it creative and sustaining? (creation)

  • Is it the right thing to do? (holiness)

  • Does it enhance relationship? (relationship)

  • Will it lead to flourishing? (shalom)

  • Is it a just thing to do? (justice)

  • Does it have integrity? (truth)

  • Is it a wise thing to do? (wisdom)

  • Does it show compassion? (love)

  • Does it set someone free? (redemption)

If Christie applied this framework she might come up with an entirely different set of actions. Her decision to do or say anything to get a sale may have short-term benefits but long-term consequences.

It is probably not sustainable to continue lying and pretending. It is certainly not a holy thing to do, because we know the Bible explicitly forbids lying.

It does not enhance her relationship with her customers, because it is a relationship based on lies rather than trust. It will not lead to flourishing because it is a controlling situation. It is not a just thing to do, because the price that is determined is based on false premises, and differs between customers. It is not based on truth. It is not wise, because once found out, it will impact on Christie’s reputation, and the reputation of her organisation.

It does not demonstrate love, since her desire is to trick and manipulate the customer for personal gain. Finally, her behaviour actually binds her, because she is fearful of being found out, and it restricts the freedom of the customer also.

Making the best ethical decisions

When faced with a difficult ethical decision, the following steps will help ensure that you make the best decision possible:

  • Stop and think: don’t be tempted to rush a difficult ethical decision; it is better to take time and make a solid decision.

  • Determine the facts: make sure you have all the information you need.

  • Think through the Values Framework.

  • Develop options: while being conscious that you must also represent the needs of your organisation.

  • Consider consequences: trying to be creative about possible even if improbable consequences.

  • Ask questions: make sure you involve the key people making or being impacted by the decision.

  • Monitor and modify: don’t feel that you cannot change tack; too many poor decisions are made worse by people too proud to modify the decision after the event.

A wise man once told me that the final question he asked himself when making a difficult decision is: “How will I feel if that decision is portrayed as the lead story on a digital news source tomorrow morning?”

Integrity and service

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Recently, I was speaking at a church and I heard a fantastic story of the cost of obedience in the workplace, and the fruit of good work.

Ross (not his real name) told me about working in the insurance industry for several years. There was tremendous pressure to make a sale, since such a large part of his salary was commission.
He had made several sales, being a very relational person, when he suddenly discovered that the information he had based the sales on was untrue. His manager justified telling lies by focusing on the importance of making sales for both the company and the salespeople.
Ross was appalled and felt guilty, such that he went back to the clients to apologise and paid them back the commission he had earned.
During his first three years he barely earned enough money to survive because he had made a vow that he would never exaggerate the benefits of a product, or sell a client something that wasn't suited to their situation.
After that time, something extraordinary happened. His clients were so impressed by his integrity and service that they started referring their friends.
Suddenly, with the sheer volume of clients that he didn't have to go looking for, Ross finally started making decent income, and winning the kudos of his manager and team.

To me, this shows that God's way of doing business is the best way of doing business. Our honesty and acts of service are the best foundation for doing good work.

Eternity News publishes my article on stress

 Photo by energepic.com from Pexels

Photo by energepic.com from Pexels

5 ways to smash stress at work

Kara Martin outlines an empowered approach to doing your job well

KARA MARTIN | OCTOBER 25TH, 2018 08:48 AM | 

A couple of years ago, I taught a Masters class of students who had been asked to survey their church about the most difficult issues faced by Christians in the workplace.

Dealing with conflict and ethical challenges were prominent issues but the outstanding one was handling work stress. This was easily the most widespread issue.

They reported feeling stretched and overwhelmed by the pressures of work, and finding it difficult to find a balance.

This also is the number one issue for all workers, not just Christians, with the 2015 Stress and Wellbeing survey run by the Australian Psychological Society finding a trending increase in workplace stress and anxiety. About 45% of Australians complained of work-related stress, costing an estimated $20 billion in lost productivity.

To move from statistics to a typical real-life example, Joanne has felt lots of stress at work.

Leadership changes acutely caused this, as well as lack of consultation about her workload, and the threat of job cutbacks. In addition, there was the breakdown in some key workplace relationships.

She suffered from sleep deprivation; when she awoke, she was then distracted by her worries about work. She also had increasing stomach irritation, and occasionally felt her heart racing.

She was also often grumpy toward others at home, and sometimes used wine as self-medication to cope with the feeling of being overwhelmed.

There are some other significant steps we can take to access God’s power …

At first Joanne was angry with God for allowing her to get into such a stressful situation. However, over time she found that God’s presence was a great source of solace and comfort.

Nevertheless, she often felt depleted at church, and incapable of participating in church activities. It was something Joanne found difficult to discuss with her church friends, feeling embarrassed at her inability to cope at work.

Joanne’s story is common, but also very sad. She hesitated telling others about her struggles, out of fear of the stigma of stress as a mental illness. She waited too long to get assistance, and by then the situation was spiralling down, both at work and at home. The stress impacted on her spiritual relationship, and her capacity to serve in the church community.

A Christian approach to managing stress

Some of the most obvious steps to help deal with stress are to eat, sleep and exercise well. However, there are some other significant steps we can take to access God’s power to overcome harmful stress.

  1. Pray through the stress, even when you are not conscious of God hearing your prayers. If possible, have others who will commit to pray for (or preferably with) you.

  2. Remember that your identity, esteem and security need to be found in Christ rather than in your work. You are God’s child, made in his image, with eternal hope. Those truths cannot be impacted by what is happening at work.

  3. Keep a Sabbath, a weekly time of rest and focus on God that acts as a contrast to the stress of work. Let it be a time of preparation for the week ahead, as well as genuine gratitude to God for his mercies, his provision and his sustenance.

  4. There is much in Scripture that encourages us that we can cast our anxieties on God because he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7), and that Jesus will take our burdens on himself. Matthew 11:28–30 is beautifully paraphrased by Eugene Peterson in The Message: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me — watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

  5. Biblical stories are also a source of encouragement, such as considering David’s confidence in God in the midst of his stress as he flees from Saul, expressed in Psalms 7, 27, 31 and 34. We also see a godly response in Jesus as he wrestles with his impending arrest, trial, death and separation from God in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36–46), as he prays, tells God his frustrations and fears, yet submits to God’s will.

Work sometimes feels like it is too impacted by sin for us to be effective for Christ there. However, Colossians 1:16–17 reminds us that in Jesus “all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Jesus is sovereign over the whole earth and every relationship, including our workplace; such that they can be places where we look to see what God is already doing, and join in with him, asking for discernment and wisdom as we seek to be Christ’s ambassadors in that place.

Our stress and ethical quandaries and conflict issues can be minimised as we practise the spiritual discipline of working for an audience of One: God, as it says in Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”


Podcast on Open House radio program

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I was delighted to be interviewed for Open House with Stephen O'Doherty. We ended up getting caught up in conversation, for more than 40 minutes in fact!

Open House is a talk programme that looks at news, current affairs and issues from a Christian perspective. It covers local and world events with insights not heard elsewhere, informed by a Christian worldview. As host Stephen O’Doherty puts it, Open House “looks at life through the lens of faith and points to hope”.

In this interview we covered a basic theology of work, and discussed work’s importance in our lives. We particularly focused on Ephesians 2:10, and the concept that we are God’s work of art, crafted by him to do good work.

We also looked at when work goes terribly wrong, and particularly the affect of toxic workplaces.

After the interview, a listener texted in to explain their impact as a young engineer who was able to use their influence to improve the work culture on a worksite, by enhancing trust and communication between workers and management. In that way they were able to demonstrate the peace that comes through Jesus. It was a great illustration of the kingdom influence we can have as vibrant Christians in the workplace.

You can access the interview here.

Interview for the August edition of Malyon Workplace Newsletter

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This is an interview that appeared in a new initiative from Malyon Workplace: a newsletter. There are also articles from Dave Benson and John Beckett, and some wonderful poems. You can download the full newsletter here.

What is the one thing that is absolutely crucial for the conversation about the interaction between faith and work? 

The faith and work conversation has been going for a long time. It probably wasn’t an issue for the early church, where it seems that faith was so integrated in every area of life, that some things were not drawn out and specifically referred to (for example, the definition of “labour in the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 15:58). It didn’t need to be. As Paul says in Romans 12:1–2, our whole lives are living sacrifices to God.

The Platonic idea of separation of flesh and spirit was a lie that was pervasive through society and culture, with the Church fathers arguing against Docetism, a particular form of Gnosticism, that suggested that Jesus was not fully human. It was rejected at the Council of Nicea in 325, and from the creed that emerged we affirm that:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father… For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.

However, human beings are persistent in our desire to separate spirit and flesh, and this occurred gradually during the time of Christendom, when the church ruled. Leading up to the Reformation, the church had elevated all its own activities (sacred) above worldly activities.

One of Martin Luther’s most dramatic reforms was to articulate the priesthood of all believers (we are all priests), as well as the elevation of all vocations (we all work), proclaiming that our work is not judged by what job we do or who we work for, but by the faith with which we do it.

Somehow, in the hundreds of years that have passed, we have fallen again for a shallow gospel that treats every human being as a spirit that needs to be saved for heaven, rather than a whole person living out the kingdom on earth, in anticipation of a new earth under Jesus’ reign.

I wish we had such a vision for our work in God’s plan to redeem the whole world: to promote good, hold back evil, sustain God’s creation, and rebuild every relationship: with God, with each other, and with this groaning earth.

If we could capture this vision then our churches would be energised to empower us to live out our faith in every corner and facet of our lives. There would be no Sunday–Monday divide.

We would begin to see God’s vision for our vocations. The Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship of Australia recently rebranded with the following tagline: To be transformed by Christ, transforming Healthcare. This should be our vision for our job, our vocation. How can we transform the community, the workplace, the vocation that we are in so that it better reflects the Kingdom?

Our work would no longer be seen as a necessary evil, the thing that interrupts us doing what we would prefer to be doing, the things that stops us doing God’s work in the church… Our work would be seen as the place we work with God to demonstrate what the kingdom looks like, embodying the kingdom, promoting the kingdom.

As Michael Cafferky explains in his biblically-based Values Framework, the kingdom is creative and sustaining, a place where there are holy activities, where relationships are enhanced, and people and projects flourish. It is marked by justice and truth and wisdom, and flavoured with compassion, and sets people free.

How can we work with God to bring those aspects of the kingdom to whatever context we live in, with whomever God has called us to?

After the Second World War, there was a revitalisation of the faith and work movement, motivated from within Europe where churches realised that the Holocaust was partly a result of Christians separating their ordinary work from their faith, and refusing to stand up for justice.

Now we have a renewed opportunity to see our work as an opportunity to declare that Jesus reigns over this desk, this classroom, this boardroom, this workshop, this factory, this plane or train or truck or car. And we will work always to God’s glory.

That will take shape in ways that are unique to our character, gifts, passions and agency. From small things like making every person feel welcome and valued in the workplace, to big things like excising slavery from a supply chain. From a spiritual conversation with a colleague, to an opportunity to explain what Easter is all about to a meeting of staff. From advocating on behalf of someone who is not being paid the right amount, to a CEO refusing a pay increase to show solidarity with those who are paid much less. From the daily habit of intentional prayer in the workplace, to citywide prayer meetings.

I would love the ordinary person, doing ordinary work, to see what extraordinary things God can do in and through them, as ambassadors of Christ, empowered by the Spirit.

Why a sequel?

This is why I wrote Workship, to combine two things that should never be separated: work and worship. In my first book I outlined a biblical theology of work, and some spiritual disciplines or practices for faith-filled working. I also talked a little about what wisdom for work looks like.

In Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work, which has just been launched, I go on to demonstrate what faithful working looks like when facing some of the challenges in our workplace: stress, work-life balance, gender issues, toxic workplaces, ethical decision-making. I also refer to the opportunities we have as Christians in the workplace by promoting beauty and hospitality and Jesus-shaped leadership.

In part two of the book, I discuss ways that churches can better equip the workplace Christians in their congregations.

There are specific equipping activities within church services:

  • Sermons
  • Church Services
  • Interviews with workplace Christians

Equipping activities within church communities:

  • Visiting workers in their workplaces
  • Training workplace Christians
  • Mentoring workers

Finally, equipping activities beyond the church walls:

  • Chaplaincy in the workplace
  • Church presence in the workplace

I hope that through these ideas, churches will be encouraged to follow US pastor Tom Nelson’s lead in transforming the focus of his church, and will also reap the rewards:

We are still learning and unlearning as we go, doing our best to navigate what it means to narrow the Sunday to Monday gap. But I'm encouraged when I receive an email from a CEO or a stay-at-home mum or a student or a retiree in my congregation who now see their Monday lives through the transforming lens of a biblical theology of vocation. I find increasing joy in seeing congregants embrace their paid and non-paid work as an offering to God and a contribution to the common good. Many of my parishioners have a bounce in their step and a new excitement about all of life. For them, the gospel has become coherent and more compelling. They look forward to sharing it with others in various vocational settings and spheres of influence throughout the week.
(Tom Nelson, Made to Flourish Network)

The importance of this has been brought home to me with the increasing number of invitations I have to address teaching networks, business leaders, academics and church leaders. With the hunger for more information comes the fear, “But what will God ask me to do? Will I be able to do it?”

For me, and I hope for my readers, the inspiration will come from Ephesians 2:10:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Ultimately we need to remember as Henry and Richard Blackaby have said: “Our Lord does not come to us to discover what we would like to accomplish for Him. He encounters us in order to reveal His activity and invite us to become involved in His work.”

Our work finds its meaning and purpose within the broader context of God’s work, his ongoing creative, sustaining, compassionate, just, revealing and redeeming work; as he establishes the kingdom of God on earth.

Social and ecclesiological factors in the future of work

   Photo:  By  Andrew Neel  on  Unsplash

Photo: By Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Here is an article, and excerpt from Workship 2, which will be published in an upcoming issues of Zadok Magazine. Below is the beginning of the article, you can read the full piece here.

In my lifetime I have changed career seven times, held 22 jobs and now balance two part-time roles, a couple of projects and my own writing and speaking endeavours. Right now I am earning less than at any time in my working life. However, I have the flexibility that I love and am doing work that energises me, while avoiding the work that used to drain me.

I am impacted by a lack of job security, do not receive much professional development and have no career plan. What I experience now is the probable shape of the work of the future: casual insecure piecework, where I wear the cost of my development, and the risk of ill health.

During the Humanising Work seminar at Morling College in 2017, we each had the chance to share some observations about how the shape of work is changing with the rise of technology, shifting economic levers and globalisation. Following are some of my observations.[1]

A changing definition of ‘work’

Most people would define work as something you are paid to do. Such a definition is very limiting. It excludes the work that is essential for the functioning of our society but that remains largely unremunerated, such as care of children and the elderly, the voluntary work done through charities and churches and sporting clubs, and the earth care work of gardening.

In the Bible we do not see such a limiting definition. Work is that which you do with purposeful intent, paid or unpaid, seen or unseen. God is interested in all work including work that might not be valued economically, including prayer, character formation and worship in everyday life.

As we look to a future where forecasters anticipate that there will not be enough paid work to go around[2] , there is a move to decouple work from the payment received. At one extreme is the concept of the universal basic income (UBI): an amount paid to everyone to cover basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, regardless of the person’s employment.

It is an idea promoted by leaders in Silicon Valley, the source of much of the technology that is anticipated to displace almost 50% of the current jobs. It was popularised recently in a Harvard University commencement speech by Facebook Founder Mark Zuckerberg who said: ‘We should have a society that measures progress not just by economic metrics like GDP, but by how many of us have a role we find meaningful…. We should explore ideas like universal basic income, to make sure that everyone has a cushion to try new ideas.’ [3]

The change of definition of work is welcome, although there are many critics of the UBI who see its potential to create a culture of laziness and entitlement, and stifle innovation and productivity. Indeed, the Bible recommends that we should all work, that work is good for personal health and the functioning of community, and that it is good to reward work (not necessarily financially).[4]

The impact on those who are vulnerable

It is reasonable to assume that the hardship anticipated as a result of the technological revolution will have a proportionally larger impact on those most vulnerable to economic and labour force changes: the disabled, older workers, youth and women[5] .

A June 2015 report by the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, called Australia’s Future Workforce? summarises the technological advances and their impact:

Computers will reshape the labour market in two key ways. They will:

1. Directly substitute for labour, with a high probability that as much as 40% of the jobs in Australia could be replaced by computers within a decade or two; and

2. Disrupt the way work is conducted, expanding competition and reducing the costs to consumers but also reducing the income of workers.

In The impact of emerging technologies in the workforce of the future, Telstra Chief Scientist Professor Hugh Bradlow describes how a range of existing technologies, such as cloud services, Big Data, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and robotics are rapidly reaching the point where they will have widespread impact on the economy.[6]

Already there has been what has been described as a feminisation of poverty. Social and economic factors such as the lack of superannuation/pensions and asset accumulation due to gender inequality unfairly impact on women, further disadvantaged having taken significant time out of the workforce due to caring responsibilities and/or long term casual or unstable employment.

In Australia, almost 45% of women reported that their quality of life worsened after retirement.[7]

It seems that changes in technological advancement are widening the gap between those who can adapt and those who struggle already.

Workship 2 Melbourne book launch speech by Dr Rosemary Wong

 Rosemary Wong launching  Workship 2  in Melbourne

Rosemary Wong launching Workship 2 in Melbourne

WORKSHIP 2 BOOK LAUNCH    JULY 2018

I recall vividly the first time I had occasion to talk about Workship 2 in conversation – in fact, the book was just being printed at the time. Mathis and I were visiting a downtown church in Vancouver this past March. We found ourselves sitting in front of Caroline and Jeff who were likewise visiting just for that weekend, from Seattle. We soon discovered that we both knew Kara as they had lived in Sydney ten years ago. It was an incredible God-moment! I excitedly shared that Kara had just written her second book on faith-work integration - to which she confided that actually they had just had a most difficult week because Jeff had been made redundant after 17 years working at the same place. Personally, I have to confess that I do not have much experience interacting with Christians who have lost their jobs, so I was lost for words. So I was thankful to be able to point them to this wonderful resource, Workship2 in which Kara had written on this challenging issue. She writes 4 lessons, out of her own recent painful time of unemployment – first, that we are never without work; second, that God wants us to separate our identity from our work; third, that God wants us to receive our self-esteem from His love; and fourth, that God wants us to look to him for our security. Kara also affirms in her book the importance of the church community during these difficult times. Indeed, Caroline and Jeff, despite their bad week, came to church – and they were powerfully reminded that if God could bring two random couples from around the world together who both knew Kara, then this God could do the impossible for their tough situation.

Not only is there a chapter on unemployment, but there are chapters on other common workplace challenges- work-life balance, handling bullying and conflict, toxic workplaces, ambition, ethical decision making and dealing with stress. I have been a member of the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship (Vic) (CMDFA(Vic)) for many years. This is a national, and international association of Christian doctors and dentists that seeks to equip us to integrate faith, work and life. Last year, I conducted a mini-survey of our membership to better understand the issues that most concerned them. Well, it is no surprise that the list completely overlaps with the very issues that Kara writes about in Workship2. Work-life balance was the top hit, and here Kara reminds us to consider the Biblical view of rest and play, to know what is important to God and to be good stewards of our time, talent and treasure. She concludes that chapter with another of what has become her signature beautiful prayers, ‘To the God of rest, Grant us such balanced lives that there is time for you, and time for others, and time for renewing our heart, mind, body and spirit’.

Another item of struggle identified by CMDFA members was ambition. We don’t know what to do with this very real urge and drive, and we are preached at that ambition has no place in a good Christian’s life! It was wonderfully refreshing to read Kara’s corrective as she introduces the concepts of ‘non-selfish ambition’, and actually – the ‘gift of ambition’!

Last year one of our Life Group members went through one of the most difficult times of her life, when she and several colleagues were persistent targets of bullying by their boss at a major Australian hospital. My friend and her colleagues eventually left the hospital. As I read Kara’s chapters on bullying and toxic workplaces, and reflected again on my friend’s experience, I resonated with the wisdom of what Kara has written when she says, ‘stay, pray, persevere… but when it becomes toxic for your soul, leave’. I know that these chapters will be an incredible resource for all who unfortunately find themselves in similar troubling places, and sadly it isn’t as uncommon as we might think.

As I continued to read Kara’s book, I realised that actually, it did not take long for me to identify people from within my own circle who had been impacted by broken workplaces! A former fellow Ridley student returned to working in a bank after her MDiv. She was shocked that she was expected to gloss over the credit ratings of potential overseas home loan applicants. Her performance was pegged to the volume of borrowings she could pull in. She rightly felt terribly conflicted, and decided she had to leave. On Page 33 in concluding the chapter on Ethical-decision making, Kara writes, ‘A wise man once told me that the final question he asked himself when making a difficult decision is: ’How will I feel if that decision is portrayed as the lead story on a digital news source tomorrow morning?’ Well we now know that the Royal Commission findings into the banks’ bad behavior have been nothing short of damning! It is not only street-wise wisdom we find in Kara’s book, but always there is biblically-informed wisdom, and prayers of refreshing honesty.

From dealing with issues that ruffle the soul in the workplace, Kara also reminds us that wherever possible, we have the responsibility as image bearers of God to seek to redeem our workplaces. I loved her ideas of hospitality and beauty in the workplace. She tells us real stories of CMDFA students blessing their fellow students with hot cross buns at Easter time, or the worker who show-cased her tea-cups and tea in her office and invited co-workers into a shared moment…It gave language to my own practices of buying coffee for my team when I am on ward service at the hospital, or placing lovely paintings or Ken Duncan books in my medical practice. The number of times these have been conversation starters with my patients has been wonderful – in that moment, I feel as if I have opened a window to get to know them better, or that I have opened a door to take them outside of their medical complaint. But always, Kara brings us back to ‘Jesus the “irresistible leader”’, form in us Lord, ‘Jesus-shaped leadership’ with the qualities of humility and servanthood, ‘help us to glorify you, and not ourselves, in every part of our leading’.

I feel as if we have received in Workship 2, two books for the price of one! Section 2 offers an extravagant array of invaluable resources for churches, leaders and those who train church leaders to equip workplace Christians. There is a plethora of ideas to use within church services, within church communities and beyond the church walls. As I read this section, I could hear again strong echoes of my late father, who repeatedly taught me as I was growing up, that our mission is beyond the four walls of the church, that we can reach people the pastor will never come into contact with. Long before work-theology became a category, my father had modelled its essence for me. And so I lapped up every bit of section 2, like dry land when the rains have finally come, basking in the flowering of a concept I had lived through and longed that it might come to fruition.

I attended a Melbourne church for decades. They held an Annual Missions’ Conventions – they still do – fabulous events, but I wilted, and was somehow made to feel not very spiritual when I didn’t go forward at the call to give my whole life to full time overseas missionary service. Then in 1997 at a service at National Presbyterian Church Washington DC, it was to be my last Sunday after completing 5 years of work, and preparing to return to Melbourne. The Pastor introduced a new ministry of Nurses in the Church, and then invited all healthcare professionals to stand to be commissioned for their work. I had never encountered anything like this before and it was for me, a very deeply moving experience – in fact, I have kept the church bulletin from that Sunday, the memory of which will forever be etched in my brain.

If you are a pastor or church worker, read Kara’s book to bless your people as they seek the affirmation and encouragement they are waiting to hear from you that what they do in their places of work during the week matters greatly to God. Read Kara’s book for the brilliant ideas she offers on sermons, on how to run church services with workplace themes, how to run interviews with workers in your congregations, how to commission them, how to visit them in their workplaces just as Jesus did, and how to bring your pastor to work. There are also incredibly rich resources on mentoring workers, and chaplaincy in the workplace. We think that chaplains are special people – yes they are – but in a very real sense, every Christian worker is an ‘informal chaplain’ offering hospitality, care and counsel within the workplace! We may smile at how churches want only what they can get from businesses, like the 10% off coffee for their parishioners, but we are challenged by Kara’s writing on how the church can not only be the presence of Christ in the workplace, but ‘the servant of the community’.

As if all this was not sufficient meat for this volume, Kara tackles two new areas – women at work, and the future of work. Every time the Proverbs 31 woman is brought up, I cringe, and so I was pleasantly encouraged by Kara’s reflections around the Proverbs 31 woman. She tells how God calls women to multiple roles – ‘from a position of strength, and not compulsion, and never from exhaustion, weakness or desperation’. And what of the speculations on the future of work - Robotics, artificial intelligence, insecure project-based work, distance-work? Kara draws us back in her prayer that always, through change and despite change, we will work to protect the vulnerable, and the voiceless, to love mercy, act justly and walk humbly.

There is so much in Workship 2 that is biblical, wise, practical, rich and beautiful. Kara has planted stories of real people in all the right places, she has gathered the pearls from Beuchner to Henri Nouwen to Stevens & Banks to Mark Greene so we don’t need to go dredging. She has cleverly peppered her work with scriptural references from The Message, such as the antidote to stress she quotes Matt 11:28-30, as Jesus bids us ‘learn the unforced rhythms of grace’.

Workship 2 is for all of us. Workship 2 has the feel of a good friend with whom you want to sit, in a quiet space in your favourite chair, with a cuppa and there listen deeply to what Jesus would say to you through this book. You will keep coming back to this book. You can use it for your own personal devotions, or in a group study. I had opportunity to show a paragraph of this book to a pastor, who responded by saying that actually, his theology of work is under-developed and perhaps this would be a good time to run a sermon series on ‘Oh God it’s Monday!’ He asked that I pick up both volumes for him.  It is a joy and privilege for me to launch Workship 2, a hand-in-glove volume to Workship 1, and I warmly commend them both to you.

Christmas is not all that far away! Don’t just buy a copy for yourself. You won’t regret picking up multiple copies tonight because it is such a perfect present, whether for yourself, your friends, your library or your pastoral team! Kara, I can’t wait for Workship 3! All glory be to God!

Rosemary Wong

Consultant Endocrinologist, Chair of Melbourne School of Theology, Vice-Chair of Eastern College Australia, Chair Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship of Australia (Vic)

Seven ways churches can equip the workers in their congregations

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On any given Sunday, the vast majority of people sitting in the pews will be spending the majority of their week working: whether in paid work, study, volunteering in the community, and/or caring roles.

On a Sunday, how can churches better equip people for the variety of workplaces they will be in on Monday?

In my second book, Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work, I suggest there are seven things that churches can do:

1.     Ensure your sermons have application for people’s work. Sometimes it is a long time since the preacher did ordinary work, but there are some simple things to do, such as becoming more familiar with the workplace by visiting them, or by reading business websites. Another simple idea is to workshop your sermon with a mixed group from the congregation to examine what the Bible passage or topic means within their context.

2.     Ensure your planning of the service acknowledges the contexts people will find themselves in on Monday. This can be done through careful choice of songs and hymns, prayers, benediction. The sending out can be particularly powerful. One time I was at a church where at the end of the service, the pastor invited everyone to face the nearest exit from the church. On the service sheet we read together a benediction, encouraging us to be Jesus’ eyes, hands and feet wherever he placed us that week, and seeking to glorify him in everything we thought and did. It helped us refocus from inside the church, to working with God outside of church, in whatever context he has placed us.

3.     Interviews with workers. There is nothing more powerful in terms of affirmation and shaping behaviour for a church than to interview people during a service about the different work they do during the week, and how they seek to honour God through that work. I was preaching at a church where they invited up a woman who kept saying she didn’t deserve to be up front. She described a beautiful ministry of caring, including looking after her grandchildren, and cooking meals for those in need, and being available for those struggling in the wider community. As a congregation member, I was encouraged and motivated by her example.

4.     Visiting the workplace. While interviews encourage the whole church, visiting the workplace has a powerful impact on individuals. Visiting has a number of benefits: it validates the work of the individual, it increases the confidence of pastors in addressing faith–work issues, it provides opportunity to gather sermon illustrations, it is good preparation for interviews, and it helps pastors to work out training needs for congregation members.

5.     Providing training for workplace Christians. Recently a friend of mine was invited by his workplace to explain at a staff meeting the meaning of Easter. It was part of a move by that organisation to celebrate the major holidays of all religions. My friend realised that he needed help to develop a Gospel explanation that was contextualised for his workplace. Useful topics to provide training in include: a biblical foundation for work, spiritual disciplines for workplace formation, work and cultural renewal, gospel in a work context and tackling ethical issues.

6.     Mentoring workers. I know that my journey in integrating my faith into all my working has been a lifetime project. I also know that many young workers are keen to learn from my experience. I currently mentor more than 24 young women. Churches are places where mentoring could take place more effectively: there is a range of occupations and a range of generations. When Jesus commanded us to make disciples, he was encouraging us to share our lives with others to shape faith expression in every area. We just need to provide some training and invite people to take part in the program.

7.     Chaplaincy for the workplace. I am increasingly hearing of church staff taking on chaplaincy roles in a variety of workplaces: schools, emergency services, prisons and sports groups. This is a significant way of serving the community and bring compassionate truth and a ministry of presence to difficult places. There is also the possibility of helping congregation members to see themselves as informal chaplains in the workplace: looking for opportunities to care, encourage, counsel, walk alongside and advocating against injustice in the workplace.

There is so much churches can do to teach, prepare and empower their congregations to be better ambassadors for Christ in the various places where God has placed the church scattered.

 

Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to use your work to worship God, and Workship 2: How to flourish at work. She is also Project Leader with Seed, and lecturer with Mary Andrews College. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, as well as helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations.

Workship 2 will be launched on 2nd of June

 Here is an actual copy of  Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work

Here is an actual copy of Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work

On Saturday 2nd June I will be in Singapore launching the second volume of Workship 2. 

I often describe writing a book as the process of giving birth. I find the writing lots of fun, and in some ways that is the easy part. The gestation is the long process of checking and monitoring with the editor (midwife) and the publisher (gynaecologist).

Naming can be tricky. It is hard to please everyone. In this case I wanted to keep the family name (Workship).

Although there is often a lot of focus on the birth, in fact it is after that when all the fun begins! There is literally a village required to raise the child. There are distributors, those who endorsed the book, the faith and work community, reviewers, media outlets, and those passionate to get the message out.

Most importantly, this book needs friends: individual readers who will see the potential and work with Workship 2 to live out the message. The book also needs mentors: church leaders who help the message to bear fruit in their communities.

I guess this book launch is like a baptism. I will be teaching at Wesley Methodist church in Singapore, virtually making promises on behalf of the book. I am grateful to Patrick Chua for his support. Here are the details of the Grace at Work Marketplace Seminars.

Seminar 1: Our Work as Worship
(8.30am–12.30pm, suitable for workplace Christians)

In this seminar we will look at the challenges and possibilities of worshipping God through our work. How significant is our work in God's kingdom? How can we identify as Christians in the workplace? How can we stay focused on God in our daily work?

Seminar 2: Our Calling to Work
(1.30–4.30pm, suitable for campus students and young adults)

In this seminar we will look at the place of ordinary work in God's purposes. Is our work meaningful? How can we make a difference in our workplace? What are the challenges in the transition from being a student to the workforce?

Find out more here

I am grateful to the team at Graceworks who have made this possible including Bernice, Charmain, Soo Inn, Chloe and Priscilla.

May God use this book to empower Christians in the workplace, and to enable churches to equip their workplace Christians.

The Cover of Workship 2

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Here it is... Fresh and bright.

Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work is a guide for individuals and churches.

For individuals, there is practical wisdom on the positives and negatives of our daily working life:

Section 1: Practical wisdom for working

Positive ideas for making a difference in the workplace:

  • Hospitality at work
  • Jesus-shaped leadership
  • Beauty in the workplace

Helpful suggestions for how to respond to common issues:

  • Ethical decision-making
  • Dealing with stress
  • Work–life balance
  • Handling bullying and conflict
  • Toxic workplaces
  • Non-selfish ambition
  • A biblical reflection on unemployment
  • Women and Work
  • The Future of Work

For churches, there is much-needed help in thinking through how to equip workplace Christians in your congregations:

Section 2: Helping churches to equip workers

  • Sermons
  • Church Services
  • Interviews
  • Visiting the workplace
  • Training workplace Christians
  • Mentoring workplace Christians
  • Chaplaincy in the workplace
  • Church presence in the workplace

It will be available in Australia from June, earlier in Singapore :-)

Workship 2 is coming

 Photo credit:  Eternity News

Photo credit: Eternity News

Those who have followed the journey of Workship will know that in December I handed the manuscript for a sequel to my editor Charmain, at Graceworks Publishing in Singapore. I can now announce that book is in final stages of preparation and will be called Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work.

Today I received the Foreword written by Windy Simpson, OAM, business guru, an Australian national treasure, and a woman who has been inspirational in living out her faith in all her work. I hope the following excerpt whets your appetite.

I have had the amazing privilege of working in a number of senior leadership roles in the technology and government sectors across the Asia Pacific, from Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, to Taipei, Manila, Bangkok, Phenom Penh, Jakarta, and Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland.  I find it fascinating to compare how people in these different cities work, how they lead, how they create businesses, new products or services, and what people will do in order to obtain fulfilment from their work. 

In each of these great cities, what also stands out is something they all have in common: not only does work occupy a large part of people’s lives, it is becoming more complex and, increasingly work is how people identify and define themselves.  Workers are hungry for career guidance, advice on issues such as how to work with difficult people, how to navigate challenging ethical choices, how to handle stress and balance the demands of their jobs with family.  I have seen these questions asked by women, by men, and every cultural, language and income group, and I am convinced there is a deep human desire in each of us to understand “What is the true purpose of our work?”  While there are numerous books to help us discover our purpose, Wall Street Journal best seller Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life” being just one, we are still left with the real-world challenges of integrating our faith with our everyday work.

So here is the good news… the wait is over! 

Many of us in the world of business appreciate practical wisdom, so when I read Kara Martin’s Workship 2, I knew I had found just the tool.  Baby-boomers are often asked to mentor the next generation of leaders and yet struggle to find practical, accessible tools to use with their mentees.  Many Gen X, Gen Y and Millennials crave the sense of being valued and equipped which they get from being mentored but often don’t know how approach a mentor or frame the deeper questions relating to the application of Faith to work.  From Singapore to Shanghai, from Manila to Melbourne people are wrestling with questions like: How do I do my work God’s way? How do I bring His purposes alive by my work? Is there a Biblical framework for how I decide how to work?

Workship 2 lays out these deeper issues of how to work God’s way in a simple accessible way and concludes with probing questions and a relevant prayer.

Easter reflections on our Work

 Actor Jim Caviezel from Mel Gibson's  The Passion of the Christ .

Actor Jim Caviezel from Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

Sarah Bessey writes in Jesus Feminist (please don’t judge) about giving birth (please keep reading) in a garage when child No.3 arrived sooner than anticipated. She says:

I can assure you: there isn’t anything dignified about giving birth.

And yet, that was the moment when I felt my carefully constructed line between the sacred and the secular shatter once and for all. The sacred and holy moments of a life are often our most raw, our most human moments, aren’t they?

But we keep it quiet, the mess of the Incarnation, because it’s just not church-y enough and men don’t quite understand and it’s personal, private, there aren’t words for this and it’s a bit too much.

It’s too much pain, too much waiting, too much humanity, too much God, too much work, too much joy, too much love and far too messy. With far too little control. And sometimes it does not go the way we thought it was supposed to go and then we are also left with questions, with deep sadness, with longing.

This made me think about Easter. I realise that some traditions actually get a lot more ‘earthy’ about the passion of Christ, the sufferings of Jesus.

I wonder if that is why the theology of some traditions feels more embodied?

Instead many Christians have this separation between our bodies and souls which flows into a separation of work and church, of our everyday activities and our faith.

Easter is a time when we can enter more into this lived experience of Jesus.

  1. Try participating in a seder this week, or organising your own, so you can more fully visualise the Last Supper.
  2. Wash some feet on Maundy Thursday.
  3. Watch Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, and allow yourself to appreciate the wounds Jesus endured for our sake.
  4. Imagine what it means for Jesus to have a resurrected body. A renewed body. Different, yet able to be recognised. With wounds still obvious. Able to cook and share food. Yet with strange powers.

Remember that Jesus worked for up to 25 years as a carpenter before he started his public ministry. He did hard physical work, engaged with customers, cared for his family, used his intelligence and creativity and gifts. He watched and observed and gathered all his material for his parable illustrations. Just in the Gospel of Matthew there are the following teaching images:

o   salt, light (5.13-16)

o   moths, vermin, thieves (6.19)

o   light/darkness (6.22)

o   two masters (6.24)

o   speck/planks (7.3)

o   dogs and pigs (7.6)

o   bread/stone, fish/snake (7.9-10)

o   narrow gate/wide gate and road (7.13-14)

o   sheep/wolves, grapes/thornbushes, figs/thistles, good tree versus bad tree (7.15-20)

o   build house on a rock (7.24-27)

o   doctor for the sick (9.12-13)

o   bridegroom (9.15)

o   patches on garments/wineskins (9.16-17)

o   sheep without a shepherd (9.36)

o   harvest and workers (9.37-38)

o   the worker is worth his keep (10.10) = this is work! Teaching and healing…

o   shrewd as snakes, innocent as doves (10.16)

o   student/teacher, servant/master (10.24)

o   sparrows valued (10.29-31)

o   cross (10.38)

o   reeds/fine clothes (11.7-8)

o   children sitting in the marketplace (11.16-17)

o   eating and drinking = glutton, drunkard, friend of tax collectors and sinners (11.19)

o   yoke (11.28-30)

o   sheep falls into pit (12.11)

o   kingdom/city/household divided (12.25)

o   strong man tied up (12.29)

o   good tree/bad tree (12.33-37)

o   Jonah/Queen of Sheba and other scriptures (12.39-42)

o   farmer sowing seeds (13.3-9) and explained (13.18-23)

o   wheat and weeds (13.24-20) and explained (13.37-43)

o   mustard seed (13.31-32)

o   yeast in dough (13.33)

o   treasure in the field (13.44)

o   merchant looking for fine pearls (13.45-46)

o   net let down into the lake good fish/bad fish (13.47-50)

o   new and old treasures (13.52)

o   plants (15.13)

o   food/words/heart and defiling (15.17-20)

o   children’s bread/dogs (15.26)

o   sunset red/stormy portent (16.2-3)

o   yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees (16.6)

o   Peter = rock, keys of heaven (16.18-19)

o   stumbling block (16.23)

o   cross (16.24)

o   mustard seed versus mountain (17.20)

o   duties and taxes (17.25)

o   children as the greatest (18.1-5)

o   millstone (18.6)

o   100 sheep/shepherd searches for lost sheep (18.12-14)

o   pagan or tax collector (18.17)

o   ungrateful servant with a big debt (18.23-35)

o   camel/eye of needle (19.24)

o   landowners hiring workers for the vineyard (20.1-16)

o   drink the cup (20.22)

o   servant leadership (20.24-28)

o   fig trees and mountains (21.21)

o   man and two sons sent to work (21.28-31)

o   landowner, vineyard and the bad tenants (21.33-41)

o   cornerstone (21.42-44)

o   king and wedding banquet, sending out the servants (22.1-14)

o   coin with Caesar’s head (22.18-21)

o   boxes, tassels, banquets, seats in synagogues (23.5-6)

o   gifts and the altar (23.16-22)

o   spices versus weighty matters, gnats and camels (23.23-24)

o   dirty cup and dish (23.27-28)

o   hen and chicks (23.37)

o   temple building (24.2)

o   house, field, cloak, nursing mothers during time of desolation (24.17-20)

o   carcass and vultures (24.28)

o   fig tree predicts the seasons (24.32)

o   men in the field, women grinding with a hand mill (24.40-41)

o   house owner and thief (24.43)

o   faithful servant in charge of the master’s possessions (24.45-51)

o   ten virgins meeting the bridegroom (25.1-12)

o   man going on a journey leaving bags of gold to the servants (25.14-30)

o   sheep and the goats (25.32-33)

o   hungry, thirsty, in need of hospitality, in prison (25.35-36)

o   bread and cup/wine (26.26-29)

o   strike shepherd, sheep scatter (26.31)

o   cup of suffering (26.39)

What are the metaphors that God is teaching us through our ordinary work and our daily living?

How can we see the value of our work, for the way it connects us to God and Jesus and their work in the world, and for the world?

What is God teaching us through our bodies, our brokenness, our wounds?

Women need to understand Workship

When I wrote my book Workship, I wrote it for all Christians who work, who feel that God was not interested in what they do for the majority of their lives, unless they happen to share the gospel with a co-worker.

On Saturday I was speaking with two women about my book, and they immediately responded by saying they talk about Jesus when they can but it is difficult in their workplace.

They had immediately fallen into the error that the only way to worship God with your work is via evangelism.

I tried to affirm them in their jobs, thanking them for their role in God's sustaining and compassionate work. I sensed a disconnect still.

It struck me that it was really difficult for them to imagine that there was any value in their work; any value to God or to the church.

I wish they would read the book!

It helped to explain to me why it is women in particular who have valued my book. It has resonated with women because in church they not only have to contend with the belief that the only activity God is interested in is prayer, Bible, church and evangelism; they also have to put up with the church idolatry of motherhood: that women's value is determined by our ability to fall pregnant and bear children.

The women in our churches often feel insignificant and marginalised in carrying out the great plan of God in the world.

The women who have read my book suddenly see how all their roles and all their working — paid and unpaid — fit into the big story of God.

They look around themselves with new eyes, seeing God at work, at their work, and partner with him in the great gospel project of redeeming every nook and cranny of their world.

The little things in our working day

 Photo by  zhang kaiyv  on  Unsplash

Photo by zhang kaiyv on Unsplash

It was Gordon Preece who taught me the concept of the church gathered and the church scattered. He was talking about the link between what happens on Sunday and where we find ourselves on a Monday. The church gathers to celebrate God, to be spiritually fed in community, to pray for one another, to be blessed and then to be sent out into our jobs, neighbourhoods, schools, universities, and communities, to serve others and continue to honour God.

We don’t stop being the church when we go out the doors. We are the people of God sent into the world as salt and light.

In her book Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren describes it this way:

The work we do together each week in gathered worship transforms and sends us into the work we do in our homes and offices, Likewise, our professional and vocational work is part of the mission and meaning of our gathered worship. We are people who are blessed and sent; this identity transforms how we embody work and worship in the world, in our week, even in our small day.

She highlights the little things we do that make up our working (paid or unpaid).

I have a friend who is a high-up leader in a national organisation. He’s doing good work and making an impact through his career. But when you ask him what he does for a living, he answers, "If you ask my kids, they’d tell you that I check emails and go to meetings." This kingdom vision — our identity as those blessed and sent — must work itself out in the small routines of our daily work and vocation, as we go to meetings, check our email, make our children dinner, or mow the lawn.

God notices the details of our days, and the heart with which we do them. Everything we do can be offered in worship to the God who sees us, and knows us. God can use the little things in his kingdom economy. He can transform our simple acts of faith into movements for renewal.

11 impossible people you meet at work

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The workplace can be an incredibly challenging place for Christians. Even Christian workplaces are places where we see sin clearly. Just think about the synonyms for work: labour, toil, hard yakka, slog, drudgery, grind, travail and exertion.

It is not just the work itself but the people we encounter. Work can bring out the best and the worst in people. Work relationships can cause enormous stress. There is also the phenomenon of toxic workplaces where a downward spiral of corrupted systems and negative culture can affect multiple employees.

However, workplaces also represent enormous opportunities for Christians. It is where our character can be formed, bringing forth the fruit of the Spirit as we counter sinful attitudes with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. It is also where we can give people a taste of the kingdom: demonstrating what shalom looks like as places of wholeness and peace.

The 11 impossible types (and their Christian counterparts):

  1. The Narcissist versus The Agapeist
  2. The Sociopath versus The Team Player
  3. The Incompetent versus The Competent
  4. The Control Freak versus The Empowerer
  5. The Bully versus The Encourager
  6. The 'Ideas Person' versus The Completer
  7. The Sycophant versus The Advocate
  8. The Legalist versus The Creative
  9. The Absentee versus The Diligent
  10. The Gossip versus The Transformer
  11. The Food Thief versus The Hospitable Host

Read the full article here.

The Unseen Hand

 Source: kaboompics.com

Source: kaboompics.com

We have different mental images for God and his activity in the world. It may be that God seems to be a puppeteer, pulling the strings to make us move. He might be a Director as we strut around on the stage. He may sometimes seem to have fallen asleep, deaf to our cries for intervention.

However, my favourite mental image is of God as a master storyteller, inviting us into his story which includes a vast narrative of creation for relationship, rupture, calling back into relationship, incarnation, a new community, a renewed creation.

In this story, I am free to do a fair amount of my own plot generation as my character develops. However, it is always better to work out the plot in consultation with the storyteller, to make sure we are working in sync. After all, he knows how the story ends!

I have been reading The Loving Life by Paul E Miller, and he works through the story of Ruth in the Bible as a story illustrating God’s hesed, his steadfast love. I came across this paragraph, and it made me think of our working in the context of God’s story.

The awareness of a master storyteller weaving my life lets me pause and, like an artist, see hidden blessings and patterns when I begin to bear the cost of narrowing my life. It lets me endure in love because I know Someone is guiding the story toward resurrection… if an unseen hand is shaping the day, then the day becomes an adventure. That frees me to do even repetitive and mindless work. (p.75)

Ruth is reaping by hand in the fields, collecting enough excess grain to feed herself and Naomi, two poverty-stricken widows. That work could have been a terrible burden in the light of their dire circumstances. However, Ruth believes in the God of Israel, the God of Naomi. She shows steadfast love toward Naomi, acting with the same love she believes the God of Israel shows toward his people.

Her hard, physical, exhausting, and seemingly endless work is not without hope. And neither is ours.

A Different Sort of New Year's Resolution

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So many of our resolutions fail. There are many reasons for this including setting unrealistic goals, ignoring who you really are and trying to make too many changes (for more on this: read this Psychology Today article).

A more biblical reason is that as Christians we will tend to make much more effort when we are doing something that is for God or for others, rather than focused on ourselves. So here is a challenging new year’s resolution for 2018 for you:

How can you transform your workplace to give people the fragrance of God’s kingdom?

As Christians, God has placed many of us in strategic positions in workplaces across industries, across the country, reaching millions of people. How can we make a difference for God in those places, and among those people, the majority of whom would never come through the doorway of a church?

Here are seven ideas:

1. Pray more

2. Be hospitable

3. Promote truth

4. Make your workplace more beautiful

5. Show compassion

6. Change the cultural atmosphere

7. Do excellent work

For more details, read the article in Eternity Magazine.

 

Unreformed work

Business woman.jpeg

I was sitting in the meeting feeling my anger rising on behalf of my guest. She had just finished a beautiful description of an integrated faith-work life. She is the Australian leader of a large overseas organisation. She had just explained how hard she focuses on her decision-making, to make decisions that reflect the character of Jesus. She had told us how she spends significant time praying through her daily routine. She described how close she feels to God when she is in a board room, how she feels God's presence as she relies totally on him. She had told us of recent spiritual conversations as people wondered about why she was different.
She asked for questions, and someone asked: "What are you doing for your local church?"
I had to interrupt and explain that we were listening to someone who saw her daily work as her place of ministry.
My guest graciously replied that she travels two Sundays a month, and being part of regular rosters is very difficult. She said that she had recently had a conversation with her pastor to explain her lack of attendance, and the nature of the work she did.
The questioner was unperturbed: "But surely you could give a talk, or use your leadership skills. The church could use you."
My guest admitted that she helped out on the coffee cart when she could, which seemed to somewhat appease her audience.
I bit my tongue, but this precisely illustrates my great frustration. The church's function is to equip its people to do God's work. Rather than being a place where my guest felt guilty for not giving more; it should be a place of refuge and nurture and teaching and prayer that empowers her to be Christ's light in otherwise dark places.
It should be the place where she gathers with others to celebrate God, and then is sent out as the church scattered to work for his glory.
The questioner should have asked: "What is your church doing for you, to support the great work you are doing for God?"

Ministry versus work

 Photo by Ömürden Cengiz on Unsplash

Photo by Ömürden Cengiz on Unsplash

Ministry is usually referred to as special work, God's work. Ministry is elevated above other work. Ordinary work becomes defined as ministry if it is done within a Christian organisation. 
I would argue that these differentiations are problematic. All work is ministry, if it is done with a heart seeking to serve God. The word 'ministry' is from the Latin meaning "serving under authority", and in the Bible it is translated from 'diakonia' a Greek word which means "service among others".
Unfortunately 'ministry' can be used in ways that become detrimental. It can create an artificial barrier between Christians doing ordinary work and Christians doing 'special' or church work. 
It can be used to justify neglect of family ("I haven't been home any night this week because I am doing ministry"), or to elevate certain forms of work ("I need to be supported for this ministry"), or to denote a special calling from God ("I sacrificed my job so I could do this ministry").
We tend to only pray in church for people who are doing 'ministry'.
Some people expect their ministry to be supported by others who are doing paid work, merely on the basis that it is 'God's work'. 
I have been told by a chaplain that work-life balance did not apply to him because he was doing ministry.
I know people who devalue the work they do because it isn't ministry.
When I ask people what work they do for God, they usually list those things they would define as ministry: evangelism, prayer, Bible study and roles with their local church.
I like a line that Ben Witherington uses in his book Kingdom Work: "work as ministry". I think if workplace Christians thought of their work as ministry, and church workers saw their ministry as work, we might be able to work more effectively together for God's glory.

Encounters with good work: air steward

 Photo credit: Omar Prestwich

Photo credit: Omar Prestwich

I was traveling on a flight when I saw a flight steward going beyond her job description. She didn't just serve food, she showed real hospitality.
First of all, she let a teenager know that when her sister woke up, that he could use the call button and she would bring a drink and a snack for her.
Next, she told a thirsty man to pop to the back of the plane to refill his cup anytime.
Later, we saw a young passenger dressed in her apron and being trained how to collect and sort rubbish from passengers. As the trolley was pushed past us, the steward explained that the girl was terrified of flying, but this was an effective form of distraction.
Passengers were smiling at the work of the steward, and I am sure she enjoyed her work more also.
This is good work.