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.