Why Faith & Work?
A Question and Response Dialogue
The Faith & Work Ministry started 18 months ago. As we enter “season 2” of Faith & Work, we think it is important to ask: “Why do we have a Faith & Work Ministry?”
Why do we have a Faith & Work Ministry?
Jesus announces his gospel saying, “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The phrase “Kingdom of God” indicates the entire world order is being reclaimed for renewal, including work. The Faith & Work Ministry exists because work is on Jesus’s agenda.
Our church has a lot going on already, why a separate work ministry?
Work in our time is broken. While personal experiences vary, fractures in work are widespread. Work is a poignant personal and cultural need in our time: Christianity has unique resources to offer in response, but most lack equipping & formation in this area: special attention is required.
Why should I participate in what this ministry offers?
Work is an act of worship, ultimately. As David Foster Wallace said:
“In the day-to-day trenches of adult life… there is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.”
Worshipping Jesus in your work will bring full flourishing. “Pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive”... in the long run. What worship animates your work? Can we serve two masters? Everyone sees our worship, but it is hard to see in ourselves. This unspoken witness is especially important for parents, whose children will likely imitate them, to their benefit or peril. This ministry helps us direct our worship at work.
That’s direct. It is difficult to know the long-term consequences of our current ways of working. I guess it is a matter of faith. What other barriers to participation do you see?
(1) Busyness, (2) a self-assessment that one currently has a pretty functional approach to work & life, and (3) a desire to forget work and focus on comforts. These challenges are pervasive in the Christian life: in a sense, everyone knows the “answers” here. We’ll merely say, “Come, join us for a few events and ‘taste and see that the LORD is good.’”
I want to go back to something you said earlier. Work in our time is “broken” and “fractured”? Why such strong language?
We see the fractures and breaks everywhere. A few observation will perhaps be helpful:
- A 2017 Gallup poll indicated 66 million of the 100 million strong American workforce are not engaged in their daily work. Because work matters, this is alarming.
- Increasing financial strain is making work more stressful. This pressure is immense for people with high student debt, but everyone worries about having enough for retirement.
- Higher connectivity and longer hours are adding additional stress. To cope, some withdraw. Others just dream of retirement.
- Many in revered and crucial professions are saying they would not recommend their children follow them into their field because the work has been distorted beyond repair.
In sum, we feel work in our time and place is a spiritual need the Church must serve.
OK. Some of that resonates. Anything to add from a uniquely Christian perspective?
At one point Christians spoke of seven deadly sins: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. All of us likely agree such sins cause problems in any setting, but don’t they seem almost normalized in our work culture? Idolatry at work is also widespread and accepted.
So, brokenness, fractures, and sin, and work is no exception. I guess I’m also bothered by the hollow feeling my work doesn’t matter, ultimately.
That is a key concern. Across our culture, people want more meaning and purpose in work. No-one wants to be a mere cog. Working merely for money is not noble enough for the human spirit: we desire fruitful, true, and good work. Other spiritual challenges persist as well: we all grieve for friends who feel defined, demeaned, trapped, enslaved, or addicted to their work.
How does a Faith & Work Ministry address these issues?
The Faith & Work Ministry brings the power of the gospel to bear on work. Work’s original goodness and purpose is being restored by Jesus: fractures will be healed, brokenness replaced by wholeness, freedom, and dignity restored. We desire a community animated by the gospel in its work; one humbled and sacrificially bearing the cross. After all the gospel is only for the humble, the weak, the thirsty, the sick, the sinners. Jesus said, “Those who are well, have no need of a physician.” When we maintain our work is “just fine” and doesn’t need the active presence and power of Christ, then we are in danger.
Is the Faith & Work Ministry primarily about serving individuals?
No. We feel God is moving in our time to renew work itself through the hope and broad justice of the gospel. The Church must participate in his mission. God can bless our city through a renewal of work. The task of the Church is to follow Jesus: he is at work... on work.
The church is almost 2000 years old. Why do you believe God is focussing on work now?
Great question. The timing is mysterious. Work was a concern in the Reformation, but, generally, work hasn’t been a central concern of Christians. “Why now?” is the question. To offer a parallel: Why did God wait until the 18th and 19th centuries to tackle slavery? Why did William Wilberforce and crew awaken to slavery’s evil just then? I think it was a unique combination of cultural developments (slavery had grown into a major economic force) and a re-reading of the Bible in light of their own times.
And you think something similar is happening now?
Yes. Work has changed. Before the Industrial Revolution, 97% of the workforce was connected to food production. Now it is less than 3%. Formerly, most work was done with our hands and we could see its fruits, but not anymore. The Industrial Revolution, the Information Age, and a growing cultural obsession with work and the economy have paradoxically demeaned work and alienated workers. Even greater change is on the horizon. The cultural setting is primed for an inside out reconsideration of work.
That is the cultural shift. What is the new understanding of the Bible?
Two developments over the past 40 years, or so, have made work a core Christian concern:
- People are reading the Bible as a single, unified narrative from Genesis to Revelation. This approach reveals work as a central theme from Genesis 1&2 to Revelation 22.
- Many are taking the resurrection and the physical, eternal destiny of the New Heavens and the New Earth seriously. This renewed physical world will require work to flourish.
The implications of these new perspectives are just now unfolding in churches and seminaries.
Any last thoughts?
I’m thankful for this discussion. Our call as Christians is twofold: (1) Listen to God speak in his Word and in our circumstances, and (2) to step forward in obedience. When we read the Word, we’re convinced that rediscovering meaning and purpose and combatting brokenness and injustice in work are crucial acts of obedience, a path to freedom and flourishing. We’re humbled by this calling.