Posted tagged ‘Theology of Work’

A Working Paradigm for Missional Work

April 11, 2008

While I realize that this post is long overdue, I suppose it is better late than never. 🙂

I want to take a moment to share with you a strategy or paradigm of sorts that I have used in seeking to invest myself in the mission God has given me in my workplace. Recognizing that this is something I have been developing in recent months, I know that there are some aspects to be challenged, critiqued, or contributed to, so feel free to share your thoughts.

There are four areas or facets of work that I would like to elaborate in this post. They are: the work of the mind (exegesis), the work of the heart (prayer), the work of the hands (service), and the work of the lips (gospel).

1. Work of the Mind – Exegeting Culture

Wherever you work, there is a culture to exegete (interpret and understand). There are worldviews, values, patterns of life, and beliefs that constitute the personhood of unbelievers you work with. Exegeting culture is hard work; it takes time and a willingness to listen and learn from others as a student and inquirer. Whether they are young or old, city or rural, black or white–people need to be understood. They might be nominally Catholic, devoutly atheistic, confusedly new age or syncretistic, or they might have no readily presentable religious construct. Why is all this important in the workplace? Because we are presenting a Christian message and worldview that is antithetical to the post-Christian, post-modern world in which we live, and we cannot naively assume that four spiritual laws or five points will effectively communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ. If we are going to be prepared to give an account for the hope that is within us, then we must have our minds always at work.

So as I work, I take notes–literally. With each co-worker, for instance, I would have a separate page in my notebook where I would write down things we talked about, new information I gleaned, beliefs that rose to the surface, and other stuff such as friends, music, and relevant factors. This is incredibly helpful as I will end up remembering stuff they said in the past and use as a topic for future conversation and transitioning into the gospel.

2. Work of the Heart – Prayerful Participation

I regard prayerful participation the work of the heart for two reasons: God gives us a heart for the lost when we pray, and second, prayer opens us up to see how God is working and makes us sensitive to opportunities that come our way. I can say with almost certainly that those who are not praying for unbelievers have never wept for unbelievers. Their heart is just not in it. They also are not open to what God is doing in their world.

There are times when at work you will not have opportunity to be a student and do cultural exegesis. The times when you are busy or by yourself is an excellent time to pray to God while at work. Don’t give away those moments to listening to gossip or entertaining trivial thoughts! Participate in the heavenly work of praying and interceding for those who need Jesus as God has promised to bless the means of prayer in bringing sinners to repentance and faith.

3. Work of the Hands – Service to Others

Perhaps this is the most common or practical work; and yet, I often hear of Christians doing shoddy work when it comes to the work of their hands. A lazy, slothful, and undisciplined Christian worker does considerable harm to the cause of Christ–more harm than we sometimes realize. The work of the hands often opens the door for the work of the lips, while the lack of service to others never lends you the right to be heard.

I am not merely talking about doing your job well and working diligently; rather, I am talking about working well to the point that you can not only do your job with excellence but also allow opportunity to work for others above and beyond what is expected of you. Where I work at UPS, these folks are called “internal customers.” When I do my job well and seek to help others when I have opportunity, I am serving my fellow coworker and letting them know that I care about them and want to help shoulder the burden of their work. The result is that they come to know that I care about them and desire to step in and serve them with the work of my hands.

4. Work of the Lips – Gospel Proclamation

The work of the lips in gospel proclamation is last for a reason. It is very hard to be effective here if you are not faithful in the first three mentioned above. In fact, I doubt that there would be much “work” available in this regard if the work above goes unattended and unaccounted for. And yet this is the most important part of our work, because this is where the life-changing power of the gospel goes forth. It is God’s intention that we share the message of Jesus Christ at work, but we cannot do that in an irresponsible and immature manner. In fact, I have come to learn that if you are respected and appreciated the work of your hands, your employer will have less of an issue with the work of your lips, even if they do not agree with the message your are sharing.

The greatest joys I have ever had, and the greatest times of heartache have come through sharing the gospel at work. I have seen co-workers saved, discipled, and growing in their faith, and I have also seen sinners trample over the glorious message of Jesus Christ as though it was junk mail. Scripture calls us ambassadors for Christ whereby God is passionately making his appeal for reconciliation to hell-deserving sinners through our lives and our messages. As such, our mission (work) is to represent God faithfully by declaring boldly and yet humbling, truthfully and yet gracefully the good news that He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Conclusion

So that’s my working paradigm for missional work. Let me make some final thoughts.

There will be times or days where you will be able to do all four areas of work, but that is not often. Rather, one day you will find yourself given more to the work of the mind in cultural exegesis as you are surrounded by other coworkers; other days, you will be given considerable time alone where you can do the work of the heart in prayerful participation; hopefully, there will be days were you will have opportunity to do the work of the lips in gospel proclamation. But we are to do all four of them and do them well. Do you see the difference between simply showing up for work, doing what is minimally expected of you, collecting a paycheck, and going home–as compared to what I have mentioned above? That is the difference between work and missional work. The former is meaningless; the latter is missional; the former is wasted; the latter is worshipful; the former is ritualistic; the latter is redemptive; the former is self-centered; the latter is God-centered and others-directed.

This isn’t easy work. I am not a perfect model of it in action. But it is something I have put together over the past four years as a way of helping me seek to make a difference and seek first the kingdom of God at work. I just imagined that if I were to spend so many hours in one place with so many people, then certainly God could do something with me. I pray God does great things with all of us at work as we seek to participate in His mission of bringing worshipers to the throne of King Jesus!

Churches, Affirm the Importance of Work and Mission

March 27, 2008

Tomorrow, I am going to conclude this series on missional work with a working paradigm for missional work, but before I do, I wanted to share an excerpt from the pen of John Stott on the need for churches to affirm the importance of work among God’s people and offer a few thoughts in response. John Stott writes:

“Many people say that they have never heard a sermon on work, even though they may have been a member of their church for many years. Yet the congregations of our churches are composed of people who are workers, either in paid employment or in some other context. Many of their deepest challenges emotionally, ethically, and spiritually will be faced in the context of work. It is essential, then, that churches show that work is important by bringing it into the teaching of the church and by praying for those in the church as workers, and not simply as family members or for what they are doing in the church.

[. . .] Laypeople need to know that their daily work is important to God. Indeed, it is essential to furthering God’s purposes for the world. They are not in a waiting room designed for those who are not doing ‘Christian work’, nor are they in some second league because they do not preach every weekend. What they do they are called to do ‘as unto the Lord’, because it is service for him. Every church needs to know what its members do, whether paid or not, because they are the church and they need to be supported in all that God has called them to do and be.”

– John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 230-31.

I think Stott makes an excellent point. How much emphasis are our churches placing on work? If you think about it, Christians will likely spend more time in their workplace throughout the week than any other area of life (40+ hours). Are our churches seeking to help Christians redeem that significant time each week by developing a Christian worldview and theology of work that is distinctively gospel-centered?

I ask this because, of all the efforts I have seen churches make regarding work (such as bulletin boards and employment opportunities), they has not been a connection made between work and mission. In other words, they help people find jobs to make a living without reference to a kingdom ethic or gospel emphasis. Don’t get me wrong: making a living is vitally important, and we need to be doing everything we can to help people find jobs and live productive lives. Yet, can we say that is all that churches should be doing when it comes to work?

Here’s the reality: there are thousands of electricians, bankers, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, engineers, servers, and on and on who need Jesus. And who are the best people to reach them? Preachers? “Vocational ministers”? No. The best people to reach them are electricians, bankers, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, engineers, and servers who work alongside them on a daily basis with 40 hours of exposure and intimate access to their lives on a weekly (or daily) basis. What are churches doing, then, to train laypeople in those missional contexts to work with a gospel-centered focus and drive? In other words, what are we doing to develop and bridge the theology of work with theology of mission?

Evangelism in years past has been compartmentalized to Sunday School or one night a week where churches go out on “outreach.” It is like we do evangelism as a slice of our week and lives while the overwhelming bulk of who we are and what we do, the gospel is off-limits. On the other hand, the church mobilized in the workplace will have relationships cultivated with unbelievers where the gospel can operate in the natural overflow of our lives, not something we must get psyched up to do for a couple of hours during the week. If you have 200 members who work full-time in their workplace, then each week there is 8000 hours worth of missional work available. Consider that! Are we, as churches, faithful stewards of such precious time and opportunity?

We talk a lot about frontier missions when it comes to the Great Commission. The frontier and front lines often are painted in terms of unreached people groups where there has been no engagement or Christian witness, and rightfully so. But in the North American context, I do not think it is too much to say that the front lines of evangelism is in the workplace. More time, more exposure to unbelievers, and more opportunities are given to us in this setting than anywhere else, and I believe that if we are going to take the Great Commission seriously in our context, we must mobilize our people to change their world with sweat on their brow and tears in their eyes, with callouses on their hands and brokenness in their hearts, with faithfulness to the work and faithfulness to the mission given to us by Him who said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

May God help us affirm the importance of work and mission, and may the two become one.

Gospeling at Work, Part 2

March 27, 2008

[Part 1 of Gospeling at Work by Matthew Wireman.  You can read more at Matt’s blog, Off the Wire.]

In the last post I sought to give some examples of how I share my life with people at work. I have taken the long-view in thinking through my relationships at work. Everyone at the store knows I am in seminary, that’s an easy one. Even if you’re not in seminary, make it your goal to at least have everyone know you are a church-goer. Trust me–you don’t have to try and tell everyone–the word will quickly spread. When the news first got out, there were about three or four times employees let the other employee that I was a “preacher man” when I sat down to eat in the break room. With that said, people will watch your work ethic and how you treat folks that curse you (you return with a blessing).

I mentioned in my last post that we need to reconsider how we speak of “share” and “gospel.” “Share” is not merely conveying a message, it is imparting your very life (1Thess 2.8). It is not just reconsidering your method, but it is reconsidering the audience. They are not variables in the equation: Message + Listener = Conversion. Rather, they are where you were before your eyes were enightened by the power of the Spirit to the glorious beauty of the saving gospel – the purifying, hope-giving gospel (Eph 1.18). These swearing, lying, promiscuous, cheating sinners are in need of the Savior – that is what you once were (Col 1.21ff; 1Cor 6.9-11).

We also need to reconsider how we conceive of the word “gospel.” Is it merely enough to share four points with someone? No, we should help people see how the Good News of Christ sin-conquering death on the cross gives them hope for life eternal. We must show them how the Good News of Christ’s perfect life imputed to them gives them power to press on through trials of sanctification. We have to model for people how we do not revile because we have been forgiven much and cannot help but forgive, no matter how difficult the labor pains.

What we need as Christians is to not settle for an understanding of evangelism to be limited to sharing a four point message. Surely we do this at opportune times, but this four point outline is just that–it is an outline. We have to help people see that walking an aisle is not our goal. We have to convince people that prayer is a lifestyle and not simply the door into a relationship with Jesus.

Sadly, though, we have not shared the full-orbed gospel with people because we have not been gripped by it. We have been led to believe that it is the first step in a very long journey. Rather, it must be present in every step we take on this short pilgrimmage.

Gospeling at Work, Part 1

March 26, 2008

Should you share the Gospel at work? The short answer:

Yes.

But before you answer that question we have to re-consider what we mean when we say “gospel” and “share.” So much of out evangelicalism has bought into the notion that the “gospel” consists of four points merely with a decision called for at the end. Sure, the backbone of the Good News is God, Man, Sin, Repentance, Forgiveness.

Throughout our lives, however, we are called to creatively interweave the gospel in our lives. In other words, we need to think of the gospel as integrally tied to our worldview. We cannot look at the customer buying something from us apart from seeing them as made in God’s image and in need of redemption. We cannot listen to the demands of our manager without considering that we are to revere him as we do the Lord. We cannot respond to a frustrated customer wihtout understanding that there are idols of the heart that must be demolished.

Some people have said that we should not “share the gospel” at work because we are not being paid to “share the gospel.” I think I know what they are getting at. Of course we shouldn’t set up a chair at the water cooler and field questions of faith when we should be making phone calls. Of course we shouldn’t transition from selling a cell phone by saying, “You know how important communication with your loved ones is? Did you know that God wants to communicate with you too?” That would be awkward, it would burn a bridge rather than build it since people can sniff the farce of the sale.

If, on the other hand, we begin to integrate our lives in such a way that the gospel becomes the thread by which we weave the fabric of our lives, we cannot help but share the gospel in every conversation we have (all speech should be “seasoned with the salt of the gospel”). My job is pretty slow by way of customers coming in the doors, so I have the pleasure (sometimes it is a drudgery, honestly) of talking at length with a customer provided there is not someone waiting in line. There are a few folks I see every couple weeks or so. I try to remember their names, their situations in life (college, loss of family member, broke up with girlfriend, etc…sometimes I feel like a bartender!), etc.  When they come in I ask them about their life, and they do the same.  Whether I am having a hard week or a good week, I share it.  Today, I mentioned to a lady how I am thinking and praying through my life decisions that are coming down the pike. At times I get to ask them how they celebrated Easter, Christmas, etc.  I seek to be human and treat them as humans. When they are frustrated, I try to help them.

A couple came in a few days ago and they were extremely perturbed, planning on canceling their service with us because they had been told one thing and something else had been done. I looked at them and had genuine compassion on them. I sought to max out their discounts on service and see what I could do to make their lives better. Instead of chaos in their lives, I sought to bring wholeness — shalom in the Hebrew which means a holistic restoration of the broken order. They had been deceived but I sought to bring truth and alleviate their suffering. In a way, this is like offering a cup of cold water to the parched soul.

[Continued in Part 2]

Witnessing at Work: Sacred vs. Secular?

March 25, 2008

Continuing in our series on missional work, Jason Meyer chimes in to address the false dichotomy with a biblical-theological approach. More contributions to come, but for now, consider Jason’s response.

Christians tend to see things in pieces and miss the big picture. This inability to see in a panoramic way leads to many false dichotomies and dualisms. I think recovering a full-fledged biblical worldview would help put the pieces together into a more coherent whole, which in turn would eliminate much of the spiritual schizophrenia that Christians in the workplace often feel.

Many Christian authors are turning to a creation, fall, redemption model as a biblical grid for understanding all of life. Although this grid is useful in many ways, I will focus on three benefits for the sake of the question we are addressing today. First, it allows one to share the gospel in a structured way by answering the three essential questions that many people keep asking: (1) where did we come from [creation], (2) what went wrong [fall], and (3) what is the solution [redemption]. Second, this three-fold grid also functions as a tool for analyzing the worldviews of others, like those with whom we work. Contending worldviews must attempt to answer these same three questions and so Christians and their co-workers can compare and contrast their answers and assess how these answers stack up next to the reality that they see all around them. Third, it is not only useful for explaining the gospel in our personal evangelism at work, it is also useful for understanding a Christian perspective on work itself. I would like to spend a few moments explaining this third benefit.

Many Christians think that our sole objective is to receive salvation and share the plan of salvation with others. Nancy Pearcey’s book Total Truth offers some staggering statistics that solidify this common stereotype. She notes that research polls identify the strength of evangelical convictions in these areas. An overwhelming percentage of evangelicals believe the authority of the Bible, and the necessity of personal salvation and evangelism. However, she also noted that no one polled (not one person) could articulate a distinctively Christian mindset toward work. Christians typically thought in terms of infusing the secular with the sacred by praying at work or having a Bible study. When pressed further, Christians talked in vague terms about the importance of honesty and morality at work. Now let us be clear: these are all good answers in and of themselves. But they fall far short as complete answers. Can Christians glorify God at work even in those moments when they are not explicitly telling others about Jesus or praying with them?

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Don’t Waste Your Work!

March 21, 2008

One of the books that has greatly impacted my life in recent years is Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. In his book, Piper has written a chapter entitled, “Making Much of Christ from 8 to 5” (read it online), where he provides six answers to the question, “How can my life count for the glory of God in my secular vocation?” I figured that, in light of our current discussion on missional work, providing Piper’s answers would be quite helpful (especially numbers 3 and 6). Here they are, with a few additional quotes:

1. We can make much of God in our secular job through the fellowship that we enjoy with him throughout the day in all our work.

“In [this] way we fellowship with God, listening to him through his Word and thanking him and praising him and calling on him for all we need. It is an honor to God if you stay in your secular job ‘with God’ in this way. This is not a wasted life. God delights in being trusted and enjoyed. It shows his value.”

2. We make much of Christ in our secular work by the joyful, trusting, God-exalting design of our creativity and industry.

“[T]he essence of our work as humans must be that it is done in conscious reliance on God’s power, and in conscious quest of God’s pattern of excellence, and in deliberate aim to reflect God’s glory.”

3. We make much of Christ in our secular work when it confirms and enhances the portrait of Christ’s glory that people hear in the spoken Gospel.

“[This] is by having such high standards of excellence and such integrity and such manifest goodwill that we put no obstacles in the way of the Gospel but rather call attention to the all-satisfying beauty of Christ. When we adorn the Gospel with our work, we are not wasting our lives.”

4. We make much of Christ in our secular work by earning money to keep us from depending on others, while focusing on the helpfulness of our work rather than financial rewards.

“Christ has lifted the curse of work. He has replaced anxious toil with trust in God’s promise to supply our needs (Philippians 4:19) and has thus awakened in us a different passion in our work. We turn with joy to the call of Jesus: Seek the kingdom of God first and his righteousness, and the food that perishes will be added to you. So don’t labor for the food that perishes. Labor to love people and honor God. Think of new ways that your work can bless people. Stop thinking mainly of profitability, and think mainly of how helpful your product or service can become.”

“Jesus calls us to be aliens and exiles in the world. Not by taking us out of the world, but by changing, at the root, how we view the world and how we do our work in it. If we simply work to earn a living–if we labor for the bread that perishes–we will waste our lives. But if we labor with the sweet assurance that God will supply all our needs–that Christ died to purchase every undeserved blessing–then all our labor will be a labor of love and a boasting only in the cross.”

5. We make much of Christ in our secular work by earning money with the desire to use our money to make others glad in God.

“[O]ur secular work can become a great God-exalting blessing to the world if we aim to take the earnings we don’t need for ourselves (and we need far less than we think) and meet the needs of others in the name of Jesus.”

6. We make much of Christ in our secular work by treating the web of relationships it creates as a gift of God to be loved by sharing the Gospel and by practical deeds of help.

“[God] has woven you into the fabric of others’ lives so that you will tell them the Gospel. Without this, all our adorning behavior may lack the one thing that could make it live-giving. The Christian’s calling includes making his or her mouth a fountain of life. ‘The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life’ (Proverbs 10:11). The link with eternal life is faith in Jesus Christ. No nice feelings about you as a good employee will save anyone. People must know the Gospel, which is the power of God unto eternal life (Romans 1:16).”

Piper’s conclusion:

“If you work like the world, you will waste your life, no matter how rich you get. But if your work creates a web of redemptive relationships and becomes an adornment for the Gospel of the glory of Christ, your satisfaction will last forever and God will be exalted in your joy.”

>> Related Posts:

* Putting in Time or Preaching the Truth: What’s More Valuable?
* Missional Work
* The Cross Isn’t Sexy: A Dying Man’s Confession
* 2:00 a.m. @ Mars Hill
* Elemental Evangelism Summary

Putting in Time or Preaching the Truth: What’s More Valuable?

March 20, 2008

I have asked that my fellow contributors of P&P, Owen Strachan and Jason Meyer, to participate in the discussion regarding missional work. Here is Owen’s very helpful contribution. He is a PhD student in Historical Theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Managing Director of the Carl F. H. Henry Center for Theological Understanding.

Read more at his blog, consumed.
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The answer to the above question must be carefully qualified, in my humble opinion.

Both pursuits, offered out of a redeemed heart, are honoring to God. God has given His creation and His people the opportunity to labor for His glory (1 Co. 10:31). As with all things that we do, we have the opportunity to present our works and deeds to God as gifts. How do we do so? By performing them out of a heart of love. Though it is easy to get a bit over-heated about the nature of work–some theologians have oversold its value, as I see it–and see every task as ushering in the kingdom, it is clear from the Bible that work possesses inherent dignity when done to maximize God’s glory. Though the actual tasks we perform may not in themselves advance the kingdom (the kingdom is advanced primarily by proclamation and inherently spiritual activity, I would contend), yet our attitudes, our dispositions, and our constant devotion to God can well bless the Lord.

We see, then, that while making a shoe may not inherently advance the kingdom (the shoe possesses no spiritual value, after all), the attitude of the shoemaker (his worshipful heart expressing itself even as he sows the shoe together) and the good he accomplishes with the shoe (passing it on to a needy child in the name of Christ, for example) may well contribute to the forward movement of God’s kingdom. Not everything we do contributes to this forward progress, I would argue, but this is not to say that we cannot bring God glory in our daily goings-on and, perhaps often by means of our heart and our spiritually minded acts, claim some kingdom ground. We see, then, that the matter of work–indeed, all of our daily acts–becomes a matter of theological consideration, and requires us to carefully define the kingdom on biblical grounds.

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