Fifty years ago I had my first clear faith at work awakening. I was a junior at the University of California Berkeley studying to become a high school history teacher.
I began to wonder what to do with the fact that my university courses assumed there was no god active in history; in fact, even religion played very little role in the historical explanations of my professors, even in courses on the history of the Roman Empire and the Reformation Era. In stark contrast, my personal life and church life always assumed a living God active in human affairs in the past as well as present.
I could have just lived with a compartmentalized mind, I suppose, but my understanding that Christian discipleship was 24/7 and included all of our life and thought made that dualism impossible. I needed to figure out how to integrate a biblical faith perspective on history into my studies and my future professional life as a historian.
Soon enough I felt the same about the teaching profession itself: how should the teaching practices and views of Jesus and Scripture affect what the university and the educational guild taught me about educating young people?
I did have a couple Christian college buddies with whom to kick around these issues of integrating faith, learning, and work. And during the next five years I discovered a few books on developing a Christian mind and world view by Harry Blamires, Francis Schaeffer, and others. I discovered the Conference on Faith & History, a fellowship of Christian historians who grappled with these issues, and some books on God and history by John Warwick Montgomery, Gordon Clark, Herbert Butterfield, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Eric Voegelin. I wrote my 1971 MA thesis at San Francisco State on “The Problem of God’s Role in Human History.”
But I have to say that when I began to look for help integrating my faith with my education and work – and not just for me as a history teacher but for my friends in law, medicine, business, or engineering — there was not a lot out there. Our churches and pastors had nothing to say. The American Scientific Affiliation was a bright exception for those in the sciences but the Christian business groups and fellowships I explored did not really seem interested in integrating biblical teaching on money, management, debt, and so forth, with what their people learned in business school or practiced in the marketplace.
The seminaries only cared about training future pastors and religious professionals. The university Christian student groups focused mostly on small group Bible studies, prayer, and campus evangelism — and on calling college students to abandon their university academic and career interests to commit to missionary lives as evangelists and church planters.
Some exceptional things began to appear in the late Sixties and gathered momentum in the Seventies, Eighties, and since. It is really just incredible how things have changed for the better these past four or five decades. Today there are many pastors and churches promoting and assisting workplace discipleship. Several seminaries, some business schools, countless marketplace ministries, and a ton of books and conferences flourish as faith at work resources. And nobody, no individual, no organization, has been in charge of this movement. Clearly, God is in charge (at least for all the good things in the movement). And that is a good thing.
I believe there is a broadly shared consensus on the basics of what I would “Faith at Work 101” (if I was a techie instead of a professor I might call it faith@work 1.0). My formulation and terminology can be debated but I think the movement concurs on five points:
First: Everybody’s work matters to God. Not just the work of pastors and missionaries but everyone’s work matters to God. Paid and unpaid work, labor and management, male and female, it all matters. Jesus wants to be Lord of all of our work. God’s calling might just as much be to work as a truck driver or child care giver or lawyer as a pastor.
Second, Jesus & Scripture teach us about good work. From Genesis to Revelation the Bible has instruction and guidance on how to honor and glorify God in our work. The Bible doesn’t just teach us how to pray, worship, evangelize, and preach but how to do good work
Third, God models good work for humanity. Because we are all made in the image and likeness of God — and because we are being conformed to the image of his Son — God’s work as Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer and Jesus’ example as Reconciler and Servant Leader also provide powerful guidance on good work. It’s not just the teaching but also the example.
Fourth, In word & deed we represent Christ in the workplace. All of us are called upon both (1) to speak the truth in love in our workplace communication, reporting, marketing, and to share our faith with those around us, and (2) to act the truth — to set an example of God-honoring workplace conduct at all times.
Fifth, faith at work is a collaborative, lifelong project. Workplace discipleship is not an individualistic Lone Ranger enterprise. We need colleagues and prayer partners, fellowship and support groups. We need the contributions of mentors and veterans, of godly seminary and university teachers, of pastors and marketplace ministry leaders. We need the contributions of all Christian traditions, all parts of the Body of Christ. And it is a lifelong adventure, not something achievable in a short training program
Of course if we move outside of our various marketplace and workplace leadership and movements, if we were to survey church members around the world, it is likely that only a small percentage could articulate these five basic convictions, much less evidence a living commitment to them. So Faith@Work 101 needs now — and will always need — to be actively promoted and taught in our churches and all other Christian contexts. These five basics need to be constantly and creatively promoted.
Stay tuned for a followup post on how to move from these points to Faith@Work 201.
© David W. Gill. A version of this essay was delivered as a plenary talk at the Faith@Work Summit Conference in Dallas, Texas, October 27, 2016.