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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.
But we also need to move beyond these shared basics as leaders and teachers. I want to urge us to go deeper and broader in the following directions. Let’s call this “Faith at Work 201.”
First: F@W 201 means going DEEPER into every profession and job specialty
I mentioned my own quest fifty years ago to explore more deeply how to study and teach history as a Christian. But every job specialty deserves such attention. For example
- In the field of law — how should biblical teaching about law and justice affect the way a Christian legislator works; how should biblical teaching about Jesus Christ as our Advocate and Representative and Reconciler affect the work of a Christian attorney? And how does God as our Judge set any kind of example for those among us who serve as Judges? These are not easy questions to answer but they are pathways to our becoming “salt” and “light” in a needy field.
- And think about food — what difference would Jesus and Scripture bring to those who grow crops and raise animals — to those who market and sell it — and to the chefs and cooks who prepare it to the glory of God?
- The list is endless. What about “blue-collar” labor, those working in factories and fields? What about police officers?
Who will do this work? It must be a collaborative effort where the practitioners themselves are deeply involved and it will require careful biblical study as well as exploration of good work that has already been done, such as that of the Christian Legal Society for those in the field of law.
Second: F@W 201 means going DEEPER into specific workplace topics and issues
There are critical topics, challenges, forces, and opportunities that usually affect all job specialties. Many of these have received some attention but more is needed — and the Bible provides amazing insights that can truly salt and light our work and workplaces. For example
- Technology — for education, communication, research, social relationships, news and reporting, political campaigning and polling, automation of jobs . . . despite the volumes that have already been produced we must press forward with some brilliant Christian thinking and analysis of the opportunities and challenges.
- Money matters – we need much more work exploring Christian perspectives on fair wages, just prices, legitimate profits, debt, loans, investments, interest rates, poverty and affluence.
- Globalization — Christians are first and foremost citizens of the global kingdom of God. What does this mean for our thinking about work and business?
- Sabbath—- and just one final topic is Sabbath — time away from ordinary work, holy time before God; rest for ourselves and those around us. This is a huge issue today in an always-connected, 24/7 culture.
Third: F@W 201 means not just going deeper but going BROADER by including more voices & committing to a wider service
I am thinking of three groups in particular. The movement is too pale and male!
- women — are at least 50% of the Body of Christ, probably higher when it comes to church attendance; they are least 50% of the workforce, especially if we recognize, as we should, managing households and raising children as work; women are nearing 50% of MBA enrollments in the USA and their presence in most businesses and occupational specialties is huge and growing. There is a time for men to gather with men and women with women; but so many Christian marketplace groups have been for men only in a throwback to an earlier era. Who in this needy world will explore and model healthy male/female relationships in the workplace if not us? And frankly who will advocate for the fair and appropriate treatment of women in the workplace? Why aren’t Christians more boldly in the lead?
- people of color —– “Black Work Matters!” We are far too “pale” in most parts of this movement; we have a great deal to learn from the historic African-American churches where, because of systematic racism and segregation, the local church played a holistic role in the lives of its people, concerned with their welfare and economic wellbeing not just their spirituality; we have a great deal to learn from our Hispanic and Asian brothers and sisters about how to raise our children with the powerful work ethic that shows up in agriculture, the building trades, restaurants, and the tech world — just to give a few examples; We all have so much to learn from each other — and we have so much we should be giving in service to each other when parts of the Body of Christ are in need
- two-thirds world — finally, in our globalized economy, we need to hear from all regions of God’s world — and learn from each other how to work together and how to help and support those in need, perhaps being hurt more than helped by globalization.
How can we go broader? First it takes an unshakeable commitment and pit bull tenacity to build our networks out to be more inclusive, motivated by a desire to be as inclusive as the heart of God. It takes respectful, long term listening. It takes invitations into leadership not just as tokenism, not just to join with an agenda already created, but invitations into partnership at the very beginning of projects.
Fourth: F@W 201 means going BROADER in addressing the whole faith@work life-span
Most of what we see in F@W101 is focused on employed adult workers. This needs to get broader.
- pre-career youth from pre-school through high school need to learn about the value, importance, and blessing of work, about the characteristics of good work in God’s eyes in church education classes as well as other media and learning channels; churches can offer work experience and coaching to their youth on good work as part of congregational life; and certainly college-age adults need more help on thinking about God’s calling for their academic major and future work.
- mid-career interruption & transition – it is no longer the exception but normal and expected that people will change employers and sometimes even work specialties more than once during their careers— not always by their own choice. The challenges of bridging between jobs, the meaning of work and calling during those gaps, these deserve some serious attention and perhaps the development of some new ministries.
- post-career “retirement” — we reject the idea of “retirement” as a complete end of work; but the transition from “regular,” usually obligatory, employment to voluntary or part-time work deserves serious attention. Our seniors have much to give and should be helped to do so.
Fifth: F@W 201 means going BROADER to include the faith-rich but work-poor
Two populations that are often ignored may have outstanding faith, but either no work in which to apply it, or very dangerous and bad work that may be beyond redemption. Specifically:
- dangerous, bad work from criminal, illegal, and immoral activities . . . to toxic, dangerous activities . . . to work that trashes God’s creation and the lives of customers and colleagues: how do we help people cope when they are trapped, and escape when they can? How can our biblical insights help?
- no (or not enough) work is a huge problem in economically-advanced countries like the United States but also in much of the rest of the world. People almost always want to work; they do not want to be dependent on government or charity. So often either government or big business is criticized for not creating jobs. But within the churches we have both those needing and wanting jobs — and those with the skills and resources to coach and assist them in finding or creating work. We need a boom in church-based entrepreneurship.
Christine Paige & Bliss Salon
One of my Faith at Work heroes is Christine Paige. Encouraged by her friends and one of her pastors Christine signed up as a “wannabe entrepreneur” in the Entrepreneurship in Church & Community course I taught with Larry Ward in Boston for three years. Each week she and her pastor drove up from Providence, Rhode Island, to study the basics of creating a small business. Her obvious skills as a hair dresser combined with her strong faith, a small posse of supportive brothers and sisters, and her will to glorify God and beautify and satisfy her customers led to the opening of Bliss Salon — now thriving and expanding after two and a half years. Now the challenge is to move on to the next level with a deeper understanding of how her vocation taps into a biblical theology of beauty, both outward and inward — and build a broader influence on the lives and values of youth in her world. Maybe Bliss Salon could also help some on the street without resources rediscover the dignity and beauty God intended for them through some pro bono work.
Christine is just one shining example of a faith at work entrepreneur – who happens to be an urban, African-American sister. She is a faith at work 101 star in my world who is on the move into the 201 adventure. Will the movement have ears to hear and listen and learn from people like Christine? Will the movement step up to support her 201 journey?
© 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.
Great thoughts. So much work to be done…