Andrew Laird is Dean of the Ridley Marketplace Institute at Ridley College and Director of Life@Work, an initiative of City Bible Forum, Melbourne. His book for workplace Christians, Under Pressure, releases on October 26.
TGR: First of all, tell us about your own background.
AL: My background is in radio journalism. I grew up in an evangelical church, was taught well, started out in paid employment, and realized I had no idea how my faith applied to what was taking up the bulk of my time.
I had mostly heard about work as a context for evangelism, and as a source of finances to support the local church. I believe both those things, but I hadn’t been taught in 20 years of church life about what to do with the things that I was doing there. In speaking with other Christians, I realized I wasn’t alone; many others felt their work didn’t count for much, and had no sense of integration with faith.
So, I studied at seminary, took every subject I could that I thought might help me dig a bit deeper into what the Bible had to say about work, and even did a final project on it.
I was torn: should I return into the workplace and live these things out with a more expansive view, or should I go down the route of pastoral ministry, ministering to people in my churches who wanted more out of their work?
The first four years, I tried to do both. I worked in a local church in Sydney and also as a radio journalist. I tried to have the worlds shape one another. I hope my preaching during those four years was shaped by three days of the week in the workplace.
I moved to Melbourne four years ago to work with City Bible Forum, whose slogan is: “To reach the world through the workplace.” Right living forms an integral part of Christian witness. A lot of what I do is to connect Christian faith with work as an end in itself, but also as a means to an end: as you live out your faith it has a missional effect.
Australia is very post-Christian, very secular. There’s not really a desire for things to be heard about the Christian faith. It’s no good wanting to tell colleagues about a God in who you find rest if you’re stressed and busy; or a God who is sovereignly in control if you are a control freak at work.
Then an opportunity came up to join the Marketplace Institute, which was doing the same sort of thing at an academic level. I spend a portion of my week at CBF and a portion of my week on campus. I hope that those two shape each other. One way or the other I spend the week talking with Christians about work.
TGR: What is the Marketplace Institute?
AL: It’s a center within Ridley College, a theological college in Melbourne. It reflects one of the passions of Ridley, preparing students for everyday life. It’s an Anglican college, training them for Anglican ministry, but it also recognizes the value of daily life and work.
I teach Biblical theology of work according to the four-chapter gospel and a course called “Mentoring and Pastoral Care of Workers.” My courses are really aimed at two groups: Christians in paid employment or people who are training to go into ordained ministry or church leadership. What does it mean to minister to our people in the workplace and their felt needs, pressure, and busyness? One of the key features is to discern what’s the heart issue that’s going on for people.
Every Good Endeavor is a key text—no supurise. Then I use a number of general pastoral care books. The lack of material in this area is a weakness that I’ve found in the whole FAW movement. There’s a lot of thinking about theology of work. Now we need to think about application to specific workplace issues. We can’t take it for granted that everyone is on the same theological page, we need to keep doing the theology, but we also need to work on the implications. I do draw some on the work of Tim Chester in the area of pastoral care.
My courses are elective. I have about a dozen students in the class, both part-time and full-time. As part of the course they pick a specific pastoral issue and think about how the Christian faith helps them deal with that. Usually they pick an issue affecting them. So, we had an endocrinologist thinking about transgender medicine; someone who wrote on OCD and the workplace; issues around workplace bullying; and a woman who’s a GP, wrestling with prenatal testing. My book overlaps heavily with the content of the pastoral care of workers class, and that class certainly enhanced it.
TGR: Could you share some more about the book?
It arose out of a series of talks I gave under the Life@Work banner. Talking to people in Melbourne, over and over again, the word that kept coming up was pressure. Social, financial, housing, workplace pressures: pressures to conform, pressures that kept them from getting away from work.
I looked at five of the most common pressures people have:
- pressure to have it all
- pressure to conform in the workplace
- pressure of ever present work—we can never escape from it, it’s always in our pocket on our phone
- pressure of difficult colleagues—people are troubled by that more than tasks
- pressure to keep on top of everything. It can impact our sleep. There are alarming statistics in Australia around sleep and lack of sleep. It’s a real issue.
So I wanted to share what the Bible has to say about pressure. There’s some wonderful work being done in the US and the UK in thinking through the theology of work and helping us trace that through Scripture. My interest is building upon that foundational work that has been done by people like Theology of Work Project and others. How do we work it out in the nitty-gritty?