Faith at Work Summit 2018: An Interview with Will Messenger

The purpose of the Faith at Work Summit is to gather active participants and leaders in the faith at work movement from every industry sector to learn from each other and work together to extend Christ’s transforming presence in workplaces around the world. The 2018 Faith at Work Summit, held in Chicago at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare on October 11th-13th, is now open for registration! Early registration is now available at $239 per ticket, so be sure to purchase soon.

In anticipation of the upcoming Summit, I had the opportunity to interview William Messenger. Messenger is Executive Editor of the Theology of Work Project, an international organization dedicated to researching, writing, and circulating materials about how the Christian faith can contribute to the work of its members in every sphere of endeavor. Its materials are available free of charge – including articles covering what every book of the Bible contributes to work, workers and workplaces. The TOW Project also helps faith-and-work organizations, pastors, and Christians in the workplace cooperate more closely together to equip their members for meaningful and fruitful work in the world.

AK: What will you be addressing at the Faith at Work Summit this year?

WM: This year I am the chair of two workshops. The first one is “Workplace Engagement Beyond Christendom.” We are going to hear from people who are equipping people to do faith-work integration in non-Christian environments. One of the panelists is a corporate chaplain. Another works in a study center in a big state university. And so on.

How are they helping people apply the Christian faith to work, when their workplace isn’t doesn’t care about—or is even hostile to—Christian input? Does this mean disguising the source of your values and practices? Does it mean translating things into secular language? Does it mean taking an unpopular stand? How do the people on the panel serve their audiences in this environment? The panel has some younger members, and I am really eager to hear their perspectives.

The other workshop I am chairing is “Digital Resources for Curricular Integration.” Officially, it’s a review of digital resources that are being used in college/university and seminary courses for integrating faith and work. One example would be a short video about a low-level worker struggling to combat racism in a retail store that a professor could show in class during a discussion of a Bible passage about power and responsibility. Or, an activity comparing/contrasting a passage from the book of James in the online Theology of Work Bible Commentary with Aristotle’s Politics in a class on philosophy.

Not only will we talk about resources for higher education, we will also talk about digital resources for churches, companies and other uses. The panelists are from major online resource providers, and I’m inviting a bunch of other people who offer digital resources to give 30-second overviews of their stuff. It’s going to be like an ocean of resources that people can fish from as they need.

AK: What inspires you about the Faith and Work movement today?

WM: I am inspired by the young people I meet who aren’t satisfied with the Christian faith until it teaches them how to live in a Christ-like way every day of the week. I think my generation (“Boomers”) has been too satisfied with compartmentalizing faith to church and Sunday morning. Or if you’re really gung-ho, Sunday morning and Wednesday evening. Too many of us say, “As long as I don’t lie, cheat or steal, what does God care about my work?” But the young people I meet, they want a faith that helps them figure out how to treat co-workers, find work that makes a difference in the world, recover from failures and disappointments at work, come to grips with the demands of job, family, church and society, and bring God’s creativity into their work. That inspires me.

AK: What do you see as current challenges facing the Faith and Work movement?

WM: I observe that most churches and believers (except the youngest, as I said above) regard integrating faith and work as just another special interest. Lots of special interests are clamoring for attention in the church today: human trafficking, living wage, Ignatian prayer, worship and arts festival, men’s group, women’s group, new evening worship service. Faith and work integration is seen as just one more.

This perspective ignores the reality that everyone in the church will spend 2000 to 3000 hours every year working,  far more than they spend on all the other issues and activities combined. A main reason that equipping church members for work is so important is that many of them spend most of their waking hours at work. But work doesn’t seem to fit the church’s usual categories and calendars, so it gets ignored.

I think the answer is not to create a workplace ministry, but to include work in the things churches already do:

  • A minute or two in every sermon about how it applies at work
  • Training small groups to talk about their work challenges and opportunities and/or pray for the things people actually do at work
  • Mentioning work in music and prayers
  • Asking church members about their work as part of the normal pastoral care process.

AK: What are you looking forward to at the Faith at Work Summit?

WM: My favorite part is connecting personally with colleagues and friends from around the world. I am looking forward to meals together, a favorite beverage with people in the evening, hearing what people are doing and trying that is new. As for the official program of the Summit, I am really looking forward to the increased presence of younger people, women, and people of color. I am also looking forward to a new format with more workshops so you can choose to go deeper in the things that interest you most. The vibe feels more lo-fi, more working session and less presentation. I get most energized by working in smaller groups, diving deeper, hearing what’s too new to be in a formal presentation yet, so this format is really appealing to me.

For Will’s Talk on “The Big Picture: God’s Word on Work” at the 2014 Faith at Work Summit in Boston see:

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