I have mentioned many times, probably too many times, the seeming Mount-Everest-height stack of books published over the last 7-10 years relating to the integration of faith and work. One could justifiably argue we do not need any more books, but rather to read the books already written and apply their principles to our work. But for good or ill, good books continue to be published, and I would like to draw your attention to one here.
Retired US Army MSG Russell E. Gehrlein has written Immanuel Labor: God’s Presence In Our Profession as a result of a thorough study of both the Scriptures and the existing body of faith and work literature. He quotes thirty different faith and work writers and cites more than 300 verses on work. This list of verses alone is worth the price of admission. (He provides a Scripture index at the back of the book along with web resources and a bibliography.)
According to his author biography:
Russell E. Gehrlein is a born-again Christian, brother, husband, father, uncle, and grandfather. He currently lives in Rolla, Missouri, with his college sweetheart and wife of thirty-seven years. They have three adult children and two grandchildren.
Russ graduated from Park Hill High School in Kansas City, Missouri, more than forty years ago. He received his BS in mathematics from Colorado State University and an MA in biblical studies from Cornerstone University/Grand Rapids Theological Seminary.
Russ is a former youth pastor and junior/senior high school math and science teacher. He is a retired Army master sergeant with more than twenty years of active duty. He is currently employed as a civilian working for the army at the US Army Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear School in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Although this is his first book, he has. . .written more than a dozen articles that have been published in the NCO Journal, Campus Life magazine, the Army Chemical Review, and for the Center for Army Lessons Learned.. . .Russ has posted more than seventy articles on his blog, “Reflections on Theological Topics of Interest. He also maintains a public Facebook page.
Thanks, Russ for your work on this book. Praise the Lord for the change His Spirit has made in your heart and mind as well as the passion with which you share these ideas. I had the opportunity to speak with Russ during the 2018 Faith & Work Summit held in Chicago. (For more on the Summit, go here.)
Chris Robertson: What was your original purpose or goal for Immanuel Labor?
Russ Gehrlein: My purpose was to lay out a comprehensive theology of work that would help my brothers and sisters in Christ who work ordinary jobs. I had college students in mind as I wrote the book. My goal was to encourage them as they went into the workforce, knowing it would be a spiritual journey where God would always lead and provide for them. I desired to lay out a theology of work that would easily be understood by any Christian, and one that was both theological and practical. I wanted to highlight my observations about the connection between God’s presence and human work. As a Bible teacher, I wanted to change minds and hearts.
God created people to be His co-workers in expanding His kingdom on earth. He is present in the work of His children in order to meet the needs of humankind and bring glory to Himself. ~ from the book
CR: I’m grateful you mentioned the need to encourage our sisters and brothers who work in ordinary jobs, including blue-collar workers. What are some ways we as a movement can support them and help them understand the significance of their work?
RG: The Faith@Work Summit in 2016 motivated me to write about special career fields that normally get left out. Remember, the same biblical concepts regarding work apply to both blue and white collar alike. God is present in everyone’s work.
However, I have observed that white collar jobs might seem to have more freedom and flexibility than blue collar jobs. Due to the lack of built-in upward mobility, blue-collar workers can often feel stuck. Communicating concepts of contentment is essential. I have also observed that there are multiple kinds of intelligence. Rocket science is not rocket science to a rocket scientist, but it is to others. Consequently, what you do may come easily to you, but I stand amazed at the God-given talents that I do not possess. Those who work with their hands to build or repair things truly seem like rocket scientists to me.
I also realize that blue-collar workers have some advantages. They normally do not have to take work home with them. In addition, because of the physical nature of their work, they also may have more time to pray, reflect on God’s Word, and experience God’s presence at work than others do.
Work is a blessing given by God. We are co-workers with God in His continuing work of expanding and sustaining the creation. All work has value. God uses people to meet the wide range of human needs to increase shalom in the world. Our work has a variety of God-given purposes. Sin impacts every aspect of work. Our work has eternal implications. ~ from the book
CR: If you had the opportunity to speak with a person of faith who felt they were wasting their life in a secular job, how would you help them understand the mission field their job represents?
RG: Christians are not wasting their lives in jobs that are not vocational ministry. This world and the people in it need a variety of skills to support life. God uses people to provide what they need. The physical world is as essential as the spiritual world. In the beginning, God created the Earth. The incarnation of Jesus Christ in a human body also shows us that Earth is important to God. At the consummation of all things, Heaven comes down to Earth. I would also like to emphasize that we can minister in Jesus’ name wherever we work as we meet the very real needs of the people that God brings to us (i.e., physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, social, as well as spiritual). Additionally, we may be the only Jesus that those who do not attend church will see.
CR: I’ve enjoyed meeting a few different professionals recently who came to faith after a significant period of work. This has often resulted in a more innovative expression of a faith and work integration. I’m interested to hear you reflect on your work prior to and following your reading Your Work Matters to God by Doug Sherman and William Hendricks. What has changed and what has stayed the same?
RG: Before I read that book, I can honestly say that I was a hard worker. My mom and Dad raised me with the proverbial Protestant work ethic, saying that there are certain things you have to do at work: don’t be lazy, earn your pay, etc. But that was the extent of my understanding of how my faith connected with my work.
After I read the book, the fundamental purpose of my work changed. Based on the Scriptures I read, I learned that my ordinary work mattered. I was created to help God complete the Creation project. I also would have said before that Christians work in a secular job mainly to share their faith. Afterwards, I saw that my job was more than just evangelism when I began to realize that people have all kinds of needs; spiritual needs are not always the most important.
CR: I am intrigued by the phrase “Immanuel Labor.” You describe this a bit in the book, but I’d like to give our readers a sense of what you mean by it and how it has shaped the way you work.
RG: These two words simply describe the biblical connection between God’s presence and human work. It is not an original idea. Many other theologians have also spoken of this connection. This phrase continues to shape the way I see and understand work. God’s presence has been part of my experience since I met Christ in high school. God is always present; I try to remember that as often as possible every day. At work, His presence gives me comfort, courage, and conviction, right when I need it. I know that He has worked and is working in me so that He can work through me in the place where He has put me.
CR: The faith and work movement has been favored with a significant number of books over the last few years. What is the unique contribution you sought to bring to this body of literature?
RG: This is a comprehensive overview of this critical doctrine. Part 1 lays a solid theological framework which is supported by over 300 Scripture references and relevant quotes from 30 writers including Brother Lawrence, Martin Luther, Tim Keller, and many others. Part 2 focuses on the practical side, where I discuss looking for a job, how to work, how to make a difference at work, and how to find new work, among other things. It was written for the average Christian worker by an average Christian worker who has understood and applied these truths on the job over the last three decades. It is personal, positive, and practical so that all Christ-followers who work at a job, at home, or at school can apply these principles in their spiritual career journey.
CR: I was particularly interested to read the section where you discuss the work of Christians in the Armed Forces. On behalf of my readers, I would like to thank you for your service to the United States. How did your varied work in the Armed Forces provide an opportunity to demonstrate your faith?
RG: Thank you. It was my pleasure to serve. While I was on active duty for twenty years, my whole family was aware of the fact that each time we were sent to a new duty station, we were only there for a season. It made us work harder at building relationships with co-workers, our neighbors, and friends at church or chapel. One of the best illustrations of how God used us was when we were at Fort Hood, Texas. By being at the right place at the right time and sharing a vision God gave me, He allowed me to be His instrument to connect several chaplains on post to coordinate efforts to bring over 150 soldiers to the 1995 Promise Keepers Conferences in Dallas and Houston. It was amazing to see God at work.
CR: Is there anything The Green Room audience should understand concerning the doctrine of work in particular as it relates to your discussion about it in your book?
RG: I want to greatly encourage my brothers and sisters in Christ who work ordinary jobs. I want them to understand and believe that their work is significant and that it contributes to God’s work in the world. I want them to think biblically about work, to understand what God wants to do in and through them at work, to know how to work in a Christ-honoring way, and to be fully aware of God’s presence at work every day. That is my passion.