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Spirituality of Work: An Investigation

By Joyce Avedisian
In-depth discussion of integrating Christian faith and workplaces.


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Most individual Christians and churches believe and act as if work in the marketplace is separate from faith. To change this mindset requires addressing both individual barriers and institutional barriers which create and reinforce this falsehood. The main issue addressed in this article is, "How can a Christian understand and sustain the integration of his faith and work in the secular marketplace?"

CHRISTIAN RESEARCH AND REFLECTION

A Theology of Work
The theology of work is how we are to understand it, approach it, and do it, from the point of view of God's purposes.
1 Although this paper focuses on work in the secular marketplace, work, from a Christian perspective, is more broadly defined. "Work is the expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community and glory to God." 2 The focus of work is service, not what you do or whether or not you get paid for what you do. Therefore, workers include parents, homemakers, volunteer workers, students, and church workers.

Whether or not a Christian experiences an integration of faith and work relates in part to how he defines ministry, vocation and calling, and how he perceives his work measures up against those definitions. Those Christians who understand that every aspect of their life is a calling to respond to God, be His beloved, and serve others in love, live in a fundamentally different way than those who don't understand this.

Most Christians have an inadequate understanding of vocation, ministry, and calling. They accept the narrow understanding of the world and most churches that their vocation is an occupation, and ministry and calling are church-related. Biblically the word vocation means calling, and ministry means service. "But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light." (1 Peter 2:9). Christians are called by God to be His servants and priests in every aspect of their lives. Their occupations must be conducted within the context of their calling, but occupation is only one aspect of their calling. Furthermore, most Christians equate "calling" with experiencing a dramatic call from God to take up a particular kind of work, usually church-related or missionary work. "There are broader ways," says Robert Banks, "in which the word call is used in the New Testament. Most often call refers to the way all those who have heard the word of Christ are challenged by God to respond to the Gospel itself (1 Cor.7.20)."3  Banks points out that there are many marketplace workers in the Old Testament such as Esther, Daniel, Joseph, and Nehemiah who did not receive dramatic calls from God, yet they had a clear sense that they were in the positions God desired.

Other common falsehoods among Christians are that work in the marketplace is inherently not as Godly as church-related or missionary work, and/or work in the marketplace is inherently futile and of no eternal value. The Bible demonstrates, starting from the first chapter of Genesis, that God is a worker and His work is good. Biblical truth also says that work was created by God as a blessing for man, and it is essential to man's humanness. His first command to the first man and woman was to do a great work. "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." (Genesis 1:28). When Christians are co-creators with God and work as stewards of His world, their work does have eternal value. Furthermore, people have eternal value so serving them has eternal value. As the Parable of the Talents illustrates, when Christians use the gifts and talents which God has given them to multiply and enrich God's creation through their work, it pleases God. (Matthew 25: 14-30). So-called sacred or secular work are equal. There is no hierarchy of labor. No work is degrading. All work is sacred, assuming it has a positive effect on others, because it is God's work on earth.

Unless Christians see the intrinsic value and goodness of their work, they will not be able to approach their work with enthusiasm and confidence that they are fulfilling God's purposes through their work. They will also not have the faith to stand firm when they experience the effects of the Fall on their work and workplace. The Fall makes work hard (sweat) and creates negative experiences. For example, as stated by Pope John Paul II, "There is a confusion or even a reversal of the order laid down from the beginning by the words of the book of Genesis: Man is treated as an instrument of production, whereas he alone, independently of the work he does, ought to be treated as the effective subject of work and its true maker and creator."4  Because man is treated as an object or thing which Martin Buber refers to as an "I-It" relationship (rather than an "I-Thou" relationship), he suffers in the workplace. Only if a person knows that God loves him and he is doing God's work, will he be able to be God's light in the dark, upside down world he resides in.

Spirituality of Work
The spirituality of work shows in what ways work links us with God, invites us to pray, and builds true godliness.
5  The workplace is a means to sanctification.

More important than what work we do is our motivation and heart condition in doing what we do, if we are to fulfill God's standards for "good work." For work to be Christian, the primary motivation must be to please God: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward." (Col. 3:23-24).  Knowing that God is the ultimate boss frees Christians to work in faith, hope, and love.

What also makes work Christian, says Paul Stevens, is that it is done in love, faith, and hope. When we work in love, we focus on meeting the needs of others and caring for them. When we work in faith, we do everything to please God, trusting Him for the results of our work. When we work in hope, we are doing our part in building God's Kingdom on earth.6

William Diehl in his book, In Search of Faithfulness, demonstrates how the right heart condition and a godly lifestyle go together. Diehl defines faithfulness as acknowledging God's graceful relationship with us by striving to grow more Christlike in our daily lives.7  In conducting a study of Christian CEOs in the workplace, he found that the people who felt a sense of ministry in their jobs made a clearer acknowledgement of their faithful relationship with God than the rest of the group. 8  Those who felt called by God in their jobs scored more highly on all the indices of Christian faithfulness such as daily prayer, reading the Bible regularly, involvement in the church, financial generosity, and seeking justice in the workplace.

Broholm sets forth that for people to feel and act on their sense of calling and to sustain a ministry within the secular structures of society requires a way for people to experience being conformed to God's will in the exercise of that ministry. He explains, "Christian ministry in the secular work place is not a matter of applying Jesus' teaching and principles but, rather, is a matter of being rooted in a form of Christian piety that acknowledges and submits to Christ's intention to shape and form us in his likeness." He goes on to say that prayer, Bible study and listening in silence to God are necessary disciplines to grow in conformance to God's will.9

In addition to having the right heart, acknowledging God's faithfulness, and practicing spiritual disciplines, knowing more specifically how our work reflects God's work can link us to God. Even when Christians accept the theological belief that they are a minister in their workplace, they find it hard to see what they do as ministry. This is particularly true if they do not directly serve people, such as a comptroller working with figures. Some Christian writers have, therefore, categorized aspects of God's work which people may be able to identify in their own work. For example, Banks describes God's work as redemptive, creative, providential, justice work, and compassionate work.10  Broholm helps people identify what they do as related to the threefold office of God's ministry as priest, prophet, and king. He subdivides these 3 areas into 9 categories of ministry.11  For example, a kingly ministry is demonstrated through making and distributing, managing, and building. When we can make a connection between our work and God's work, we gain confidence that we are serving Christ and building His Kingdom in and through our work.

As critical as it is for people to understand and believe that God calls them to their jobs and is present with them, it is not enough. Sherman asserts, "God uses everything in the workplace to train our character. He uses the evils we face, the people we can't stand, the circumstances of tension and pressure, the tedium of long afternoons, the solicitations to compromise, the irritations of angry customers, the interruptions, the financial reversals, the deals that fall through, even the traffic on the way home - He uses all of it to make us like Jesus."12  If Christians are to learn from these stressful experiences and grow spiritually, they need to be equipped with practical ways of connecting Sunday worship and Bible teaching with these experiences. Preece claims, "If we are to overcome the perceived gap between Sunday and Monday, the church will have to shift its pastoral and mission priorities toward Monday."13  He goes on to say that workers should share their testimonies during church services, prayers for people's working lives should be a regular part of intercession, church directories should include work roles, and support groups should address work-related issues.

William Diehl describes the Center for Faith and Life created at his church to equip the people in ways suggested by Preece. Courses are tailored to the needs and concerns of people as they minister in their workplace, families, community and church. One of a series of programs which addressed faith and work was called "The Monday Connection." During a monthly breakfast, one person shared a real life case study of a problem or decision he was facing at the time. The task, with the group's help, was to determine the best Christian response.14  Broholm further clarifies that the church must help people to identify their gifts and confirm their calling in a decisive way if people are to act on and sustain their sense of calling in their workplace. In one congregation he cites, members who believed that they were called to ministry in the world were ordained.15

These examples pose the challenge for the institutional church: to redefine its focus and structure. The main task of the church's organizational structure would be to equip, support, and empower its members to serve in the world as God's stewards and co-creators. Currently, many Christian writers attest to the fact that the church not only does not equip people for Monday, it reinforces the assumption that there is no valid ministry outside the institutional church. This happens even when the church espouses the belief that every Christian is a minister. There is a gap between what the church says about ministry in everyday life and what it does. This is because the church tends to focus inward to maintain itself. Ernst Klein describes the nature and scope of the change that must take place in the church, "The traditional roles of clergy and laity must be reversed: the laity become the troops in the front line and the clergy with the gathered church, help to support them. Until this revolution occurs, the Protestant concept of priesthood of all believers remains vague and unrealized." 16

In summary, the theology of work and the spirituality of work directly address the challenge posed at the beginning of this article, "How can a Christian understand and sustain the integration of his faith and work in the secular marketplace?" First of all, through communion with God, he must conform to the mind and heart of Christ so that he can be Christ in his workplace and see himself and others as God sees them. This means he must understand that he is called to his work and to approach it in faith, hope, and love as a co-worker with God. Secondly, he must give and receive support and accountability through the Body of Christ as he strives to conform in daily practice to the will of Christ. Thirdly, the church must play a primary role in equipping and empowering its members to be troops on the front line working for and with God day to day.
The focus and fruit of Christian work is relational. "In the divine economy, work is evaluated according to the way it fosters or retards relationships - between ourselves and God, our companions and the earthly resources we are called to develop."
17

INVESTIGATION
I conducted first-hand research focused on the challenge, "How can a Christian understand and sustain the integration of his faith and work in the secular workplace?" The research involved interviewing church staff and church members who work in the secular workplace. I selected a biased sample of people who are all mature Christians, committed to living their faith everyday. (A copy of the interview questions is attached). The interview questions focused on people's concept of ministry, work-faith issues, and the role of the church in equipping and empowering people for workplace ministry.

Summary of Interview Findings
The following definitions of ministry reveal that everyone saw their ministry as an integral part of their everyday lives, although different characteristics of that ministry were focused on.

Ministry is being fully who you are and using the gifts God has given you wherever you are to bring God glory.

Ministry addresses the needs of the people you have contact with and helps spread the message that there is really hope and someone loves you.

Touching the lives of people you interact with throughout the day with the love of Christ...exercising God's calling on your life throughout the day in whatever environment you are in.

Application of God's gifting, appointing, enabling to the accomplishment of everyday human tasks.

Communication of the knowledge and love of God by using my skill set and demonstrating God's love by how I care for others.

Three people defined ministry as using their gifts, while others focused on exercising their calling and/or spreading the message of love and hope and meeting needs. All these definitions focus on "doing," and neglect the "being" aspect of ministry. As Stevens so aptly points out, "The laity does not get its ministry from doing good works on earth to please God but from participating in the love life of God the lover, beloved, and love. In the same way the laity gets its mission by participating in the mission of God. The Father sent the Son, the Son sends the laos 'as The Father has sent me.'"18  As mature as these Christians are, they need a deeper, more comprehensive view of who they are as laos.

All the respondents felt somewhat "called" to the work they are engaged in:

I have a strong call and I feel blessed to do the things God has called me to do. He has called me to love and care about His people and encourage them to see God in the situation they are in.

I feel that I am called to do what I am doing because of the gifts and values which I have and can use in my work.

I am called to the work I am doing because I have a background and gifts to do it. I don't know if this is my primary ministry. I hope to have opportunities to talk to people about God and to be a manifestation of God by how I work and say things.

I feel called because it's where God wants me to be right now. I describe the bedrock of my faith to work associates. I am building the toolkit I need to move into part-time Christian ministry work in the future.

I don't know if "call" is the right word because I don't feel burdened to do this work. I do feel that God opened the door and I am learning skills that I can apply in ministry later.

These mature Christians understood to some degree that they were "called" to their jobs, but several tended to think of their work as a training ground for "real" ministry. Two respondents also saw themselves as a reflection of God by what they did and said and how they treated people. Stevens explains, "Christian vocation fulfills the human vocation mandated in Genesis 1:27-28, a vocation also with three (parallel) parts: (1) the call to enjoy communion with God (belonging); (2) the call to community building (being) and the mandate to build a family; and (3) the call to co-creativity (doing) through which humankind expresses stewardship of the earth and makes God's world work."19  The respondents de-emphasized the first two, communion with God and call to community-building.

I was invited to a "calling" session for one of the respondents, which reflected this limited view of what "calling" truly is. The focus of the session was on discerning the Christian ministry work (paid or unpaid) which the individual could do while he supported his family through a secular job. This focus precluded discussions about how secular work could be an area of "calling" and/or how "calling" could be manifested in every aspect of daily living and/or how he was called to "be" with God.

Other questions dealt with what it means to be faithful at work:

To be faithful at work is to do what I know is right whether I want to or not, whether there is a reward or not. Doing right means using the abilities and gifts God has given me for the betterment of the organization and the world. This involves talking about God and my faith in a natural way when God presents the opportunities and caring for people.

Demonstrating that I treat people with respect and dignity is a way of putting my faith into the work place. The way I deal with difficult interactions between people in the way the Lord wants me to is ministry. The challenge is also to remain humble. It's easy to become egotistical and self-centered.

In my old job I was inconsistent in the way I did my job routine day to day. That's not how God would want it. God kicked me out of that job so I could grow in faithfulness and change my mindset. In the job interviewing process which I have been involved in over the last 8 months my overall challenge was being faithful to God. This involved having confidence in waiting for God's hand to help me respond. I relied on Isaiah 30:15, "In quietness and trust is my strength."

I surrender the workplace on a continuing basis so God can work in and through me. Hopefully, I'm doing my work with integrity, honesty, and competency. It's not what I do but what I am. I am a confessing disciple of Jesus and give glory to the Father. I asked my boss to take me off an assignment because it kept me separated from my family.

By living out the fundamental values of my faith which involves loving people and building them up and enabling them to grow closer to God. (Micah 6:8)

These definitions of faithfulness emphasize reflecting the character of Christ and doing things to glorify Him. As with previous questions, significantly less emphasis was placed on communion with God and community-building.

The final subject area in the interviews was the church's role in equipping and empowering people for workplace ministry. Respondents commented as follows:

Increase awareness of what it means to be called in the workplace Monday through Friday. The pastor can teach about it on Sunday. We can have small groups to study the Bible, share our lives, pray for one another and hold each other accountable. There should be a process for people to make changes in their lives based on the worship service, small groups, etc.

Make people aware that all life is lived unto God. Work. Play. It's not secular and sacred. It's all sacred unto God. Build, implement and maintain a common vision as the Body of Christ. We're each part of Christ's vision for the work place, it's not mine or yours. Meet together and encourage one another in small groups, perhaps by occupational area.

Bring work-related issues out in the open. This is something the church can help with. The church should have more Bible studies and fellowship times during the week to help us recharge. There should be an Upper Room where you can go to share issues with people you can open up to and they can be a sounding board.

Having a network of people from the church to provide prayer support and practical guidance around work-related issues would be very helpful.

The main job of the church is to bring God's truth out of the theoretical and help people to apply these truths in their daily lives. This includes having small groups and learning from the practical experiences of others as well as sharing relevant Bible verses.

In all cases, the church was not fulfilling the function of equipping and empowering the people around workplace issues, which the respondents envisioned. Since four of the respondents were from my church, I went to the pastor to discern his understanding and openness to a marketplace ministry. He commented as follows:

  • People have to make a huge perceptual shift to understand that the mission field is where they are already living. We are all called to be missionaries and build a holistic view of faith where all of life is integrated. 
  • All work ought to have a sense of calling. God has a purpose for each person to be used in their work place. 
  • Our best vehicle is the Sunday School program to focus people on work-faith issues.

When I challenged the pastor to take a more multi-faceted approach which included framing his sermons with a marketplace emphasis, sharing workplace stories in Moments for Mission, initiating support groups around workplace issues, teaching in Sunday School, etc., he encouraged me to work with the head of Adult Discipleship to make it happen. In September we will be working as a team to initiate this process, and I've already identified people, including several of the respondents from this study, to be part of a support group to deal openly with real workplace issues.

As part of this investigation, I also contacted other churches and people actively engaged in marketplace ministry to learn from their experiences. A summary of findings follows:

  • Dick Broholm led a four year effort with six congregations in Massachusetts to learn what it means to be a model for empowering laity. They identified nine factors which blocked or enabled individuals and churches from making the paradigm shift that would change the way people perceived and acted out their ministry in everyday life. These factors represent a multi-faceted systemic approach to change on an individual and institutional level. The nine factors are consciousness raising, gifts and call, support and accountability, spiritual formation, language and liturgy, validation, roles and structures, education, and content of ministry. 20 
  • Harry Heintz, pastor of Brunswick Presbyterian Church in Troy, New York, focuses on empowering people to see themselves as the people of God and practice their ministry daily. His multi-faceted approach includes using non-clergy language, preparing sermons with a small team who include examples from everyday life, having non-staff people preach, and concluding Sunday worship with the words, "Everyone here is in ministry. Let's go out and serve the Lord." 
  • Ginny Viola, on the Marketplace staff at Park Street Church,Boston, has implemented a Sunday School course,"Thank God It's Monday." They explore a marketplace topic through Bible studies, case studies, and small group discussions.
    These three examples of marketplace ministry demonstrate that for a Christian to understand and sustain the integration of his work and faith in the secular marketplace requires strong church leadership with a passion for marketplace ministry, education, support groups and institutional changes in church structures, roles, liturgy, etc.

    As part of my investigation, I also participated in the luncheon Bible study at my workplace. I discovered that it was conducted as a traditional Bible study. The Word of God and discussions were not related to marketplace ministry issues, and people did not openly share either personal or work concerns. It appears that people in the same work environment are reluctant to be open with each other. Further investigation is required to determine if a workplace Bible study and/or discussion group is an effective vehicle for helping people to identify and sustain the integration of their work and faith.

PERSONAL REFLECTIONS
My personal understanding of how to integrate my work and faith in the secular workplace has profoundly changed as a result of doing this paper. Like people whom I interviewed, I saw my secular workplace as predominantly a training ground for my future fulltime "Christ in the Marketplace" ministry work. Now I see that I already have the opportunity to do "Christ in the Marketplace" ministry in my secular workplace, and perhaps even more importantly, I am a minister in every aspect of my life. This gives me a new sense of reverence and responsibility for my whole life and my job.

What touched me deeply was the realization that my first fulltime job is communion with God, belonging. I long to pray more, study and meditate on the Word of God, silently listen, and have a regular Sabbath. I am first and foremost called to be God's beloved child. The more that I rest in His arms and receive His love, the more He can make me into a reflection of Him, and the more I can discern His voice and follow the path He lays out. My calling is to be like Brother Lawrence in every aspect of my life and in my workplace. To let go of results. To let go of pleasing people. To let go of my own dreams and goals. My calling is to see how God is moving in my life and workplace, and work in partnership with Him. I have a deep desire to live and work in faith, hope, and love which I can only do if I am in communion with the one who is faith, hope, and love. 1 Corinthians 13:1, which is one of my favorite verses, says it all. Without love, nothing has any purpose or meaning. Love is eternal.

I have also always felt deeply about building community and being part of community, which Paul Stevens says is my second fulltime job. Since my work is in Organization Development, I have an opportunity to do team-building and 'community-building' within the workplace. Much of the team-building, however, is approached as a means to achieving productivity. So I am part of a dehumanizing process in which people are treated as an object rather than as the subject of work. The challenge I face is how to help build communities within the workplace based on faith, hope, and love when the culture undermines people's dignity.

As a result of writing this paper, I have also changed my approach to working with the church around the issue of integrating faith and work. My initial approach was to set up a multi-faceted program to address the faith-work issues. Now I realize that the first step is not the programs but the need to raise awareness and educate people about their divine role as laos in every aspect of their lives. Also like me, most people need to understand that they have 3 fulltime jobs and their tendency, in part because of the culture, is to emphasize the "doing" aspect of their job and not the "belonging" and "community-building" aspects. Once people have an understanding of who they are as the people of God and what God's vision is for them in their entire life, initiatives can be undertaken which support and reinforce necessary changes in mindset and behavior. Over time, these initiatives would include Sunday School classes, support groups, changes in church structure, roles, and liturgy.

I know now that for Christians to understand and sustain the integration of their faith and work in the secular workplace requires revolutionary changes in the individual's and church's mindset and patterns of behavior.

QUESTIONS to ask Yourself and others

  • How would you define ministry? What is your understanding of what ministry is? 
  • In what areas of your life would you say that you are doing ministry? 
  • Describe what you do at work. 
  • Would you say you are called to the work you are doing now? What is the nature of the call? How do you sense God beckoning you or calling you? 
  • Do you think that work and faith should be integrated or kept separate? What is the appropriate expression of faith in the workplace? 
  • Do you see your work or an aspect of your work as ministry? When you think of ministry, what kinds of work are included in that for you? What aren't? How do you define work? 
  • What dilemmas, issues, challenges, decisions or problems are you facing at work? 
  • Where are the separations between faith and work that are most vivid? 
  • What difference does your faith make in how you handle these issues? What helps and hinders you from responding from a God-consciousness? What does it mean to be faithful at work? 
  • When it comes to connecting your faith to your day to day work, where do you receive support and accountability? Bible? Sermons? Family? Friends? Pastor? 
  • How and from where would you like to receive support? 
  • Does your Sunday experience in worship help you with your Monday-Friday experience or pose a conflict for you? 
  • What can the church do to better support, help equip, and empower you in your workplace?

ENDNOTES

  1. Paul Stevens, "The Other Six Days: Towards a Theology and Spirituality of Everyday Life," INDS/SPIR 502, Class Notes, 35. 
  2. J. Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today (Basingstoke,U.K.:Marshalls,1984): 162. 
  3. Robert Banks, "The Place of Work in the Divine Economy: God as Vocational Director and Model," in Robert Banks,ed., Faith Goes to Work(New York:The Alban Institute,1993), 19. 
  4. Pope John Paul II, "Encyclical Letter On Human Work," (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul),18. 
  5. Stevens, op.cit., 36. 
  6. Paul Stevens, Disciplines of the Hungry Heart (Vancouver:Regent College, 1993), 3-32. 
  7. William Diehl, In Search of Faithfulness (Philadephia:Fortress Press, 1987), 20. 
  8. Ibid., 32. 
  9. Richard Broholm, "How Can You Believe You're a Minister When the Church Keeps Telling You You're Not?" in George Peck and John Hoffman (eds.), The Laity in Ministry (Valley Forge:Judson Press, 1984), 22. 
  10. Roberts Banks, op.cit., 24-26. 
  11. Richard Broholm, "Toward Claiming and Identifying Our Ministry in the Work Place," in George Peck and John Hoffman (eds.), The Laity in Ministry (Valley Forge:Judson Press, 1984), 151-159. 
  12. Doug Sherman and William Hendricks, Your Work Matters to God (Colorado Springs:Navpress, 1990),16. 
  13. Gordon Preece, "Work," in Robert Banks and R. Paul Stevens (eds.), The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity (Illinois:InterVarsity Press, 1997), 1128. 
  14. William Diehl, Ministry in Daily Life (New York: The Alban Institute,1997), 43. 
  15. Richard Broholm, "How Can You Believe You're a Minister When the Church Keeps Telling You You're Not?" in George Peck and John Hoffman (eds.), The Laity in Ministry (Valley Forge:Judson Press, 1984), 22. 
  16. Ernest Klein, "A Christian Style of Life in the Modern World," an unpublished pamphlet. 
  17. Gordon Preece, op. cit., 1126. 
  18. Paul Stevens, "Laity," in Robert Banks and R. Paul Stevens (eds.), The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity (Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997), 554. 
  19. Paul Stevens, "Calling/Vocation," in Robert Banks and R. Paul Stevens (eds.), The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity (Illinois:InterVarsity Press, 1997), 100. 
  20. Dick Broholm and John Hoffman, "Empowering Laity for Their Full Ministry," booklet printed by The Center For the Ministry of the Laity, 1985, 1-40.

Written by Joyce Avedisian - used by permission of Intervarsity Ministry in Daily Life ministry.   ivmdl.org.  Content Distributed by WorkLife.org for non profit teaching purposes only. 




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