Excellent thoughts from Greg Foster, following up from Justin Taylor’s post on whether there is a distinctively Christian way to think about all of our vocations.
Justin Taylor gives a great answer to this question, which helps us all understand how any area of life or occupation we have — whether bus driver, marketing director, CEO, web designer, programmer, custodian, or anything else — relates to our faith.
Justin shows that the single question of whether there is a “Christian” way to do seemingly “secular” things actually breaks down into several questions. These are the questions he answers, using a bus driver as the example:
- Does the Bible teach how to be a bus driver?
- Does the Bible teach how to be a Christian bus driver?
- Can a non-Christian be a good bus driver?
- Can a non-Christian be a better bus driver than a Christian?
- Is there a distinctively Christian way to think about the particulars of each vocation?
Here’s what it comes down to: the gospel changes three chief things concerning the way we go about work that is chiefly in the arena of common grace:
- Our motive
- Our standards
- Our foundation (source of strength)
That is a slightly different way of stating it than Justin, but it is based on the same principles and comes down to the same thing.
As Justin points out, the gospel does not chiefly change our methods. For example, the Christian bus driver doesn’t have to put on special glasses before hopping into the drivers seat, still stops at red lights rather than green lights (let’s hope), and turns left by steering the wheel to the left and not right.
One of the most important conferences of the year is happening this Friday and Saturday at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
The conference is The Gospel at Work, and it’s about helping Christians live extraordinary, gospel-centered, faith-filled, fruit-bearing lives in their workplaces.
The reason it’s one of the most important is because the subject of faith and work goes to the very heart of the biblical vision for how Christians transform their communities, cities, and the world. Yet there are almost no conferences and hardly any (good) books on this subject (with some very notable exceptions, of course, including some excellent recent books I hope to blog on in the near future).
The Gospel at Work conference is a great way to be encouraged, connect with other believers also interested in how the gospel relates to our work, learn more about the biblical vision of how our faith and work relate, and gain some helpful practical tips as well.
- Os Guinness: Work As Calling
- Mark Dever: Work as Worship
- Bob Doll: Work as Discipleship
- Eric Simmons: Work as Faithfulness
- Michael Lawrence: Theology of Work
And, I will be doing a breakout session on productivity and the gospel. My chief thesis is that the key to productivity in the workplace is highly counterintuitive and surprising — namely, to pursue the good of others before yourself.
In other words, the Golden Rule applies not just in our personal lives, but also in our work lives. Very often we think that we are to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” at church and in our personal lives, but that our work lives are to play by different rules. I’m going to argue that this is an unbiblical dichotomy. We are to put others first both in our personal lives and in our work lives. This is not about hijaking a true biblical principle and forcing it into an out of context reality for our own ends. Rather, it is the right and biblical thing to do. It is the way we ought to treat people because they are in the image of God.
Further, and counterintuitively, the best business thinking is showing that this is what actually leads to the greatest effectiveness in your work and for your organization.
Here’s another way to put it. What does it mean to make God supreme in your work? The chief and first thing it means is to seek the good of others by putting them before yourself in your work itself. This gives great meaning to our work no matter what we are doing, is an essential implication of what it means to love God, and, paradoxically, leads to the greatest effectiveness.
Standard registration ended yesterday, but you can still register at the door.
Would be great to see you there!
I just read a quote from someone who said that Christian values should become a vital element in the overall moral and cultural discourse of the nation. I think that’s probably true, but what are Christian values?
Most of the time when we think of “Christian” values, frankly, our thinking is pretty lame. We limit ourselves to the avoidance ethic — what we don’t want to see people doing. Christian values have become reduced simply to safety, security, movies that don’t swear too much, and “good family time.”
I’m all about good family time. But the Christian ethic is not simply about avoiding evil, but proactively doing good. And being radical and energetic in it. The question is not what can I spare to serve others and reach the world, but what will it take?
How about if we model for the world a more complete picture of Christian values, which would include things like this:
- Radical generosity. Just like Jesus, who did not merely tithe but gave everything he had (2 Corinthians 8:9).
- Love. Ditching the self-protective mindset and putting others before ourselves, making their good our aim in all things.
- Risk. Making the good of others a higher priority than our own safety, security, and comfort, and taking risks to bring benefit to them.
- Creativity. Christians are to be creative! And to be a boring Christian is a sin (that’s an implication of the term “salt” in Colossians 4:6).
- Excellence. Slack work is a form of vandalism (Proverbs 18:9). Christians are not to be clock-watchers in their work, but to do things well and with competence.
- Initiative. Taking ownership for making things better, rather than sitting around watching and complaining.
- Leadership. Instead of criticizing, leading and setting a good example.
- Humble authenticity.
- Global and multi-ethnic vision.
- Ambition. Not for our own comfort, but for the good of others.
These are all Christian values. But would the world know to name even one of these as Christian? We have a lot of work to do.
So, in what areas of life are we to manifest the fruit of the Spirit? Just at church?
We are to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in all areas of life.
We so easily miss that. It’s easy to think of the fruit of the Spirit and other Christian virtues as applying to some abstract realm, rather than being the character qualities we are to manifest every day, in all areas of life — which includes our work.
The fruit of the Spirit, in fact, have a massive application in our daily work, if you think about it.
For example, the first fruit of the Spirit is “love.” How does this apply at work? It means that our aim in all that we do should be the good of others. It means we should put others before ourselves — not just in some abstract realm of life, but in the concrete situations of our everyday life, which includes our work.
Another fruit of the Spirit is “peace.” This means that the notion of “stress free productivity” is actually, in some sense, biblical. Christians are not to be frazzled, crazy people tossed to and fro by the urgencies of the day. We are to have a peace and equanimity of mind in how we go about our work. A productivity system helps with this, but it isn’t the ultimate source of our peace — our peace ultimate comes through faith, not our ability to organize ourselves.
Another fruit of the Spirit is “kindness.” To be kind means to be proactive in doing good. This means that in our work, we shouldn’t simply do the minimum required of us, but should seek to go beyond and be excellent. We should not cut corners, but always be on the lookout to make things better for others — the customers we ultimately serve as well as our colleagues, managers, and direct reports. This is another way of saying that we should work with a spirit of generosity. A Christian does not simply do the minimum; he seeks to do the kind of work that goes the extra mile in improving people’s lives and making their lives better. A Christian is not just generous in what he does with his money, the fruit of his work; he is generous in how he goes about the work itself.
Another fruit of the Spirit is “faithfulness.” This means Christians should be dependable and reliable and stand by their word. This is what we typically think of when we think of a Christian doctrine of work, and it is indeed right here in the fruit of the Spirit. Part of faithfulness also means not playing games with people, not spinning things, and not being a political trickster to advance yourself by stepping on others.
God’s call to work is not simply a call for us to work, but for us to work in a certain way — diligently, thoughtfully, generously, and for the good of others.
And, this also helps us see why our work matters. For when we are doing our work, we aren’t just doing work. We are engaging in an opportunity to display the fruit of the Spirit and manifest the character of God all day long, right here in the concrete realities of everyday life.
Sounds obvious. Most of the time when people think of a Christian view of work, they think “work hard and be honest.” This is so obvious we easily take it for granted.
But what is the textual basis for working hard? Is it truly biblical, or just a Western idea that we’ve uncritically absorbed?
It is indeed truly biblical. If the West is known for its work ethic, it is in part due to the influence of the Bible. Here are just a few texts, divided into two categories.
1. Paul worked hard, not only in his ministry but also in non-ministry work, in order to give us an example that we all ought to work hard as well:
You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:34-35).
“For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-9).
2. Proverbs tells us that if you are slothful in your work you are not only lacking sense and hurting yourself, but are actually akin to a vandal:
“Whoever is slothful will not roast his game, but the diligent man will get precious wealth” (Proverbs 12:27).
“Slothfulness casts into a deep sleep, and an idle person will suffer hunger” (Proverbs 19:15).
“I passed by the field of a sluggard, by the vineyard of a man lacking sense” (Proverbs 24:30).
“Whoever is slack in his work is a brother to him who destroys” (Proverbs 18:9).
Don’t be a vandal. Work hard!
Jesus says “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6).
In the Middle Ages, before the Reformation, it was thought that life was divided into two areas — the “perfect life” and the “permissible life.” Those in “full time Christian service” lived the perfect life, and everyone else was relegated to second class — your life was acceptable, but not most important. If you wanted to live a truly important life, you had to be in “ministry” (which was also conceived of very differently then).
Jesus explodes this error.
He doesn’t do this by saying “the things of the world are as important as the things of God.” The teaching of the Bible is not that there are no priorities in life. Seeking the kingdom of God is the most important thing.
But the revolutionary teaching of Jesus and the Bible is that you don’t have to be a pastor or missionary or full-time Christian worker to do this.
Wherever you are, whatever your job, you can and must seek the kingdom of God first.
That’s the doctrine of vocation. The doctrine of vocation does not say that you don’t have to seek the kingdom of God first. Rather, it says that this life is open and available to everyone, regardless of your job or station in life. All of us, no matter where we are or what we do for a living, are equally able to seek the kingdom of God and put it first.
As Paul said, “if then you have been raised with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is” (Colossians 3:1ff.) And as he shows through the rest of the chapter, we do this not by retreating from the world to live like monks, but by obeying Jesus’ teaching in all areas of life.
You don’t have to leave the world or be a pastor to obey Jesus’ teaching. You just need to do all things for his glory and the good of others in all areas of life, and you can do this even if you have no control at all over your job (Colossians 3:22-25).
That’s the revolutionary doctrine of vocation. Not that the things of this world are as important as the things of God, but that you can seek the things of God from any station and calling in this world. This, then, transfigures all of life with the presence of God.
As Christians, what are our primary motivations in our work? Here are 7.
1. The glory of God
“And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. . . . You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24). ”…rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Ephesians 6:7).
2. The good of others
But how do we do something to the glory of God? First by offering it to him — doing it for his sake and in his power. But, second, by seeking the good of others. The first commandment is to love God with our whole hearts (Matthew 22:37). But the second is like it: “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Loving your neighbor is not some abstract thing you need to go to Africa to do; rather, we love our neighbors primarily in the context of our vocations — the things we do every day, like our work. Our work is an avenue of doing good for others.
“Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man” (Ephesians 6:5-7). When Paul tells slaves to “obey” their masters, of course this means doing what they are told and not being disagreeable. But it means more than that. It means employees are to seek the good of their employer. Don’t just do the minimum; take initiative and go the extra mile. Don’t be a clock-watcher; render service with a good will that seeks and desires the good of your employer — and your co-workers, any who work for you, your company or organization, and ultimately the good of your city and society in general (Jeremiah 29:5-7).
3. Enjoyment of the work itself
You don’t get more spiritual points for hating your job. And you don’t get docked spiritual points for loving your job. As Christians, we are to love our jobs. Not just the fact that our jobs are a service, but also the activities of our jobs themselves. “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 5:18). “I perceive that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil — this is God’s gift to man” (Ecclesiastes 3:12-13).
4. To earn money to support yourself, give, and enjoy
Earning money is a legitimate motivation for our work. It’s just not the first motivation. We earn money so that we can support ourselves without being in need: “…and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may live properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one” (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12). And, if you notice the connections that exist within 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, you see that working such that you are not dependent on anyone is actually a form of love.
So we work in order to support ourselves. We also work in order to have something to give: “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4:28). Don’t work to get merely; work to get in order to give.
And, with some of the money we earn, it is right and good not simply to support ourselves and give sacrificially for the good of others, but also to enjoy it and do interesting things. For God “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17) and “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). The problem is in putting your hope in riches, being arrogant, and being stingy (1 Timothy 6:17-18), not in enjoying the fruits of your work.
Sometimes we are underpaid in our jobs here, and not all the good that we do is seen or rewarded or cared about on earth. But the Lord sees it all and will reward it all: “render service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free” (Ephesians 6:8).
Likewise sometimes we are treated unjustly in our work and wrongs are committed against us. Further, sometimes those who have greater authority are shown partiality so that they get away with things they shouldn’t. So also here, we are able to continue on in the hope that God notices those wrongs as well, and will address every wrongdoing either on the cross and through repentance, or in judgment: “For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality” (Colossians 3:25).
6. The gospel
We are able to do these things ultimately only because we have been made alive in Christ through faith in him. “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is” (Colossians 3:1). As the flow of the chapter shows, seeking the things above does not mean retreating to the wilderness to grow wheat and wait until Jesus comes, but to live according to his ethic here and now, putting to death evil desires (vv. 5-9) and putting on love and kindness and humility towards others (vv. 10 – 16) and doing this in the here and now (v. 17), including our vocations (vv. 18 – 4:1), not by retreating into the wilderness.
7. Adorning the gospel
By living all of our vocations for the glory of God and good of others, doing them well and in a way that is pleasing to the Lord, we create a good testimony that supports and demonstrates the truth of the gospel and shines the light of Matthew 5:16 in such a way that some people will become Christians through our witness (that’s the meaning of Ephesians 5:7 – 17, one of the hardest to understand passages in the NT until you read Peter O’Brien’s commentary). “Slaves are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our savior” (Titus 2:9-10).
Your work is intrinsically valuable and justified in its own right, simply by virtue of the creation mandate (Genesis 1:28). You do not need to justify your work on the basis of its evangelistic usefulness. At the same time, work does serve as a testimony to the gospel and we should be mindful of that in our work (that’s part of what it means to “walk in wisdom” (Colossians 4:5; cf. Proverbs 11:30).
By doing good work and enjoying it, for the glory of God and good of others, you not only serve your workplace, but, through that, you serve and transform society as well. If dozens and hundreds and thousands and millions of Christians all did their work in this way right where they are at, society would be transformed by the gospel because it is in our vocations that we most effectively carry our faith into the world.
My friend Doug Wolter is a pastor at Oak Hill Baptist Church and is preaching through Colossians. He invited me down to preach on Colossians 3:22-4:1 yesterday, and I preached on what it means to do our work unto the Lord and for the good of others.
This also involved laying out a bit of a Christian doctrine of work from this text, since what the Bible has to say about our work is so often overlooked these days. You can listen to the message here.
A commenter on Challies’ blog recently raised that question, and Tim gave me a shot at answering. You can read my thoughts on his blog.
Last fall, Collin Hansen of The Gospel Coalition interviewed me on the Christian doctrine of work. It’s now posted at their site. Here’s the video, with Collin’s intro:
What gets you out of bed on Monday morning to go to work? What motivates you to persevere in a job you don’t enjoy, that doesn’t reward you adequately?
I posed these questions to Matt Perman, blogger and author of the forthcoming What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Changes the Way You Get Things Done. We discussed how jobs afford us opportunities to love our neighbors, and how we each multitasked during repetitive work to learn about God and concentrate on his Word.
Especially if you’re struggling at work, you’ll want to hear Perman explain the doctrine of vocation, which invests everything we do with meaning, because we’re living out a God-giving calling. Whether a pastor or plumber, we work in faith as unto God himself (Colossians 3:23-24). Perman explains how even garbage collectors can apply this doctrine to make their work more interesting, challenging, and fulfilling.
Biblically speaking, to be just means to use your strength on behalf of the weak.
Justice most certainly includes an overall “fairness” and truth and integrity and honesty and refusing to show partiality.
But the essence of justice goes beyond that.
The essence of justice is that those with greater authority and influence are to use their stronger position in service of those who are in a weaker situation.
Helping those in a “weaker situation” might mean helping those suffering from poverty or sickness or some other harm, but it doesn’t have to be. It means helping anyone without the influence of formal authority you have. Which means, if you are a manager or leader in an organization (or in politics or anywhere), that it includes those who work for you.
Some people think that the biblical commands to be just in this sense and their corollary, radical generosity, do not apply inside the bounds of an organization. Inside an organization, “business rules” apply, which is interpreted to mean that people must be impersonal (a distorted notion of the concept of being “impartial”) and that doing things for your own advantage primarily is correct and right.
But this is wrong. The biblical commands to be generous and to be just apply in all areas of our lives, without exception. The Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12) and commands to be merciful as God is merciful (generous to all, especially the undeserving, Matthew 5:43-48) do not cease to apply at our jobs and in our work and in our organizations. They are not simply for the personal realm.
Their manifestation may look different in each area of life. But these principles of justice and generosity still apply in every area of life and we must be diligent to apply them in all areas.
So, here’s one example. Let’s take the workplace. Being just and generous in the workplace means that, if you are in authority over people, you use that authority in the service of everyone you interact with — including those in the organization who directly work for you, those around the organization who don’t work for you but you are in a position to influence, and those outside the organization that you interact with. It means you see yourself as the servant of all, and that you see your authority and position and role as existing not as some statement of how great you are or how hard you’ve worked, but rather as existing for the sake of those around you. Your authority exists to do them good.
Now, immediately here we run into “the fallacy of doing good,” which is the tendency of people to act contrary to the purpose and role of their vocations in in their attempts to “do good,” which ends up making things worse. One example might be a chef at a restaurant who gives away dozens of free meals every night out of a spirit of generosity, when it’s not his restaurant and the owner has not given him the authority to do that. In this case, the chef’s generosity of spirit is right, but the way he carries it out is not. (If he owned the restaurant or had been given the leeway to do that sort of thing by the owner, however, go for it!)
So, what does using your authority and role to “do good” at your job look like when done right? A lot could be said, but let me just say one simple, yet core, thing.
It means being for the people who work for you. Which means believing that they can excel and do good work and make a contribution, even when few other people might be able to see it. And it means using your influence to give them opportunities and, yes, advance their career whenever you have the chance.
Note I’m not saying you shouldn’t be smart and discerning. But I am saying that you should have a default belief in people and therefore do whatever you can to give them a chance, to give them greater opportunities, and to give them a break whenever you can and whenever it seems they will be able to meet the opportunity and succeed in it.
And it means, even when you aren’t in a position at the moment to help advance someone or given them an opportunity, that you are encouraging and always seek to be the type of person that builds others up and helps them get better at what they do.
So much here is about your spirit and attitude — the disposition you have and with which you carry yourself. You need to see yourself as existing for the good of others, and charged with the responsibility from God to use any influence, authority, and resources you have in service to others.
But note that I’m not simply saying “be for other people.” That is a critical thing. But it’s not enough, because it’s so easy to say that we are “for” someone but never take action. It’s easy to say words that we don’t back up with our behavior. The true disposition of a servant is to be for people and to be diligent and forward and effective in identifying ways to promote their welfare.
This is a call to give thought to improving in both our dispositions and our concrete actions. See yourself as existing in your role for the good of others, and be proactive in finding real opportunities to use your authority and influence and resources to serve others and build them up.
That’s a how true Christian operates in his job and lives his entire life.
Gene Veith, in his article Our Calling and God’s Glory:
Christian’s preoccupied with their families, struggling to make ends meet, living their mundane lives “are all in a state of holiness,” according to Luther, “living holy lives before God.”
My guest post at the Willow Creek Association leadership blog. Here’s the start:
When most of us think of good works, we tend to think of things like giving money to those in need, encouraging a friend who is discouraged, or going on a short-term mission trip.
All of those things are critical and important, and definitely are good works.
However, it’s easy to think that these types of things are the only things that God considers good works. That good works are something relatively rare and infrequent. If you go on a mission trip, you are engaging in good works. But when you go to your job each day you are doing … what, exactly?
A great post by John Piper. He gives quick thoughts on 9 areas:
- Corporate shaping
One additional word on skill: If you show love by being the first to order the pizza, or drive the van, or do whatever to serve people, but aren’t good at what you do, everything will fall flat. You have to be good at what you do. Good intentions are not enough.
And this usually means, in part, reading about your industry and about the best practices (and unconventional practices!) for your role and about management and about leadership and other such things.
Which likely means reading secular resources as well as Christian. You won’t learn what it means to be a great manager, for example, simply by reading Christian books on management (unfortunately!). Same with leadership. Marketing. And so forth.
And this is acceptable and good. As John Wesley said, “To imagine none can teach you but those who are themselves saved from sin, is a very great and dangerous mistake. Give not place to it for a moment.”
Likewise, the book of Acts points out that Moses (Moses!) was “instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds” (Acts 7:22). And we could go on and talk about Daniel (Daniel 1:4, 17), Paul, Luke, Joseph, the book of Proverbs (most scholars recognize that many of the Proverbs were adapted from the wisdom literature of other civilizations), Jonathan Edwards, and on and on.
The point is: If we want to glorify God in our workplaces, we need to learn from the best thinkers in our fields, whether they are Christians or not. And, this creates a better testimony to the gospel.
Don’t be the guy who volunteers first to go get the pizza, but that everyone groans about because he thinks that’s a substitute for being an expert in his role.
Registration is open for Redeemer’s new faith and work conference, The Gospel & Culture. The conference will be November 4-5.
Here’s the gist:
The Gospel & Culture Conference represents the culmination of more than eight years of the Center for Faith & Work’s ministry targeted at equipping, connecting, and mobilizing Christians to engage the world from a gospel-centered foundation.
Drawing on the experiences of one another as well as more than 10 speakers representing various sectors, conference participants will gain:
- Sharpened discernment of God’s work in the world.
- Renewed understanding of the importance of community in cultural engagement.
- Heightened awareness of the power of the Holy Spirit in changing motivations of the heart.
- Excitement for our daily work as it contributes to building for the great City that is to come.
And here’s the agenda:
The Conference opens Friday evening, November 4th, with participants engaging the culture of NYC through “Glimpses,” events happening throughout the city which point toward evidence of God’s glory and His sovereignty over all things.
On Saturday, November 5th, all attendees convene at St. Bart’s for a full day of interacting with practitioners from across various sectors who will showcase their work in ways that highlight God’s work in the world.
Speakers include Tim Keller, Richard Mouw, and many others.
A good exhortation from Edwards on the importance of learning about the practical dimension of life and our vocations:
Many who mean well, and are full of a good spirit, yet for want of prudence, conduct themselves so as to wound religion. Many have a zeal for God, which doth more hurt than good, because it is not according to knowledge, Rom 10: 2. The reason why many good men behave no better in many instances, is not so much that they want grace, as they want knowledge. (From “Christian Knowledge: The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth,” p. 162 in volume 2 of the Banner edition of his works.)
In other words: Good intentions are admirable. But we should not think that they are enough. If we have good intentions but do not understand how to do things right, we will end up doing harm — and this, in turn, not only hurts people, but casts a bad reflection on the gospel.
It’s easy to leave this in the realm of the abstract and think it applies mostly to people other than ourselves. So, to make this a bit more concrete, here’s what this means.
If you are in a position of leadership, you need to learn how to lead. You should not think that your natural inclinations are sufficient to make you a good leader. Some people do have better instincts than others, but in both cases we need to actually apply ourselves to learning from others — including through reading books — about what it means to lead well.
If you are a manager and responsible for the more detailed planning and coordinating of things, you need to know how to manage. For some people, this comes more naturally. But for others, they have a lot to learn. But, once again, in both cases it is important to learn from the best people outside of yourself. This can mean, as with leadership, reading some books and articles, being intentional to learn from other managers in your organization, and going to some of the one-day seminars that you probably get fliers for in the mail every so often. (They’re not perfect, but some of them can be pretty helpful.)
If you are a pastor, learn about preaching. If you are a missionary, don’t just wing it, but make sure you have a strategy. And, be diligent to learn about the culture you are in so you can properly contextualize.
If you are in marketing, subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog and read some of his books. If you are in finance or run an organization, make sure not to let financial considerations be the main thing in how your business is run, don’t let the short-term be the primary consideration, and realize that cost-cutting often backfires (also this). (And, be ruthlessly ethical.)
If you are in construction, don’t cut corners or allow your business model to be based upon giving people as little as possible for their money (which is, according to Proverbs 18:9, actually a form of vandalism).
If you work at a fast food restaurant, give people quick service. If you are a truck driver, be extra safe by trying to be always asking “what if” questions about things the other drivers around you could do that would cause problems (that’s actually one of the core skills of the best truck drivers, according to Marcus Buckingham’s First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently).
And this list could go on and on. The point is: see the vocations God has given you in your life as important and see people as important. And therefore be diligent in fulfilling your vocations and upgrading your skills so that you are actually doing good, and not thinking it is sufficient to merely intend to do good.
You’ll notice these articles are in agreement with the same basic three questions to consider, but they complement one another in a helpful way.
Here’s the summary from the end of Keller’s article:
Your vocation is a part of God’s work in the world, and God gives you resources for serving the human community. These factors can help you identify your calling.
Affinity is the normal, existential/priestly way to discern call. What people needs do I vibrate to?
Ability is the normal, rational/prophetic way to discern call. What am I good at doing?
Opportunity is the normal, organizational/kingly way to discern call. What do the leaders/my friends believe is the most strategic kingdom need?
Your life is not a series of random events. Your family background, education, and life experiences—even the most painful ones—all equip you to do some work that no one else can do. “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do“ (Eph. 2:10).
Bill Hybels is talking now, and just said (slightly paraphrasing): “This conference is unapologetically Christian. Yet, when it comes to who we invite to teach, we seek to learn from everybody — people in the church, people in the business world, people leading in all walks of life.” (The first interesting paradox, by the way, is why Christians don’t just act and do, but also worship – see the previous post.)
I think he’s reflecting here something true and essential for Christian leadership. First, if we are Christians, we need to lead as Christians. We need to think about leadership from a Christian perspective and lead for the good of others and glory of God.
Second, we need to be willing to learn about leadership from all people, not just Christians. There is some really solid and helpful and true teaching on leadership outside the church. Christians should not neglect that. It is a matter of humility to say “I’m going to learn what I need to learn from any source that is speaking truth and making helpful, winsome, solid observations.” And the speakers that are invited to the Summit reflect some of the best of this thinking, both inside and outside the church.
Some might be skeptical about the value of Christians learning about leadership from non-Christians. But let me just list three theological reasons that it is right and necessary and helpful to learn about leadership from non-Christians as well as Christians:
- The doctrine of vocation affirms the validity and helpfulness of the insight and work of people in all areas of life, both Christian and non-Christian. The issue is whether something is true.
- The doctrine of common grace affirms that there is truth in creation that is accessible and discernable to believers as well as unbelievers. To deny that Christians can learn about leadership from non-Christians is to unwittingly deny the doctrine of common grace.
- The Summit isn’t inviting non-Christians to teach theology. I’m not saying we should look to non-Christians to teach the Bible. But, in accord with the doctrines of vocation and common grace, there is value in learning from non-Christians about life and the world, and this includes leadership. We need to think through everything from a biblical point of view, but we shouldn’t commit the genetic fallacy by rejecting something just because the person who came up with the idea or made the observation is not a Christian.
Sometimes it is suggested that attention to our gifts and unique interests is just “American individualism,” rather than a feature of biblical Christianity.
This is wrong-headed. There is a wrong kind of individualism, to be sure. But there is also a right, biblical kind of individualism that, while affirming the uniqueness and importance of each individual, also affirms this in relation to the value of community.
In fact, I would argue that “American individualism” actually arises from biblical values. Sometimes these values are perverted into a narcissistic, wrong kind of individualism. But they don’t have to be.
The biblical notion of individualism is best captured in the doctrine of vocation, which was a major emphasis of the Reformation. Here’s how Gene Veith summarizes it in God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life:
The doctrine of vocation looms behind many of the Protestant influences on culture, though these are often misunderstood. If Protestantism resulted in an increase in individualism, this was not because the theology turned the individual into the supreme authority.
Rather, the doctrine of vocation encourages attention to each individual’s uniqueness, talents, and personality. These are valued as gifts of God, who creates and equips each person in a different way for the calling He has in mind for that person’s life.
The doctrine of vocation undermines conformity, recognizes the unique value of each person, and celebrates human differences; but it sets these individuals into a community with other individuals, avoiding the privatizing, self-centered narcissism of secular individualism.
The other day I came across an excerpt from the new book by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz, Onward: How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul. I don’t know if he’s a believer or not, but right at the start he does a fantastic job of articulating, in shadow form, a core concept of the biblical doctrine of vocation. Here’s what he says:
Only weeks earlier, I’d sat in my Seattle office holding back-to-back meetings about how to quickly fix myriad problems that were beginning to surface inside the company. One team had to figure out how we could, in short order, retrain 135,000 baristas to pour the perfect shot of espresso.
Pouring espresso is an art, one that requires the barista to care about the quality of the beverage. If the barista only goes through the motions, if he or she does not care and produces an inferior espresso that is too weak or too bitter, then Starbucks has lost the essence of what we set out to do 40 years ago: inspire the human spirit.
I realize this is a lofty mission for a cup of coffee, but this is what merchants do. We take the ordinary—a shoe, a knife—and give it new life, believing that what we create has the potential to touch others’ lives because it touched ours.
Here’s the point: the ordinary is not ordinary. Rather, it is in the ordinary that we are able to build people up and, yes, inspire the human spirit.
When you clean house for your family, or pour a cup of coffee, or take your car to the wash, you aren’t just doing small, mundane things. You are building building people up. You are making things better, and making a statement that people matter. Or, that’s how you ought to see it.
And the doctrine of vocation takes us further than this. For it means that, when we serve others in the everyday, it is actually God himself who is serving people through us. God is hidden in the everyday. This is true if we are believers; and God is also working through unbelievers, even if they don’t know it (Gene Veith makes this point very well in God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life
when he discusses why we pray in the Lord’s Prayer “give us this day our daily bread” when we actually get it from the grocery store, who got it from the bread company, who got the ingredients from various other spots, and so forth).
In fact, the doctrine of vocation even takes us one more step. When we, as followers of Christ, serve others for his sake, we aren’t just serving them. We are actually serving the Lord himself. “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (Colossians 3:23-24; see also Ephesians 6:7-8).
Stephen Nichols booklet What Is Vocation? (Basics of the Faith) is a helpful and quick read on the subject. It helps to remind us that, whatever our work is (ministry work, marketplace work, or working in the home), it is a calling from God and therefore is immensely meaningful when done for the glory of God.
Another helpful read on the doctrine of vocation is Gene Veith’s excellent book God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life.
And, if you haven’t made the connection already, it’s worth noting: everything that I write on productivity is really a fleshing out of the doctrine of vocation on the practical side.
This is a paragraph from a recent article in Wired. I like Wired and find it helpful for keeping up with technology as it affects society. In this case, though, I’m not helped. I’ll quote the paragraph and then tell you what’s wrong with it.
Attention, Iowa shoppers: If you eat standard supermarket produce, figure an average transport distance of 1,500 miles (and that’s just for stuff grown in the US). Such is the price you pay in cash and carbon emissions — not to mention the tax dollars spent on repairing highways chewed up by behemoth trucks. In general, a longer, more global supply chain is also vulnerable to strikes, gas hikes, political turmoil, and contamination. All so you can eat what you want when you want it.
Do you see what has happened here? Something that is quite remarkable — something that is really good, and a blessing of God — is presented as negative, destructive, and even selfish (“all so you can eat what you want and when you want it”).
In actuality, we should look at these realities and say “what an amazing blessing. This is God’s providence at work to feed His world — and with food that is far better and varied than the nutraloaf he could have gone with if his aim for us was mere nutrition rather than enjoyment and culture.”
The fact that “supermarket produce” is brought from an average distance of 1,500 miles, and that trucks transport it over an incredibly efficient interstate transportation system, and that as a result we get to eat food that we like, and at times that are convenient to us — this is a good thing. It is a blessing. It is not something to be demeaned, as though humans are a plague on the planet. It is a reflection showing us the remarkable goodness of God.
And it is what we pray for when we pray “give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11), as Gene Veith points out very effectively in God at Work: Your Christian Vocation in All of Life:
When we pray the Lord’s prayer, observed Luther, we ask God to give us this day our daily bread. And he does give us our daily bread. He does it by means of the farmer who planted and harvested the grain, the baker who made the flour into bread, the person who prepared our meail.
We might today add the truck drivers who hauled the produce, the factory workers in the food processing plant, the warehouse men, the wholesale distributors, the stock boys, the lady at the checkout counter. Also playing their part are the bankers, futures investors, advertisers, lawyers, agricultural scientists, mechanical engineers, and every other player in the nation’s economic system. All of these were instrumental in enabling you to eat your morning bagel.
Before you ate, you probably gave thanks to God for your food, as is fitting. He is caring for your physical needs, as with every other kind of need you have, preserving your life through his gifts. “He provides food for those who fear him” (Psalm 11:5); also to those who do not fear Him, “to all flesh” (136:35). And He does so by using other human beings. It is still God who is responsible for giving us our daily bread. Though He could give it to us directly, by a miraculous provision, as He once did fore the children of Israel when He fed them daily with manna, God has chosen to work through human beings, who, in their different capacities and according to their different talents, serve one another. This is the doctrine of vocation.
The way that food is brought “from afar” to people all over the country should not be looked down upon because of the carbon emissions and interstate wear-and-tear it creates. Instead, it should be marveled at as God at work to provide for His creation through the doctrine of vocation.
A good word from Josh Etter’s blog, quoting John Calvin:
It is an error to think that those who flee worldly affairs and engage in contemplation are leading an angelic life… We know that men were created to busy themselves with labor and that no sacrifice is more pleasing to God than when each one attends to his calling and studies well to live for the common good.