That’s the subject of my post at The Gospel Project yesterday, Work and the Kingdom of God. I talk about avoiding the two errors of compartmentalization and spiritual weirdness, and how the biblical path is love at work (and what that means).
Archives for 2014
Sometimes, I hear people reason like this. They say “the NT teaches that we are prone to self-deception. Therefore we need to be accountable to others and especially the leadership of the church.”
This sounds good at first. However, all 6,000 years of recorded history — as well as the Scriptures themselves — reveal something very incomplete about that thinking.
I’m not against accountability. But something is being left out, and it is this: the most important form of accountability is the accountability of leaders to those they are leading.
In other words, this new movement in the church seems to be placing the emphasis on followers “submitting.” But the lesson of human history and the Scriptures is that the first and greatest priority is for the leaders to submit to the followers by seeing themselves as servants who are accountable to them.
We see this in world history, where we learn that power has a tendency to corrupt people — and therefore must be limited and kept accountable. For example, the basic premises behind the structure of the United States, learning from what went before in the over-reaching governments of history, is that even more important than getting the right people into power (as important as that is) is having mechanisms of accountability for those in power, regardless of who they are.
The reason is that even good people are often corrupted when they get into power. The temptation to please others and fall into group-think are great. Hence, the integrity of formal authority needs to be based not only in the character of the individuals, but also a system of checks and balances that checks and limits the authority.
This is also true in the church, and is seen in the Scriptures. The chief opponents to the prophets (in the OT) and Jesus and the apostles in (in the NT) were not the people, but the leaders. Further, God holds people accountable for whether they go along with over-reaching leadership or stand up to it. For example, in Jeremiah 24:10-11 we read: “Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard; they have trampled down my portion; they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. They have made it a desolation; desolate, it mourns to me. The whole land is made desolate, but no man lays it to heart.” Note that it is the shepherds — the leaders — in this passage who destroyed God’s flock, and God laments the fact that no one (that is, not even the non-leaders) lay it to heart and thus do something about it.
Likewise, in Isaiah 3:12, God says “O my people, your guides mislead you.” He then continues “the Lord will enter into judgment with the elders and princes of his people” (Isaiah 3:14). In the NT, we see leadership often using their authority to oppose the doing of good. The Pharisees, for example, claimed it was contrary to proper rules for the disciples to pick grain on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-8) and for Jesus to heal a man on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14). And, of course, they ultimately used their authority to crucify Jesus.
The notion of “submit to those in authority” can easily be a recipe for overlooking these important realities of how authority is often abused, and how we therefore always have a responsibility to use our critical judgment to “examine all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21), including the use of authority.
It is certainly important for individuals to keep themselves accountable as part of a good circle of Christian fellowship. But let’s not forget that leadership also needs to keep itself accountable. Let’s make sure we don’t fall into a one-way notion where we forget that accountability equally (in fact, more fully) applies to leadership. To view the accountability of individuals to leadership as the key solution to individual self-deception is simply to set ourselves up to repeat the mistakes of the middle ages and corrupt governments, by handing over more authority to leadership than it is designed by God to have.
Let me be clear that I am not against authority, and submission to authority. Rather, I am saying two things. First, true submission to authority recognizes that authority itself needs to acknowledge its accountability. It needs to acknowledge this not just in the sense that it will be accountable to Christ at the last judgment, which can be easily abused, but in the sense that they are also accountable here and now to the people they lead. This creates an accountability loop that affirms the dignity and equality of the followers and tends to check corruption.
Second, I am saying that authority is best exercised when it recognizes its limits. In the church, the limits pertain chiefly to primary doctrines — not secondary doctrines. That is, it is not over-reaching to seek to hold someone accountable for rejecting a primary doctrine of the faith, such as the Trinity or justification by faith alone. But when authority seeks to “keep people accountable” in relation to secondary issues, they very often by definition step outside of the realm of their legitimate authority and wreak havoc. This brings people into bondage and hinders the advance of the gospel and the joy people are to have in their salvation.
Further, the entire notion of “being submissive” can sometimes end up being understood in a way that diminishes the competence and freedom of the individual before God — which are important truths that we especially learned from the Reformation.
Leaders are not somehow better or more important to God than those they lead. The people they are leading are incredibly competent and amazing in their own right. Leadership that does not acknowledge this at its very heart and does not lead in such a way that centers on affirming and building up the dignity and competence of the individual is not true biblical leadership.
The proper use of authority is a beautiful thing. A truly wonderful, beautiful thing. Common grace and the Scriptures teach us that the chief and proper use of authority is to defend people’s freedom. That’s how Jesus used it (Matthew 12:1-21; Galatians 5:1) and how Paul used it (Galatians 2:4-5; 5:13). Let’s get back to emphasizing this important truth.
Tim Challies has been doing a great series on how he gets things done.
So far, he has covered:
- Why productivity matters at all. The answer: we are called to glorify God by doing good for others, and understanding productivity enables you to be more effective in doing this good.
- Defining your areas of responsibility. Before getting to the issue of to-do lists, we need to know the types of things we should be doing at all. Defining your areas of responsibility and roles within them enables you to do this. Tim also does a great job blowing up a common productivity myth — that productive people “always hit their deadlines, never have to request an extension, and never feel a crunch at the end of the week.” Those things are not the essence of productivity. Why? Because God is sovereign. Though we should plan and execute with excellence, sometimes the unpredictable will happen.
- Time, Energy, and Mission. Here he covers the importance of managing your energy, not just your time (a key point!); defining a mission for each of your areas of responsibility; and how to use that mission once you have it.
I especially appreciate how he has given solid attention to the higher levels of roles and responsibilities, instead of going straight to to-do lists. This is essential for making sure you are doing the right things (rather than just being busy) and doing them for the right reasons. And, it’s just plain interesting!
I’m enjoying these posts very much and Tim’s thinking is very much in sync with mine. Tim has been studying this issue and refining his systems for several years now. It is great to see what he has developed and it’s worth keeping up with the series as it continues.
Vishal Mangalwadi, in The Legacy of William Carey: A Model for the Transformation of a Culture:
Carey is a classic example of Christian thinking not ruled by fatalistic resignation. Rather than resigning ourselves to a wrong or unacceptable situation, we should use our creative imagination to make a difference….
The spiritual bankruptcy of many Christians in our time is closely related to the bankruptcy of godly imagination. Many Christians seek transformation into the moral image of God, but have little desire to exercise the creative dimension in them of God’s image.
God does everything he does with excellence, and Jesus surely never engaged in shoddy work in his time of working as a carpenter before his public ministry. Therefore, we should not settle for shoddy work in our occupations, either.
Yet, because much Christian teaching on work is still thin and compartmentalized, this often happens. We need to correct this by affirming that we are not to compartmentalize our work and our faith, as though God’s call on us applies only in the area of church and our personal lives. Further, if we were able to recapture the compelling biblical vision of work in the church, it would do wonders for the effectiveness of our testimony to the gospel before the world.
I love how Dorothy Sayers makes these points in Why Work:
How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of life?
The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays.
What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.
Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly — but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? [Great point! Shoddy and careless workmanship is an insult to God because it misrepresents his nature and pervasive concern for all areas of life.]
No crooked table-legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could any one believe that they were made by the same hand that made heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.
Yet in her own buildings, in her own ecclesiastical art and music, in her hymns and prayers, in her sermons and in her little books of devotion, the church will tolerate, or permit a pious intention to excuse, work so ugly, so pretentious, so tawdry and twaddling, so insincere and insipid, so bad as to shock and horrify any decent craftsman.
And why? Simply because she has lost all sense of the fact that the living and eternal truth is expressed in work only so far as the work is true in itself, to itself, to the standards of its own technique. She has forgotten that the secular vocation is sacred.
Dorothy Sayers, in Why Work:
The worst religious films I ever saw were produced by a company which chose its staff exclusively for their piety.
Bad photography, bad acting, and bad dialogue produced a result so grotesquely irreverent that the pictures could not have been shown in churches without bringing Christianity into contempt.
God is not served by technical incompetence.
Especially in a challenging economy, some people take the perspective that you should work whatever job you can, because the most important thing is to make money and earn a living from your work.
This perspective can sometimes sounds virtuous at first. And, of course, earning a living is indeed an important and essential component of work. If you can’t earn a living at your work, that turns it into an a-vocation, not a career.
However, there is actually something very un-Christian in that view of work. The problem is that it has turned making money into the chief and leading principle for our work. But that is not to be the case. Making money in your work is only one component among at least two others to which we are to give chief consideration in choosing a job.
That perspective of work outlined above subordinates the equal importance of finding work for which you are a good fit to the cause of financial gain. That is not right. It dehumanizes people and robs them of their ability to find real fulfillment in their work and, ultimately, make their greatest contribution.
The great Christian thinker Dorothy Sayers captures this perfectly in her short essay “Why Work”:
At present we have no clear grasp of the principle that every man should do the work for which he is fitted by nature. The employer is obsessed by the notion that he must find cheap labour, and the worker by the notion that the best-paid job is the job for him.
Only feebly, inadequately, and spasmodically do we ever attempt to tackle the problem from the other end, and inquire: What type of worker is suited to this type of work?
People engaged in education see clearly that this is the right end to start from; but they are frustrated by economic pressure, and by the failure of parents on the one hand and employers on the other to grasp the fundamental importance of this approach.
Steve Jobs often said “you need to love what you do.” I’ve seen some Christians stalk down about that, saying things like “well, I have to live in the real world — I can’t afford the luxury of seeking a job that I love.”
But without even knowing it, Steve Jobs was actually reflecting a very Christian view of work. And, as Jobs knew, this is actually the perspective that tends toward the greatest economic success in the long-run as well, for it is impossible to excel over the long-term at work that you don’t enjoy.
Finding work that you love is not a luxury. It is an implication following from the Christian view of work — namely, that work is not only about economic realities, but as Sayers also says, something that should be looked upon “as a way of life in which the nature of man should find its proper exercise and delight and so fulfill itself to the glory of God.” That reality needs to be upheld right along with the economic purpose of work. Anything else is a truncated view of work, and to say “but I need to live in the real world” is the easy way out and actually lazy.
To those who say “but what if sweeping floors is the only job you can get; shouldn’t you take it?” The answer is, first, the biggest problem with this question is that it seems to assume that there is no one out there who actually likes sweeping floors. But beyond that, most of the time people asking this question are settling too easily. If you are literally going to starve if you don’t sweep floors, then sweep floors. But don’t stop there. While sweeping floors, hold on to your aspirations to find the work that is a good fit for you, and keep looking for it.
Too often, people fall into the fallacy of using economic realities to bludgeon people into giving up their aspirations and dreams. Why do we have to settle so easily for the “either/or”? As in “either you are a dreamer who wants to find the work that fits yourself well, or you can live in the ‘real world’ and do work you hate but earn a living.”
I reject that dichotomy, as all Christians should. It is unloving, un-Christian, contrary to the nature of human beings in the image of God, contrary to the reality that work is intended by God to be more than economic, contrary to God’s very own purposes for our work and, ironically, in the long-run it is also contrary to the legitimate economic aspect of work.
Too many think they are wonderful with people because they talk well. They don’t realize that being wonderful with people means listening well.
This is a very helpful video animation summary of Daniel Pink’s superb book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.
Many have probably seen this, but this is worth bringing out again. The concepts of intrinsic motivation that Pink outlines need to permeate the way every manager thinks.
If you are actually going to make a difference for good and obey God (the rules you are supposed to obey), then you have to know which rules not to follow.
In other words, you have to have a well-thought-out philosophy of rule-breaking.
This is not about breaking legitimate rules, being a pest, or being rebellious. The example here is Jesus, who broke man-made rules that hurt people, in order to bring true help to people.
If you are actually going to make a difference in the world, you need to be willing to break those sorts of rules. There are no exceptions, and this is why many people in Jesus’ day didn’t like him.
The greatest irony is that if you don’t break the rules that hurt people when called upon, you aren’t actually a “rule follower” at all. For in thinking you are keeping the “rules,” you are actually breaking the greatest rule of all — the command to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Again, I’m not advocating disrespect or disregard for legitimate authority. Once again, Jesus is the example here who, for example, healed people on the Sabbath even though it was against the rules of the Pharisees. Jesus recognized — and was teaching us — that the letter of the law is never to overcome the spirit of the law.
If you break a rule to stand out, or make yourself look good, that is the wrong reason. If you break an ethical rule, that is also wrong. I’m talking here about manmade rules that seem “reasonable” but in actuality keep people down and cause harm. There is a time and place to break such rules, just as Jesus did. The ethical thing to do with such rules is to break them when necessary for the good of others.
So this is not about reducing ethics; not in the slightest. It is about elevating ethics by refusing to allow bad rules to get in the way of doing the right thing.
Sometimes, authority is used (even inadvertently) to institutionalize the doing of harm. When this happens, don’t let the fact that something is a “rule” distract you from that. Do the right thing.
Mark Batterson has an excellent article on this over at Catalyst which I have now adopted as an excellent summary of my own “philosophy of rule-breaking.” It is worth checking out.
One clarification: Let me add one clarification, which I think is important. What if you work in an organization that has really bad policies. Am I saying you should break those policies? The answer is no (unless they are unethical). But I am saying this: you need to work for their change. That means talking to your boss, or whoever, and making an intelligent case for change. Don’t just let the policies be. Seek to change them.
Bad policies need to be obliterated. And that starts with speaking up (in a winsome, respectful way) instead of robotically accepting their existence.
In addition to this, though, more people need to recognize that in most cases, their company is not intending them to follow the letter of the law when it clearly results in bad things for the customer. In other words, most of the time companies expect their employees to exercise judgment. Learn what your company expects of you there, rather than assuming they don’t want you to exercise any judgment at all. Then, use your judgment.