I’m going through Keller’s Every Good Endeavor again and taking some notes. Here are four central points from my overall summary of the book (quotes are, interestingly, from the dust jacket — which for most books does a great job of highlighting the core points):
- A Christian view of work is “that we work to serve others, not ourselves.”
- We can indeed have “a thriving professional and balanced personal life.” This is a Christian goal, not just a worldly goal (though, due to suffering and the priorities of the gospel, sometimes it is not possible for some seasons – and that does not mean we are sinning or disobedient).
- Excellence, integrity, discipline, creativity, and passion in the workplace all matter and are to be done as acts of worship — not just self interest.
- We are able to — and called to — serve God through the secular arena as well as the ministry arena.
Why are these points so important, and why have I focused in on these? Here’s why.
Point four addresses the dichotomy between “sacred and secular” that robs work of meaning for so many people. It is life giving and liberating to realize that Christ can be served through the so-called secular tasks of reconciling bank statements or taking out the trash just as much as in ministry work.
Points two and three address issues which I find Christians sometimes disputing due to a some incorrect views of the fall, human nature, and God’s expectations of us. Because of the fact that we live in a fallen world, some Christians fall into the notion that we are to work only for a paycheck. Sometimes it is reasoned that life is so hard that the most you can expect out of your job is to provide for your financial needs. To seek meaning in work is just not possible or, at best, a nice bonus only available to a select fortunate few.
But that view treats us as merely economic beings. It is an overly reductionistic view of people. Since we are social, intellectual, and spiritual as well as economic, work needs to tap into those capacities as well. This is part of how God has designed work. The fact that the fall really screwed things up does not deny or remove this reality. It simply means that in each of these realms we will have hardship as well as success — not that we should reduce work to merely the economic dimension.
I would submit that one reason life does feel so hard sometimes, in fact, is because of employers who try to treat people as merely economic beings. If employers did a better job of managing to the whole person, quality of life for everyone would go up.
More could be said here, but the statement affirming the possibility of “a thriving professional life” affirms this reality (as does the rest of the book) that it is indeed possible to thrive in our work beyond just the economic side of things, and that it is good and right to seek this as Christians. So also creativity, passion, and excellence in our work are right, and in fact part of how we find meaning and purpose in our work, when done for the glory of God, because these things especially tap into our social, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions.
Finally, point one is the foundation of any truly Christian view of work. In the world, work is often viewed as something we do ultimately for ourselves. This often results in work that may benefit the company (in the short-term), but doesn’t really give the customer what they actually need (and want).
Of course, self-interest is not wrong in itself. But a Christian view of work is that we work for more than ourselves and even more than our families. We work for the good of everyone (cf. Jeremiah 29:7, which applies to us as Christians because we are in exile, 1 Peter 1:17) — especially the good of the customers our organization services.
This means that it is not enough to simply work in order to make the sale or get the paycheck. We have to work in such a way that people will truly be benefited. If doing our work in a certain way will earn the money, but not truly benefit the other person (perhaps by cutting corners on quality), we are not doing our work in a Christian way. Christians in the workplace should seek profit, but they should also seek more than profit.
If more people worked this way, the entire world would be a better place. And, perhaps, if we worked this way from distinctly Christian motives and were tactful and winsome about our faith, more people would ask us for the reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15), and the gospel would spread more fully throughout our vocations (that’s the meaning of a close reading of Matthew 5:16 and Ephesians 5:8-17; for more on this in the Ephesians passage, see Peter T O’Brien’s commentary).