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.
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 just balance and scales are the Lord’s; all the weights in the bag are his work.” (Proverbs 16:11)
And, God doesn’t have the sacred / secular distinction that many today have, in the sense of implying that the secular arena is insignificant and unimportant. For God is not only the one who is ultimately behind all justice; he actually takes delight in it:
“A false balance is an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is his delight.” (Proverbs 11:1)
For more on this, see John Piper’s sermon “The Pleasure of God in Public Justice.”
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).
Proverbs 12:15: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
Proverbs 13:10: “By insolence comes nothing but strife, but with those who take advice is wisdom.”
The Bible speaks highly of listening to advice and wise counsel. Now, when you are reading a book on a subject like management — take, for example, Marcus Buckingham’s First, Break on Rules — that talks about management based on research but isn’t seeking to expound the Bible, what are you doing?
You are seeking advice. Which, according to these verses, is a good thing.
By speaking of “advice,” these verses clearly have in view something other than biblical teaching. It surely includes that — such as when a friend gives you counsel based on the Scriptures. But there is also another category of advice that consists of just good wisdom. We experience this all the time.
When a plumber says “don’t put peanut shells down the garbage disposal,” you won’t find that in the Bible, but it’s good advice. When doctors say “don’t give A negative blood to someone with O plus blood,” that’s a form of advice — potentially life saving advice, actually (and, knowing this reality, it would be unethical to do otherwise).
So also when business thinkers and others do research on management and leadership and write about what is effective and what isn’t, and what serves people and what doesn’t, it falls into the category of advice. And the Bible affirms the value of listening to good advice.
So the best thinking on leadership and management, even if it comes from thinkers that aren’t writing from an explicitly Christian point of view, is still useful and important.
The Bible speaks highly of seeking out advice. And since advice, by definition, includes non-inspired general wisdom, in affirming the value of advice, the Bible is also affirming the thinking and research of extra biblical sources about matters of work and life.
A great article by Mike Horton on discovering your calling. Here’s a key point:
God does give us the desires of our hearts. He is not out to get us, or to make us wander the vocational wilderness forever. Sometimes we are “dumped” into short-term vocations which to us seem utterly meaningless and yet in some way providentially equip us with a skill which will be vital in our as yet unknown calling in life. We just cannot figure out God’s secret plan, but we can trust it and learn from natural as well as biblical sources how we might better discern our calling.
The questions, What are your skills?, What do you really enjoy?, What would get you up on Monday morning?, are in the realm of nature. Super-spirituality may look down on such mundane questions and try to steal into God’s secret chamber, but biblical piety is content to leaf through the book of nature. God has created us a certain way, given us certain habits, skills, longings, and drives.
Sometimes we over-spiritualize things and think God doesn’t care about whether we are in a role that is a good fit, or that considering our own desires and giftings in choosing what to do is somehow unspiritual.
Not true. Sometimes God will have us doing something that is not the best fit, but seeking the right fit is a good — and spiritual — thing to do. It is a matter of good stewardship to seek the best way to maximize the gifts, skills, and interests that he has given us.