The Redemption of Work #3: How You Do What You Do

Work is redeemed when its fruits are put to work in the Kingdom of God. It is also redeemed when you begin to find your identity in Kingdom work, rather than work that earns money.

If the second point is true, then your identity as someone who does Kingdom work will naturally have implications on the way you go about doing work that goes on from 8 to 5 on weekdays.

The implications of Kingdom work on 8-5 work is the subject of this post.

I chose to make this point last because there is a great danger that – if you don’t understand the other things that I’ve already talked about – you will not fully understand how those points flow into the issue of how discipleship is taken into the workplace.

Here is the danger:

A lot of people are talking about Christianity in the workplace these days. In most Christian bookstores, you will probably find a few books about “practicing Christianity in the workplace.” Likewise, at Christian conferences, you can often attend lectures on similar subjects. The people offering advice in these books and lectures are – as far as I can tell, always – successful businessmen in nice suits, who drive nice cars, and who make oodles of money. They talk about how important it is to have integrity in the way you work, to treat people ethically, and to be a generally nice person. I have often seen/heard such people proudly declare that it is the use of Christian values in their organizations that has made them successful. “Being a good Christian is good business as well,” they say.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that there are financially successful people who follow Jesus, and who try to translate their values into the way they do business. God can do great things from the fruit of their work! (See the first post in this series). And I don’t object to allowing them to talk about what they are doing, if it is being done in a way that helps to create a dialog among business owners about how they go about running their businesses.

But I think it does a disservice to our faith communities if these people are held up as examples in a way which suggests that wealth and success will always be the natural result of following Jesus. And, honestly, it worries me that the wrong message is being conveyed when rich white guys are continuously presented as the “experts” on what it means to follow Jesus in the workplace, primarily based on the credibility of their financial or professional success and their visibilty in their faith community

How about books and/or workshop presentations from some folks like this…
1. Somebody who started a busuiness, but it failed because of an unanticipated response from the market. He talks about how God sustained him through his faith community as the business went sour, and how God has been faithful to him even though things didn’t work out as he would have liked.
2. Somebody who left a $150,000 a year job to take a $60,000 a year job, because she wanted to have more time to nurture her children and to work on the board of and as a volunteer for a local homeless shelter.
3. Somebody who built up a business and then sold it so that he could give the profits from the sale to a fund to help fight the spread of AIDS in Africa. He is now doing the same thing with a new business.
4. Somebody who got fired for pilfering money from her employer, who talks about how God used the experience to call her to a stronger faith-walk.
5. Somebody who left a lucrative partnership because he disagreed with the values that were reflected in decisions that were being made by his partners. He talks about how he makes less money now, but about how God still sustains him and gives him purpose in life.
6. Somebody who left a lucrative medical practice to do medical missions in the third world.

All of these stories represent, in one sense or another, ways that God can act to redeem work. Without discounting the achievements of believers who are financially successful, I wish that publishers and workshop organizers could find a way to also give voice to those who have been chewed up and spit out by harsh mechanisms that value economic productivity over the character of Christ. Their stories are equally as valid, and such people can give inspiration and hope to those who are on the outside looking in at the world of five figure cars, 5000 square foot homes, and six figure incomes.

The implications of taking discipleship in the workplace reach way beyond simple formulas that say “following Jesus = big bucks in the business world” (though, as I’ve said already, I’m happy for those who have had such an experience). Those implications sometimes call us to give up power, to surrender advancement, and to turn down income because other things are more important – far more important – than what you do from 8-5.

So, if Max the Bear were to ask me how to escape his dilemma and become a real bear, here, in a short, pithy, grandfatherly advice-like form, is what I would say to him:

“Find a place to work and a way to work that leaves space, in both your income and in your free time, for God to work through you in the world. Take care of your family. Pay your bills. Avoid debt as much as possible. Live as simply as you can. Ask God to help you to identify the kind-of work you can do for Him. Or ask him to bless you in something that you already want to do for His Kingdom, and start doing it. Let that work define you, and you will quickly find that you are no longer a bear-rat – that you are becoming a bear again. (For those who haven’t followed this series from the start, I’m sorry: you’ll have to read the story, linked above, to follow that last sentence).

When you do go to work (the 8-5 type of work), act with integrity and treat people the way you judge Jesus would have treated them. This often won’t be hard if you find your new identity, one which is not tied to work. However, you will still make mistakes. You will not always be perfect. Don’t be afraid to let people see you struggle with those imperfections. It is much better for them to see an honest picture of someone who is in the midst of transformation into Christ-likeness than it is for them to see a facade of perfection, which is easily penetrated and quickly branded as hypocrisy.

Don’t cheat your employers, customers, or clients. Instead, give them good value for the money they pay you for your work, but find a way to do that without letting work consume you. This means that you shouldn’t try to do too much. That will lead to pressure and busy-ness that will distract you from your real work. Instead, focus on doing fewer things as well as you possibly can.”

The last two paragraphs summarize my feelings on the subject of “how you do what you do,” but do it in the overall context of my convictions about the way that we are redeemed from work. They are also a work in progress. I’m sure that over time I will come up with more that I would add to it, and I would probably change or delete some of it. But it reflects, fairly accurately, where my questions about work and its redemption have taken me up to this point.

How about you? How would you add to or modify this advice?

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