One of the things we discussed at the NYC church planter round table last month was the general lack of resources to help people understand how their faith ought to work itself out in the context of their jobs.
Most people spend most of their waking hours at a job, working. If our discipleship to Jesus doesn’t have an impact on our careers it’s probably not robust enough. If our faith doesn’t really weave itself into the thing most of us spend most of our time doing, then our faith is just a hobby and we’re not really “seeking first the kingdom” (Matt 6:33).
But most of the theology that’s out there can basically be reduced to: “Work hard and be moral.” Most of the time, that’s all we can think of! Being part of God’s kingdom at work = Don’t yell at people, don’t lie or cheat or steal, don’t complain as much as your co-workers. Yawn.
This is why I was excited about the framework that Jon Tyson (from Trinity Grace Church) was developing to “trace the redemptive edge of industry,” and help people think missionally about their careers. The six guiding principles are below, in sketch form. I’d love your thoughts.
A THEOLOGY OF WORK
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
– Frederick Buechner
We are all called to create, because we are made in the image of the Creator. Also, as Christians we are called to join with God in the renewal of all things. So the principles of creation and renewal ought to guide our decisions about what kind of field of work to enter, and what we ought to be doing in that field. The guiding principles for a missional career are:
1. PERSONAL MOTIVATION / DISCIPLESHIP
If you are following Jesus, then all the work you do is “unto the Lord” (Col 3:17, 1 Cor 10:31). If you ever think that you are ultimately working for your employer, you will always feel your employer controls your destiny. We have to start with a personal motivation in our career to work in that career for Jesus, even above our employer.
The people you work with are the ones God wants you to reach with the gospel. God has arranged people around you that you are called to steer towards his redemptive work. It involves building relationships with them, understanding where they are on their journey (the Engel Scale is helpful here), praying for them, and being ready to talk with them about Jesus (1 Pet 3:15).
3. EXCELLENCE AND INFLUENCE
The reality is that someone is going to shape the culture of your industry. Why not have it be skilled, kingdom-minded people in positions of influence? This involves working hard, doing things with excellence and integrity, and gaining a position of influence within your industry because of it (Col 3:17, Prov 22:19).
4. THE REDEMPTIVE EDGE OF INDUSTRY
Industries are either going to be steered toward the kingdom or toward the fall. From places of influence in your industry, you can steer an industry toward the kingdom, tracing its redemptive edge, so to speak. We can join with God in the renewal of all things on a larger scale this way. Culture organizes itself into systems when it accelerates, and these systems need to be steered so that they manifest the kingdom. God’s future involves a functioning city that manifests his will on earth, just as it is in heaven (Isaiah 60:5, Rev 21:22). We are called to participate with that future in the present.
5. STEWARDING GIFTS TO SERVE THE CITY
This involves using our gifts and privilege to renew the city, for example taking people with the best education and getting them to rub shoulders with and serve the last and the “least.” We instigate and encourage the kind of voluntary redistribution of wealth we see in Acts 2:44-45 and 4:32-35, for example.
6. RENEWAL, REST, RESISTANCE
This is simply kingdom-mindedness in how we order the rhythms of our lives and resisting the subtle idolatries that creep into any industry. We seek to have well-ordered hearts that are working from rest instead working for rest, heading into our work with a full heart so we can create. We need to, at times, take a few steps back and reflect on our workplaces and relationships so that we can grow spiritually in our work. We need to establish resistance to the idols of success, money, and power. The kingdom heart doesn’t ask “How far up the ladder am I?” but rather “Am I in my right place?”
If someone really practiced these 6 principles at their job, I would venture to guess they would be the only person like that in their workplace. Perhaps we would start to learn what it looks like when God’s kingdom comes, not just in individual lives, but in entire industries. What do you think?