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Can Work Be Redeemed?

Monday, 2 June 2014  | Kara Martin


Can Work Be Redeemed?

For Christians in the workforce, it can be a struggle to know how to meaningfully live out their faith. Sometimes they enjoy their work, they are good at it, but they feel a sense of guilt that maybe this is not the work that will last. Sometimes work is simply tough, with conflict and toxic workplace culture, and a job that drains their energy and spirit.

In our churches, there is often a vacuum in response to these concerns. The Bible seems full of work metaphors and language, but we often feel that only the spiritual things, not our physical work, which is valued.

Last month, two women spoke into this vacuum, breathing wisdom and hope.

The occasion was the Faith and Work Award Dinner, co-hosted by Ethos and Ridley Melbourne’s Marketplace Institute. The winner of the inaugural award, commemorating the achievements of an individual in integrating their faith and work, was Wendy Simpson, OAM, an entrepreneur, networker, mentor, and prayer warrior.

She told the story of being eight and hearing a teacher tell her Mum she was not doing very well. Her own childlike response: “I didn’t think I’d amount to much.” Then in Grade 6 she had a teacher who created the expectation that you would be called upon to contribute if she felt you were ready. One day the chalk was offered to Wendy, and that teacher’s trust in her was repaid.

She went on to tell the story of the Gospel in four parts: Creation, The Fall, Redemption and Glory, and how her working made sense in each area. Work is good, work is hard, there is potential for renewal, work can be a glimpse of heaven on earth when we do it to God’s glory.

“I can say after 40 years of work that God wants our work to make sense in this bigger story of what is happening,” she explained. “We are God’s handiwork, and he has prepared the work we are to do, in advance, made in the image of the original worker, God himself.”

The guest presenter at the dinner was Katherine Leary Alsdorf, founder of the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer Presbyterian, New York, and co-author with Tim Keller of the best-selling Every Good Endeavour.

She too referred to the biblical story as her anchor when considering work.

She told some of the alternative stories that we might hear around us:

  • The survival of the fittest: I need to work because that is what is necessary to survive, and I am a survivor. To win, I need to get to the top so that I reap the rewards and I can stay at the top. This version of the story of work, means I need to do a lot of striving, I need to be driven because I have a lot to prove. It makes work about me, and me surviving.
  • The rational hedonist view: I only work as hard or long as I need to, to buy the leisure or play that I want. If I work smart I will be able to get more time off, or retire early. The goal of work is to get leisure and play.
  • The self-actualisation story: We work to meet our basic needs, but if we are really moving up Maslow’s triangle, we work to become self-actualised: to use our gifts, be a bit like God, be all I was meant to be.

“Ultimately, all these false stories make work about ‘me’, my survival, my play, my needs being met.”

Katherine contrasted this with the power of the gospel story that actually says we need to die to self! She explained that this makes work easier because we are relying on God’s strength, to work to please him. She talked about some of the burdens we load ourselves up with in our work: little idols of identity and self-esteem that can never be satisfied through our working.

She talked about the power we get for our working by seeing ourselves as the church scattered:

Our Sunday should be our basecamp, where we are equipped, and we are renewed for our work in the world. From Monday to Saturday we are the church, in every vocation, in every institution, in every city, in every neighbourhood, out there.

Katherine finished with an acknowledgement that making these connections is not easy. Joining with God where he is already working can be a good place to start.

She finished with this admission:

I wish I was far more gifted and competent than I am to live out this biblical story, to have a vision for my own work that is always filled with joy and grace and love. I wish I could be that kind of witness on a regular basis. With God’s grace, I live this story so much more than I ever would without him.

The dinner was a prelude to a whole day of teaching and workshops around the theme of “Redeeming Work”. Katherine talked in detail about both her personal story, and about the work at Tim Keller’s church.

Then there an afternoon of workshops tackling diverse topics from workplace apologetics to taking your church to work, from corporate chaplaincy to an overview of the modern workplace, from women in leadership to a Christian worldview of work.

More than 120 people came to the two events, and the feedback was very positive, especially with a desire for further training and practical tools.

Content from the Conference will be published in a forthcoming edition of Zadok Perspectives. The organisers are grateful to Converge International and the Future of Work and Faith initiative.

 


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