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Four important themes needed for the faith-work conversation

Friday, 1 March 2019  | Graham Hooper

Much has been written, especially over the past ten years, about the opportunity and challenge of relating Christian faith to daily work. What follows is an attempt to distil those issues that seem to me to be particularly important. It is of course a personal view, based on experience. But I hope these reflections might provoke some serious thinking and, perhaps, constructive discussion with friends and workmates.

First, whatever our theology of work, it must include everyone. So much that is written and spoken in ‘faith work conversations’ seems to me to be directed to the professional middle-classes with reasonably well-paid and fulfilling jobs. They are probably the only ones who buy the books and read the articles! What good news is being offered to the labourers working 12-hour shifts in 40 degree heat in the Arabian Gulf, or workers in the massive garment factories in Asia, or the unemployed in the back streets of the megacities of the world? What about those in later life, looking back and wondering what they have achieved that is worthwhile, wondering whether they have missed out on God’s best for their lives?

Thank God that Paul’s teaching was inclusive. He wrote about work to churches that included slaves. It’s hard to think of a more demeaning and unsatisfying role. And the good news? Work as if you were working directly for the Lord himself and do that work in his name, in a way consistent with his character (Colossians 3:17,23). ‘You know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward’ (3: 24). Even the most menial task performed ‘for the Lord’ has eternal significance and a promised reward. We need to emphasise that good news and its universal application.

Second, we need to recognise that Christians may mean different things when they talk about relating, or integrating, their faith and work. Do they mean:

-        Values: the need to do our work in a Christian way, being ‘salt and light’?

-        Opportunity: is our work primarily a God-given opportunity to spread the gospel and help people find Christ?

-        Intrinsic worth: do we see our work as valuable in the sight of God in its own right, as a God-given place to express our God-given talents, time and energy?

-        Purpose: should we be building businesses on ‘Christian principles’ and plough back part or all of the profits to support fulltime Christian workers?

-        Service: do we view work as the opportunity to express our love for God by loving our neighbour in a practical way?

-        Meaning and identity: a search for meaning in the boring, repetitive tasks we may have to do?

People often emphasise one or more of these above others. It’s good to sort out where our own emphasis lies when we start faith-work ‘conversations’.

Third, we need to recognise that the nature of the challenges to our faith, in terms of our ethics, relationships and witness, may be different depending on our employer and the nature of the work. I have had the opportunity on various occasions to discuss faith-work issues with a diverse group of Christians: with business owners, large and small; with those employed by large private companies; with teachers, academics and health professionals; with police and military, homemakers, tradespeople and factory workers; and with politicians and public servants. I have learned that the particular challenges people face in relating their faith to their work can be quite different. We need to understand each other’s challenges if we are going to help each other.

Fourth, and most important, at a practical, pastoral level, there is a great need to build networks of prayer and support for Christians at work. That includes those in paying jobs, those with their own businesses, home-makers and people looking for work. It can be a lonely road to be the only Christian at your work, or to be ‘stuck at home’ for 8-10 hours a day looking after young children. Ideally, work-prayer groups would be established in our churches, but it just doesn’t always happen, and our home groups aren’t always the right forum for sharing complex ethical issues or problems with our boss or workmates. I have benefited enormously from groups, informal and formal, meeting to pray and discuss work issues over coffee, breakfast or lunch.

I belonged to such a group for four years in Dubai. One morning, one of the guys was sharing the problems he was having with his start-up business which had occupied his time to the exclusion of all else. He was running on empty. As we prayed about this, he broke down and left the room to compose himself. When he returned he said, ‘This group is a place of integrity’. It was one of the most honest, direct and moving statements I have heard said about any group anywhere. A place of integrity. Do you belong to a group like that? Perhaps you need to join one or start one.

Graham Hooper is a Company Director and an independent consultant. He was formerly a Senior Executive with a Global Infrastructure Company. He speaks and writes on relating Christian faith to daily life and has authored several books including Undivided: closing the faith life gap (IVP 2013); A better way to Live: 52 studies in Proverbs and Psalms (Acorn Press, 2016); and Songs from the Heart (Tenofthose, 2018).

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