Not long ago I attended a conference for Christian 20- and 30-somethings. I had been looking forward to it for weeks, especially the discussion session that was planned for professionals wanting to “fuse faith and life” at the workplace. I have a vested interest in that topic.
Some of my research as a psychology professor focuses on better understanding how people approach their work as a calling or vocation. I have a part-time private practice that specializes in vocational assessment and counseling. I help train graduate students to do this work too. On a more personal level, I often struggle with how I can most effectively serve Christ’s kingdom in the large, public research university where I spend my workdays. So naturally I relished the chance to hear from like-minded peers trying to live out their faith in their careers. Unfortunately, the discussion didn’t go quite the way I had expected.
The moderator opened the session by asking for examples of how we integrate faith with our work. The responses boiled down to two basic directives. First, take as much time off as possible to go on short-term mission trips. Second, develop good relationships with coworkers, because these may lead to witnessing opportunities. The discussion continued, but few departures were made from those two themes. One woman, new to insurance sales, voiced near-despair over how hard it was to be a Christian when so many of her co-workers used deceptive sales tactics to take advantage of clients. Someone in the room told her to share the love of Christ with her coworkers. If that doesn’t do the trick, he advised, look for another job.
I could almost sense Abraham Kuyper turning in his grave. Kuyper, the Dutch journalist-statesman-theologian, led Reformed Christians to reject the dualistic view that there are separate sacred and secular spheres of life. Instead, for followers of Jesus Christ, all domains of life are sacred, including all areas of the world of work. I raised my hand and said something like, “Let’s just take it as a given that we are called to support missions and to be witnesses of Christ’s love wherever we find ourselves. Without a doubt, these are critical responsibilities. But I’m wondering what everyone here thinks about what it means, beyond these two things, to serve God at work.” Perhaps selfishly, I wanted to direct the conversation to the thorny issues I most wanted to discuss: Promoting Christian ethics in environments sometimes hostile to faith. Pursuing excellence when the bottom-line standards that employers value don’t always line up with our own. Trying to understand how our approach to the daily grind can reflect our belief that Jesus is Lord of “every square inch,” as Kuyper put it, of creation.
Instead, my question was met with uncomfortable silence.
I don’t tell this story because I think that as Reformed Christians we have all the answers. Indeed, the gritty particulars of what it means to serve God with our whole hearts in some areas of our lives—for me, work is one—are often complex and sometimes elusive. However, I believe that when it comes to serving God in the workplace, a Reformed perspective prompts us to ask the right questions. The grand narrative of Scripture that serves as the basis for this view describes the course of history as rooted in creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.
For starters, all things God created were “very good.” We read in Genesis that humans were charged with the responsibility of managing creation (1:28). But when sin entered the world, all things became tainted, twisted, and—as author and Calvin Seminary president Neal Plantinga puts it—“not the way it’s supposed to be.” To remedy this, Jesus Christ entered the world, died, and was resurrected. Christ’s death and resurrection were the ultimate redemptive acts; not only was the relationship between God and his people restored, but “all things” were reconciled to him (Col. 1:20). This guaranteed that the whole creation will one day be made new, fully healed of the effects of sin. This vision of God’s kingdom is a future reality, but Jesus taught that God’s kingdom also is already here (Mark 1:14-15).
In other words, Christians live in hope (because we do not yet experience the kingdom in its fullest) while also recognizing that we are working in the midst of the peace, justice, and healing of the kingdom that Christ already has brought to us.
The New Testament teaches that not only is Christ the reconciler of all things, but we have been called to “the ministry of reconciliation” on Christ’s behalf (2 Cor. 5:18). This means that our responsibility goes beyond managing creation. We are called to partner with Christ to redeem all things, including our spheres of influence at the workplace—large or small as they may be. Of course, this means different things for people in different lines of work. Consider two examples:
• A friend works as a carpenter specializing in home remodeling. He strives to use ethical business practices. He does quality work, often doing the “extras” on a project even when cutting corners would be easier and would likely go unnoticed. He looks for opportunities to share his faith with his customers. But beyond that, he donates usable lumber, cabinetry, fixtures, and furniture that he removes in remodeling jobs to individuals or organizations in need of such materials. This is extra work for him, but it helps those without means to purchase such goods and simultaneously reduces the amount of waste in landfills.
• A student of mine recently described an encounter with a road construction worker. His work activities consisted entirely of rotating a sign marked “stop” on one side and “slow” on the other to alert drivers when to traverse around a road repair site. But this man talked about how instrumental his job was in keeping both the construction crew and motorists safe. He felt his work made a tangible and important difference in the world. He expressed gratitude to God for making the job available to him.
Other examples abound: Lawyers seek justice where there is injustice. Teachers help students learn about God’s world, develop character, and reach their potential. Bus drivers safely bring people where they are needed, help them save money, and cut down on traffic and smog. Scientists “think God’s thoughts after him” by learning more about God’s world. Artists use their creativity to help people think about and observe God’s world in different ways. Homemakers create safe havens to support the health and happiness of their families.
I find the Reformed vision for “fusing faith and life” at work to be incredibly exciting. However, as kingdom work, it also is an awesome responsibility that raises some tough questions. It means we have to think hard about things like, What, specifically, does it mean for me to approach my job redemptively? How, specifically, can I work to reclaim my corner of creation for Christ, moving it in the direction of what God intended it to be? Questions like that are easy to ask. They are not always easy to answer.
I left the conference a little disappointed, but also convicted. Part of bearing Christ’s witness means prayerfully trying to better understand and live out what it means to serve God in any sphere of life, including work. But it seems to me that another part of bearing Christ’s witness means encouraging other believers to engage these questions with us.
See discussion questions at the end of this article on
The Banner’s website: www.thebanner.org.
- Describe the place where you work and your relationships with your co-workers.
- Discuss Bryan Dik’s Reformed perspective on the world of work. How does your daily work benefit others and God's creation? How does/might it extend God's kingdom in this world?
- What questions or struggles do you experience between work and faith?
- Is it important that Christians struggle with these questions? Why or why not?