My first job did not matter. By that I mean the work I did was not the kind of work I thought mattered. What was the job you ask? I was a high school senior eager to work in "full time" (sarcastic quotes?you'll see, keep reading) ministry, so my churchdecided the best thing for me to do on official ministry business was tear down chairs and tables and set up other chairs and tables on Sunday afternoons. Yep, you got it right. I was a janitor, or at least I had janitorial duties for a few hours every week. I had the keys to the janitorial closet, but for me, the first job became about a paycheck--a very small paycheck.
Why do you work? Stop and think about it for 10 seconds. How do you answer that question?
Why do we spend the majority of our childhood and young adulthood preparing to enter the workforce? I am convinced your answer produces one of two perspectives about work: it's either life giving or life draining. Follow along, and I'll be more clear.
In our culture we typically view work in three ways. See if you agree.
The first way we view work is to make it about survival. We work for the paycheck, so that we have money, so that we can survive (or thrive if we make a lot of money). In this view of work, the actual work is just a by-product; it is not really important. The important thing is what work can get you. It's a means to an end: money.
Dorothy Sayers, an English writer who lived in the early 20th century explained it like this:
"A very able surgeon put it to me like this: "What is happening," he said, "is that nobody works for the sake of getting the thing done. The result of the work is a by-product; the aim of the work is to make money to do something else. Doctors practise medicine, not primarily to relieve suffering, but to make a living--the cure of the patient is somethingthat happens on the way. Lawyers accept briefs, not because they have a passion for justice, but because the law is the profession, which enables them to live."
With this view of work, we begrudge our jobs and in turn we believe society owes us something; we get entitled. What most of us demand from society is that we should always get out of it a little more than the value of the labor we give to it.
By this process, we persuade ourselves that society is always in our debt--a conviction that not only piles up actual financial burdens but also leaves us with a grudge against society. Now we lack effort in our work. We start cutting corners. Mentally we work Monday through Thursday and are on cruise control or Facebook on Friday.
Second, we make work about status. After graduating me from janitor, that same church brought me back on "staff" as an intern a few years later. And then again two more times! Outside of that one church, I had an additional 5 internships to make it a total of 8. You read that correctly. I had 8 internships, all of them in "full-time" ministry.
Status in our culture is directly related to our idea of personal identity. I dreaded telling new people I was an intern (especially after the first few). When work is equated with status, it really matters what we do, but again, not for the sake of the work itself, but because of what it does for us. We either love to tell people what we do, or we'd just rather not.
Pursuing our career, with this view of work, answers our deepest questions like "Who am I?" and "Why am I here?" Once we find a job that answers those questions, we work extra hard to maintain that status. We will burnout completely or become a workaholic.
For example, I found myself viewing work as a status when I questioned my identity. Questions like "Am I qualified?" lead to thoughts like "I don't have what it takes" and "I'm never going to be anyone." I was totally absorbed in the idea that my work defined me. If I loved my job, I loved my life. If I didn't love my job, I hated my life. It is two sides of the same coin called pride.
The third way we view work is to make it about significance. After my internships, I wanted to do work I deemed significant. If I could do significant work, then work could be meaningful. It would be enjoyable, life giving, and motivating. I completely agree with this idea. The problem is what Christians have traditionally determined as significant work.
If you want to be the best Christian you can be, you've probably gotten the message from somewhere that you should be a pastor, missionary, or seminary professor ("professional theologian").
In other words, there is a clear divide between sacred work and secular work. But this division is a theological misunderstanding, and its consequences are quite damaging.
When we lift up a particular kind of work that is determined to be more significant than other work because it is"spiritual," the result leads to the conclusion that the Great Commission is the work of the professional Christians. Who is supposed to make disciples? The church leaders. And we support them by working and then giving a portion of our paycheck to support the ones doing the really spiritual and significant work. Or, we are allowed to view our jobs as just a platform for talking about Jesus with people who do not know Him.
With this view, the Church cannot engage culture because faith has nothing to say about work, where we primarily spend the bulk of ourtime and energy. And, work is degraded because work is disconnected from faith.
The truth is all work matters to God, humanity, and for eternity. Is that reason enough to reevaluate your perspective on work?
Your work matters to God.
Work is not a human invention. God worked when He created. Then He called the product of His working good. In Genesis 2:15, God then tells Adam to work. He gives him manual work (cultivating the garden) and intellectual work (naming the animals).
Why did God give Adam work? Because we are made in the image of God, the Creator who works. In Part 1 of this series, Meredith Kline, Tim Keller, and Henry Drummond made a strong case that the cultural mandate given to humanity in the beginning of time was the dominion of creation for the purpose of building civilization (Gen. 1:28-30; 2:15, 19-20). That civilization-building activity (work) requires humanity (us) to be both co-creators and co-cultivators in God's creation.
So, work is the expression and fulfillment of being made in God's image, and we have the distinct privilege of continuing and completing the work God began.
The bottom line is this: all work is sacred work.
The implications of this are huge. First, all work is sacred. There is no sacred/secular divide, especially when it comes to work. Here's how Dorothy Sayer's puts it:
"How can any one remain interested in a religion, which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church's approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. The worst religious films I ever saw were produced by a company, which chose its staff exclusively for their piety. Bad photography, bad acting, and bad dialogue produced a result so grotesquely irreverent that the pictures could not have been shown in churches without bringing Christianity into contempt. God is not served by technical incompetence; and incompetence and untruth always result when the secular vocation is treated as a thing alien to religion."
Ouch. Does that sound familiar? She wrote that decades ago! This is why work matters.
The second implication is that work creates. The carpenter Sayers spoke of makes good tables, thereby creating value and something useful to society. What that means is we can transform culture through our work. Through your work, you are contributing to the Kingdom of God. You are building into what God originally intended for humanity, whether you are a gamer, plumber, businessman, educator, doctor, or lawyer. Every profession contributes uniquely to a place's culture.
The key question is what kind of culture are we creating through our work?
Your work matters to humanity.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:9-13, the apostle Paul writes to Christians who weren't working! They were waiting on Jesus to return instead. He tells them to work because it shows their love for others. They contribute to what is happening in the world and provide for themselves. Martin Luther references Psalm 145 and 147 to demonstrate that God provides food for all living things through work (plowing and planting) and secure cities through good city planning and hard working administrators.
Work matters to humanity because, as Christians, we get to be God in disguise when we work. We are distributing the gifts of God through our work, contributing to the common good of those around us, to our city.
Christians must be people concerned for the common good. Work produces goods and services that enable communities to flourish. This is altogether different from a survival or status understanding of work, and it redefines the significance understanding of work we often adopt.
Your work matters for eternity.
The work you do is part of a grander story. A story where you play a role, but you didn't write the script. Our work now will be flawed and difficult because of the fall. But it is still good, and it matters. And it will matter for all time.
At the end of time, the result of the co-laboring between God and humanity is clear: it is a city where God, humanity, and all creation dwell together in union and flourish in justice, fulfillment, and delight.
Revelation 21:1-2 says, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God." We have moved from a garden in the beginning to a city in the end.
Do you have a bigger vision for how your work contributes to this grander story--the story of the Creator inviting the crown of His creation to work alongside Him toward the ultimate completion of His grand vision?
Arts -- vision to express God's creation and heartbeautifully, perfectly
Business -- vision to create wealth and prosperity
Education -- vision to teach, grow, and pass on character/values
Government -- vision of sound rule
Health Care -- vision to relieve suffering
Media -- vision of telling the truth
Lawyer -- vision of justice
Social Sector -- vision of charity and care
Imagine what kind of city Evansville could be if all those who follow Jesus here took this perspective of work to heart every day. I believe we would have a transformed city--one that looks more and more like the city God envisions for Evansville.
Ross Chapman, Evansville City Transformation