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How can I bring the workplace into my faith? 
 


While Jesus clearly rejected worldly values, the parables in Luke showed he thought some worldly methods worth a second glance. I am now increasingly convinced that we need to revisit and rethink the workplace, perhaps radically so, writes Terry Young


Workplace

 


How can I bring the workplace into my faith? When I ask the question the other way around, I discover there are many resources on taking my faith to work. The London Institute of Contemporary Christianity has been at the forefront of recent efforts to reclaim the workplace as focus of Christian interest. But isn’t there something sinister about the workplace coming into my faith?

The relationship between life in worship and at work is complicated, since personal greed readily invades sacred spaces. We see Jesus resorting to violence to cleanse the temple and reassert its central role as a place of worship. We watch the early Christian leaders leave the workplace at Jesus’ call and most preachers see it as a failure when several disciples return to their old job – fishing – in John 21. We note that the disciples sold their possessions rather than set up businesses to fund their charity, while Jesus’ warnings about wages, rewards and amassing treasure still ring in our ears.

Overall, we find work healthy – six days for work, a day for worship – because God commissioned people to look after land and livestock. Paul learned a trade (as did all trainee Rabbis) and his network of tentmakers drew Priscilla and Aquilla into the vocation of developing Church leaders. At its best, work is a creative outlet that provides purpose and generates cash: for ourselves, our dependents, and for personal generosity.

Nonetheless, we have inherited a lopsided view of the workplace: positively, it provides income – as would a bonus, an inheritance or benefits – and demonstrates God’s provision for us. Negatively, it is a domain of ego and greed (although we like the money). Is that all?

My parents were called away from the workplace to serve God but their children divide evenly between sacred and secular jobs. Growing up, I would listen to my father’s lively preaching, which challenged many: some would confide in me that they had once felt called but had not responded. Their sense of regret left me wondering, even then, if their analysis of missing out was right.

The relationship between work and worship has (in the best possible way) haunted me ever since. I left university to earn a living while taking Christian service seriously – leadership, committees, speaking and writing. I am increasingly convinced that we need to revisit and rethink the workplace, perhaps radically so: not just as a place to go into from Church but as a place to bring into Church.



Entrepreneurial Luke

A while ago, in studying Luke, I was struck by the frequent parables about enterprising types: builders using wise construction methods, servants who trade with their masters’ wealth, a fortunate farmer, and a shrewd manager. There are stories of rich people who leave Jesus sadly because they cannot let go and those who are overjoyed at the prospect of giving most of their wealth away. Even parables about other things have a financial theme: a Samaritan spends his own money on a stranger, while thieves try to steal a vineyard. 

The shrewd manager seems particularly out of place in a parable, but what does Jesus say? ‘The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.’ (Luke 16:8, NIV). Jesus clearly rejected worldly values but thinks some worldly methods are worth a second glance.

In his Ballad of the White Horse, GK Chesterton declares: ‘It is only Christian men guard even heathen things.’ I don’t think Luke wants to import secular values into the Kingdom, but he makes us consider what can happen when working methods filter through believing lives back into Church.

I believe the radical spark lies not in seeing the workplace as somewhere to be redeemed (although many workplaces certainly need that) but as a place where truths about the Kingdom operate in a way that they cannot work in the purely sacred sphere (at least, not yet!).

If this is so, it turns our one-way arrows (from church to work, from minster to laity) into a circular dynamic where each side has important things to listen to and vital things to say. It creates a livelier role in building the Church for maybe 95 per cent of the people who come to church.


The way ahead

In the next four blogs, I would like to explore what difference this might make to:


Decisions and development.  In my experience, Christian organisations veer between dramatic, sometimes faith-based, decisions and an overcautious passivity that waits for others to do something first. Furthermore, and in common with many cause-driven organisations, they often treat their own people poorly. What can churches learn from the workspace about decisions, development, and supporting good people? 

Evangelism. Churches have accidentally silenced the very people who are most in touch with the dis-evangelised coal face. What is the latest thinking? Where is technology taking us? What philosophies are already changing our lives? Somewhere among the Church’s secular workforce someone will sense an answer. But that is not how we plan evangelism. How could we do better? 

The poor. If this approach has merit, then alongside a tradition of charitable giving, the Church also enjoys an underused mandate for entrepreneurial wealth creation to the benefit of others. This goes beyond mere survival: it touches many of today’s live issues and includes equality and disability. The proposition is fraught with challenges, but worth looking into. 

Redeeming the workplace One consequence, presumably unintended, of separating the sacred and the secular as we have done, is that we lose our influence in the workplace. Having denied working Christians a voice in church, it is hardly surprising that the Church has lost its voice at work. What was supposed to be a creative space where effort generates wealth that spills over and blesses society, is more often a meaningless grind. 



Image | Rawpixel | Unsplash




Terry Young was born to missionary parents working in the Middle East. He has always tried to unify his life of worship and secular missions, and has been part of church leadership teams in Essex, and at Slough Baptist Church. He has written a few books that link worlds, including After the Fishermen, and Jake, Just Learn to Worship.

After a mobile early childhood his family settled in the UK to the northwest of Birmingham, and eventually he studied at the local university. After his doctoral studies he worked for 16 years in Chelmsford undertaking research and business development in the aerospace sector, where his interest was in fibre optics and photonics. In the end he gravitated to healthcare systems and move to Datchet with a position as a university professor.

 

 

 



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