the shape of leadership

Teaching the Sacred Value of Work

Every job can be an act of worship

Phil Steiger on July 10, 2018

The people in our pews spend far more time working outside the walls of the church than inside. Yet we don’t always know how to talk about work as discipleship.

If there are small-business owners in your congregation, their work can have a powerful and positive effect on the lives and economic well-being of a host of people, but do they know what they’re doing can build the kingdom of God?

Do Christians have the tools to help them understand how their day-to-day work can be an act of worship to God and love for their neighbor?

If we are to live our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ, and if we spend most of our time at work, then it follows that the Church will do well to learn how to bridge the Sunday-to-Monday gap. This is not always a common or easy topic for us, but in recent years, a host of organizations and books have arisen to address this very thing.

Two recent books that add to this conversation are Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give, by Michael Rhodes, Robby Holt and Brian Fikkert, and, The Gospel At Work: How The Gospel Gives New Purpose And Meaning To Our Jobs, by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert.

In Practicing the King’s Economy, the authors split the book into two halves in the form of pairs of chapters. The first in each pair is a theological “key” to the “King Jesus Economy.” The second is practically oriented, giving examples of how various churches live it out.

It is a well-researched book, designed to provide pastors and churches with what the authors call, “formative economic practices.” The authors explain how community, work, Sabbath, and equity can be spiritually and economically formative for a church.

The Gospel At Work is written by a former business executive and a pastor to help change the way we approach our work. They make the claim, “Our jobs are one of the primary ways God intends to make us more like Jesus.”

They argue that we should not make an idol out of our work, nor should we be idle at work, and they discuss several practical ways we can be faithful employees and bosses.

Teach Work as Worship

Scripture has a lot to say about discipleship and our work. From the cycle of work and rest God himself established to Old Testament laws about farming, to Paul’s admonition in Colossians 3:23 to do everything “as working for the Lord,” Scripture is full of material about how God views work and discipleship.

Work is any labor God gives us that we can do for His glory and for the love of our neighbor.

Rhodes and Holt argue, for example, that both worship and idolatry are economic issues. Made in the image of God, we are at our best when we create and are generous with what we make.

But work can tempt us, and we fall into idolatry when we follow modern-day Baals that promise provision and security. We can avoid this, however, when we recognize God as our Provider, the appropriate usefulness of our finances, and the power of generosity (Deuteronomy 8:17-19).

Traeger and Gilbert provide ideas about how to teach a Christ-honoring way of working. What does it look like to, as they put it, “work for Jesus”? When we work for Christ, we worship Him through good work and Christlike behavior, serve our co-workers, trust God for our provision, and develop the discipline of resting from our labor.

Businesses need disciples, even when the atmosphere at work makes it difficult. I worked for a national company while it was on the precipice of self-caused financial ruin.

I often felt like a cog in a machine, but my co-workers needed Christ followers in cubicles while the upper ranks ruined pensions and careers. They knew I was a pastor, which led to several meaningful conversations. If we work for Jesus, we can learn to work well even in affliction others cause.

Encourage Work as Neighbor-Love

Biblically speaking, work is any labor God gives us that we can do for His glory and for the love of our neighbor. If this is true, churches can learn to encourage good business practices and see entrepreneurship as an act of neighbor-love.

The effects of a well-run business can be far-reaching. For a Christian entrepreneur to be successful, he or she needs to consider the customers’ needs and wants, meet them well, and carefully create just working conditions for employees.

We often hear that the profit motive is evil. On the contrary, it can force a businessperson to pay attention to others before self.

Many churches have business people in their ranks. What if we saw their gifts in business as valuable contributions to discipleship instead of just hoping they tithe and volunteer as ushers?

Practicing the King’s Economy even includes a chapter about how churches can creatively fund and train businesses that honor Christ. Business leaders have experience and wisdom to offer, and you probably have young people in the church who would love to learn how to successfully operate a business as a Christian.

Churches can engage people in powerful ways when we learn how to connect Sunday worship to Monday-through-Friday discipleship. If we learn how to do it well, we can unleash a revival of influence inside and outside the walls of our churches.

Books Reviewed

Michael Rhodes, Robby Holt and Brian Fikkert, Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2018).

James Sebastian Traeger and Gregory D. Gilbert, The Gospel At Work: How The Gospel Gives New Purpose And Meaning To Our Jobs (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).

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