Category Archives: work

The Importance of Bearing Fruit at Work

Too often, we get into a fundamentally unhealthy divide in our thinking about faith and life.  We abstract our faith, putting it in the “spiritual” box, and consider our labor as separate.  It goes in the “actual real life” box.

I’m thankful for a new book called Fruit at Work: Mixing Christian Virtues with Business (Lanphier, 2012) by Chris Evans.  Evans is a talented entrepreneur who works with the cool-sounding Blackstone Entrepreneur Network.  He’s also been involved with The Trinity Forum, associated with Os Guinness and others.  I’ve enjoyed Fruit at Work, which draws off of Tim Keller and others to ground our daily labor in the gospel and in biblical virtue.

The text is readable and filled with personal reflection from Evans’s life.  Here’s an example from his chapter on humility, a quality that not every leader–or Christian leader–has an easy time embodying:

A big way that I changed is that I feel I have a capacity for gentleness that just wasn’t there before I was broken.  Having been deeply humbled, I can have compassion for others in tough situations.  While part of me still wants to feel powerful and give orders, the Christ in me cares more about the people I’m relating to than my image (136).

Read this helpful book, which will help you to approach work first from the perspective of godly virtue, rather than primarily as a means to accomplishment, achievement, or as Charlie Sheen would say, “winning.”

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Dear Christian: Making Money Is Good (So Is Workplace Dignity)

Do you ever think about the dignity of work, and the humanity of workers?  Christians have a powerful stake in this conversation.  The saving gospel transforms all of our lives, including the way we work, we are employed, we employ.

This article, “Productivity and Grace: Management and Labor at a Denver Manufacturer,” is about a Denver manufacturer whose leaders treat their employees with kindness and dignity.  From Christianity Today‘s This Is Our City project, it’s an inspiring piece by Chris Horst, and I commend it to you.  Much to chew on here.

Sandwiched between rail lines and a tire depot, the Blender Products factory hides in a quiet neighborhood in Denver. The nondescript warehouse looks from the outside as nondescript as most warehouses do. But the way Steve Hill and Jim Howey lead inside the building is unusual in an industry known for top-down hierarchies of management.

“The metal fabrication business is extremely cutthroat,” says Hill. “Workers are given a singular task, and maximum output is demanded. They’re simply a factor of production. As a general rule, they have no access to management. There is very little crossover between guys on the floor and guys in the offices.”

Hill and Howey aim to subvert the us-versus-them mentality. Many days they walk the shop floor, engaging their workers as peers. Employees on the floor are treated as importantly as the managers, undermining the adversarial culture simmering in many manufacturing businesses.

Here’s the whole shebang.

I am not one who would advocate for unions as a general rule.  But as I read up on progressivism, the history of American labor, and the captains of industry–an ongoing reading project involves the Industrial Titans of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries–I am keenly aware of the way some manufacturers and industry leaders of the last couple centuries have failed to treat their workers with appropriate dignity.  A figure like Andrew Carnegie, for example, shows us both the tremendous ingenuity of the capitalist and the shameful inhumanity every person is capable of.  Carnegie built libraries for his workers, but they had precious little time by which to visit them.

Christians who believe in the rightness of the free market nonetheless must also be known for their application of the doctrine of the image of God to labor and capitalism.  We don’t only care about making money in order to flourish domestically and societally (and globally); we also care about workers, people, those whom God has invested with meaning and purpose and talent.  The Blender Products leaders, Steve Hill and Jim Howey, clearly get that.  It’s beautiful to read their story along these lines.

With the above stated, don’t misread me.  I’m fundamentally for big business (and medium and small businesses), I generally trust the free market, and I think it’s intellectually facile to think wealth and wealthy people are bad.  The best program of social uplift I know of is one that involves marriage, hard work, and earning money, and there should be absolutely no shame in such things (contra what we are encouraged to feel today). But the Bible seems to be pretty clear about the need to be fair and even kind to others who need to earn money (see 1 Timothy 5:18).

In fact, let’s sharpen the point: Christian employers should be widely known for how well they treat their employees.  Failure on this point is not a small matter.  In the broader world and the political-cultural realm, we should be known not only for our belief in meaningful work and money-earning, but for our advocacy on behalf of the weak, including employees who are mistreated and who need appropriate representation. (By the way, for more resources on the goodness of work and much more, check out the Center for Faith and Work, affiliated with Redeemer Presbyterian Church of Manhattan–cool conference on this subject coming up in early November 2012.)

The image of God means that we can work, create, be entrepreneurs, be day laborers, be manufacturers, homemakers, bosses, ad consultants, teachers, and so much more.  The gospel creates a love for such work in Jesus’s name, and a desire to bring others to the flourishing and spiritual life they can never find outside of the workplace of God, the kingdom of Christ.

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The Aesthetics of Work

A little while back I blogged about the workrooms of famous men.  Today comes news of a great-looking new book called Where They Create (Frame, 2012).  It’s very expensive and features the photography of a talented man named Paul Barbera.

The little I’ve seen from the PR of the book reminds me that aesthetics matter.  Design has practical significance for our everyday lives.  That may seem counterintuitive.  Aren’t we supposed to just, well, work in whatever surroundings we find ourselves?  Isn’t art/design/beauty ephemeral and unimportant?

I go the other way.  I think the physical environment you create matters.  The cleanness of your desk, the pictures you hang on your wall, the natural lighting you favor over fluorescent lights, the chair in which you sit–these things shape the way you think about your work.  If you are in a messy, ugly environment, you have to fight against it in creating and working, I think.

Of course, as I write this, I’m reminded of Jonathan Edwards (everything reminds me of Jonathan Edwards).  He did a good deal of his writing in what was essentially a closet.  So there’s some irony for you: the most aesthetic of evangelical theologians worked in a thoroughly plain setting.  But–and this is big–Edwards absolutely relished walks in the New England outdoors.

That, my friends, is an office one can only dream of, and only an aesthetic God, the God who is himself beauty, can create.

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Filed under aesthetics, beauty, jonathan edwards, work

What’s More Valuable: Putting in Time or Preaching the Truth? Kingdom Considerations

The answer to the above question must be carefully qualified, in my humble opinion.

Both pursuits, offered out of a redeemed heart, are honoring to God. God has given His creation and His people the opportunity to labor for His glory (1 Co. 10:31). As with all things that we do, we have the opportunity to present our works and deeds to God as gifts. How do we do so? By performing them out of a heart of love. Though it is easy to get a bit over-heated about the nature of work–some theologians have oversold its value, as I see it–and see every task as ushering in the kingdom, it is clear from the Bible that work possesses inherent dignity when done to maximize God’s glory. Though the actual tasks we perform may not in themselves advance the kingdom (the kingdom is advanced primarily by proclamation and inherently spiritual activity, I would contend), yet our attitudes, our dispositions, and our constant devotion to God can well bless the Lord.

We see, then, that while making a shoe may not inherently advance the kingdom (the shoe possesses no spiritual value, after all), the attitude of the shoemaker (his worshipful heart expressing itself even as he sows the shoe together) and the good he accomplishes with the shoe (passing it on to a needy child in the name of Christ, for example) may well contribute to the forward movement of God’s kingdom. Not everything we do contributes to this forward progress, I would argue, but this is not to say that we cannot bring God glory in our daily goings-on and, perhaps often by means of our heart and our spiritually minded acts, claim some kingdom ground. We see, then, that the matter of work–indeed, all of our daily acts–becomes a matter of theological consideration, and requires us to carefully define the kingdom on biblical grounds.

With all of this said, the preaching of the gospel is the fundamental means of kingdom advancement. See Matthew’s first notation of kingdom-oriented preaching in 3:2–it is explicitly connected with the preaching of the gospel. Therefore, we should seek to preach the gospel to advance the kingdom, understanding that this is the primary–though not the only–means of pushing it forward. This means for those of us who work that we should indeed seek to preach the gospel in our workplaces. We should do so, however, shrewdly (Mt. 10:16). I don’t think it wise for a Christian to consider their primary on-the-job responsibility to be evangelism. That’s not honest. Your employer has hired you to be an accountant; be an accountant. Account. (Sorry, that’s a bad joke.)

However, be a shrewdly Christian accountant. Season your conversation with the gospel. Look for opportunities to talk about your church, your faith, your conversion. Ask co-workers if they would like to hang out, and then engage them in honest, normal, but spiritually oriented conversation. Read the Bible in your lunch hour, and keep it on your desk. Let people see that the Bible is an organic part of your life. But do all this while being an excellent accountant (or forester or truck-driver or librarian or politician or athlete or stay-at-home mom). Know accountant laws. Put in a hard, full work day. Be one of the best employees in your office. Be nice, polite, helpful, and kind. Do your work with excellence. In summary, be a worker whose Christianity is apparent, whose goodness is evident, and whose work is excellent. Honor your Lord, but do so while honoring your boss.

Many Christians, of course, work in environments hostile or at least unfriendly to Christianity. In this case, simply turn up the “shrewdness” factor. People are still desperately lost; they are still looking for light, to some extent; they will still be unable to avoid noticing an attractive Christian witness when it presents itself. Over time, they’ll ask questions and want to know what makes you tick, a situation helped, of course, by a Christian directing conversation well and living a life that looks and smells differently from others. Above all, Christians in these situations must look to share the gospel just as much as other Christians, though as noted they will need to do so with greater shrewdness than others. On the question of what to do when sharing faith involves the loss of a job, there is no black-and-white answer that I know of. One will have to balance faithful boldness with careful wisdom. One will have to do so, though, with Christ’s warning about being an unfaithful or fearful witness in mind. No reward is promised to the timid; much reward is promised to the courageous (see the beatitudes of Matthew 5).

In summary, the Christian must thus see himself as part of a cosmic movement of God’s Spirit that is orchestrated by the Father’s will and proceeds forth from the Son’s redemptive work. The Christian who goes off to work each morning should not simply think that he is putting in time and punching a clock; neither should he think that he is in some vague sense honoring God by working. No, he should realize that he is part of a kingdom movement, and he is able throughout the day to advance that kingdom by a godly attitude and disposition and by acts and deeds of gospel-oriented grace, justice, beauty, and goodness. We might restrain ourselves from saying that every task he performs directly contributes to this kingdom progress, but in doing so we would not make the mistake of thinking that only preachers accomplish spiritually meaningful things. No, all of us have the opportunity to participate by disposition and deed and word in this cosmic movement.

This perspective threatens to transform our daily rites, doesn’t it? However you’ve considered work, you need not see it in stark terms, either as an evangelistic endeavor alone or a clock-punching exercise. No, work is a beautiful blend of these things, an opportunity to, as I said earlier, send God little gifts of glory by the things we do and the words we say. As you head into the forest, or wheel into your desk, or walk customers around the car showroom, you are not cut off from the kingdom. You are right in the center of it. As you live with integrity, and model Christ’s grace and kindness, and speak gospel-saturated words, yes, you are right in the center of it. You may not know it, and no one may see it, but heaven is smiling on you in these times. And somehow, in ways imperceptible to human eyes and ears, a reign is being extended, a light is being lifted, and the earth and hills and stars are being readied to celebrate and surrender to the coming King.

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Filed under calling, evangelism, missional, theology of work, vocation, work

What’s More Valuable: Putting in Time or Preaching the Truth? Kingdom Considerations

The answer to the above question must be carefully qualified, in my humble opinion.

Both pursuits, offered out of a redeemed heart, are honoring to God. God has given His creation and His people the opportunity to labor for His glory (1 Co. 10:31). As with all things that we do, we have the opportunity to present our works and deeds to God as gifts. How do we do so? By performing them out of a heart of love. Though it is easy to get a bit over-heated about the nature of work–some theologians have oversold its value, as I see it–and see every task as ushering in the kingdom, it is clear from the Bible that work possesses inherent dignity when done to maximize God’s glory. Though the actual tasks we perform may not in themselves advance the kingdom (the kingdom is advanced primarily by proclamation and inherently spiritual activity, I would contend), yet our attitudes, our dispositions, and our constant devotion to God can well bless the Lord.

We see, then, that while making a shoe may not inherently advance the kingdom (the shoe possesses no spiritual value, after all), the attitude of the shoemaker (his worshipful heart expressing itself even as he sows the shoe together) and the good he accomplishes with the shoe (passing it on to a needy child in the name of Christ, for example) may well contribute to the forward movement of God’s kingdom. Not everything we do contributes to this forward progress, I would argue, but this is not to say that we cannot bring God glory in our daily goings-on and, perhaps often by means of our heart and our spiritually minded acts, claim some kingdom ground. We see, then, that the matter of work–indeed, all of our daily acts–becomes a matter of theological consideration, and requires us to carefully define the kingdom on biblical grounds.

With all of this said, the preaching of the gospel is the fundamental means of kingdom advancement. See Matthew’s first notation of kingdom-oriented preaching in 3:2–it is explicitly connected with the preaching of the gospel. Therefore, we should seek to preach the gospel to advance the kingdom, understanding that this is the primary–though not the only–means of pushing it forward. This means for those of us who work that we should indeed seek to preach the gospel in our workplaces. We should do so, however, shrewdly (Mt. 10:16). I don’t think it wise for a Christian to consider their primary on-the-job responsibility to be evangelism. That’s not honest. Your employer has hired you to be an accountant; be an accountant. Account. (Sorry, that’s a bad joke.)

However, be a shrewdly Christian accountant. Season your conversation with the gospel. Look for opportunities to talk about your church, your faith, your conversion. Ask co-workers if they would like to hang out, and then engage them in honest, normal, but spiritually oriented conversation. Read the Bible in your lunch hour, and keep it on your desk. Let people see that the Bible is an organic part of your life. But do all this while being an excellent accountant (or forester or truck-driver or librarian or politician or athlete or stay-at-home mom). Know accountant laws. Put in a hard, full work day. Be one of the best employees in your office. Be nice, polite, helpful, and kind. Do your work with excellence. In summary, be a worker whose Christianity is apparent, whose goodness is evident, and whose work is excellent. Honor your Lord, but do so while honoring your boss.

Many Christians, of course, work in environments hostile or at least unfriendly to Christianity. In this case, simply turn up the “shrewdness” factor. People are still desperately lost; they are still looking for light, to some extent; they will still be unable to avoid noticing an attractive Christian witness when it presents itself. Over time, they’ll ask questions and want to know what makes you tick, a situation helped, of course, by a Christian directing conversation well and living a life that looks and smells differently from others. Above all, Christians in these situations must look to share the gospel just as much as other Christians, though as noted they will need to do so with greater shrewdness than others. On the question of what to do when sharing faith involves the loss of a job, there is no black-and-white answer that I know of. One will have to balance faithful boldness with careful wisdom. One will have to do so, though, with Christ’s warning about being an unfaithful or fearful witness in mind. No reward is promised to the timid; much reward is promised to the courageous (see the beatitudes of Matthew 5).

In summary, the Christian must thus see himself as part of a cosmic movement of God’s Spirit that is orchestrated by the Father’s will and proceeds forth from the Son’s redemptive work. The Christian who goes off to work each morning should not simply think that he is putting in time and punching a clock; neither should he think that he is in some vague sense honoring God by working. No, he should realize that he is part of a kingdom movement, and he is able throughout the day to advance that kingdom by a godly attitude and disposition and by acts and deeds of gospel-oriented grace, justice, beauty, and goodness. We might restrain ourselves from saying that every task he performs directly contributes to this kingdom progress, but in doing so we would not make the mistake of thinking that only preachers accomplish spiritually meaningful things. No, all of us have the opportunity to participate by disposition and deed and word in this cosmic movement.

This perspective threatens to transform our daily rites, doesn’t it? However you’ve considered work, you need not see it in stark terms, either as an evangelistic endeavor alone or a clock-punching exercise. No, work is a beautiful blend of these things, an opportunity to, as I said earlier, send God little gifts of glory by the things we do and the words we say. As you head into the forest, or wheel into your desk, or walk customers around the car showroom, you are not cut off from the kingdom. You are right in the center of it. As you live with integrity, and model Christ’s grace and kindness, and speak gospel-saturated words, yes, you are right in the center of it. You may not know it, and no one may see it, but heaven is smiling on you in these times. And somehow, in ways imperceptible to human eyes and ears, a reign is being extended, a light is being lifted, and the earth and hills and stars are being readied to celebrate and surrender to the coming King.

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Filed under calling, evangelism, missional, theology of work, vocation, work