I have been haunted for a number of years now by this quote from Calvin Redekop. It helped to crystallise some nagging thoughts that had been bouncing around in my brain for a long time without taking any clear shape.
It might seem strange for me to say this because for most of the last 25 years I have been a pastor in 3 Baptist churches in New Zealand and the rest of the time headed up an overseas mission and development agency and taught the theology of mission. In fact the last time that I was here at World Vision in Melbourne it was to speak on community development among the urban poor.
But it was about 10 years ago that really found myself sruggling to get my head around the issue that Redekop highlights at a time when I was trying untangle a number of threads of experience. I think some of the main contributing factors were:
1. As a pastor I had gradually become increasingly self conscious about the way my gaze became more and more narrowly focussed on what happened on Sunday and disconnected from Monday to Saturday realities for most people. At the same time I could see Christians struggling to know how to respond in a world of rapidly changing work patterns and marketplace values.
2. Teaching the theology of mission as it applied to mission in the overseas context caused me to become more and more concerned that we were failing to address the mission challenges at home because we were failing to apply the same principles here. More than that I became more and more self-conscious about the fact that my teaching was concentrating on equipping and supporting the few people who would become career ministers or missionaries while God's largest mission force was already mobilised everyday of the week and interfacing with the world in the workplace , but we were not intentionally resourcing them. And I recognised that I had not really developed or promoted a theology of mission and ministry which was connected to a theology of the laity, work and everyday life. And so I decided to do some post-graduate study to try catch myself up on this.
3. While doing my post-grad work I also worked part-time resourcing staff and student leaders with TSCF (NZ equivalent of InterVarsity). I was disturbed by the fact that although we were trying to equip students to live as Christian students we did not really operate out of a longer term view equipping young people to live as Christians for life. Nor did we give them much help to think creatively and Christianly about career choices in order to better integrate their faith and working lives.
These are some of the factors that caused Redekop's statement to resonate with me.
2. Thesis Observations
Anyway I used the thesis primarily as a basis for my own education, to trace historical developments in the theology of work and the Christian understanding of vocation, and also practical ways churches can work to see their members better equipped and supported for their daily work in the world
And I noticed a number of things
1. The awareness that some of these issues had been addressed before, particularly as I explored the history of the Reformation and the Puritans and the Wesleyan movement and the Clapham Sect and more recently the World Council of Churches in the post-WWII era.
Although one of the sobering realisations was that a lot of people have started off down this trail, but the concern to see the church more active in the world usually gets overtaken by internal church concerns. At the same time as the concern to see a greater emphasis on resourcing the laity for their ministry in the world moves toward a concentration on providing them with resources for roles within the church. Clearly those of us who embark on the faith and work journey need to recognise what we are up against.
2. One of the most helpful discoveries that I made was isolating some of the elements that are necessary for someone to gain and nurture an ongoing sense of vocation. I identified 5 important ingredients. although I don't claim any absolute significance for these
But this is how it looks:
For Christians to grow and maintain a clear sense of vocation for themselves, five particular needs are evident:
An understanding that connects God's work and our work. To gain a sense that we are participating in something of ultimate significance that imparts purpose to our lives. This needs to include
Theology (in other words a biblical view that affrims the worth of our work),
Ethics (a clear sense of the personal and social values that we consider important as these relate to our work)
and Spirituality (that is discovering ways that we can nurture a sense of the presence of God in our work).
Feeling that the person we are fits the work we are doing. To understand the gifts, abilities, passions and personality that make us unique and help to define the work we are best fitted to do and that the way we are expressing these also fits with our Christian calling and values.
To be of service to others, so that our search for significance also makes a worthwhile investment in God's wider purposes and the lives of other people.
To establish a healthy balance in our lives that enables us to express our vocation through a mixture of domestic and voluntary work and leisure, as well as employment. To find meaning in the whole of life by understanding the functions that different parts play and how they are harmonised. And to to be able renegotiate this balance at different stages of life.
To gain support and encouragement from a community of committed companions. This may include family, friends, mentors and our faith community.
For a healthy sense of vocation to grow and be sustained a combination of these elements needs to be present.
But there were also a number of other issues raised for me including
3. Concern to see evangelical and Pentecostal Christians reclaiming a creation theology to operate alongside our redemption theology. Although I also recognise that some other streams of the church have always had a strong creation theology.
4. Concern that in emphasizing the significance of daily work in God's purposes that we don't idolize employment and careers in a context in which jobs are often demanding more and more hours from most people while a significant minority struggle to find meaningful jobs at all. We need to find our identity and status in our relationship with God this is our primary calling. But this is worked out through our daily activities, all of which are of significance to God.
5. We need to recognise the importance of transition times as opportunites for people to reconfigure their lives and faith. In my thesis I started to explore how stresses associated with personal, family, and work transitions may also connect with faith questionning and how churches might respond positively to this rather than act threatened by it.
6. While there have been significant advances in our theologies of ministry and mission and the laity that recognise the many ways that daily work in the world does count from God's perspective this is seldom reflected in the way we do church. Models of church and of church leadership need seriously reinventing if they are to reflect these priorities.
7. Academic conversations about spirituality in the workplace are now being initiated by non-Christians, especially Western Buddhists and New-Agers, we need to be better prepared to understand what is happening and to address the issues that are being raised. It disappoints me that at least where I come from more Christians aren't involved in these discussions.
8. The experience of women in the workforce is different to that of men and their voices are raising some challenging questions for us. Also, where are the voices of blue-collar workers to be heard in academic discussions? Their work experiences are typically different to those of more educated middle class people who usually initiate most discussion in our churches.
9. Can we start using the Bible in our churches in a way that connects better with the everyday work experience of people at the grass-roots?
10. Popular evangelical theology has not always developed a strong social ethic, nor a reflective spirituality that connects with the mystical tradition. Both of these would seem to be important elements in what is emerging.
11. Is this gathering interest in spirituality and work really indicative of a widespread quest that the church absolutely can't avoid addressing, or just another publishing fad that is here today but gone tomorrow?
12. Can we promote more significant discussion about marketplace economics and ethics between church leaders and business leaders and employees together?
13. Can we maintain a broad definition of work which embraces voluntary and domestic work as well as employment?
These are some of the questions that my academic study raised.
But, as you know, theses are by their nature pretty academic documents and it wasn't long before some friends of mine who were mostly business people started to say to me, "Hey Alistair are you ever going to bring some of these highflown ideas down to earth?"
Naturally, I responded a bit defensively saying "But I thought that was your job".
But they said "We need some help."
To which I said "Well I'd like to help but really I'm not an expert and I don't have the time, nor the money."
To which their reponse was, "Well if we put up the money will you make the time?"
You need to be careful what you set yourself up for when you start floating your ideas past someone who wants to see things happen. Because more than likely they'll choose you to get it going!
This wasn't how I planned to spend my life, but it seemed that God had other ideas
And so starting in 1996 we set up, and I worked half-time on, the Faith At Work Project, a reasearch and training programme exploring the connections between faith and work.
3. Faith At Work Survey
We began with a 6 month intensive survey questioning Christians on the ground about ways they saw their faith connected to their approach to work and asking, "Are there any ways in which you might appreciate more help from the church?" (This involved 100 in-depth individual interviews, plus a number of discussion groups and seminars and numerous less formal encounters).
3.1 The Results:
1. Most people began by assuming that I wanted to talk with them about how they were getting on evangelising their workmates. Most said (many self-consciously in a way that made both of us feel uncomfortable) that they weren't very good at that. Many wondered if I should really be talking to them for this reason. This does seem to be the main way that most people think that God (or the church) values so called "secular" employment, a term often used by people in these conversations although personally I think it betrays a sub-Christian understanding of the fact that for Christians no sphere is secular but every activity takes place in sacred space where God is involved.
But for most Christians the church is seen to value employment primarily for what it means in terms of evangelism and money
Work expands our circle of contact with non-Christians and it provides money for the support of our families and the church and parachurch ministries. And I believe this is a woefully inadequate understanding whether we intend to convey it or not.
2. Christians clearly fall into two distinct groups when it comes to talking about how they feel God views their work. And here I distinguish between people involved in what might be broadly identified as the helping professions and those involved in other jobs.
Those in the helping professions, which includes doctors, nurses, social workers, counsellors and teachers were generally happy to use the word ministry in connection with their work. They see their work in itself as ministry in some sense. It is plain that people who are involved in more direct, person-to-person, service kinds of jobs feel that their work counts from God's perspective and that somehow the church affirms that their work is ministry. To some extent this is also true for parents who are working at home and who devote large chunks of their time to their families. The church seems to affirm that this kind of work also has a ministry or service component to it, although some mothers I talked to felt that this view of their work was diminishing.
The flip side of the church's affirmation of those in service jobs is that those whose work lacks this sense of direct person-to-person service feel that their work is not in itself of value to God or the church and is not ministry. People who struggle to connect their work to their faith include factory workers, manufacturers, accountants, desk-bound office workers, many business people and those involved in commercial or industrial work; those who feel somewhat removed from meeting people at their particular point of need. These people seldom talk about their work in itself as ministry. Rather they look for ministry opportunities in the relationships that their work opens up for them. A similar struggle is experienced by people who are involved in primarily technical jobs, where they are utilising practical skills rather than being in direct contact with other people eg. engineers, computer programmers. People often feel somewhat disconnected from God while they're performing these kinds of functions and struggle to find specific ways to nurture their faith and sense of God in their work. Many of these people have also found themselves embroiled in an increasingly harsh and competitive environment in which they feel increasingly uncomfortable.
3. Some clear differences exist between the experiences of white collar workers and blue collar workers and between people involved in small enterprises and those in larger enterprises and between those involved in the private sector and those involved as public servants
Also between women and men, and pakeha (white New Zeanders) and Maori (indigenous people) and Pacific Island immigrants.
Some of these issues had to do with
- how interesting and challenging people found their work
- how much control and freedom people felt they had in shaping their approach to their job
- how valuable they felt their work was
- what sort of relationships surrounded them in their work
4. More specifically faith-related responses that surfaced most frequently included
(a) Comments about all Christians being equal, but "full-time" Christians being somehow more equal. Most people feel that there is still a hierarchy of significance in terms of ministry, with missionaries and pastors at the top, then other "full-time" Christian workers, then part-time pastoral staff, then elders, then deacons, then other volunteer workers in church activites, then those who are solely involved in full-time "secular" work And although very few people believed that it should be like this in theory, most thought that it is still this way in practice.
(b) Most people could not remember ever hearing a sermon on work
(c) Most had never heard any teaching about where work fits in God's purposes.
(d) Almost none could identify any church songs that refer to work
(e) Most could not remember any prayers being prayed specifically about work, except with reference to evangelism. Some Anglicans and Catholics thought there might be some reference to daily work in the intercessory portion of their liturgy, but couldn't remember the details.
(f) Only rarely did work come up as a topic in small group discussions, Pastors generally think that small groups are where people talk about work concerns. My conclusion is that what happens in church shapes the climate in which other things happen, unless deliberately driven by small group leaders with a different perspective.
(g) Church leaders seldom express much interest in people's work and most people had never been visited by church leaders at work.
(h) Most people had now grown accustomed (or "resigned", some used this word) to the fact that church was not likely to address their work realities and no longer expected this, although most said they would appreciate it if it happened. (A few said that they came to church to get away from the world of work and didn't want these issues intruding into church. A few others said that, although they were still believers, they had given up on church now because it failed to address real-life issues for them.)
(i) Most had not read any book or attended any course that talked about faith and work issues.
(j) I was surprised how many times I was told that one of the most difficult things about being a Christian at work was the behaviour of other Christians. This included both the superspiritual utterances of excessively zealous believers and the sub-Christian behaviour of those who have publicly identified themselves as believers. The poor ethics of some so-called "Christian" firms was cited as a major source of embarrassment in some industries.
Overall, I concluded that many Christians do feel uncomfortable that the church does not often address issues that relate to the events that most of their lives are invested in. But mostly this is a vague discomfort that has never been clearly articulated by them, nor even for them by others yet in a way that they have been able to say a clear "Yes" to. Mostly they are still looking for help to name the nature of that discomfort and identify the issues that it stems from. But I did notice how many people started to get hooked into our conversation as it progressed and become more animated as they realised I was serious about exploring the wider implications of faith for their work. And mostly they were keen to go further exploring the issues than just my interview allowed.
3.2 The Issues:
What did I conclude about the faith issues that needed to be addressed?
1. Christian witness seems to have become too narrowly associated just with talking about Jesus and a few selected gospel themes and to underestimate the significance of our attitudes and actions and other words at work as part of our witness.
2. We need to clarify some realistic expectations and approaches to evangelism. It seems that we need to find a way of discovering a more everday faith that we can wear more naturally and comfortably in the marketplace
3. Most Christians (especially those outside the helping professions, although I think they also need help to expand their view) need help to see how our work and God's work are connected much more that we've usually thought by expanding our view of God and of God's work
4. Can church on Sunday become better connected with work on Monday? We need to explore practical ways churches can act to overcome the Sunday/Monday gap and the serious divide that many people feel exists between churches' spiritual activities and what they talk about happening in the "real world".
5. When will the church start regularly singing songs and praying prayers and celebrating festivals that pick up on daily work and other important parts of our lives?
6. People need more help to understand how we experience God's guidance and how Christians should approach career and life planning
7. What do involvement in ministry and mission mean?- especially when most Christians feel that there is still a hierarchy of value placed on different ministries in the church and what we call "ministry" and "mission" activities certainly implies higher value. We seldom ever recognise the roles that people play outside the church in formal ways, or specifically work to equip them for these, or ordain people to them, or intentionally support them in them. We could, couldn't we?
8. How do we balance competing time demands, especially in this increasingly competitive environment in which it seems the pressures are forever on the increase? Is church helping in this, or does church just represent another set of expectations and pressures heaped on an already very demanding life? Do churches need to revise expectations and structural demands?
9. How do we personally nurture faith in this sort of pressured and chaotic environment? What does prayer look like in the fast lane?. Can we practise the presence of God in the modern marketplace, or is this just an impossible dream? What does an everyday spirituality look like? Can it be practiced in ways that don't demand week long retreats and physical escape?
10. What about Christian ethics in the modern marketplace? How can we live out Christian values in this new pluralistic setting and in an increasingly aggressive and competitive environment where there are all sorts of temptations to give truth new twists and to take ethically dubious shortcuts to make quicker progress? What are the core values a Christian ought to concentrate on nurturing? How do we use the Bible when even Christians can't agree about so many issues? Can we promote a more helpful discussion about faith and economics in the church?
What we have done.
1. Faith At Work Courses
In response to the concerns expressed in the survey process we began to develop some courses at the Christchurch Branch of the Bible College of New Zealand to address the issues that were arising.
God's Work and Our Work
Ministry In Daily Life
Career and Life Planning
Ethics for the Marketplace (2 courses Case Studies and biblical and Theological foundations)
Currently being produced as distance course through the Bible College of New Zealand
Details of present courses can be found on our website www.faithatwork.org.nz plus also a lot of the background reading material for the courses can be accessed through the website.
2. Faith At Work Website (www.faithatwork.org.nz)
The website began as an attempt to provide resources for people who had heard about what Faith At Work was doing but lived at a distance or couldn't attend our courses. We are concentrating on providing resources that correspond with the topics that we cover in our courses.
So theres a section devoted to each topic that includes lists of ...
Links to Other Sites
Helpful Papers (ours and others)
Course details for our courses
3. Faith At Work Breakfasts
These have been happening once a month for a year now. We meet 7.00-8.00am at a neutral venue in the centre of Christchurch. Average around 30-40 people from a variety of church backgrounds including Brethren to Pentecostals, plus members of most major denominations. A different speaker each month reflects on faith as it connects with their work experience.
I have run myself ragged running seminars at times and wondered about the long term significance. I think adequate preparation and follow-up is essential. Lately I have tried to concentrate on only working with those groups who are investing a significant amount of their own energy in the process and who have some ongoing commitment to keep on working out these themes. Also I am doing less work myself and trying provide resources to help local people take the initiative themselves.
Resourcing work that I have done with workplace chaplains suggests that most of them have good pastoral skills and a growing understanding of practical marketplace issues, but could do with some more input regarding the theology of work, a more rounded Christian perspective on life planning and Christian ethics from a marketplace perspective.
We are producing a series of books and articles that help to fill in some of the gaps that we see in the current resources available.
Quite a lot of my work involves personal counselling and mentoring of people who may have first been contacted through my writing or speaking at seminars or courses. But we are trying to develop a loose network of other people who can offer mentoring especially to a younger generation of Christians in the marketplace. And we have worked to develop more intentional mentoring networks in the student and church work that I am currently involved in. But I would like to see more develop a long these lines and some more resources produced to encourage this.
8. Spirit At Work Movement.
I mention this because I participated in this conference in Christchurch in October last year. And I know there have been similar gatherings in Melbourne. Personally I found it very challenging. It was made up predominantly of women from networks that were strongly influenced by a variety of New Age perspectives, plus a number of people with links to the Businesses for Social Responsibility movement and a number of university academics mostly specialising in Management studies and also with a variety of different religious perspectives. The disturbing catch-cry was spirituality is in, but religion is out and to a large extent orthodox Christianity has been superceded. And it seemed to me that there were a lot of ex-Christians involved, but few Christians and I think that we need to be. There is clearly a lot of material now being published in books and the mass media and on the Net from this perspective and we need to think carefully about how we respond to it. As someone who was once quite immersed and involved in practising some forms of Eastern mysticism before becoming a Christian I think it opens up some good opportunities for us to say our piece and we have an important, even essential, contribution to make, but it also needs approaching with consideration and care, if we want to be heard and understood. Because undoubtedly many people are also easily turned off by blundering Christian attempts to dominate discussions about spirituality.