I first got to know Russell Gehrlein a few years ago when I read his excellent 2018 book Immanuel Labor—God’s Presence in Our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work – though we have actually been running his articles on faith and work here since 2016. The integration of faith and work has been a passion of mine, and I really enjoyed his book, and refer back to it often. See my review of the book here.
As I read Russ’s book, I realized that our stories are somewhat similar – we both had careers that were not in what some refer to as “full-time Christian ministry”; we both went to seminary well into our careers; we both have blogs and wrote books, etc.
I recently had a chance to visit with Russ about his book, how he integrates his faith with his work and more. Continue reading
I always enjoy hearing and reading about people who demonstrate a good connection between their faith and their work. For example, I heard about this all of the time from the participants in the Friday morning book club I was part of in my organization.
One of my favorite illustrations about someone integrating their faith and work comes from the life of William Wilberforce. Many of you will know who William Wilberforce was, perhaps from the 2007 movie Amazing Grace, or from Eric Metaxas’ book of the same name. I also read about him in Jonathan Aikten’s book John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace, which is where this illustration comes from.
John Newton was a one-time slave trader, and later pastor and writer of the much loved hymn “Amazing Grace”. As a pastor in London, Newton’s advice was sought by many influential figures, among them the young William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was a Member of Parliament and a new convert to Christianity. He was contemplating leaving politics – his vocation, for the ministry, to focus on “full-time Christian work”. But Newton encouraged him to stay in Parliament and “serve God where he was”.
Wilberforce took his advice, and spent the rest of his life working towards the abolition of slavery, which he achieved in 1833 when slavery was abolished in the British Empire. Wilberforce may have had a profound impact as a pastor, for example, but by taking Newton’s advice, he changed history by integrating his faith and work.
What are some good examples of individuals integrating their faith and work that you could share?
Recently, I shared 4 suggestions for church leaders on how they can help those within their churches to see the value of their work and callings, whether it is in a paid or non-paid vocation. Here are 5 additional suggestions:
- Get involved in the Made to Flourish organization, a pastor’s network for the common good. The mission of Made to Flourish is “To equip pastors with a more integral connection between Sunday faith and Monday work, in order to empower them to lead churches that produce human flourishing for the common good.” Made to Flourish helps pastors learn how to connect faith, work, and economics so they can disciple their people better to live for Christ in all areas of life and advance the common good.
- Attend Faith and Work Conferences or learning events and share with your church what you’ve learned. Recommended conferences are the Faith & Work conference sponsored by the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, Made to Flourish’s Common Good conference and the Faith @ Work Summit conference at the Center for Faith and Work at LeTourneau University.
- Teach your congregation about work and the Lord’s Day. The workplace has changed significantly since I joined it, primarily due to technology. There was no email, no smartphones and there were standard beginning and endings to the workday when I began my career at State Farm. They even had chimes to start and end the day and for lunch break. Now, workers are always connected. And many believers use Sunday to catch up on work that has built up from the previous week. What can we teach those under our care about work on the Lord’s Day? The Shorter Catechism states that the Sabbath is to be sanctified by a holy resting from unnecessary labors. The concept of rest, in our always connected world, is a subject that I’ve been reading a lot about recently, and would also be a good one for us to teach about in our churches. My pastor, Bob Smart, tells us that until we learn to deeply rest and separate ourselves from our work, we won’t work effectively.
- Regularly engage with your church members at work. Amy Sherman writes that “We must do a better job of inspiring our members about the role they can play in the mission of God and equipping them to live missionally through their vocation.” Tim Chester offers these helpful suggestions in his book Gospel-Centered Work: Becoming the Worker God Wants You to Be:
- Visit people in their workplace to see where they work, meet their colleagues, and pray for them in context.
- Send a regular email to workers in their workplace with a brief “thought for the day”.
- Have a regular “window on the workplace” when you gather as a church, in which someone talks about their work and shares prayer needs.
- Routinely include application to the workplace in sermons and Bible studies.
- Helpful suggestions from the new book Discipleship with Monday in Mind: How Churches Across the Country Are Helping Their People Connect Faith and Work from Made to Flourish. I recently read this new book and wanted to share a few takeaways from interviews the authors conducted with pastors about what they were doing in their churches to help their people connect their faith and work:
- To communicate the sacredness of work, many churches have “Faith at Work” interviews during the worship service. One church has also incorporated a version of this in their children’s ministry. The aim is to get children thinking about faith and work at an early age.
- Commission people to specific vocations in the same way you would pray for pastors or foreign missionaries. One church has commissioned those in finance, law, the arts, and the health industry, so far. Commissioning services have a powerful ability to affirm people in their work.
- Instead of a traditional adult Sunday School, one church hosted a seminar series called Vocare. The purpose of the seminar was to explore the intersection between the gospel culture and vocation, thinking through how we live out our call as God’s people in the world in light of the challenges and opportunities of our cultural moment.
- One church, in place of Vacation Bible School, started an “All of Life” camp. The church takes children who attend the camp to various workplaces where adults are working, and they talk about their work. The goal is to give these students a rich experience within that particular work context.
- Some churches have started vocational affinity groups. The idea is to place Christians who serve in the same industry in a small group for mutual encouragement and instruction.
- One church launched industry roundtables, which were organized around vocations. These were mid-size communities, organized around a particular industry. The purpose of the groups was to explore “theology, ethics, best practices, tensions, and networking.”
What others suggestions do you have for church leaders to help those within their churches to see the value of their work and callings?
For the past few years, I’ve enjoyed participating in a Faith and Work Book Club in my workplace. We meet early on a Friday morning and are currently working on our fifth book since the group began. It’s a highlight for me each week as I get together with a small group of peers to discuss the book and how to integrate our faith and work and be a positive influence and representative of Christ in our workplace.
I can think of 4 reasons that you should consider starting a Faith and Work Book Club in your workplace:
- To help others with the concepts of calling and vocation. While some people think of their work as a career, many think of it as just a “job”, and a way to pay the bills. They look forward to each weekend and can’t wait for retirement. In your Faith and Work Book Club, you help participants see their work as a clear calling from the Lord. They can see that the work they do Monday through Friday in the workplace is a way to serve the Lord.
Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord. (Colossians 3:23-24)
- To show the value of “secular” work in comparison to “full-time Christian ministry”. Many believers (and I used to feel this way) don’t think that their secular work has value in God’s eyes. Yes, their jobs provide for their families and allow them to support their churches and missionaries, but does God really care about what a computer programmer does in an insurance company, for example? In other words, can they code for the glory of God? I’ve seen the light come on when people realize that the answer to this question is a resounding “Yes”!
One of the books we have read and discussed is Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. In the chapter entitled “Making Much of Christ from 8 to 5”, Piper writes: “Seek to do your work in such a way that Christ looks more important than your work. Seek to make and use money in such a way that Christ looks more important than money. Seek to have relationships with people in the workplace such that Christ is more important than those relationships”.
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)
- I know far too many people who are unhappy in their jobs. When you are unhappy in your job, it can easily carry over into your home life, negatively impacting relationships with your spouse and children. I’m also aware of some who have actually retired earlier than originally planned because they were unhappy in their work. You don’t want your group to become a “gripe session”, but you do want it to be a place of encouragement.
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (2 Thessalonians 5:11)
- Prayer and Fellowship. A Faith and Work Book Club can be a place in which rich relationships can be made and strengthened. We share what is going on in our lives and pray for each other (and others) in our group.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)
These are just 4 reasons that I can think of why you should consider starting a Faith and Work Book Club where you work. Do you have others? Have you started a Faith and Work Book Club in your workplace? If so, please let us know what your experience has been. And feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about how to start a Book Club in your organization.
There are many excellent books being published to help us integrate our faith and work. Here are 5 that I would recommend that you consider for your Book Club:
For years, I felt that I needed to be in full-time Christian work/ministry to truly be doing my work for the Lord. That began to change when I took a “Calling, Vocation and Work” class at Covenant Seminary two summers ago. My thinking in this area continued to evolve as I read several excellent books about faith and work such as Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller, God at Work by Gene Veith, Work Matters by Tom Nelson, How Then Should We Work by Hugh Welchel, The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert and others. I now believe that the work I do in an IT department at a Fortune 100 company has as much value in God’s eyes as that done by the pastors in my church.
So how can you integrate your faith and work? Here are 10 ways:
- Do excellent work. Christians should be the best workers. The rest of the items below don’t matter if you are not a good worker. In fact, people will mock you if they see you reading your Bible in the break area or at your desk during lunch but your work is poor. Do your work for the Lord (Colossians 3:23). Traeger and Gilbert have written that we should do our work for King Jesus.
- Maintain a high level of integrity in all your actions. Are you a person of your word? Can people depend on you? If you say you will do something, do you do it? Tony Dungy has written that dishonesty will eventually catch up with you. We can’t control our reputation (what others think of us), but we can control our integrity. Be a person of high integrity.
- Be a person of character. I’ve heard character defined as doing the right thing when nobody is watching (except God, of course). I’m glad to see character being talked about again. See my review of David Brooks’ new book The Road to Character. Are you a person of character, or do you only work hard when the boss is around, for example?
- Be a role model. Tony Dungy has written that right or wrong, someone is always watching you and that it’s important to see yourself as a role model. Some people take particular joy in seeing a Christian fall, such as a famous athlete with his drug and alcohol addiction or a famous pastor with his adultery. Be above reproach – be a role model.
- Serve as a mentor. Again, Tony Dungy has written that mentoring is building character into the lives of others and leaving a legacy. Mel was my career mentor. He poured his life into me early in my career. Mentoring is a way for me to invest into the lives of others, and I see a direct connection between mentoring and my faith.
- Read books and blogs about integrating faith and work. I’m amazed with how many excellent books and blogs there are these days on this subject – I’m finding new ones all the time. Read some of these books and subscribe to the blogs and then share what you learn with others. I try to do this with my “Connecting Sunday to Monday” post each Monday here on the blog.
- Participate in a Faith and Work Book Club at work or school. A few colleagues and I are working on our second book (Matt Perman’s excellent What’s Best Next) at this time. Our discussions are one the highlights of my week; I enjoy learning from my friends how they integrate their faith and work.
- See Jesus as Your Supervisor. John Piper’s article “Lord Focused Living at Work” was key for me on this. Piper suggests we ask the following questions: Why would the Lord like this done? How would the Lord like this done? When would the Lord like this done? Will the Lord help me do this? What affect will this have for the Lord’s honor? Piper states that “What you are asked to do by a supervisor should generally be viewed as an appeal from the Lord.”
- Keep work in its proper perspective. Traeger and Gilbert helpfully write that we should never be idle in our work, nor should we make work an idol. In other words, as we stated above, we should not be idle at work, but instead do excellent work. On the other hand, we should not make work an idol by being a workaholic, placing work above our family and church responsibilities. A good balance is needed.
- Point people to Christ. Lastly, our lives at work should point others to Christ. In some cases you might be able to develop relationships and actually share the gospel with those you work with (but not on work time). In other cases, especially if you are in a leadership position, that may not be possible. I’ve always appreciated the quote from St. Francis when he said “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” In your situation you may not be able to use words. Are you drawing people to Christ at work? Would the people you interact with each week say that about you?
These are just a few ways you can integrate your faith and work. There are many others. What suggestions do you have?