Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Work Matters BOOK CLUB

work mattersWork Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by Tom Nelson

Dr. Nelson is also the senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Kansas City. He is also the President of Made to Flourish, a network of pastors integrating faith and work. This is one of the better books that I have read on integrating faith and work.

This week we begin our study of the book together by looking at the Introduction:

  • I failed to grasp that a primary stewardship of my pastoral work was to assist and equip others to better connect the professions of their Sunday faith with the practices of their Monday work.
  • The word vocation simply means “calling.” Properly understood, Christian vocation is centered in a sovereign God who calls us to embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ and to follow him in the power of the Holy Spirit as his disciples.
  • Os Guinness has given considerable thought to a robust theology of vocation. Keeping the gospel central, Os makes a helpful distinction between our primary calling and our secondary callings. He rightly points out that Scripture first and foremost emphasizes our primary calling to Christ.
  • Os also insightfully points out that each one of us has also been given a secondary calling, and an essential aspect of this particular calling is to do a specific work. Yet because we refer to work as a secondary calling, we must not in any way minimize work’s importance in living lives of Christian faithfulness. A large portion of our time on earth is given to our work, and we would be wise to take this stewardship seriously. On the pages that follow we will focus our attention on our secondary calling to work.
  • In the first section of the book, we will look at our work through a biblical lens. The second section will focus on how God shapes our lives in and through our work.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion:

  • Do you see your work as a calling?
  • How might thinking of work as a calling transform the way you do your work and the kind of work you do?
  • What are some ways you currently connect your Sunday faith and your Monday work?
  • How might connecting Sunday faith to Monday work change the way you view work?

Chapter 1: Created to Work

  • As human beings, we have been designed not only to rest and to play but also to work.
  • First, humans are designed by God to exercise proper dominion over creation, which is a divinely delegated stewardship role. Second, humans are designed by God to be his image-bearers, to uniquely reflect who God is to his good world.
  • At a very foundational level, we must recognize our image-bearing reveals that God is a creator, a worker.
  • Being made in God’s image, we have been designed to work, to be fellow workers with God. To be an image-bearer is to be a worker. In our work we are to show off God’s excellence, creativity, and glory to the world. We work because we bear the image of One who works.
  • For anyone to refuse to work is a fundamental violation of God’s creation design for humankind.
  • Because God himself is a worker, and because we are his image-bearers, we were designed to reflect who God is in, through, and by our work.
  • Our work, whatever it is, whether we are paid for it, is our specific human contribution to God’s ongoing creation and to the common good.
  • For us to view work outside a theological framework is to inevitably devalue both work and the worker.
  • Already in Genesis we see that vocation is not something we ultimately choose for ourselves; it is something to which God calls us.
  • We were created with an important stewardship in mind, to cultivate creation and to keep it; and we are commissioned by God to nurture, care for, and protect his creation.
  • Properly understood, our work is to be thoughtfully woven into the integral fabric of Christian vocation, for God designed and intended our work, our vocational calling, to be an act of God-honoring worship.
  • Living before an Audience of One also means that all we do and say is to be an act of God-honoring worship.
  • Doing our work before an Audience of One changes what we do and how we do it. Living with this mind-set helps us connect our faith with our work, for we live before the same Audience on Monday at work as we do on Sunday at worship.
  • In a thoughtful essay simply titled “Why Work?” Sayers writes, “The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to [moral instruction and church attendance]. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. . . .” Sayers continues, “Let the church remember this: that every maker and worker is called to serve God in his profession or trade—not outside it. . . . The only Christian work is good work well done.”
  • It is hard to imagine how our understanding of work and the quality of our work would change if we would truly live before an Audience of One and fully embrace the truth that the only Christian work is good work well done.
  • If you understand that God designed you to contribute to his creation, you will take seriously how and where you are called to make your important contribution in the world.
  • Daily we are confronted by a sobering reality that our work, the workers we work with, and the workplaces in which we work are not as God originally designed them. In a myriad of ways we are painfully reminded each and every day that we live and work in a fallen and corrupted world.

Chapter 2: Is Work a Four-Letter Word?

  • The Bible does provide a helpful framework that paves the way for understanding why work is a mixed bag of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
  • In Genesis 1 and 2 we are presented with a delightful picture of work as God originally designed it to be.
  • The Bible clearly tells us that while work is not a result of the fall, work itself was profoundly impacted.
  • In this broken world, God’s original design for our work has been badly corrupted, and we feel it in the depths of our being every day.
  • The Genesis writer emphasizes that under the curse, work has a new dimension to it. Work is now toilsome and difficult.
  • Genesis chapter 3 tells us in very riveting language that we are broken people who live and work in a broken world. Something has gone badly awry. Our work is not what it ought to be.
  • At this point in redemptive history, the work we do and the workplaces we inhabit are filled with difficulty and pain. Someday this will not be the case, but for now we must not expect otherwise. Our work has been deeply affected by the devastating consequences of sin.
  • The work we do can also seem empty and meaningless.
  • The writer of Ecclesiastes reminds us that work in this fallen world is a mixed bag. Work is both a curse and a gift. Work greets us with both frustration and exhilaration. Our work gives evidence of our glorious creation as well as our great estrangement from God and our need for a Savior who will redeem us from sin’s devastating curse.
  • Rather than worship God through our work, we can easily and subtly begin to worship our work. Work can become an idol in our lives.
  • One of the ways we make work an idol is workaholism.
  • Instead of making work an idol, we can erroneously view our work as really no big deal. When work is distorted, we easily make leisure an idol and become a slothful person.
  • The common notion of a long, leisurely, and self-indulgent retirement is not something Scripture endorses, and in many ways it reflects the distortion of slothfulness.
  • Dualism, put simply, is wrongly dividing something that should not be divided. This all too often takes place in our work. When we wrongly distinguish one type of work from another, placing value on some types of work at the expense of others, we fall into the distortion of work dualism.
  • Work dualism sees through a bifurcated lens in the form of a two–story world. The upper story is seen as a higher vocational calling, one devoted to the church or religious or sacred work. The lower story is viewed as a lower vocational calling, one devoted to secular work.
  • Work dualism can be seen in various Christian traditions. For example, the language of “full-time Christian work” is commonly used to describe those whose vocational calling is to be a pastor, missionary, or parachurch worker. However, a proper and biblical understanding is that all Christians are called to “full-time Christian work,” doing good work well for the glory of God, regardless of their specific vocation.
  • Many followers of Jesus live their entire lives in the workplace under the soul-suffocating distortion that their work is not as important and God honoring as the work of a pastor or missionary.
  • In reality, there is no more sacred space than the workplace where God has called you to serve him as you serve the common good.
  • How are you approaching your work? Are you viewing your work through an idealistic or a realistic lens? A perfect job or career is not only unrealistic, it is theologically untenable.

Chapter 3: The Good News of Work

  • The wonderful and glorious news of the gospel is that our standing before and relationship with a holy, righteous God is not based on anything we have done or could possibly do but on what Jesus has already done on our behalf on the cross. It is not by our works but by his stripes that we are healed.
  • We can find ourselves thinking deeply about our work without thinking deeply about the gospel. But this is something we simply must not do. There is really no good news about our work without the good news of the gospel. For the gospel is the transforming power that changes us.
  • Hard work, however noble, without a relationship with the Father proves empty, meaningless, and despairing.
  • The work we do will not win us favor with our Father. Yet as new creations in Christ, transformed from the inside out, we are able to again do the work we were created for.
  • An essential aspect of presenting our Christian faith to the world around us is seen in and through the diligence we exhibit in our work.
  • In all aspects of our lives, including our workplaces, we display to those around us the light of the glory of Christ who indwells us.
  • Our good works take on many dimensions, and we must see that our daily work is a significant part of the good works that glorify God.
  • One of the ways that we are salt and light and act as redemptive agents in this broken world is to live out a faithful presence in the workplace.
  • A large stewardship of our calling in the workplace is faithfully showing up every day and demonstrating to others around us our good in and through our work.
  • As image-bearers of God, who is a worker, we must remember that our work has intrinsic value in itself and is to be an act of worship. We also must grasp that our work has instrumental value in that it provides for our economic needs, allows us to care for the needs of others, and creates a sphere of influence for the gospel to be lived out and shared.
  • Without knowing Christ, your work will never be all that God intended for it to be. Without knowing the One who created work, your work will never be ultimately fulfilling. The good news of work is that we can be transformed—that our work can be transformed.

Chapter 4: Work Now and Later

  • The Bible places work within the literary framework of an unfolding progression in God’s redemption of the physical world.
  • As we go to work every day, we must realize that while our work will never be all it was intended to be in this fallen world, a new and better world is coming.
  • Jesus tells his disciples a story often referred to as the parable of the talents. Sometimes we overlook that Jesus sets this parable about the future in the context of work and the workplace.
  • Each one of us will one day give a full accounting to God for our life. This is a game-changing truth that ought to shape how we live and work. Since such a large proportion of our time is devoted to our work, much of our accounting before God will be answering for the stewardship of the work we have been called to do.
  • When we begin to grasp the transforming truth that the future destiny of our work and our world is not complete annihilation but radical healing, it changes how we view our daily work. If we believe that the earth—everything about it and everything we do on it—is simply going to one day be abolished and disappear, then the logical conclusion is that our work is virtually meaningless.
  • But if our daily work, done for the glory of God and the common good of others, in some way carries over to the new heavens and new earth, then our present work itself is overflowing with immeasurable value and eternal significance.
  • A robust theology of work both now and in the future brings fresh perspective to our lives. Our vocational callings become rich with meaning. Our attitude toward work is transformed. A new creativity and diligence emerges. A sense of anticipation of a glorious future in the new heavens and new earth fills our souls.
  • In the new heaven and new earth we will sing God’s praises with our lips in our resurrected bodies. And as glorious as that will be, we will have the privilege to also sing God’s praises with our work. For we have been created with work in mind. Your work is anything but a waste. Your work matters now and it matters for the future.

Chapter 5: Extraordinary Ordinary Work

  • David Miller speaks with compelling clarity when he writes, “Whether conscious or unintended, the pulpit all too frequently sends the signal that work in the church matters but work in the world does not. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that workers, businesspeople, and other professionals often feel unsupported by the Sunday church in their Monday marketplace vocations.”
  • For pastors to preach, and for us to conclude, that using our gifts within the context of a Christian organization is the only way we can truly invest our talents in the kingdom widely misses the mark of what the Bible truly teaches in its robust theology of vocation.
  • A right understanding of vocation has been a transforming truth in the day-to-day ordinary lives of faithful followers of Jesus for many centuries. Vocation is a robust theology of ordinary, everyday life.
  • The New Testament records Jesus spending only about three years in itinerant ministry, what we might refer to as full-time vocational ministry. But for the many years before that, Jesus worked as a carpenter.
  • A vital part of our learning from Jesus, of being yoked with him, is learning the path of vocational faithfulness. Brilliantly, Jesus teaches us not only how to live but also how to work.
  • One of the primary ways we tangibly love our neighbors is to do excellent, God-honoring work in our various vocations.
  • Your vocational work is your specific and invaluable contribution to God’s ongoing creation and an essential aspect of God’s Great Commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Work’s main goal is worship through a lifestyle of God-honoring vocational faithfulness.
  • Paul lays out three attitudinal adjustments that powerfully transform the workplaces we have been called to inhabit. Paul says, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5:16–18). In these power-packed verses Paul encourages us to cultivate attitudes of joy, of prayer, and of gratitude.
  • Our God-honoring work is often one of the greatest apologetics for our God-focused words.

Chapter 6: The Transforming Power of Work

  • When we think about work, our tendency is to reflect on how we, as free moral agents, shape our work, yet we must not overlook how the work we do profoundly forms us as individuals within a community.
  • We shape our work and our work shapes us.
  • In a multitude of ways, our work defines who we are, what we are becoming, and how we are contributing to the world.
  • Daily we are being formed by the work we do, the people we rub shoulders with, and the skills we acquire. Work is one of the providential arrangements through which we are spiritually formed.
  • Martin Luther understood vocation to be the primary pathway God uses to transform our lives.
  • If we are going to avoid a mindless and perilous conformity to the spirit of our age, we must be actively engaged in the renewal of our minds. Only then will we have the discernment and attentiveness to discover God’s will and honor him in our lives and our work.
  • If we fail to meditate on Scripture and nurture our intimacy with God at work, where we spend the vast majority of our time, then our spiritual growth, Christian maturity, and spiritual formation will be greatly hindered.
  • If you will embrace the spiritual discipline of the careful study and consistent memorization of God’s Word and hide it in your heart, then meditating on God’s Word in your workplace as you work will be transformational in your life.
  • One of God’s primary places where he desires your mind to be renewed is your workplace—for your thoughts, words, and behavior to be changed while you work. Your workplace is to be a place of spiritual formation.
  • We must not compartmentalize our work and our worship, but rather we must learn to see our work as an act of worship. Though God is omnipresent, make it your thoughtful intention to bring God with you to work and mediate on the truths of his Word while you work.
  • The Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence joins us in our work—guiding us, empowering us, interceding for us, and producing in us character qualities of Christlikeness such as love, humility, submission, servanthood, and sacrifice.
  • Our attitude toward our work, the excellence of our work, and our relationship with our coworkers would dramatically change if we walked in the Spirit at work.
  • When we face the formidable winds of workplace trials, rather than running from them or becoming embittered by them, we would be wise to lean into them with trust and confidence, knowing that God has allowed them in our lives for a reason. Often this reason is not fully known by us.
  • If you will begin to see your workplace as your primary place of discipleship, it will be truly life changing. You will do good work. You will grow spiritually, and you will have a significant influence in the world.

Chapter 7: Work and the Common Good

  • Scripture teaches that our work is about more than financial remuneration, making a profit, economic self-interest, or career advancement. We were created with work in mind, but the work God had in mind for us has a communal nature and responsibility.
  • As followers of Jesus, one of our primary stewardships is to be our brother’s keeper. One of the most important ways we fulfill this charge is through our vocations. The work we are called to do is a God-ordained means where we, in very tangible ways, care for God’s good world, contribute to the needs of others, and foster the common good.
  • When we speak of the common good, we are describing all the various aspects of contemporary life that contribute positively to human flourishing both as individuals and as communities. The Protestant Reformers connected vocation to human flourishing and the common good. Martin Luther’s understanding of vocation was deeply embedded in our calling as workers to promote the well-being of others and our world.
  • Luther’s theology of vocation emphasized a primary way we love our neighbor is in and through our work. John Calvin also saw human work through the lens of the common good.
  • One of the main purposes of our work is that in and through our vocations our own practical needs are met and the common good is fostered.
  • Though we don’t always feel it or see it directly, as we do our work as an act of worship for the glory of God, we can be confident that we are contributing to the important work that our heavenly Father is doing in our world.
  • In and through our vocations we have the opportunity to extend common grace to others, and in doing so we foster the common good.
  • As followers of Jesus who embrace common grace, we are called to be honest and considerate in our workplaces. We should be quick to praise others for their successes and contributions and seek practical ways to be helpful and caring.
  • Be attentive to ways you can express and model Christlike gentleness and servanthood. Be a good neighbor—not just where you live, but also where you work.
  • Jesus’s parable of the good Samaritan has profound implications for the workplaces we indwell and the neighborly love we are to incarnate there.
  • Neighborly love and the common grace it exhibits toward others is the high bar we are to strive for in our daily work.
  • As fellow sinners in need of the gospel’s saving grace, we are called to interact with others in our work settings with humility and a teachable spirit rather than any pharisaical attitude of moral superiority.
  • One of the best ways to avoid an “us versus them” mentality in the workplace is to pray regularly for those we work with. I find that when I am praying for others, I am much more inclined to extend common grace to them, exhibiting workplace courtesy, civility, and respect.
  • When we embrace common grace for the common good, we actively promote justice and fairness in the workplace.

Chapter 8: Gifted For Work

  • Our work is a gift from God, but we are also gifted by God for our work. How God has created us and gifted us, and the very human dispositions we have been given, shape his vocational will for our lives.
  • I believe that at any stage of life you can discern and live out your God-honoring vocational contribution in the world.
  • Our lives and our vocational callings are woven into the beautiful tapestry of God’s often mysterious providence. Through the eyes of faith, we can be confident that God is moving his redemptive story forward and empowering us to participate with his work in the world.
  • Frederick Buechner makes this important and insightful observation: “God calls you to the kind of work that you need most to do, and that the world most needs to have done . . . the place God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
  • You were created with work in mind. You have been gifted to do a particular work. As a follower of Christ who has been born from above, you have been equipped and empowered by the Holy Spirit to make an important vocational contribution, a contribution that God has providentially arranged for you to make in this world.
  • An important aspect of the filling of the Holy Spirit is the supernatural empowerment mediated in and through our vocational callings.
  • The gifts of the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit, as well as the guidance and empowerment of the Spirit, find great expression in and through our vocations.
  • Your vocational calling is not only a gift from God but also equips and supernaturally gifts you for work.
  • I have also found these four diagnostic questions very helpful for vocational direction at any stage of life. We need to ask ourselves: (1) How has God designed me? (2) What life experiences have shaped me? (3) What circumstances surround me? and (4) What do my wise counselors say?
  • There are also many personality assessment tools available that help us get a better read on how we have been designed.
  • The kind of spiritual gift or gifts we have been given by the Holy Spirit when we come to Christ also play a role in discerning our vocational calling. Oftentimes particular spiritual gifts such as teaching, leadership, administration, or mercy dovetail beautifully and seamlessly in our vocational calling.
  • Another consideration in discerning how God has designed us as individuals is to assess what interests and motivates us.
  • The kind of work we like to do is an indicator of the kind of work we were created to do.
  • To get a better grasp on how God has designed us, it is also helpful to recall those times when the work we have done has emotionally drained us.
  • God not only designs us in a particular way with a particular contribution in mind, he also providentially allows many experiences to shape our lives.
  • We often find our vocational calling through relational networks that are already part of our lives.
  • When we are seeking vocational guidance, it is important to carefully read and prayerfully reflect on the guiding truths of Scripture. It is also important to seek out wise counsel from others who are very knowledgeable in our vocational fields of activity and are known to be mature individuals brimming with understanding and wisdom.
  • Your vocational sweet spot is that place where your creativity is most unleashed, your passions are most engaged, and your work makes the greatest contribution to advancing the mission of the organization or business you serve.

Chapter 9: Facing Challenges in Our Work

  • We are only one step away from personal and ethical compromises that can lead to personal disgrace and unleash a torrent of devastation on others.
  • One of the greatest challenges we face every day in our workplaces is living a life of personal integrity.
  • Personal integrity is observed in a person of good conscience where belief and behavior are growing in consistency. Maintaining this consistency in the workplace can be a formidable challenge, and in many cases wisdom and courage are needed.
  • Your personal integrity is the most important asset you bring to your workplace. If your personal integrity is compromised at work, your life is inevitably comprised. The pressure to compromise our core beliefs and ethical values as Christians is a regular temptation in many workplaces today.
  • You must make up your mind ahead of time what workplace boundaries you simply cannot cross as a disciple of Jesus, making a commitment to do what is right no matter the cost or the consequences.
  • If your work is crowding out a weekly Sabbath rest, it is time for you to make changes.
  • Sometimes our work overload is due to our poor planning and management of our work. An exercise that I have found helpful is to regularly make a to-do list as well as a stop-doing list.
  • Whether we are single or married, the workplace is often where we are most tempted to cross the boundaries God has for us in regard to our sexual purity.
  • When it comes to facing the challenge of sexual temptation, there are several important things to keep at the forefront of our minds. First, know that God has empowered you to resist temptation. Second, the way to escape sexual temptation is to flee it. Finally, establish wise boundaries within your workplace.
  • Wherever you find yourself in your vocational journey, it is important to cultivate a deep sense of contentment. Scripture tells us that true contentment is not found in the accumulation of financial wealth or a fulfilling career, but in a fulfilling and intimate relationship with Christ.
  • One of the marks of Christian maturity is a growing sense of joyous contentment wherever God has us and in whatever he has called us to do.
  • Consider your workplace challenges not as obstacles in your life but as opportunities to grow in greater Christlikeness.

Chapter 10: The Church at Work 

  • The doctrine of vocation properly understood weaves together a seamless life of true Christian discipleship in all facets of life. Vocation is the path of daily life where we are called to be a faithful presence in our world.
  • Embracing a more robust theology of vocation is not just about what you do on Monday; it requires changing how you speak, think, and act on Sunday.
  • Whether you are called to exercise leadership in your local congregation as a layperson or as a pastor, cultivating an integral theology of vocation is at the heart of your church’s gospel mission.
  • Vocational diligence is one of Paul’s main literary themes of this letter. His robust doctrine of vocation inextricably links the church’s vibrant spiritual formation with its flourishing gospel mission (1 Thess. 4:11–12; 5:12–15; see also 2 Thess. 3:6–15).
  • Through the Thessalonians, the transforming gospel message of faith in Christ had greatly spread. And this came about through their daily work.
  • Having embraced the gospel, they were honoring Christ in the various vocations and stations of life they were in when they were called.
  • Sometimes we wrongly buy into the idea that our gospel mission really advances most when we become a pastor or missionary or parachurch worker, or when we recruit others to do the same. But Paul commends gospel proclamation and incarnation in the primary context of Christian vocation and vocational networks.
  • If we are called to be a pastor or missionary, that is a high calling and should be applauded. If we are called to be a business leader, a teacher, a homemaker, or an assembly-line worker, that is also a high calling and should be equally applauded.
  • I believe much of our foggy thinking about work will clear if we begin to see our gospel mission through a vocational lens.
  • God designed the local church to be a transformed people scattered in their various vocational callings throughout the week. One of the highest stewardships for local church leadership is to encourage and equip apprentices of Jesus for their work. Yet this stewardship rarely gets the attention and commitment it requires.
  • Closing the Sunday-to-Monday gap will require more than hopeful thinking. Honest vocational appraisal is needed to begin doing the important work of equipping others for vocational diligence and faithfulness.
  • To move forward, a faith community will need to: (1) become more intentional about teaching a robust theology of vocation, (2) begin celebrating the diversity of vocations, (3) equip for vocational faithfulness, and (4) collaborate with other like-minded local churches that also recognize the church at work as a primary conduit for gospel faithfulness.
  • Teaching a rich vocational theology not only involves the preaching and teaching ministry of a local church, it also must become a vital part of the spiritual formation pathways in your faith community.
  • Desiring to encourage more momentum in this area of vocation, our faith community has hosted a church-wide conference devoted to the subject of work, as well as encouraged our congregation to attend other conferences on vocation. Teaching the rich and transforming truths of vocation is a vital part of your local church’s equipping mission.
  • Our local church is becoming more intentional about celebrating the broad diversity of vocations within our congregation. In our Sunday morning services, congregational members periodically give short and timely vocational testimonies, either live or via video, regarding their faith at work. At times the video testimonies will be shot on location at their particular workplaces.
  • In addition to teaching and celebrating vocational faithfulness, we also take seriously the transformational power of workplace mentoring.
  • Whatever your vocational calling, the workplace you inhabit is a place where life-changing mentoring is designed to take place.
  • Our local church has benefited a great deal in learning from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. Redeemer has been a pioneer in weaving a strong vocational thread into its mission. Redeemer’s Center for Faith and Work has been a catalyst for our leaders to think more intentionally about equipping our congregation in vocational mission.