4 Wesleyan Principles That Promote Personal Well-Being at Work

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Office work

David Wright’s book How God Makes The World A Better Place serves as a primer on faith, work and economic transformation from the Wesleyan perspective. Wright discusses a variety of economic issues raised within Wesley’s sermons and letters, as well as exploring Wesleyan-inspired approaches to work and to our treatment of others.

At one point Wright outlines four “Wesleyan principles that promote personal well-being at work.” In this post I want to recap these four principles, connecting them to Wesley’s own practices and advice to others.

1.) We are called to create workplaces that promote the well-being of both body and soul. Wesley was keen that his Methodist leaders have a basic knowledge of physical diagnostics and treatments. He compiled a little book of medical advice and treatments, Primitive Physick, and he made sure each Methodist society and each Methodist preacher had access to one.

The principle, I think, is this: whatever line of work we’re in, we should strive to become knowledgeable of all areas in which people can be helped and supported. And we should look to offer this help and support in every area possible, beyond the narrower limits of our job descriptions.

2.) We are called to create workplaces that meet basic human needs with fairness and compassion. In his sermon Heaviness through Manifold Temptations, Wesley remarked:

How many are there in this Christian country that toil, and labor, and sweat, and still are not able to earn their food, but struggle with weariness and hunger together? Is this not made worse when, after a hard day’s labor, he comes back to a poor, cold, dirty, uncomfortable lodging?….O want of bread! Want of bread! Who can tell what this means, unless he has felt this want himself? I am astonished that this great need creates no more than a sense of “heaviness” among those who believe.

This last line from Wesley is surely the one on which most of us should focus.

I think Wesley has something like the following in mind. We hear at work that the administrative staff at our company don’t have access to health care or don’t have a retirement package of any kind. And we say, “Wow, that’s tough. I don’t know how anyone gets by like that……Say! Did anyone see that new Star Wars trailer?” And we get on with our day.

Wesley is saying it’s not close to good enough merely to feel “heavy” about the plight of others who might be subject to an abusive boss, an unhealthy work load, stress from an unreasonable lack of job security, the stress of basic needs not being met, and so forth. We are called to be advocates for those around us—including those with whom we work.

3.) We are called to create workplaces that embrace the principle of ‘peacemaking’. Wesley was big on looking for every opportunity to do good to others, over and beyond the minimum support we might be required to give—even over and beyond how others may expect us to treat them. An interesting thing happens when we show others in unmistakable ways that we are committed to standing with them, over and beyond what we’re required to do. We communicate to them that we’re on their side.

Now, suppose that I’ve already communicated in this way to one person that I’m on his side, and I’ve already communicated to another person that I’m on her side. If these two people then have a conflict, I’ll be uniquely placed to be a bridge of reconciliation between them. Each person will trust me for the role of peacemaker. And so maybe Wesley really was on to something in emphasizing doing as much good for every person as we possibly can. Among other things, it places us in a position to be a peacemaker.

4.) We are called to create workplaces whose ultimate goal is to bring glory to God. Another quote from Wesley, this time from his sermon The More Excellent Way:

In what spirit do you run your business? Do you run your business in the spirit of the world, or the Spirit of Christ? I am afraid thousands of those who are called good Christians do not understand the question. If you act in the Spirit of Christ…you do everything in the spirit of sacrifice, giving up your will to the will of God, and continually aiming not at ease, pleasure, or riches; not at anything this short enduring world can give; but merely at the glory of God. Now can anyone deny that this is the most excellent way of pursuing worldly business?

If in some work situation we aren’t sure what exactly would bring God ‘glory’, we can remember that God is glorified when the people he loves are blessed. We can always ask ourselves: what would bless my boss, my colleague, my assistant, my customer? And then we can commence working for the glory of God.

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Kevin Kinghorn serves as editor of the Faith and Work Collective blog. He is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Asbury Theological Seminary. His undergraduate work (Emory) was in economics and political science. His graduate work (Asbury; Yale; Oxford) and current teaching has focused on topics within philosophy of religion and moral philosophy. He lives in Mt. Sterling, KY, where he and his wife Barbara work toward community transformation, providing music and art opportunities for children.

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