In this series, we have explored four inappropriate postures that people of faith are at risk of assuming when approaching their work lives. In this final post, we want to offer what we believe to be a more faithful expression of how we conceptualize work activity as people of faith: Work as Worship.
Specifically, consider what we refer to as the Four C’s of Work as Worship: Co-Creation, Catalyst, Contribution, and Community. Let’s look at each in turn.
To understand the notion of Co-Creation, we must first understand the nature of God as a creator. Specifically, it is in God’s nature to produce. Creative activity is an overflow of who God is. Moreover, God relates to his creation. Given this, as image-bearers of a creative and relational God, as we create, produce, and act within the world we are participating in this activity with God. Thus, our work activity itself suggests that there is not only output in our labor (what we produce), but there is an essence to our labor. That is, it has intrinsic value.
The NRSV version of Ephesians 2:10 reads: “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” Goodness, fulfillment, significance, and meaning are bound up in apprehending and embodying who God made us to be. This is not simply something we choose to do, but we were created for good works to “be our way of life.”
But in addition to being co-creators with God, we can utilize the gifts that God has provided us in a way that is glorifying to the gift-giver. Gifts, however, are inert if they are not employed—what John Wesley referred to as “blowing up the coals into a flame.” Thus, as image-bearers of God, we exist as the catalyst for our gifts and their ultimate employment. Put differently, we have a responsibility to steward, or manage, our gifts in a faithful way, which means employing them for the sake of others. The Bible makes it very clear that the purpose of our gifts, their telos, is for service: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (I Peter 4:10). Furthermore, serving others is not to be disconnected from serving the “master”: God—our original gift giver, the owner of our resources.
While co-creating with God and being a catalyst of the skills he has endowed us with relate to the essence of our work, we do not wish to dismiss the fact that work also serves a very practical function: production. Work is not just about a state of being; it is also about a state of doing. That is, our work makes a contribution. Here’s why: our work activity addresses one of the most pressing, pervasive, and ubiquitous problems in modern society: scarcity. Scarcity, or the idea of finite resources in a world of infinite desires, creates serious problems related to justice (who deserves what), production decisions (how we trade-off the use of our resources), and social maladies (conflict, poverty, corruption, etc.).
Scarcity will always be present in nearly any environment we find ourselves in. There is a force, however, that can serve to minimize its effect: Growth. In other words, our work activity can make a contribution to growth and development in a way that fends off the threat of scarcity. So, where scarcity is the problem of not having enough, production is the solution of creating more. Proverbs 14:4 describes this simple philosophy well: “Where there are no oxen, there is no grain; abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” In other words, when we work, we produce—and our needs are satisfied. Or as “The Message” translation puts it, “No cattle, no crops.” No activity, no output.
But don’t miss this—there is a faithful way to think about growth. Here are just a few examples. If scarcity is a matter of finite resources, then we can also shift our understanding of abundance and “enough.” In other words, as I adjust my appetite, the problem of scarcity becomes less acute. Further, we can recognize that material development is different from moral development (what good is our abundance if it has little effect on our character?). Finally, we can redeem productive work that is being done that mirrors God’s themes. To steward the environment, help a child learn to share, assist the poor and elderly, or create a device that brings clean drinking water to a third-world village is to make an important contribution. To redeem these acts as God-created and God-sponsored themes is to redefine, altogether, how we conceive of the very notion of contribution. This is worship.
Last but not least, our work lives can serve to cultivate community, and this is an explicit act of worship. Why? Because community matters to God. As mentioned, God relates to his creation. In other words, it is within His character be relational. Thus, we may appropriately say that God not only cares for community, but God is community; He possesses a communal nature.
Naturally, then, if we are image-bearers of a creative and relational God—then we participate in the nature of God when we create and relate. Moreover, as Wesley would argue, we participate in our own nature—since Wesley believed that humans are “relationally constituted.”
We can define community in the workplace as bonding between co-workers where relationships, shared meanings, and a sense of common good is cultivated from a diversity of backgrounds. Community, in this sense, is shared space accompanied by inclusion and membership. When we commune—when we relate—we not only live out our relational nature, but we reflect our relational creator.
To summarize, in this series we have sought to argue that work and worship should not be divided, nor should it be inappropriately married. Rather, our work is a form of worship. That is, we do worship, as the book of James argues. While not exhaustive, we have attempted to highlight what it means to engage in our work activity as a form of worship: co-creating with God, serving as a catalyst for the gifts he has provided us, contributing to the common good through our productive activity, and engendering collaborative community through workplace partnership.
Kevin Brown and Mike Wiese are regular contributors to Faith and Work Collective. Thanks, guys!