Faith-and-work conversations aren’t just for the spiritually mature or those seeking more advanced discipleship. They’re not reserved for urban professionals working in white-collar jobs either.
No, since faith-and-work conversations are about all-of-life coherence, everyone should be engaging in them—even children.
What Do People Do All Day?
Two Sundays ago, I walked into my church’s 4-year-old preschool class with a copy of Richard Scarry’s What Do People Do All Day? to teach them about faith and work. Scarry’s book is one of the best children’s books on vocation. Originally published in 1968, the classic big book is a panorama of the animals of Busytown at work. Through illustrations “crammed with details that toddlers find enthralling,” Scarry describes the occupations and activities of citizens like Cookie the Chef and Stitches the Tailor. He also includes labels that indicate the processes and equipment they use while performing their jobs.
Described by The New Yorker as “positively guaranteed to please any small child,” What Do People Do All Day? has “useful, helpful explanations of vocational professionals from logging to farming to carpentry and plenty of others,” one reviewer writes. Another recalls, “In honor of Labor Day, we explored all the different jobs that people do to help make our community a happy and successful place! This book really shows the interconnectivity of the world.”
Every Good Endeavor
Since I wanted to teach the kids about faith and work, not just work, I decided to pair What Do People Do All Day? with Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavor. I wasn’t planning on reading, or even referencing, Keller to the kids, but I did hope to ground my storytelling in at least two ways.
Work as Cultivation
First, I wanted to teach them about work as cultivation. “If we are going to be God’s image-bearers with regard to creation,” Keller writes, “then we will have to carry on his pattern of work.” What is his pattern of work? It is “rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish.”
As I opened Scarry’s book, I turned to its last pages to teach them about God’s pattern of work in the story “where bread comes from.” I showed them how Farmer Pig harvests the wheat from the field and then sends it to the flourmill, where it’s ground into flour, sewn into bags, and shipped to the bakery. At the bakery, Able Baker Charlie and Baker Fox turn it into bread, just before the oven explodes because they use too much yeast. (They roared with laughter!) We talked about how these animal workers use what God made (wheat) to follow his pattern of creative cultural development (bread).
Work as Service
Then we talked about work as service, too. “We are to see work as a way of service to God and our neighbor,” Keller writes, “and so we should both choose and conduct our work in accordance with that purpose.” Since all of us can serve others through our work, there’s no hint of a secular-sacred vocational divide. Here, Keller quotes Martin Luther, who argues that any notion of a spiritual-temporal vocational divide is “pure invention” because “all Christians are truly of the spiritual estate, and there is no difference among them except that of office.” As priests, therefore, all of us are called by God equally to our work (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 5:9-10).
Scarry doesn’t focus on the priesthood of all believers as Luther does, but he does show the animals of Busytown using their work to serve others. After I finished the story, we counted how many animals participated in the bread-making process. “One, two, three . . . fifty!” we said in unison. Then I asked, “Who is working in all of this activity, but is not in any of these pictures?” I chuckled when one little boy, recalling an earlier illustration, proudly exclaimed, “The worm!” Thankfully, I was able to steer the conversation to God, saying, “He makes the wheat grow and gives people talents and skills to turn the wheat into bread for us to eat.”
Then we talked about why, if people are the ones making the bread, we thank God for it. Keller again points to Luther:
[W]hen you pray for daily bread . . . you must open up and expand your thinking, so that it reaches not only as far as the flour bin and baking oven but also out over the broad fields, the farmlands, and the entire country that produces, processes, and conveys to us our daily bread and all kinds of nourishment.
This, I explained, is how God gives us our daily bread today—not only through people like Farmer Pig and Able Baker Charlie, but also through the miller, the processor, the truck driver, and all the people who work to bring us food. He could drop food from the sky, but instead, he chooses to use his people to care for one another.
Kid’s Dream Job
Did the preschoolers understand all of this? Probably not. But I would guess that most kids dream of being superheroes and firefighters not just because those jobs seem exciting, but also because they help people. Even at 4 years old, they have nascent desires that testify to their bearing God’s image as a worker who cultivates and serves.
Over the years, I’m sure these kids will learn more about work—its goodness and brokenness—and they’ll probably advance from What Do People Do All Day? to books like The Works: Anatomy of a City. But I hope that by exposing them at an early age to work as cultivation and service, we can shape their “dream jobs” to be ones that contribute to the flourishing of creation, the common good of humanity, and the advancement of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.