To inspire their flock about their daily work, congregational leaders need to start with the vital truth that work preceded the fall. This truth is foundational for faithful vocational stewardship. Work is not a result of humankind’s fall into sin. Work is central in Genesis 1 and 2. There it is—right in the midst of paradise, right in the picture of God’s intentions for how things ought to be. Work is a gift from God. Work is something we were built for, something our loving Creator intends for our good.
Work is not evil, nor is it a side effect of sin. This truth can be hard for congregants to trust when they are frustrated in their jobs or unfulfilled in their careers. It’s certainly true that the curse of Genesis 3 brought toil and futility into work. Ever since, our experience of work involves pain as well as pleasure. But work itself is good. It has intrinsic value.
How We Participate in God’s Own Work
Human beings are made in the image of God, and God is a worker. Human labor has intrinsic value because in it we “image,” or reflect, our Creator. In Faith Goes to Work, author Robert Banks discusses God as our “vocational model,” describing the various sorts of work he does and how myriad human vocations give expression to these aspects of God’s work. Banks’s model is helpful for teaching congregants the intrinsic value of work. Pastors can explain the various ways in which God is a worker, and then encourage their congregants to identify where their own labors fit. God’s labors include the following:
Redemptive work (God’s saving and reconciling actions). Humans participate in this kind of work, for example, as evangelists, pastors, counselors, and peacemakers. So do writers, artists, producers, songwriters, poets, and actors who incorporate redemptive elements in their stories, novels, songs, films, performances, and other works.
Creative work (God’s fashioning of the physical and human world). God gives humans creativity. People in the arts (sculptors, actors, painters, musicians, poets, and so on) display this, as do a wide range of craftspeople such as potters, weavers, and seamstresses, as well as interior designers, metalworkers, carpenters, builders, fashion designers, architects, novelists, and urban planners (and more).
Providential work (God’s provision for and sustaining of humans and the creation). “The work of divine providence includes all that God does to maintain the universe and human life in an orderly and beneficial fashion,” Banks writes. “This includes conserving, sustaining, and replenishing, in addition to creating and redeeming the world.” Thus, innumerable individuals—bureaucrats, public utility workers, public policymakers, shopkeepers, career counselors, shipbuilders, farmers, firemen, repairmen, printers, transport workers, IT specialists, entrepreneurs, bankers and brokers, meteorologists, research technicians, civil servants, business school professors, mechanics, engineers, building inspectors, machinists, statisticians, plumbers, welders, janitors—and all who help keep the economic and political order working smoothly—reflect this aspect of God’s labor.
Justice work (God’s maintenance of justice). Judges, lawyers, paralegals, government regulators, legal secretaries, city managers, prison wardens and guards, policy researchers and advocates, law professors, diplomats, supervisors, administrators, and law enforcement personnel participate in God’s work of maintaining justice.
Compassionate work (God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding). Doctors, nurses, paramedics, psychologists, therapists, social workers, pharmacists, community workers, nonprofit directors, emergency medical technicians, counselors, and welfare agents all reflect this aspect of God’s labor.
Revelatory work (God’s work to enlighten with truth). Preachers, scientists, educators, journalists, scholars, and writers are all involved in this sort of work.
In all these various ways, God the Father continues his creative, sustaining, and redeeming work through our human labor. This gives our work great dignity and purpose. Vocational stewardship starts with celebrating the work itself and recognizing that God cares about it and is accomplishing his purposes through it.
It is worth lingering on this point because much teaching on the integration of faith and work neglects the inherent value of work. Church leaders should indeed teach and preach on becoming certain types of workers—honest workers, ethical workers, caring workers, faithful workers, and salt-and-light workers. But such teaching is insufficiently biblical if there’s never any mention of the inherent value of the work itself. As my brilliant friend Ken Myers likes to say, we should seek to be more than “adverbial Christians.”
Taken from Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy L. Sherman. Copyright © 2011 by Amy L. Sherman. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com
Editors' note: TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a weekly column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have discovered yet and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life.