The most popular presentation of the gospel in evangelical churches centers on Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It begins with our most fundamental reality—that we are sinners separated from God—and then offers the good news that God, in his great love and mercy, is willing to forgive us through Jesus.
The glorious truths celebrated in this too-narrow gospel do not, in themselves, capture the full, grand, amazing scope of Jesus’s redemptive work. For Jesus came preaching not just the gospel of personal justification but the gospel of the kingdom. It is not just about our reconciliation to a holy God—though that is the beautiful center of it. It is also about our reconciliation with one another and with the creation itself.
The good news of the Bible is not only individual forgiveness but the renewal of the whole creation. God put humanity in the garden to cultivate the material world for his own glory and for the flourishing of nature and the human community. The Spirit of God not only converts individuals (e.g., John 16:8) but also renews and cultivates the face of the earth (e.g., Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:30).
The gospel, therefore, isn’t just good news for our hearts; it’s good news for our work, too. If we want to understand how the gospel changes everything, including our work, then we must grasp its comprehensive significance.
In one sentence, how would you define or describe the gospel?
In his talk, Dr. Keller says, “Every single area of your life is affected by the gospel.” Do you agree? Why or why not?
Can you think of a story in your life that’s like the one that Dr. Keller shares? What happened? What truths of the gospel did you value? How did you feel?
The gospel is the good news of Christianity, how God has acted in Christ to bring redemption to a fallen world. The grand sweep of Bible’s storyline, then, is how Jesus comes to reverse the curse and make all things new. It has four major plot movements—creation, fall, redemption, and restoration.
Work is not a result of the fall. Work is good. God made us to work. Part of what it means to be made in his image includes working and cultivating his creation (Gen. 1:26, 28). He gave us dominion—that is, creative stewardship—over his creation. It is creative because we use the raw materials of his creation to build new things, and it is stewardship because, although God has given us authority to cultivate the world, he retains ownership of it. In this way, we are “sub-creators,” as J.R.R. Tolkien puts it, working toward human flourishing under God’s sovereignty and delight as a form of worship.
As a result of the fall, though, our work is filled with “thorns and thistles” (Gen. 3:18). First, our relationship to work itself is broken. Instead of seeing it as worship, we see it as a means of self-fulfillment and self-actualization, a way to make a name for ourselves (Gen. 11:4). Second, our relationships with others are affected. Instead of serving one another in joy, we compete in jealousy. Like Adam, who said, “Don’t blame me; blame the woman,” and Eve, who said, “Don’t blame me; blame the serpent,” we shift culpability away from ourselves (Gen. 3:12-13).
In Christ, however, God has begun his work of redemption in the world and in our hearts. He redeems our relationship with work because, as he increasingly becomes the center of our affections, success doesn’t go to our heads and failure doesn’t go to our hearts. Christ redeems our relationships with others, too. When he subdued his enemies and died the death we deserved, saying, “Don’t blame them; blame me,” he unfurled his resurrection power to restore all the ruins of the fall. By his Spirit, we now have the ability and willingness to turn work from a means of personal advancement to a vocational calling driven by selflessness, service, and love.
Our present work ultimately points to our future destiny, the time when all things will be restored (Acts 3:21). At that time, though, we will not enter a garden, as in the original creation, but a city—where there is an abundance of human culture, innovation, and work. Anticipating this future reality shapes our work today because it gives us hope that our work will one day be fulfilled—even as we recognize that our efforts now are only proximate, dim hints of the ultimate restoration of all things that awaits the personal and bodily return of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will return to usher in perfect righteousness and peace.
The more we understand how the gospel redeems our work, the more we understand that our talents and gifts are not ours to keep, but to give away. Paul says that God gives us “spiritual gifts” to do ministry and build up the church and that each of us has a different role or assignment within the church (1 Cor. 12:8-9, 11). Elsewhere, however, Paul doesn’t limit the application of our gifts to church work only: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Cor 7:17). Here, Tim Keller notes, Paul uses words like “calling” and “assignment,” which he normally uses in the context of church work, to refer to work outside the church:
Paul is not referring in this case to church ministries, but to common social and economic tasks—“secular jobs,” we might say—and naming them God’s callings and assignments. The implication is clear: Just as God equips Christians for building up the Body of Christ, so he also equips all people with talents and gifts for various kinds of work, for the purpose of building up the human community.
Our work is a vocational assignment, then, if God calls us to do it and if we do it for the sake of others, not ourselves. This is why some people refer to their work as their “vocation,” implying that they don’t just feel a strong sense of suitability for it, but that they sense that the Lord has assigned it to them.
What do you do everyday? How do you feel about what you do (particularly gifted for it, frustrated by it, etc.)?
How is your work a way to love others?
In light of her talk, does your work fit into any of Dr. Sherman’s three categories (providential, restraining, or renewing)? Why or why not?
Although we have each been given unique gifts and talents, we exercise them in unison together, for we are “being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). Yet we do this in two ways—as the church gathered and as the church scattered.
When we come together for corporate worship, we are “the church gathered.” When we go out into the world to love and serve our neighbors through our work in various places, we are “the church scattered.” The public ministry of the church—from corporate worship to any other activity in which the church as an institution engages—is, therefore, distinct from individual Christians living out their everyday lives in the world. At the same time, though, individual Christians—though geographically separated—remain one body, working together to glorify God and contribute to the flourishing of their neighbors in their communities.
We don’t have to choose, therefore, between advancing the local church as an institution and supporting the individual Christians within that local church. It is a both-and, not an either-or. Pastors can promote both, as Daniel Strange contends,
the primacy of word and sacrament and the ultimacy of evangelism and discipleship in the ministry of their church and the need for Christian worldview thinking, vocation, cultural engagement, and more broadly, the societal and cosmic implications of the gospel.
What is the work that you do in each of these two contexts—as the church gathered (elder, deacon/deaconess, teacher, mercy ministry volunteer, etc.) and the church scattered (at-home work, office work, non-church volunteer work, etc.)?
From the work that you listed, how do you see God using you as an agent of redemption?
What unique missional opportunities do you see in your work as the scattered church?
When we are the church scattered, we are “the masks of God”—that is, agents of his providential love. Luther notes that God could have chosen to give us every good thing by speaking a word or waving a hand, as he did in the garden and in the desert. Instead, he chooses to use his image-bearers to give us all things because he wants us to be bound together in interdependent love, relationships, and communities. For example, when Luther teaches on the Lord’s Prayer in his Larger Catechism (translated by Janzow), he says that praying for our “daily bread” means we’re praying for everything that must happen for us to have and enjoy it (90):
You must open 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.
When we praise God for his protection and provision, therefore, we recognize that people like police and farmers act as “the masks of God” to secure our borders and fill us with wheat. We celebrate that God is using his image-bearers to show us something of his goodness and to make us bound together in love. This also shows us that Christians can do almost any kind of work—from data-entry to education to medicine to so much more—as an offering of worship to God.
What does it mean to engage in “the ministry of competence” in your work?
How does the concept of “the masks of God” cause you to reconsider or reframe other people’s work in service to you?
Why and how does this concept change how you might approach, say, seemingly mundane, ordinary work?
Christians glorify God not only through the ministry of the Word, but also through their vocations of agriculture, art, business, government, scholarship—all for God’s glory and the furtherance of the public good. . . . We have a vision for a church that equips its people to think out the implications of the gospel on how we do carpentry, plumbing, data-entry, nursing, art, business, government, journalism, entertainment, and scholarship.
In other words, some Christians are called to the pulpit, but others are called—in the same way—to different vocations. The distinction between “sacred” and “secular” vocational callings is, therefore, artificial. As pastor Kevin DeYoung observes in Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will,
Please don’t ever think you are a second-class citizen in the kingdom of God if you aren’t in full-time ministry. You can honor the Lord as a teacher, mother, doctor, lawyer, loan officer, or social worker; you can work in retail, fast food, politics, or big business; you can be a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker. You can be just about anything you want as long as you aren’t lazy (Proverbs 6:6-11; 26:13-16), and whatever you do you perform to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). (pp. 102-103)
There is, therefore, one world, not two, that is created and fallen, that is being redeemed, and that will one day be restored. And Christ’s lordship extends over every aspect of it. As Abraham Kuyper says, “If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit.”
What does Lecrae say is a biblical worldview, and how does such a view affect the meaning of the word “secular”?
Lecrae says that a lawyer can use his or her work as a ministry. How can your work be viewed as a ministry?
What does “engaging” culture mean for you in your life, community, neighborhood, city, etc.?
The Role of Wisdom and Discernment in an Exilic Age
We are sojourners and exiles, living in Babylon, not Jerusalem. As the scattered church, we live and work in environments that don’t share all of our values. In fact, we’re sometimes the only ones in our workplaces trying to do the right things, which means we’re often thinking through complex issues when “the right things” aren’t always clear.
For example, the Bible doesn’t offer a set of rules to obey, like whether to work for a cigarette company or whether to dismiss a particular employee. Wisdom requires going to God for discernment. The Holy Spirit is immensely powerful and omnipresent, so redemption is not ours to bear. But for our own joy and peace, it helps to build a relationship with God on a daily basis—not just in our moments of need.
What moral pressures do you face in your work, your role, and your industry?
Can you think of a challenging issue that you’re currently facing, or that you recently faced, at work? Does the Bible speak directly about it? If so, what does it say? If not, what are some truths and beauties of the gospel that can inform how you handle it?
How can you pray for more wisdom (Phil. 1:9; Col. 1:9)?
Such a church [that integrates faith and work] will not only support Christians’ engagement with culture, but will also help them work with distinctiveness, excellence, and accountability in their trades and professions. Developing humane yet creative and excellent business environments out of our understanding of the gospel is part of the work of bringing a measure of healing to God’s creation in the power of the Spirit. Bringing Christian joy, hope, and truth to embodiment in the arts is also part of this work.
Conceptually, it’s helpful to look at three different lenses by which we approach work—heart, community, and world.
The gospel changes our heart motivations for work—from selfish gain to worship and service. It also changes the honor we ascribe to work—we don’t make it an idol, dismiss it, or approach it with laziness—for we work “as unto the Lord” (Col. 3:23).
The gospel also changes how we relate to others. In our jobs, we are in relationships with many people—customers, colleagues, clients, students, parents, and more. The gospel changes all of these. Yet it doesn’t make us the model for goodness; only Christ is Savior. It does, though, enable us to be redeemed sinners, sharing the gospel not merely with words but also by exhibiting lived-out repentant lifestyles.
Finally, the gospel changes the world and the culture in which we operate—whether that is a particular firm or industry or the culture-at-large. Our work has ripple effects that reach far beyond what we can imagine at any given point in time. Small decisions at banks, for example, can impact an entire housing market. A new technological innovation can disrupt old systems. When we work self-serving purposes, then dangerous things can happen. When, however, they’re made for God’s glory and the love of others, people can flourish.
In what ways has the gospel shaped your heart, your community, and your world?
In light of the entire course, how do you think you’re more equipped to pray toward a full integration of the whole gospel—from your heart to your community to your world?
The following examples of Christian women exercising their faith as they lead in their workplaces help provide some ideas for believers who seek to cross the “sacred-secular” divide on a weekly basis.
Eleanor Morgan, President & CEO, MD&E Clarity
Take your business prayer list before God. I’m always bringing those in front of God, saying, This is what I’m asking you to do for your business. And remembering that it’s not about me; it may not be what I want to do, but if he’s urging me to go in that direction, that’s where I should be going to lead the business or to lead my family.
I believe that you have to have almost constant prayer—constant communication. And it’s something that God built into me early. And when I face something that I’m not sure about, I’m always saying, God, give me the right word, give me the wisdom, and help me do this. I don’t know how to do this; give me the wisdom I need to do it.
You have to have a time that’s set aside where you truly communicate with God about what you need and what you want to offer him, that you’re here for him, and these are my thoughts. I use a journal, often using a blank journal page to record our interaction. And I incorporate that into my leadership because I pray over the decisions that I make.
Cynthia B. Kaye, CEO & Chief Zookeeper, Alive Studios
I spend regular time with God in the morning first thing. It’s not oodles amount of time, but I just try to connect and give the day to Him and have gratitude and thank Him.
I don’t pray a lot publicly. I think it’s great for those who do. I might mention to the team, “Let’s really pray about such and such,” or I’ll just be walking and go, “We’ll need God’s favor on this and God, we need your wisdom,” while I’m talking. When I’m walking through an issue, I’ll just say, “God, I’m about to go into this meeting. Give me favor and wisdom on how to talk through this.”
Shannon Miles, CEO & Co-Founder, Belay Solutions
When it comes to faith at work, the staff prays openly and often, in their team, leadership and corporate meetings. I personally pray for my team members.
We are upfront in our hiring process when screening applicants. We are sure to explain, “You don’t have to be a Christian to join our team, but this is what we do and this is how we do it” to ensure that we don’t needlessly offend anyone.
There was one occasion when I could have shared about my faith and really blew it. It was a corporate environment, and we live in the South where talking about your faith is acceptable and common, but I don’t think I was as overt about is as I should have been. We were in a tough negotiation via conference call and I have a tendency to talk people off the ledge, like, “Let’s methodically figure this out, and it’s not the end of the world.” One of the senior leaders asked me, “How are you so calm? Where do you get your peace from?” And instead I said “I don’t know, I’m just really calm.” It was the worst answer ever.
Cheryl Deluca-Johnson, Former CEO, Street Grace
Being a faith-based non-profit, faith and work go hand in hand. It is the reason we do what we do. We exist to serve God and mankind. Publicly, we pray before the audience at each event, led by local pastors.
It is a never-ending task to raise funds for a nonprofit, and we started this nonprofit in a recession. As we hired people and grew, I felt a tremendous obligation to support our people who needed their paychecks, and because I believed in the work we were doing. Over the years, we’ve gotten down to one paycheck before, and you know what? We got down on our knees, and I said, “If God’s in it, He will support it. If He’s not, then we all need to move on anyway.” I think that through the power of our faith, we have never chased money. We have never gone after grants that were outside our vision and mission just for the money. It was tempting, but we never did it. It was a stretch, because it was very stressful at times, but God always came through.
Beth Bragg Henon, President, Bragging Rights Public Relations
I don’t ”integrate” prayer into what I do—I start with prayer, I cover it in prayer, follow it up with prayer. Prayer is the work. John 15:5 says “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (NIV).
Prayer comes in asking for the right kind of work. The prayer comes when the inquiry comes about the work.
The prayer comes when I’m deciding whether or not to take the work.
The prayer comes—”Ok, Lord, I’ve taken the work; what’s the best direction to lead this work.”
The prayer comes, “Lord, give me some new creative strategies for this work.”
The prayer comes with, “Now I’ve got to present this strategy; help me to speak clearly and do it well.”
The prayer comes, “Help me build the right team.”
The prayer comes, “Lord, I’ve done everything I can; now you’re going to have to bring the result.”
Janet Ward Black, Owner, Ward Black Law
Our firm gives 10% of our gross profits to charity as a “tithe.” We’ve organized a charity team of company employees to select and build relationships with the non-profits we give to.
On the first Tuesday of the month, we have what we call “His firstfruits prayer.” And each member of the team takes an hour, a different hour to pray in a conference room. And with a couple of other friends, we have about eight solid hours of prayer that occur on that first Tuesday of every month. We have lists of our staff and issues they have, big issues around the world, our vendors, our clients, and the nonprofits we support all listed for prayer. And then each one of us then spends an hour alone focusing on God and those particular intercessions.
I lead my company in prayer by setting aside a half hour every week for prayer. I have also posted my salvation testimony on the company website. We also enjoy using explicitly Christian themes in our advertising during the Christmas season.
Dr. Lori S. Maldanado, Founder & CEO, Teach One to Lead One (Celebrate Life International Inc.)
One helpful practice is when we established Summit University for our employees. The staff read books on becoming better leaders, better believers, and better people. We host monthly discussion groups to create dialogue around these topics.
We create a culture of prayer by holding a twenty-minute prayer session every week where small groups of staff pray for investors, volunteers, and each other. And yearly, the staff volunteers and board members fast and pray for each other for twenty-one days.
We also seek to create a culture of rest and spiritual growth, allowing personal yearly 4-hour retreats for staff members to spend silent time with God.
Deena Redding, Former President, Credo Financial Services, LLC
I would pray over every meal with staff and before meetings and hold weekly Bible studies in the office, open for anyone to attend.
We also tied our core values to passages of Scripture for the benefit of our employees and our customers: honesty (Lev. 19:35; Prov. 10:9; Luke 16:10), respect (Jas. 2:8–9; Matt. 7:1–2), generosity (2 Cor. 9:6; Rom. 12:8; Matt. 7:12), quality (Luke 6:6–49; Mark 4:3–9; Matt. 25:14–30), unselfishness (Jas. 3:16; Psa. 119:36; Rom. 2:8), fearlessness (Isa. 41:10; Job 39:22; Psa. 3:6; Matt. 28:19; Phil. 4:13), and accountability (Lev. 19:16–18; Prov. 19:25; 27:17).
Cheryl Bachelder, Former CEO, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Inc.
So the way I express my faith—and I learned this from an incredible missionary in Nigeria—I said, “How do you lead from your faith in a country that’s hostile to our faith? You could be killed for this faith.” And he said, “Oh Cheryl, just speak in Scriptures, but never cite chapter and verse.” And up until that moment, I didn’t know how to evangelize in my corporate world. But that became my premise. I give an award in the company called the Grasshopper Award. And when I give it, I say, “The inspiration for this reward comes from a favorite quote I have that says ‘God has the whole world in his hands and we are mere grasshoppers.'” And then I give them a button with a grasshopper and a little plaque to put on their desk, and I celebrate the accomplishments of introverts—people who don’t love the spotlight.
One of the best epiphanies in my life came from trials and difficult times. I had this collision of events—I was diagnosed with breast cancer—and had challenges at work when I was running a retail food chain. I got brought to my knees by the physical illness and I got fired from shortly thereafter. So a really tough, tough time, and your tough times bring you flat on your face. A friend of mine brought over The Purpose Driven Life during my radiation treatments because everybody was reading it. And I was a skeptic about it. I didn’t know much about Rick Warren, but one day I opened it to give it a shot and saw on the first page, “It’s not about you.” I heard it in my head with my name attached to it. “It’s not about you, Cheryl.” And it was life reframing. I mean, of course it’s not about me, but I needed a wakeup call that God’s purposes and plans are his. I am one of his instruments, and I am called to serve him. The purpose of my life is what impact I’m going to have on others. And that’s it. It’s not about whether I’m happy. Nothing about serving God is easy or convenient or brings you a whole batch of comfort and happiness.
Sherri Hall, Founder, Creative Counseling Solutions for Women, LLC
We bathe our work in prayer. We pray weekly in staff meetings. We give each staff member space to have daily quiet time in the morning.
As leaders, we take a half-day each week to pray for each staff member and client by name and for wisdom and direction in how we lead the business.