In this episode of TGC Q&A, we begin a six-week series titled “Faith & Work” with Missy Wallace, who answers questions about why work matters.
- The gospel changes everything including how we think about work (0:46)
- The kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven (3:21)
- Our own brokenness and sanctification (6:23)
- Creational goodness and the theology of work (10:31)
- Final encouragement—the good work that comes out of everyone is the image of God in them (15:50)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of Faith and Work.
Why do faith and work matter in the church?
Sure, thank you so much for asking this. A lot of people have asked me why do faith and work matter, and I think the easy version is because it is where people spend the majority of their working hours. If the gospel changes everything, I think we believe the gospel changes everything, then it must therefore change how we think about our work. There’s a really interesting survey done by Gallup, it’s called the Gallup worldwide survey. In the survey they tried, Gallup did survey work across 160 countries developed and developing, rural, urban, rich, poor, professional workers, more blue-collar workers to see if there were any themes. They called this survey what the whole wide world is thinking. What they found in the survey, Gallup themselves say it’s the largest finding in the history of Gallup. They say that what they found is that what people care more about than love, safety and security, no matter where they live, no matter what their context is, is a good job. If you think of that people care more about their work than about security.
Then as they say, that changes everything for world leaders. When you translate that to the work of the church, if what people really care about is their work, and sure on Wall Street caring about your work might be bordering on idolatry with self-authentication, et cetera, versus someone in a developed country maybe cares about their work for survival. It might be different reasons you care about your work. But if you care about your work this much, then it is an on-ramp for pastors to show how heart change matters. It is an on-ramp to show how the gospel impacts this pain point in your life. It is an on-ramp for sanctification opportunities. But it also then becomes an off-ramp for how your people or how laity or how the congregants go out into the world, and to love peaceful places and things to life and do what Christ has asked for us. I think it’s so important because it’s both an on-ramp to heart change. It’s an on-ramp to bring people to the gospel. It’s an on-ramp for sanctification and an off-ramp for city impact and for loving people, places and things to life.
How do faith and work pertain to redemption?
Sure. I think it’s interesting to think of work as it follows the biblical narrative arc, whether you want to call it a three part, four part or five part gospel. A lot of people think that work started after the fall, but in reality we were created to work. The very first line of the very first chapter of Genesis is, “And in the beginning He created.” God is a worker from the very first line of our scriptural text. Then it goes on to say, “And then He created you. He created man and woman in His image.” If we are in His image and He was a worker, then we were created to work. A lot of people think that work has to do with after the fall, but in reality it was created pre-fall, created to work, we were made to work. Then you go on to be like okay, so why is it so hard? Well, it’s part of the fall. Everything is part of the fall on our creation at this time, and so we are broken, our work is broken, the systems in our work are broken, and so our work is toil. But Jesus came back and He invited us in, to be the fellowship of priests with Him, the believers on mission with Him.
We are here to think about that kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. We’re in this already, but not yet. We get to see the work through the lens of what it could be in the new heaven and the new earth. If you think of the new heaven and the new earth not just as us all sitting on a cloud, but if you think about we’ve been created to work, and we will be most likely working in the new heaven and the new earth, then how are we Jesus Lord of all vice regents now? It’s thinking about every industry and what its creational goodness is, and what its brokenness is. Think about every individual interaction. How can we be a restorative presence at work?
Really thinking about how is our work a place for not only individual heart change, but being a restorative presence in community, as well as pushing against darkness in our industry. There’s really a holistic version of faith and work that tells us the gospel changes everything. Our scripture tells us it changes everything, but it’s living into it as Jesus’ vice-regents, looking towards the new heaven and new earth. How does it change everything? How does it change my heart? How does it change the way I engage my community? How does it change the way I see my industry and push against darkness in my industry?
What are some practical ways we can live out goodness regardless of the industry we are in?
Practically at the heart level, it means thinking about your sin in your work, so it’s letting the gospel use your work as a place to sanctify you. I know in a lot of programming we do, we have someone take a situation in their work environment where they’ve committed what one would consider a small sin. I say this tongue in cheek, a throwaway sin. Maybe you just snapped at someone and your day went on, or maybe you were really jealous in a staff meeting that you didn’t get the credit, but your day went on. Maybe nobody even saw your sin. Maybe you wouldn’t even think of it when it’s time to confess, it was so small. Then we get them to take that sin and start peeling back the roots of it. What were you looking for in that moment? What did you need? Why? Oh, well I did that because I thought it would be a better work product. Well, why did you do that? Or why did you do that?
A lot of times what you’ll get back to is that some underlying root kind of total depravity if you want to say, was driving that. That you wanted influence, that you wanted affirmation, that you wanted security, that you wanted control. Practically I’d say the first place to start is our own hearts. Let’s look at our own brokenness in this, and let’s look at how we need to be sanctified and grown and what the scriptures say about that. The first time I did this I realized I had forwarded an email. I had a real good reason for forwarding it, but there was if I really peeled it back, there was a hidden agenda. What the hidden agenda was, was I wanted to be the hero of the story. I wanted to be the hero, I wanted the credit, I wanted to be the boss’s pet. What was really going on with that is idolatry. Then practically we can look at the scriptures and we can realize that we are wired to want to get affirmation because we want to please our Lord and Father, but when we twist it, it becomes idolatry, right? That’s step one of practicality is let’s always look at our own hearts first.
Step two of practicality is how are we a restorative presence in our community? Are we looking out for the underdog? How are we thinking about competitors? How are we thinking about suppliers? Are we looking for who is being hurt in our relationships at work? Are we acting transactionally? Are we actually loving the people that God has put us right into community with for eight, 10, 12 hours a day? Really interesting if you think about how do I love my competitors? Especially in the business world. Or church world too, how do I love the church on the other side of the street that I’m worried is getting some of my sheep? How am I loving my competitors? How am I loving people in my supply chain? If you’re in business and you’re in a supply chain and you think about you’re trying to maximize profits, that might mean you’re trying to really extort some things out of your supply chain.
How can you think about that differently? Then if you go to the world level, I really think of that more in this context at the industry level. How do you think about your industry and why God might’ve created your industry? Why might your industry be good? Here we get the ministry people, you guys know your industry’s good, right? But you might be a little suspect about banking. Well, is banking good? Well, I would opine that every, most every can’t say every, but most every industry has a creational goodness in it. Then most every industry has some darkness. Maybe we should talk about ways to find that creational goodness and push against that darkness.
How do you affirm goodness in the darkness of the workplace?
I’m 54 years old and I think I was 43 before I understood that there wasn’t an A team and a B team of workers for God. By that I mean I thought there was an A team, that the ministry people were on the A team, and I wasn’t near holy enough for that. The B team was the helping professions, so education, healthcare. C team corporate, D team like lawyers and venture capitalists and investment bankers. I’d spent a lot of my career on the D team, and I had made a conscious decision to move to what I thought was the B team. Then in a long circuitous story that we won’t go into today that involved a sick child for four years and a bunch of theology books, I realized that I had totally misunderstood the hierarchy of work. That really it’s only an A team. It’s only an A team. If we believe that God created these various spheres in His world, and that He asked us to go out and create flourishing, which is a paraphrase of the cultural mandate when He said go out, take dominion.
He really [inaudible 00:19:15] if you look at this in the various languages, He really is saying I’ve put My image in you, now go out and create flourishing. Be fruitful and multiply doesn’t just mean have children. It’s like create this world, create flourishing. Bring this world into flourishing. Then you have to believe that He has some sovereignty over banking emerging, insurance emerging, advertising emerging ,professional sports emerging. So let’s take banking, because I think banking is one that it’s really easy to see how it extorts, it’s really easy to see how it leaves behind, how maybe it’s associated with greed. What is its creational goodness? Well, let’s talk about things got real chaotic when you need to trade goats for pencils right? If you start multiplying that and you start thinking okay, how do we create an efficient model for redistribution of resources? Then you think wow, well God’s a redistributor of resources. God is modeled redistribution of resources.
If the creational goodness of banking is to redistribute resources from those who have a lot to those who don’t have many, banking has a creational goodness. If God shows order and fairness, banking has a creational goodness of redistributing resources in a fair and orderly way. Now banking, and I worked in banking for a long time. Now banking has some problems, right? Some people are left behind, they can’t access the resources. Some would say some people are paid significantly in ways that encourage greed. Some would say that, I can go down a list. There’s actually a very, if you guys want access to this, there’s a very good article on the creational goodness and brokenness of banking on the Theology of Work website. Go there and search finance. If you take your industry and you sit down with others in your industry or alone, and you say, what creational goodness is in my industry?
In the arts creativity, showing God’s goodness through new ways, showing God’s order. Music, a beautiful written symphony shows God’s order, it makes you cry. You feel in your heart that there is something good here that you cannot describe. Then even look at the music industry, you can see the need for credit, the need for notoriety, the need for fame, you can see all these things. I think our job as believers is to understand our industry, to be faithful presence in our industry, and to counter culturally push against the darkness that develops in our industry. It’s the fall, it’s a broken system. It’s like the healthcare, anybody who has sat with anybody in a hospital in the last six years can know that every person in that hospital can act perfectly, but the system is broken.
The way that the three player network is set up, where it’s not the payer that’s the one receiving the healthcare. It’s got some messed up incentives. Anybody who works in healthcare, which happens to be my husband, can tell you that there are some systemic problems that exist. Push against them. Anyone that’s been involved in the racial equity movement in the last year, they can look at some of the broken systems that have held certain employees behind in corporate work compared to others. Let’s push against that. That’s what I mean by pushing against brokenness, while still seeing affirming and loving the creational goodness of an industry. We can push against brokenness without throwing the baby and the bath water out.
How can we think about redemptive ways to do business?
What if every single Christian worked in formal vocational ministry? Who is out there shining the light in the darkness? Who is the salt? Who’s the salt and the light? We must have Christians thinking about redemptive ways to do business, redemptive ways to do advertising, redemptive ways to do insurance, redemptive way to do the arts. We need Christians thinking about these things. So yes, your work matters very, very much if you’re not in formal vocational paid ministry. Another thing I think it does for people is it frees them. There’s a theological term called common grace. My easy way of thinking about and explaining common grace is that the good work that comes out of everyone is from God, whether they realize it’s from God or not. The good work that comes out of everyone is the image of God in them, whether they want to realize it or not.
It gets down to well, so I think it frees people to fully embrace nonbelievers and their good work in a really affirming way. You don’t have to be a Christian to push against the darkness, a non-Christian can see the darkness too. It gets down to if you had cancer, do you want the Christian surgeon taking your cancer out, or do you want the person who knows the very most about surgery of this kind of cancer taking your cancer out? The answer is the second, and you can feel fantastic about that because it’s the image of God in that person giving them the skill and the wisdom to take that cancer out, whether they acknowledge it or not. I really like too that understanding faith and work theology gives you the freedom to affirm and love others’ work, which then also may end up drawing them to the gospel. I think it creates natural evangelism opportunities when they see you affirming creational goodness and pushing against darkness, even if you might not be using those theological terms.