Category Archives: Work with purpose

Millions of Western Christians experience a painful bifurcation between their faith and their work. How can Christians see the divine purpose in their “secular” labors? And where can God’s purposes be found in the economic sphere?

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Nightcrawler – parable for a broken marketplace

cdn.indiewire.comThis movie has been out for just over a month (its release was Oct 31, 2104), but we’ll start with the now-customary warning . . .

****SPOILERS: If you are tempted to see this grim, Breaking-Bad-esque moral spiral of a movie (which, in this reviewer’s opinion, is brilliantly done), you will likely want to skip this review until you’ve seen it. As the TV announcers say throughout this film: Viewer Discretion is Advised – Graphic Scenes (and plot points) will be portrayed! You have been warned!

The morality of Nightcrawler may seem at first to be all about individual economic decisions – the decisions ambulance-chasing news videographer Lou Bloom (Gyllenhaal) makes as he climbs the ladder in a particularly dirty corner of the marketplace. When we meet Bloom, Timothy Wainwright says in his Christianity Today review of the film: “It’s as if Humphrey Bogart had a baby face, lost all his marbles, and gotten a subscription to the Harvard Business Review.”

But is this film really about the off-kilter entrepreneurial decisions of a lone-wolf opportunist? Continue reading

Next steps and resources in faith, work, & economics for church leaders

OIkonomia Network logoA first step for a pastor or lay leader who wants to lead their people in a healthy integration of faith and work is careful listening on their own part, as ministers. This may mean, for pastors, paying attention to the lay-led faith-and-work movement, which has done an end-run around the religious establishment. This movement is developing a contextual theology among people who are actually doing “secular” work, seeking religiously informed answers to the existential sense of disconnection between the two halves of their lives – “spiritual” and “secular.” People in ministry would do well to listen to these people, even though their folk theology may often lack subtlety or depth.

Another very practical way of gaining wisdom in this area I’ve already mentioned. In 2009, the Kern Family Foundation, which had been supporting seminary education through student scholarships for more than a decade, created a seminary initiative called the Oikonomia Network. Framed as a “learning community” for theological educators, its mission is to help its members help the church to integrate theological truth and Christian discipleship into work and economic thinking. Through the network, the foundation now funds significant initiatives at eighteen seminaries.

All these initiatives seek to train pastors to affirm the basic goodness of work, business, and economic activity; to prepare people to discern their callings and pursue excellence in their work; to help communities respond in virtuous ways to the changes wrought by economic forces; and to cast a future-oriented vision for virtuous membership and participation in the civic community. Continue reading

Where do we begin to understand our work in the light of our faith? Building a foundation for economic wisdom

the whole world in his handsWork as a graced activity benefiting all

I do think that the best place to start in talking about a theology of work is with the fact that economic work is the primary way human beings promote the flourishing of other human beings. An appropriate category for this is the idea of common grace. That is, the understanding that God bestows a measure of grace on all people, whether or not they are Christians. Although most often mentioned by Reformed theologians, common grace is rooted in the first chapters of Genesis: God creates everything from nothing. Made in God’s image, mankind also creates — not from nothing, but things of greater value out of things of lesser value.

Much of this value creation takes place through business. Continue reading

Let’s get practical: faith-and-work pointers for pastors and lay leaders

Jesus_Small_Group_LeaderPractical suggestions for pastors and lay leaders

Will Messenger, executive editor of the Theology of Work Project, admits that many pastors will never be attuned enough to the concerns of business people to offer really deep advice on difficult workplace issues. For these, the best form of support may be to facilitate small groups of like-minded people — for example, workers in similar jobs — to read Scripture, pray, and discuss matters touching their work. David Miller, founding director of the Princeton Faith & Work Initiative, agrees and says that pastors who are most distant from work-related concerns can take steps to bridge the divide between themselves and the working people in their pews. Some ways they might do so:

  • Be present in the work sphere and listen carefully.
  • Become workplace literate (for example, by reading the Wall Street Journal).
  • Preach to work concerns.
  • Address workers’ sense of work-faith disjunction in adult education, small groups, and retreats.
  • Train laity in devotional disciplines linked to their work and daily lives.

This kind of engagement may not be possible if a pastor embodies anti-business biases. And researchers like Miller and Laura Nash of Harvard say that such biases are common — sometimes inherited from seminary professors. Messenger says that businesspeople tell him things like this: Continue reading

Pastors and lay leaders, start where many of your people live: burnout and the “suckiness” of work

We’ve been talking about how much God values our work and how important it is to his purposes. That’s great, but most people live far, far from that reality. And pastors, let’s be honest: most of you are not equipped to help your people put the “thorns and thistles” of their work in biblical perspective.

The truth is that most working people, though they may otherwise love their church and their pastor, feel their pastor simply does not understand their working world and its issues. One businessman puts the situation in stark terms. He says:

“In the almost 30 years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others. . . . There has never been an inquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate the faith to my co-workers. I have never been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career [as a sales manager]. In short, I must conclude that my church really doesn’t have the least interest in whether or how I minister in my daily work.”

This is clearly a matter for pastoral concern and action. Continue reading

If God really does work through our economic work – then what do we do about that?

National-Unemployment-Rat-007Over the past week or so, we’ve done a rapid survey of the New Testament, the early church, and the medieval church on faith, work, and economics, and then settled into the massive changes wrought by the industrial revolution of the late 18th through late 19th centuries, looking at that era through the eyes of John Wesley and some key industrialists.

I’d like to suggest now that just as the industrial revolution left in its wake many kinds of social misery as workers left the moral and spiritual boundaries of the Christianized towns of the West and tried to navigate the tempting and alienating cities, we are again today seeing economic dislocation, social misery, and a loss of moral moorings. And Christians must address these realities – not exclusively through charity (though the worst of the current social problems do demand this), but also – and more importantly – through economic action grounded in economic understanding.

As Greg Forster has said, “The economy is a moral system, a web of human relationships in which each person’s work benefits others through a vast system of exchange.” Pure and simple, there are good and bad ways of behaving in this system. Continue reading

God’s beer mogul: A case study of Wesley-influenced economic action

Guinness is good for youIn the early days of Methodism as now, not every capitalist operated out of corrupt motives of greed. One contrary example, a contemporary of Wesley and deeply influenced by the Methodist leader, was Young Arthur Guinness, an up-and-coming eighteenth-century businessman in Dublin. Guinness was a brewer, during a time when beer had a significant health benefit over many other kinds of beverage, including water:

No one in those days understood micro-organisms and how disease is spread. They routinely drank from the same waters in which they dumped their garbage and their sewage. Unknowingly, they polluted the rivers and lakes around their cities. People died as a result, and this made nearly everyone in Guinness’ day avoid water entirely. Instead, they drank alcoholic beverages.

Usually, this was done in moderation and all was well. Occasionally, though, excess set in. . . . This is what happened in the years just before Guinness was born, in the period historians call “The Gin Craze.” Parliament had forbidden the importation of liquor in 1689, so the people of Ireland and Britain began making their own [, and drunkenness became widespread.] Every sixth house in England was a “gin house.” (Stephen Mansfield, “The Story of God and Guinness,” Relevant magazine, March 24, 2010.)

An advertisement for one of these dens of squalor read, “Drunk for one penny, dead drunk for two pence, clean straw for nothing.”

Poverty deepened; crime rose. And “to help heal their tortured society, some turned to brewing beer.” It was much lower in alcohol than gin, “the process of brewing and the alcohol that resulted killed the germs that made water dangerous, and it was nutritious in ways scientists are only now beginning to understand.”

This young brewer, Arthur Guinness, fell under John Wesley’s influence. Continue reading