Integrating Faith and Work By Dr. Amy L. Sherman
What does it mean to integrate our faith and work?
First, we need to focus on the kind of employees we ought to be: ethical workers, kind workers, hard workers, excellent workers, Gospel-sharing workers.
This is the most common answer usually given to this question, and it rightly focuses us on personal character. Each day we ask for the Holy Spirit to bear more fruit through us: that we might be increasingly marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as we navigate our workplace and all the relationships we find there (see Galatians 5:22-23).
Second, and closely related, we imitate the practical exercises or rituals of spiritual formation that we find in what I call the “public habits” of Jesus. Consider three of them.
Jesus practiced seeing.
As He engaged in the culture and marketplace of His time, He intentionally saw; He paid attention to things that many others failed to see. Jesus could identify injustice. He could spot suffering. He could see the cultural entanglements that nurture idolatry. He was wide awake to the places where His Kingdom confronted and clashed with the kingdoms of this world.
Jesus regularly crossed boundaries.
He deliberately sought relationships with people on the margins. He reached out across ethnic, socio-economic, religious, and cultural divides in order to create new community.
Jesus confronted systems of injustice.
He came not only to set individuals right but to set institutions right. He opposed, for example, unrighteous economic behavior not in accord with His Kingdom of shalom, which envisions peace, wholeness, justice, and harmony.
We begin to flourish in the marketplace as we practice these same habits of seeing, crossing, and confronting. These habits change the way we interact with our co-workers, our customers, and those above and below us in the organizational hierarchy.
We can implement these habits through simple acts like deliberately eating a meal each week with someone at work who’s a nonbeliever or who’s different from us in some way (e.g., by race, gender, or social status). We can also do so through more complex acts like researching our organization’s own core values and intentionally assessing how well its daily business norms — and the office subculture — measure up. As we spot shortcomings, we speak out gently and respectfully, and with a steady resolve to see justice done.
Thirdly, our work itself matters. Growing as the right kind of worker is certainly important, but it’s not the whole. What we do — not just how we do it — counts in God’s design for our work and earning.
“Vocational stewardship” is the phrase I use to characterize this attending to “the what” of our work. Vocational stewardship starts by asking: What are the hallmarks of God’s Kingdom?
Revelation 21 tells us that in the New Heaven and New Earth, there will be no more suffering, pain, war, sickness, alienation, corruption, or death. Additionally, “preview” passages throughout the Old Testament offer glimpses into the consummated Kingdom.
Passages like Isaiah 65:17-25, Ezekiel 34:11-31, Psalm 72, and Micah 4:3-4 inform us that God’s Kingdom is marked by values like peace, community, justice, joy, compassion, economic flourishing, wholeness, and beauty — a kingdom characterized by shalom.
Knowing what these Kingdom values are then allows us to consider how we can deploy our vocational power Christianly to advance them in both our workplace and the industry sector we inhabit.
- An engineer might advocate product reforms to promote better consumer safety — because safety is a Kingdom value.
- A teacher might create opportunities for parents to contribute and engage — because community is a Kingdom value.
- A human resources director might advocate that his manufacturing plant establish an on-site wellness clinic — because wholeness is a Kingdom value.
- A barista or a waitress might try to learn the names and orders of regular customers — because service is a Kingdom value.
- An architect might train herself in “green” practices and point clients to designs that conserve energy and utilize non-toxic materials — because creation care is a Kingdom value.
- A middle manager might design a new internship program at the firm that provides fresh career opportunities for minority teens — because economic flourishing is a Kingdom value.
As we preserve and promote all that is good in our workplaces, while pushing back against that which is anti-shalom, we fully bear Christ’s image — His character, priorities, and passions. When we do so, our sense of mission at work enlarges and our joy deepens.
Dr. Amy L. Sherman is a Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute and author of six books, most recently Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good.
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