Are You Engaged–in Your Work?

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by Wayne Kirkland, co-author of Where’s God on Monday?

It’s 10am Monday and Hugh is already feeling bored and unmotivated, his mind is already drifting to the events of the previous weekend.

It had been downhill pretty much from the start of the day. The boss had made his customary entrance, slapping a wad of edited papers on Hugh’s desk without so much as a nod. Hugh groaned. He knew from hard experience what that meant. The week before he’d done his best to draft the policy recommendation even though his motivation was about as low as the Stock Exchange.

Of course, by now Hugh has hardened to the fact that all of his efforts go to waste on a daily basis. It is not uncommon for the boss to abruptly change his mind and state that such-and-such a document or letter is no longer needed.

Survival in such an office environment is not easy. But over time Hugh has subconsciously developed a number of effective (though short-term) diversionary tactics to get his head out of the prospect of another mind-numbing day. Without a thought, he clicks onto the Net to check out the weekend’s sports results. Sweet relief! Man U won an away game. All is well with the world!

Are you engaged?

One of the big issues in the workforce today is worker engagement. Numerous surveys have been conducted in recent years that demonstrate a low level of motivation, sense of ownership and commitment by a high number of people in their jobs.

Engagement has to do with being energized with our work. It leads to giving our all to the tasks at hand.

On the contrary, disengaged workers are those who are just going through the motions. They struggle to exhibit any strong sense of ownership and responsibility for their work. In fact, if bedrock honesty was tapped, the truth is such people would prefer to be somewhere else – they are only there because of a lack of other options.

 So what determines the level of engagement in our work? Leadership writer Patrick Lencioni suggests that the three main reasons for disengagement are anonymity (feeling unappreciated and invisible), irrelevance (as though our work doesn’t really count or isn’t valued), and immeasurement (inability to measure tangible results).[1] When these are our dominant feelings, our work is likely to be a miserable experience.

Why Christians should be engaged workers

Let’s face it: all of us have elements of our jobs and roles we don’t particularly enjoy. This could be because of the reasons Lencioni advocates, but it could equally be because we’re not well suited to the tasks, or it could even be that we don’t get along with colleagues.

While there is no doubt all these factors make it extra challenging to be engaged in our work, as Christians we don’t have to be bound and limited by them.

If we passively rely on our bosses and work environments to give us the feel-good factor, or if we spend much of our time wishing we had a better job, then we’ll never take responsibility for our call to give 100%, to be truly engaged.

We are, after all, working for the ultimate boss. Nothing we do is ever wasted. God values and treats every offering of work we produce as worthwhile – whether or not others around us appreciate or acknowledge our effort. What’s more, it’s not necessarily what we do but how we do it that counts most. As Paul states:

Servants, do what you’re told by your earthly masters. And don’t just do the minimum that will get you by. Do your best. Work from the heart for your real Master, for God, confident that you’ll get paid in full when you come into your inheritance. Keep in mind always that the ultimate Master you’re serving is Christ. The sullen servant who does shoddy work will be held responsible. Being a follower of Jesus doesn’t cover up bad work.  Colossians 3:23-25 The Message 


[1] See Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Three Signs of a Miserable Job (Jossey-Bass, 2007).

9781619707078Where’s God on Monday introduces readers to a basic theology of work. Written in fourteen engaging chapters, this book teaches us what the Bible says about work and how to work out our faith every day of the week. Each chapter includes questions and exercises for small group or individual reflection, blending theological reflection with practical application.

If you’d like more information about this book, visit our website, this excerpt from the book, or this blog series written by Wayne Kirkland (posts: Idle, Idol, or Worship; Are You Doing Spiritual Work?; Sabbaticals Can Be for Everyone; and Are You Working?).

Idle, Idol, or Worship?

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by Wayne Kirkland, co-author of Where’s God on Monday?

As we’ve talked with numerous people over the years, it seems to us that, broadly speaking, there are three main ways Christians think about their work:

1. Work as a means to an end – “I work to live”

The most common attitude (particularly to paid work) is one that views it as a means to an end. We work in order to “live”. It sees the purpose of our work simply as being to provide for our needs.

For many people, at least some of their work is viewed as somewhat futile or meaningless, often expressed in such statements as:

  • “I can’t wait for the weekend.”
  • “When I earn enough cash, I’m out of here.”
  •  “I work at the bank but it’s really just a means to an end – what I really love to do is serve God by being involved in the church band, or by doing street evangelism or whatever…”

If our work is largely seen as a means to an end, we’ll miss the connections between what we’re doing and what God is about. Our work will be separated from our worship. It will be trivialized and underrated. We’ll fail to take seriously what it means to be faithful to both God and our employer (or employees). Such a low attitude of work ultimately leads to becoming “idle” in our work – at least insofar as realizing the potential of our work to serve both God and others.

 2. Work as all-consuming – “I live to work”

A second and also very common attitude is one that lets work become all-consuming. When we end up “living to work” it becomes an object of worship – work becomes an idol.

Our culture, of course, has a word for people like this – workaholics. It’s easy to become addicted to our work. When this happens, our identity and value become so closely intertwined with our work that we can’t separate them. We become defined by what we do and achieve instead of what God is doing. This is very dangerous.

It’s important to note that allowing our work to become all-consuming is not the same as treating our work seriously. Neither does it mean that we shouldn’t work hard. Nor that we shouldn’t be passionate about our work. A biblical view of our work understands that our work has dignity and value. And God has worthwhile work for all of us to do.

At its best, work should be energizing and deeply fulfilling. However, there’s a difference between diligently loving what we do and being addicted to it. For work is not meant to be the most important thing in our lives, nor should it be degraded. It shouldn’t lead us to idolize it, but neither should it lead us to be idle!

 3. Work as Worship – “I work as an expression of my worship of Christ”

This ideal balance is best found when our work becomes an act of worship – just like it did for Brother Lawrence, the seventeenth century monk known for his book, The Practice of the Presence of God.

For fifteen years, Bro. Lawrence worked as a cook in the kitchen of his monastery. At first he was deeply frustrated with the apparent insignificance of his role. But Lawrence eventually came to develop a deep spirituality of the ordinary, viewing every menial task as an opportunity to perform “little acts of communion with God”. Daily he made sure to “never tire of doing little things for the love of God, who considers not the magnitude of the work, but the love.” He developed practices that enabled him to experience God’s presence in every task.

Brother Lawrence understood a very important point: our work is supposed to be intimately connected with our worship. In fact, our work often seems meaningless because we fail to connect our work with God’s. But when undertaken in partnership with God, our tasks find significance and they become an expression of our love for him.

 This means that we can worship God by working with Him when we’re:

  • changing diapers,
  • repairing cars,
  • looking after grandchildren,
  • studying for exams,
  • helping customers find the right materials, etc.

In Colossians 3:23-24, Paul puts it well when he states:

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. For it is the Lord Christ you are serving.


9781619707078Where’s God on Monday introduces readers to a basic theology of work. Written in fourteen engaging chapters, this book teaches us what the Bible says about work and how to work out our faith every day of the week. Each chapter includes questions and exercises for small group or individual reflection, blending theological reflection with practical application.

If you’d like more information about this book, visit our website, this excerpt from the book, or this blog series written by Wayne Kirkland (posts: Are You Engaged—In Your Work?Are You Doing Spiritual Work?; Sabbaticals Can Be for Everyone; and Are You Working?).

Are You Doing Spiritual Work?

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by Wayne Kirkland, co-author of Where’s God on Monday?

In the Christian world there’s a perception that we could be doing more for God if only we could free ourselves from the distractions of “the world”. The thinking goes something like this:

I have a simple faith. I distinguish between ‘spiritual’ and ‘secular’.

By spiritual I mean anything related to God, anything that’s holy. This is really the most important sphere of life.

By secular I’m referring to the everyday things that have little or nothing to do with God. These are much less important and significant than the spiritual.

You can see this clearly in the area of work. “Secular” employment is work “out there in the world”. Its main purpose is to allow you to earn some money so you can get on with real life, and of course it provides opportunities to witness to your non-Christian workmates. Mind you, some forms of secular employment do have what you could call a spiritual value – I’m thinking of the serving ones, like medicine and teaching.

But the ideal form of employment is unquestionably “full-time Christian work”. That’s where you have the opportunity to devote all of your time and energy to the Lord’s work, unencumbered by the demands of secular employment. It clearly rates as a much more spiritual occupation than a “normal job”.

Becoming a full-time Christian worker is my personal dream. This is because it’s the ultimate way of serving God.  In fact, I long for the day when I’m no longer distracted from real service for God by having to work for a secular firm. My real dream is to give all my time and energy to ministry.

What is ministry? Well, it’s anything that deals with the spiritual task. Leading worship on Sunday mornings is ministry. So is teaching Sunday school, leading a home group, preaching, going on an outreach, praying for someone, or being a missionary.

To be “in ministry” is to be taken up with the spiritual task of building God’s kingdom. Of course, once you have experienced being in ministry, it’s difficult to return to secular employment with any degree of passion. Nothing is more significant than doing ministry. Which is why fulltime Christian workers are highly esteemed in the church – and rightly so. After all they have sacrificed much (particularly those on the mission field), they’re at the forefront of God’s work in this world, and they’re making a bigger difference for God than you can in secular employment.

Ultimately, secular work doesn’t really count for much. Things of the world will all pass away. Sure I do my best at my daily job, but what we do for the Lord is what really counts. Our secular employment is simply a means to an end.

Is that right? Is certain work more “spiritual” in content? Should it be valued more highly? Many of us certainly live as though it is, but … is it biblical?

Examining the spiritual/secular split biblically

What light can the Scriptures shed on the way we view various tasks and jobs?

This strange habit we have of splitting life into spiritual and secular boxes just doesn’t appear in the story of God’s creation of work. In fact, as we’ve already noted, God begins by doing some very “earthy” work himself – creating the universe! God acts as designer, builder, gardener…

Then God takes the bold step of giving to us humans a role in this universe-work of his, by commissioning Adam and Eve to be stewards of his creation. Does that sound like a second-rate call? Did Adam really think, “Oh, no – I really wanted a more significant role, God. Not a farmer! I mean, isn’t there some spiritual task I could do? A priest maybe…?”

The Creation account allows no room for a spiritual/secular split. In fact, the writer consistently states “And it was (very) good,” as if to emphasize that God’s original intention for his creation was the ideal. Yes, it’s tainted and corrupted now – but that is the result of the Fall.

If we are to see the true significance of all work we do, we simply must deal with the dualism that dominates our view of the Christian life. It’s not biblical – and so it is counterproductive to our aim of seeing God at work in this world of his.

It is only as we learn to work with God, learning to see that what we do is connected with what God is doing, that we will close the false gap between secular and spiritual.

 


9781619707078Where’s God on Monday introduces readers to a basic theology of work. Written in fourteen engaging chapters, this book teaches us what the Bible says about work and how to work out our faith every day of the week. Each chapter includes questions and exercises for small group or individual reflection, blending theological reflection with practical application.

If you’d like more information about this book, visit our website, this excerpt from the book, or this blog series written by Wayne Kirkland (posts: Idle, Idol, or Worship; Are You Engaged—In Your Work?Sabbaticals Can Be for Everyone; and Are You Working?).

Sabbaticals Can Be For Everyone

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by Wayne Kirkland, co-author of Where’s God on Monday?

I’d had a difficult year. Despite my intense commitment to working with unchurched young people, I was feeling tired and drawn. Everything was an effort. And the challenges I was presented with just served to overwhelm me. At the end of the year I sat with the other leaders of the organization I served and discussed my predicament. Conversation was well meaning but didn’t really touch me, until one of the leaders – a middle-aged man – spoke about the need for sabbaticals. I had heard the term before – mainly used by my old university lecturers, but it was a totally foreign concept in the environment of our organization. As he talked, the penny dropped – not that this would be the golden answer to my woes, but the timing was right to experience a break.

Six months later my wife Jill and I, along with our eight-month-old daughter, found ourselves travelling into the deep south, to a small isolated community. It was the beginning of a four-month adventure that not only restored my sagging energy levels, but more importantly helped set the compass of our lives for the next “season”….

Sabbaticals frequently result in directional changes. I have seen this time and time again with my friends. Mine was just that for me. I came back convinced that my time in youth work was close to an end. I was still completely unaware of what lay ahead, but the direction of my compass was already changing….

As it happened I ended up going overseas to study at the college I had previously done a correspondence paper from. A new organization was also in its infancy – and with my colleagues I was able to develop some fresh material and trial new ideas. It was an exciting time. The energy and confidence to explore and change was largely due to the invigoration of the sabbatical.

Sabbaticals can be for everyone

Often I hear from people, “Oh, it’s okay for you. You can take time out. But I can’t. My boss would never allow me to take an extended time and he certainly wouldn’t pay me for it! You’re lucky.”

Of course there’s truth in these sentiments. Many of us aren’t in the position where we can just take a break from our employment. And yet it may not be as impossible as at first appears.

For some there may be an opportunity to make use of long service leave. Others may be able to apply for leave without pay. Others again may be able to accumulate holidays. Perhaps alternative low-stress employment for a period. A friend of mine took a year off from youth work and drove buses. “The most enjoyable year of my life,” he tells me.

The critical thing is not so much the length of time – but the intention and purpose of the time.

Even if the ideal of a complete break is not physically possible, there is still the opportunity for opting out of an aspect of our work for a period of time, in order to rest and consider where we are headed. For example, this could involve taking a year-long sabbatical from church responsibilities or community activities….

There will often be a cost – lost wages or a lower income. One sabbatical I took resulted in my small business suffering, as I had no one to replace me. And there was some inevitable dislocation in the commitments and relationships I was involved in.

But at the end of the day, as with our God-inspired call to take time out each week, we know the cost is worth it – because it’s an investment in our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health, and a re-creation for the next phase of our work.

I’m not indispensable

My experience of a sabbatical has taught me one invaluable lesson. None of us, no matter what our gifts, positions of responsibility, or contribution to church and society, is indispensable. God is capable of achieving his purposes without us. I know this might come as a shock to some – but it’s true!

We are valuable to God, not primarily because of what we can “do” for him, but because of who we are. Sure, he delights in using us, but none of us is indispensable.

This truth has the potential to set us free from our activism and our desperate longing to feel needed. It can cause us to allow our relationships with God, with others, and indeed with ourselves, to become genuinely renewed.

This, I’m convinced, is one of the great benefits of the weekly Sabbath – and of sabbaticals.


9781619707078Where’s God on Monday introduces readers to a basic theology of work. Written in fourteen engaging chapters, this book teaches us what the Bible says about work and how to work out our faith every day of the week. Each chapter includes questions and exercises for small group or individual reflection, blending theological reflection with practical application.

If you’d like more information about this book, visit our website, this excerpt from the book, or this blog series written by Wayne Kirkland (posts: Idle, Idol, or Worship; Are You Engaged—In Your Work?Are You Doing Spiritual Work?; and Are You Working?).

Are You Working?

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by Wayne Kirkland, co-author of Where’s God on Monday?

Imagine this scene: It’s 6pm and John walks in through the front entrance of the house he shares with Liz, his wife, and their three children. He puts down his briefcase and Liz immediately gives him a kiss, inquiring, “How was your day at work, dear?”

John automatically knows what his wife is asking. He’s employed as an accountant for forty hours a week at a firm downtown. Liz is asking him how his paid job went today. After a short commentary on the office politics and a struggle sorting out a client’s books, John returns the favor by asking Liz, “So how was your day at home?”

John never thinks to ask, “How was your day of work at home?” Liz knows she has also been working today. And we hope John doesn’t think she has just been lazing around or resting while he’s been gone! Taking care of three young active boys, looking after the house and the meals, volunteering at the boys’ school – all these activities have filled Liz’s day. Liz has actually been working hard but the words John uses don’t overtly acknowledge this.

Unfortunately, when we use the word “work” we usually refer to paid employment. However, for most people this is only part of their daily work and for others like Liz, their work doesn’t include any paid work at all. Sadly, the value of “paid” work is generally assumed to be of much greater importance than any unpaid tasks or roles we perform. This is not how it should be….

Defining “work” biblically

This narrow view of work is problematic when we come to examining the scriptures. The biblical writers lived in a tightly connected and closely integrated society. Their life was one where home and employment, relationships and activities were not separate spheres, but had real and obvious everyday connections.

Our fragmented and highly compartmentalized world doesn’t connect well with that society. If we are to read the scriptures with an understanding of their full meaning, we need to develop a much broader, holistic definition of work. Here are a couple of examples of people attempting to do this.

Paul Marshall defines work as, “human activity designed to accomplish something that is needed, as distinct from activity that is satisfying in itself.”[1]

John Stott suggests that work is, “the expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfillment to the worker, benefit to the community and glory to God”.[2]

There are obviously a number of ways to nail down what we mean by work. Let’s not get hung up on the details, but simply note that by seeing work as much broader than paid employment we will understand more thoroughly the biblical references to this topic.

Am I working when I read to my daughter in bed? In a sense I am. I may find it dull and unstimulating – or pleasant and fulfilling. Either way there’s a degree of expended energy involved, and it’s a very important task in the overall goal of raising and disciplining my daughter.

What about when I attend a school or community committee? Or when my elderly neighbor needs help with her groceries? Or when a friend has just lost a brother through death and needs someone to be there – to sit with him and listen?

You bet! Some may be instinctive responses to people in need, others may be quite deliberately planned; some may seem effortless and “self-rewarding,” others may be a real chore and require major application … but all of these “tasks” are work.

Students work. Superannuitants work. Stay-at-home parents work. “Unemployed” people work. We all work. It’s the dominant activity of our everyday lives, consuming the majority of our waking hours.

Whether or not we get paid for the task is somewhat irrelevant – at least insofar as whether it counts for work. So over the next few posts, when you read the word “work”, make sure you include all productive activities you engage in on a weekly basis.


9781619707078

Where’s God on Monday introduces readers to a basic theology of work. Written in fourteen engaging chapters, this book teaches us what the Bible says about work and how to work out our faith every day of the week. Each chapter includes questions and exercises for small group or individual reflection, blending theological reflection with practical application.

If you’d like more information about this book, visit our website, this excerpt from the book, or this blog series written by Wayne Kirkland (posts: Idle, Idol, or Worship; Are You Engaged—In Your Work?Are You Doing Spiritual Work?; and Sabbaticals Can Be for Everyone).


[1] Paul Marshall’s article on “Work” in New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology (IVP: Downers Grove, 1995), 899.

[2] John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today (Marshalls: Basingstoke, UK, 1984),162.

God’s co-workers?

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Although work is the dominant activity of our everyday lives, our Monday-Friday work and Sunday worship can sometimes feel disconnected, even worlds apart. Too many Christians feel that their spiritual life doesn’t relate to their work life–or that somehow they’re not serving God unless they’re in full-time ministry. But we need to realize that all of us can serve God in whatever work he calls us. God is just as present with us on the job Monday morning, and every day is a new opportunity to serve him.

This is a short excerpt from Where’s God on Monday? written by Alistair Mackenzie & Wayne Kirkland. The book was released in Fall 2015.

“But our involvement in work is not simply for our own benefit. God has a job for us – he wants our help in achieving his purposes. His intention is for us to become his co-workers. God gave Adam and Eve the mandate to share in his work […] Having been ‘made in God’s image,’ we are called to be God’s representatives. We are God’s hands and feet, working in partnership with him in his world” (15).

9781619707078Where’s God on Monday introduces readers to a basic theology of work. Written in fourteen engaging chapters, this book teaches us what the Bible says about work and how to work out our faith every day of the week. Each chapter includes questions and exercises for small group or individual reflection, blending theological reflection with practical application.

If you’d like more information about this book, visit our website or this blog series written by Wayne Kirkland (posts: Are You Engaged—In Your Work?; Idle, Idol, or Worship; Are You Doing Spiritual Work?; Sabbaticals Can Be for Everyone; and Are You Working?).