Lesson 1 - Faith and Work
What is “Faith and Work”?
A Missing Conversation
As Keller notes here, even though Christians know—intellectually, at least—that the gospel should shape every dimension of their lives, there is some uncertainty about just how this is supposed to happen. Part of the problem is that it’s a missing conversation, even in seminaries and churches. “Nobody trains pastors to disciple people in their public life,” Keller says.
In Every Good Endeavor, Katherine Leary Alsdorf outlines some of the various models of “faith and work” (and their shortcomings):
The models were few and often seemed remnants of an age when most of America went to church. One CEO would share that he kept a Bible on his desk and that occasionally someone in the company would ask about it. Another prayed and the company thrived. Many viewed their corporate jobs primarily as a means to make lots of money to give away to charities and organizations they cared about. . . . And none of these approaches addressed the issue of how Christians’ faith should affect the way they worked.
What we need is a larger biblical framework—a compelling story—through which we can understand our work.
- Think about your experiences in the church. Was the “faith and work” conversation happening there? If not, why not? How were you taught to think about the relationship between your faith and your work?
It is not easy to figure out what a “Christian business” should look like—or if that’s even the right language to use. When have you seen faith and work done well? When have you seen it done poorly?
A New Story for Work
Picking Up the Plot
As Keller argues, “Your work will make no sense to you unless you put it into some kind of story.” Finding a story for our work isn’t the problem, exactly, but we sometimes struggle to find the right story for our work.
There are all kinds of false stories for work in our culture: We work in order to rack up achievements and accolades; We work to earn money to do the things we really want to do with our free time; We work so that we can retire someday; We work because that’s just what we do.
Worst of all, we might sometimes feel that we don’t actually know why we work. We’ve lost the plot.
Good theology can help us pick up the plot. As Keller explains, when we learn to situate our own work into the grand narrative of God’s work, we find resources and renewed strength, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Through a bigger Gospel—the great story of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration—we can learn to understand our work as part of God’s mission of new creation.
In Work Matters, Tom Nelson has observed that “We can find ourselves thinking deeply about our work without thinking deeply about the gospel.” And it’s true: we think about work all the time, perhaps without thinking Christianly about it.
Think about your own work history. What stories—including false stories—have you told yourself about the purpose of your work?
Keller argues that we need a more expansive understanding of the Gospel than we sometimes hear. Yes, Jesus did die to save us from our sins so that we can be with him forever, but he is also “making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). “All things” includes our work.
How could a bigger Gospel—God “making all things new”—help you think about your work? What would change in your day-to-day work if you could find your place in the plot of God’s grand story?