Reading Tim Keller's Every Good Endeavour is enough to get you up in the morning with a spring in your step. Whether your work is paid or unpaid, at home, at school or church, in the open air, the factory or the office - Keller reminds us that work is God's place of purposeful ministry for each and every one of us.
It needs to be said at this point however, that Keller’s main focus is people working in the professional world. Consequently, most of his illustrations arise from this quarter, especially the world of business. What, it needs to be asked, of the work of tradespeople, labourers, volunteers, stay-at-home mums or dads and the unemployed? How are they to be trained, inspired and empowered for their ministry at work? (Yes, we are all at work in God’s world.)
Tim Keller is founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He is probably best known for his magnum opus ‘Centre Church’ and he spoke at conferences in Sydney in March 2014. Redeemer has made ‘vocational discipleship’ – helping people to integrate their faith and work – a major focus of its ministry for over a decade through its Centre for Faith and Work. For example ‘Vocational Groups’ meet to explore the challenges and opportunities of their field of work in light of the gospel. The church offers intensive theological and leadership development programs for young professionals and ‘Arts Ministries’ engages artists in the theology of art and culture and the sharing of their work.
The church’s ministry operates on the premise that the church is touching the world at large through the faithful presence of its people in the workplace.
‘Every Good Endeavour’ is divided into 3 parts – ‘God’s Plan for Work’, ‘Our Problems with Work’ and ‘The Gospel and Work’. In Part 1, ‘God’s Plan for Work’, Keller offers a refreshing perspective on ‘The Design of Work’ (a supreme gift from God), ‘The Dignity of Work’ (Every Christian should be able to identify, with conviction and satisfaction, the ways in which his or her work participates with God in his creativity and cultivation.), ‘Work as Cultivation’ (So whether splicing a gene or doing brain surgery or collecting the rubbish or painting a picture, our work further develops, maintains or repairs the fabric of the world. In this way, we connect our work to God’s work.) and ‘Work as Service’ where we are exhorted to see and understand our work as a calling to love our neighbour and ultimately, as an act of worship.
Part 2, ‘Our Problems with Work’, is the sobering, realistic section of the book. The chapter titles tell the story, in fact, the biblical story of work between Eden and the New Creation – ‘Work Becomes Fruitless’, ‘Work Becomes Pointless’, ‘Work Becomes Selfish’ and ‘Work Reveals Our Idols’.
But that’s not the full story. In Part 3, ‘The Gospel and Work’, we have an invigorating vision of the place work is meant to have in our lives – a vision beyond work as the way in which we define ourselves; beyond work as the measure of our significance and self-worth; beyond work as a means to money, power and status.
The biblical meta-narrative affects everything, including our work. In Chapter 9, ‘A New Story for Work’, Keller illustrates this with examples from business, journalism, education, the Arts and medicine and provides some helpful questions as we consider our work from the perspective of a Christian worldview.
He reminds us in Chapter 10, ‘A New Conception of Work’, that the gospel reframes all things, not just religious things.
Fleshing out what it means to love our neighbour at work is the focus of Chapter 11, ‘A New Compass for Work’. Given the amount of time many of us spend at our ‘paid’ work, the following is perhaps worth pondering – Think of the cliché that nobody ever gets to the end of their life and wishes they had spent more time at the office. It makes good sense, of course, up to a point. But here’s a more interesting perspective: At the end of your life, will you wish that you had plunged more of your time, passion and skills into work environments and work products that helped people to give and receive more love? Can you see a way to answer ‘Yes’ to this question from your current career trajectory?
‘New Power for Work’ is the brilliant, final chapter of Keller’s book. All of us are haunted by the work under the work is an intriguing idea as is Dorothy Sayers’ urging of us to serve the work.
I will leave you, hopefully, intrigued enough to read this very timely book. The world has a knack of squeezing us into its mould when it comes to career ambitions. None of us is immune. Our students are marinated in its seductive values. Christian educators are well-placed strategically to show them a better way.
FOR FURTHER READING:
Banks, R. All the Business of Life – Bringing Theology Down-to-Earth, Albatross Books, 1987.
Banks, R and Stevens R.P (Ed.).The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity, IVP, 1997.
Cairney, T (Ed.) Work in Progress, CASE No 24, 2010.
Cosden, D. A. Theology of Work, Paternoster, 2005.
Costen, D. The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, Paternoster, 2006.
Preese, G. Changing Work Values – A Christian Response, Acorn Press, 1995.
Zylstra, J (Ed.). Labour of Love – Essays on Work, Wedge Publishing Foundation, Toronto, 1980.