'Workship' - Identity

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Posted by Marilyn Cole 3 years ago

This is part three of a six-part series that will look at Kara Martin's book, 'Workship: How to use your work to worship God.' Kara Martin is the keynote speaker at EdComm's annual Integral Project Dinner on October 25.

'Our identity is not something that should fluctuate between jobs. It is something that needs to be fixed in something stable and unchanging' (Martin, 2017, p.131).

Educational psychologists Vander Zanden and Pace (1984) applied Erikson’s ideas in defining identity as: ‘the meaning one attaches to oneself as reflected in the answers one provides to the questions, “Who am I?” and, “Who am I to be?”’ (Lynda Kelly, 2010, p.74). It relates to self-image (one's mental model of oneself), self-esteem, and individuality. In short it relates to how I see myself and what gives me meaning. It includes how I am both similar to and different from others. A psychologist might describe identity in terms of the qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions that make a person an individual, while sociologists may explain these characteristics as developing throughout a person’s life in response to family, culture social groups and other influential factors like education and work.

The true source of our identity, esteem and security needs to be something fixed and stable outside of ourselves. The Bible describes our identity as having been given by God who formed me in my mother’s womb and knows everything about me (Psalm 139:1-8). My identity includes being made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26), loved by Him (John 3:16), being a child of God (John 1:12) and an heir to His kingdom (Galatians 4:7). These truths do not change when my job or circumstances change (Martin, 2017, p.131), they are fixed and stable.

So where are the identity challenges for the Christian, and especially the Christian teacher? The answer to this question will be explored in four areas:

  • the fulfillment of work;
  • finding a work-life balance;
  • cultural expectations;
  • ambition.

When teachers approach their work with a servant heart and a keenness to do their job well they quickly become aware of the demands on their time and emotions. Managing a classroom well with a goal of promoting student learning for all students is only part of the challenge. In independent schools teachers also have pastoral responsibilities for a group of students, are expected to be involved in extra-curricular activities, to build relationships with parents, and to be part of a learning community themselves where the needs of colleagues may surface. Schools are exciting places to work and serve others. The teacher is appreciated by the students, the parents and their colleagues, and there are real rewards in seeing students learn and flourish, especially if you have the privilege of watching students grow and develop over their school career. It is easy to find your meaning and fulfillment in this role.

Finding a work-life balance seems like a near impossible task for many teachers. Teachers will tell you the job is never done. Even if the marking is finished you can always create a better lesson or plan to spend more time supporting a colleague or student. It is not uncommon for a teacher’s first reaction to a conversation about work-life balance to be ‘what balance?’. Kara Martin suggests that a first step to achieving this balance is to have a Biblical view of work and play as well as having a right attitude toward work, and life, as gifts from God to be used in his service as acts of worship. God set us an example and gave His people a mandate to rest one day a week and Jesus explained to the Pharisees that the Sabbath (day of rest) was made for man. (One of the fundamental concepts of rest is that God has set an example for us in resting - Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:8-11; Mark 2:27) (Martin, 2018, p 46).

Cultural expectations may come from the expectations and culture of the school itself or one's interpretation of these, or from a generational culture. A starting point in dealing with school expectations is to have them clearly articulated so that you can accommodate them in your planning and have a clear basis from which to start a conversation if needed. Dealing with culturally-transmitted generational expectations is more difficult, especially for those of the affected generation. It is also helpful for those from other generations to understand the ‘cultural expectations’ of a generation they are working with. Kara Martin outlines the expectations of Gen Y as:

  • a sense of optimism and unbounded opportunity … are ambitious and persist in following their passions;
  • believe they are special and deserve jobs;
  • chase glamorised lifestyles;
  • are looking for meaning and purpose in the wrong places; seeing their identity in their work (Martin, 2017, p. 129).

A generation saturated with these expectations will have compounded identity challenges to work through, but acknowledging cultural expectations for what they are is a good place to begin.

Ambition can be ugly, especially if it is in the pursuit of power, status or wealth. It can work against positive work relationships, trust, teamwork, and also impact home life.

R. Paul Stevens gives us a list of several symptoms of selfish ambition which may act as a warning sign. If we:

  • define our self by our achievements rather than our character;
  • find meaning in our own life rather than as a child of God;
  • relentlessly strive, and find it difficult to rest;
  • get discouraged by a lack of recognition for our hard work;
  • step on or over others to achieve what we want;
  • use the present situation as a stepping stone, continually looking at the next thing (R. Paul Stevens, 'Ambition' in Martin, 2018, p.72).

It may be time to take careful stock of where we are forming our identity and remember the wisdom of Romans 12:2 which says 'Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect'.

If work is the source of your identity, self-esteem, and/or your security, then it has become an idol  (Martin, 2017, p.133). Take heed!


Martin, K. (2017). Workship: How To Use Your Work To Worship God. Singapore: Graceworks Private Limited.

Martin, K. (2018). Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work. Singapore: Graceworks Private Limited.

What is identity? Dr Lynda Kelly, Category: Museullaneous, Date: 19 May 2010. Accessed 9.30 am Tuesday 16th October 2018.

Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of EdComm or the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. The intent is to promote thinking and discussion.