01 Jun #123 – “Why” In Deed: The Path to a Ministry OF Work
ESSENCE: There is much talk about the intersection of “work” and “ministry”. We believe there are three main ways that “work” and “ministry” intersect, only one of which is true faith/work integration–complete alignment. There is Ministry AT Work (work as a platform for ministry), Ministry THROUGH Work (work as a vehicle for ministry) and Ministry OF Work (work as ministry). Unlike the other two alternatives, Ministry OF Work requires crossing what we call the Sacred/Secular gap. Ministry OF Work requires understanding work as God’s creation and gift for living out Imago Dei, the creation mandate in Genesis 1:28 (be fruitful and multiply), and the commandments to love God and love your neighbor through the work itself, through the products and services it creates, and through the wealth it generates. With Ministry OF Work, the WHY of ministry deeds aligns with the WHY of work deeds, because the work is the ministry and the ministry is the work. The only WHY that can truly sustain work and ministry simultaneously is the only purpose for which we were created—to glorify God. And we glorify God by loving what God loves.
To a large extent, Integrous and the idea of Integriosity® were inspired by the observation that there is an abundance of excellent content and conferences on the subject of faith/work integration but there seems to be a surprising shortage of understanding among people of faith and, even more so, of institutional “heart-changing” implementation by business leaders of faith.
There is much talk about the intersection of “work” and “ministry” but the relationship between those two concepts gets described in different ways. We like a quote by A.W. Tozer:
Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it.
The brilliant and famous Tozer asserts that our work can be “as sacred as the work of the ministry”. Really? That’s an exciting idea—it suggests our work can be our ministry.
And he says it “is not what a man does” that makes the difference. We like that, because being a lawyer does not feel intrinsically “sacred”. But wait, don’t “deeds” matter?
He also says what does matter is “WHY” we do our job. That’s certainly confusing. Isn’t it to earn a living?
Tozer’s statement touches on several topics that are important to unpack for a faithful leader wanting to understand the intersection between work and faith:
• The sacred/secular nature of work.
• The relationship between “ministry” and “work” and how they can work together.
• The relationship between “deeds” and the “WHY” behind our work.
Mind the Gaps: Understanding the Sacred Nature of Work in God’s Design
In England, riders on the “Tube” (aka the Underground or the subway) are warned to “mind the gap”. Faithful leaders wanting to lead faithfully must heed the same warning. There are three gaps to cross before you can realize Tozer’s vision of “sacred” work as ministry:
• “Sunday/Monday”: this gap is crossed when you understand that what you do Monday-Friday is not disconnected from the faith you practice on Sunday–you should bring your whole self (including your faith) to work or to your business.
• “Sacred/Secular”: this gap is crossed when you understand that your work or business itself has intrinsic value in God’s Kingdom–your work and the way you manage your business is a sacred vocational calling and a form of worship (you have probably heard that the Hebrew word avodah means work, worship and service). As Tozer says, what matters is the WHY behind your work or business.
• “Knowing/Doing”: this gap is crossed by taking those understandings and implementing change through deeds. Although Tozer says what you “do” doesn’t matter, he does not mean you don’t need to “do” anything—deeds do matter, but they must come from the right WHY behind your work or business.
It would appear that only a very small slice of Christians have crossed the Sacred/Secular gap. In 2019, we learned that two faith and work organizations conducted surveys to ascertain whether Evangelical Christians understood that all their work was a sacred activity.
They concluded that only 5-9% of the workers had a Tozer-like understanding of work as a sacred activity and a calling. Some did not feel their work had anything to do with their faith (stuck behind the Sunday/Monday gap), and others cited only the times they were doing things like attending Bible studies or prayer groups or praying for co-workers (stuck behind the Sacred/Secular gap).
Taking Work Across the Gaps to Ministry
“Work” and “ministry” can be found in various combinations as you cross the three gaps, but we believe only one represents the sacred nature of work envisioned by Tozer.
Specifically, let’s look at three versions of “work” and “ministry”:
• Ministry AT Work: work as a platform for ministry.
• Ministry THROUGH Work: work as a vehicle for ministry
• Ministry OF Work: work as ministry.
Ministry AT Work. Ministry AT work occurs when a person has crossed the Sunday/Monday gap but may not have crossed the Sacred/Secular gap. Their ministry activities are deeds done AT their place of work, but they are not activities unique to their work, to their workplace or to workplaces in general. Work is the secular platform for sacred deeds. Based on the informal surveys described above, this is how “ministry” and “work” come together for 90% of Evangelical Christians.
Ministry AT work is bringing overtly “faithful” deeds and activities into the workplace. For example:
• Organizing Bible studies, prayer meetings and community service projects.
• Wearing or displaying “faith” objects
• Hiring a corporate chaplain.
• Praying for a co-worker or telling them about your faith.
• Being kind to people at work.
Ministry AT work is not bad–it is “good”. But it is not what Tozer envisioned. The person’s WHY for their ministry deeds can be different from their WHY for work, because their ministry deeds and work activities are occurring on parallel tracks. The WHY for work may still be to earn money or maximize profit. The WHY for ministry deeds is probably to evangelize people (directly or indirectly) or to “do good”.
Ministry AT work represents deeds based on what Dallas Willard would call a narrow “Gospel of sin management”. It is deeds that come from a focus on correct beliefs (evangelism) or correct actions (a social Gospel of helping the underserved). It is sometimes called a “Two-Part Gospel” because it comes from just the two middle parts of God’s grand four-part narrative (1-Creation, 2-Fall, 3-Redemption through Jesus, 4-Restoration of the Kingdom).
A Two-Part Gospel is “good” but not enough to explain the intrinsic value of work and business in God’s Kingdom. A Two-Part Gospel makes it hard to see how work (or business) can be “sacred” unless it involves “good” deeds that are explicitly evangelistic or helping the underserved.
Ministry THROUGH Work. Ministry THROUGH work is another ministry/work combination often stuck between the Sunday/Monday gap and the Sacred/Secular gap. While ministry AT work is faith deeds done at the workplace in parallel with work (with work being the platform), ministry THROUGH work is using work and the workplace as the secular vehicle for sacred activities that are unique to a workplace but not about the work itself. For example:
• Including faith expressions in mission/value statements, on a company website, or in or on packaging.
• Evangelizing employees, vendors or customers through work activities and materials.
• Donating profits or products to faith-based charities.
Like ministry AT work deeds, ministry THROUGH work deeds are “good”, but not what Tozer was talking about. A WHY of maximizing profit can easily co-exist with ministry THROUGH work, because ministry THROUGH work is not about the work itself—it is about faith deeds that are facilitated by a work vehicle. Those faith deeds only need a narrow Two-Part Gospel for inspiration.
Ministry OF Work. We believe what Tozer is describing is ministry OF work. Work activities are the faith activities because the work itself is treated as sacred. Ministry OF work requires crossing the Sacred/Secular gap, and that requires understanding a BIGGER Four-Part Gospel of the Kingdom.
• By including God’s Restoration plan for His Kingdom on earth, a Four-Part Gospel tells the whole story of WHY Jesus redeemed us (beyond salvation), WHAT we are supposed to do after being redeemed and HOW work (and business) is relevant in God’s Kingdom plan.
We are not saying that those engaged in ministry AT work deeds and ministry THROUGH work deeds have not crossed the Sacred/Secular gap—only that those deeds do not require it.
It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it. (A.W. Tozer)
From WHY to Deeds–Crossing the Knowing/Doing Gap
A ministry OF work opens new possibilities for deeds that are part of “work” itself but also constitute “ministry”. (Tozer did not say “deeds” don’t matter—he said that the nature of the work does not matter.) For example, regardless of the type of work (CEO, banker, lawyer, shopkeeper, plumber, barista), deeds can be wrapped up in HOW you carry out the work and WHO you are while working.
It is understanding work as God’s creation and gift for living out Imago Dei, the creation mandate in Genesis 1:28 (be fruitful and multiply), and the commandments to love God and love your neighbor through the work itself, through the products and services it creates, and through the wealth it generates. For example:
• Working in a way that is sustainable in the broadest sense and treats flourishing of people and creation as the “end” and profit as a “means”.
• Working with excellence and integrity.
• Working in a way that creates a healthy work culture–treating all people with dignity, prioritizing relationships and cooperation, and valuing and caring for all people touched by the work.
• Creating both products that meet needs and provide solutions to the material challenges of human life, and the economic prosperity that makes those products affordable and accessible in a way that cares for all creation.
With ministry OF work, the WHY of ministry deeds aligns with the WHY of work deeds, because the work is the ministry and the ministry is the work.
The overt faith deeds of ministry AT work and ministry THROUGH work are not inconsistent with ministry OF work—they can all be occurring together. But (unlike ministry AT work and ministry THROUGH work) ministry OF work can’t sustain a work WHY of profit, because a WHY of profit can’t sustain the sacred ministry nature of the work. Ministry OF work requires that profit be optimized as a means rather than maximized as an end.
The only WHY that can truly sustain work and ministry simultaneously is the only purpose for which we were created—to glorify God. And we glorify God by loving what God loves. We believe that is the WHY Tozer had in mind.
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): This post is adapted from an article written for the Faith Driven Entrepreneur blog and first posted May 25, 2022. Thank you to the team at Faith Driven Entrepreneur, particularly Gregg Pittman, Justin Forman and Henry Kaestner, for giving me a chance to contribute in a small way to the incredible work they are doing through the Faith Driven family of offerings: Faith Driven Entrepreneur, Faith Driven Investor and Faith Driven Athlete.