Connecting Our God Lives and Our Work Lives
Klaus Issler, Professor of Christian Education & Theology, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University
What are some ways in which people can bring their God-lives into their work-lives? The brief reflections presented here consider three insightful frameworks. The first offers a broader scope of insight, while the other two offer some practical guidance to help close the Sunday-Monday gap.
Dallas Willard, as usual, offers an intriguing, big-picture perspective that helps us understand how our day jobs can fit into our Kingdom lives. Imagine a sheet of paper that has four concentric circles drawn on it: three smaller circles nested within a larger circle. Your “job” is portrayed by the smallest circle in the very middle. The next circle is your “ministry,” or “calling.” The third is your “work,” and the largest circle encompassing the others is your “life.”
Willard explains that “it is extremely important for you to distinguish those [four] things if you’re going to take care of yourself and be the kind of person who can stand in the world of business as a whole person for Christ.” Willard explains:
Job: “Your job is what you get paid to do. You can immediately see that for many people there’s a problem in that their job will become their whole life.”
Ministry/Calling: “There are some things that God specially wants done in your time and in your place, and He’s given those things to you to do.”
Work: “The total amount of good that you will accomplish in your lifetime. For many of us, our family will be a large part of that.”
Life: “Encompassing all these is your life. That’s you. God is more interested in your life than he is in any of the other things there. . . . If you are careful to distinguish between who you are and what you do, then you’ll have a basis to stand in the face of the pressures that can tear you apart in this world.”[i]
Keeping Willard’s perspective in mind, let’s briefly consider two practical frameworks for bringing our God-lives into our work-lives. The frameworks overlap in some ways, but they also bring out distinctive contributions.
Ken Eldred, longtime Silicon Valley entrepreneur and author on faith and work, suggests one integrative model that highlights a three-fold Christian focus at the workplace:
1. A ministry AT work: Pointing those around us to God. (Living and sharing the good news).
2. A ministry OF work: Serving and creating via work itself. (Doing our work well and enjoying the use of our competencies and creativity as we serve others).
3. A ministry TO work: Redeeming the practices, policies, and structures of institutions. (Practicing our work in light of Kingdom values and virtues; bringing greater human flourishing, products, and services to society while addressing matters of unethical actions and issues of injustice).[ii]
William Peel, head of a prominent faith and work center at LeTourneau University, and his co-author Walter Larimore propose that to bring our God-lives into our work-lives, we must help colleagues become receptive to Jesus by building a platform of credibility with them. We earn credibility for the good news, as well as credibility for ourselves to share the good news, by developing a consistent track record in each of these three areas:
- Competency: Doing excellent work on the job.
- Character: Making wise job decisions with integrity.
- Consideration/Concern: Showing genuine mercy and compassion for our colleagues. [iii]
Each of these three frameworks offers helpful insight on how to connect our God-lives with our work-lives. I encourage people to take one model at a time, meditate on it for a week or month, and become familiar with the key concepts, and pray through the model. We can all ask God to bring us discernment for how he would lead us into practicing our faith in our work.
Some material in this article was adapted from a small ebook, “Jesus, Money and Work: Practices for Forming Christian Character” (InterVarsity 2012), available on Amazon.
[i] Dallas Willard, “Appendix A: How God is in Business,” in Bill Heatley, The Gift of Work: Spiritual Disciplines for the Workplace (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2008), 147-148.
[ii] Ken Eldred, The Integrated Life (Montrose, Colo.: Manna, 2010), p. 107.
[iii] William Peel and Walt Larimore, Workplace Grace: Becoming a Spiritual Influence at Work [Going Public with Your Faith] (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004/2010), 71