Faith undergirds attitudes, actions in the workplace
Greg English practices what he calls "quality devotion time" each morning.
"It sets my focus and lifts my joy in the Lord to view every action and interaction with a sense of divine potential," he said. "My heart and mind are ready to respond to opportunities to speak and/or show God's love."
English, a member of First United Methodist Church in Pasadena, Texas, was among more than 200 people who responded to this issue's "We asked, ‘...?' You said, ‘....'" question about carrying one's faith and practicing discipleship in the workplace.
For the past 34 years, English has sold equipment to businesses in the power, petrochemical and refining market along the Texas Gulf Coast.
"Talking to God throughout the day and keeping him involved is essential," English continued. "I have lived the life of ‘the business world' during the work week and then put on my ‘Christian' hat on Sunday. Believe me, it's no way to exist."
Being a disciple of Jesus Christ should guide our actions and attitudes in all settings – including the places we work. Many people spend the majority of their waking hours "at work" – be it as a paid worker, as a volunteer or as a caregiver for loved ones – and with the people there.
Faith shapes attitude
"Integrate the inseparable" is the phrase the Center for Faith and Work uses to brand its ministry, the Rev. David H. Kim, the Center's director, explained. The Center, a ministry of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, is one of the few places focusing on discipleship in the workplace. It sees action there as a means of transforming the culture. Among its emphases is the belief that "God is as present in our work lives as he is in our church lives."
"It's not a matter of whether you are integrating faith and work, but what faith you are integrating," Kim said. "Everyone brings a belief structure into his or her job that can bring meaning into work or make it pretty miserable."
For example, he said, some will cite the promises of Scripture that "God is the basis of our security, our status. Formally, we say we are children of God, but functionally we believe that work is the basis of our security and our status.
"Work was meant to be an expression of our identity," he added. "For many people, it is the source of their identity."
"Faith can bring meaning and nuance to work," Kim said. It can move one's perception from work as something done to pay the bills to what "God has given me to be faithful to my family and my community."
Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, a full-time, self-employed psalmist, teaches in the 18-month Faith Alive! program of the Wisconsin Conference. It explores several dimensions of the grounded spiritual life. He leads the final module, "Celebrate Vocation!"
"For many of us part of our calling is to provide for our family or whoever is in our direct care," Colligan said. "That means money, shelter, food and safety. A good job can fund all those things, and so fulfill a calling. For many of us, this is a primary calling."
Work: Intrinsic, instrumental, innovative
Kim named three ways in which all work – be it cleaning offices, producing food or being the CEO in a Fortune 500 company – matters to God.
Embedded in work, he explained, is an intrinsic or inherent value as it is a unique expression of God's glory.
Work can create order out of chaos, giving it an instrumental value; it is a means to another end.
"Work has innovative value because it is a creative activity we do with God and with other people," Kim said. "Work is part of our relationship with God, guiding us to understand who we are as beings created in God's image."
Kim also knows work can sometimes be in conflict with one's faith, but for many workers, there is little option other than to remain in the job.
"The concept of exile can be helpful to think through when being in places that are broken," Kim counseled. "God can call people to persevere, to stay in brokenness. Their faithfulness could be what God is using to redeem the situation." He cited passages from Jeremiah 29 and the book of Esther as being helpful in those situations.
He cautions that this approach "requires a level of spiritual discernment so we don't become part of the problem." He urges being in community to meet the challenges of choosing that option. A lot of decision-making is not black and white and "requires the wisdom of other people as well as the wisdom of God and God's word," Kim said.
How do Christians intentionally practice their discipleship in the work place?
"If part of discipleship is being faithful to what we've been given and who we are," said Colligan, "then how we share our lives with the world is a sacramental act. ... If we take the Apostle Paul's model of church being the Body of Christ and each part being essential, then we can trust that our diversity and our differences are indeed a gift to the world. I think most people find this intensely challenging. I'd go so far as to say most Christians, as much as we talk a good game, do not believe it. Instead, we place hoops and levels and litmus tests on what the faithful life looks like.
"To me to practice one's discipleship is a dance with our maker and the world we long to serve, and that dance looks different for each of us."
The ways in which Interpreter readers practice discipleship in their workplace vary. They ranged from the covert witness of how one treats co-workers and is a steward of resources to the more overt of exhibiting religious symbols on jewelry or as office décor, doing Bible study at one's workspace, talking about matters of faith, establishing prayer groups or, when invited, praying.
It can even mean feeding hungry assistants.
Mary Harriet Talbut is a member of New McKendree United Methodist Church in Jackson, Missouri, and an instructional designer at Missouri State University. One of her first graduate assistants – a javelin thrower on the track team – "revealed" one day that he was hungry. He didn't have any food because it was the end of the semester. Talbut quickly provided some snacks. She now hosts "a meal at the end of the semester when I feed the students because they are hungry." The university has also established a food pantry for students and faculty who may need food. Talbut also prays with her students "when they come to me with concerns."
A member of First United Methodist Church in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, David Kingsworthy works in the operations department at Morbark, Inc. He is part of a small prayer group that meets every Wednesday noon at a salt pile on the campus. "We pray for each other, our company, our co-workers and the world at large," he said. The group is at least 10 years old. While he learned about it through word-of-mouth, others have been invited.
He said, "Numbers have fluctuated over my time with the group, but there always seems to be at least two who show up." (Matthew 18:20)
The Rev. Frank J. "Buzz" Trexler is the bivocational pastor of Green Meadow United Methodist Church in Alcoa, Tennessee, and editor of the town's daily newspaper. "As a journalist, I have been able to keep an eye out for issues that also relate to my discipleship, such as hunger and homelessness. In doing so, I have seen various ministries grow out of our coverage."
Morning devotions set tone
Cited most often as an aid to practicing discipleship in one's workplace is what English named at the beginning of this article – having a devotional time before work.
It used to be that Regina Appiah Mends, a member of Manahawkin United Methodist Church and director of nursing at a rehabilitation center in Ocean County, New Jersey, seldom prayed for her patients or co-workers. "A year ago the Lord opened my eyes to the importance of committing all aspects of my life to him, including my job. This has helped me to treat my staff differently and also to pray for situations at work that previously made me angry."
"My morning devotion and prayer always ends with ‘God connect me with someone today whose life I can impact in a positive way,'" said the Rev. Rodney Smothers, a member of the Baltimore-Washington Conference staff. "I go throughout my day intentionally smiling and inviting others to smile as an act of hospitality. Christian faith is not an external garment; it's the overflow of a relationship that spills out of us because we know that God's love for us is contagious, and we want others to know that love of God for themselves."
The Rev. Kathy Noble is editor of Interpreter and Interpreter OnLine.