Our Visions of Work and Business are Anemic
Work: to do a job, esp. a job you do to earn money. http://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/work
"Work is a result of my fallen human condition."
"Work is what I have to do to survive but if I'm really lucky, I can retire early and play golf or volunteer for the church."
"Work is how I earn accolades and love."
"Work is how I prove my value and worth."
"Work is where I go to evangelize."
"Work is how I amass enough power and wealth to make other people work for me."
"Business is the means by which a few owners get rich through the effort of others."
"The highest calling of a Christian in business is to make a lot of money to give away to the church and ministries."
We may not say it quite like this, but many of us operate as if these lies and half-truths are true. If this is how we view work, it's no wonder that 70% of Americans hate their jobs or are completely disengaged (according to a Pew Research Poll.) This lame understanding of work also limits our potential to partner with God in some really amazing ways. By renewing our theology of work, we can better understand the role of business in the Kingdom of God. This is essential if we are to realize the power of business to serve as winsome witnesses of the Gospel, creatively demonstrating our faith by being part of the solution.
Increasingly, Christians have come to hope, and perhaps even expect, there is more to the idea of Kingdom impact through business. The faith at work conversation has made much progress in the past decade to remind us of the theological importance of our day-to-day work. Through the efforts of countless authors, parachurch ministries, and pastors, we've been taught that work provides an opportunity for living the gospel and witnessing to our neighbors.
In addition, a few great authors have exhorted us to see that our work—whether as accountants, pilots, artists, homemakers, gardeners, or lawyers—has unique and intrinsic value as a means of worshipping our Creator. As Tim Keller teaches, "All well-done work that serves the good of human beings pleases God." Man's earliest call/invitation/job - before the fall - was to join God in creation by giving the plants and animals names and tending the garden. Thus, all work done in obedient surrender is a form of worship.
But there is a truly important missing component in many of our discussions about theology of work that has huge implications for how we understand business. After the fall, our work is the means by which we partner with God in His work of renewing all things.
The Christian faith gives us a new conception of work as the means by which God loves and cares for his world through us. Look at the places in the Bible that say that God gives every person their food. How does God do that? It is through human work—from the simplest farm girl milking the cows to the truck driver bringing produce to market to the local grocer. God could feed us directly but he chooses to do it through work.
Think about that. Read it again. The God of the Universe chooses US - YOU AND ME - to be the way He feeds us, clothes us and provides for human flourishing. Our work, surrendered to Him, has great power for Good. For more reading on this topic, please check out Tom Nelson's book "Work Matters"
This is hugely important because if we fail to develop a robust theology of work or forget to allow that to influence our theology of business, we will miss a tremendous opportunity to build businesses that stand as demonstrated apologetics for the Gospel.
If we extend this theology of work, we see that business - a collection of many people working together for a common commercial goal - is God's way of disseminating wealth throughout creation. Wealth in scripture is not merely a financial measure; it includes the idea of healthy bodies (Jesus healed people's bodies) plus healthy relationships and communities (after each Jesus restored people to community). A friend of mine after many months of studying these issues has come up with a simple way to convey the purpose of business from God's perspective. He says "business is meant to provide for human flourishing for the glory of God."
David Blanchard of Praxis Labs explains,
“We believe we are at a unique moment in history where these entrepreneurs have disproportionate influence on everything from the social problems we collectively work on to what each of us consume, practice, believe, and desire. As Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter and Square, recently declared on the cover of Forbes, “the most efficient means to spread an idea today is corporate structure.”
This is the opportunity some are seizing with a renewed and emboldened theology of work. We see Christian entrepreneurs who are building apps to bring spoken prayer to our iPhones, who are creating and disseminating a better mosquito repellent to stop the spread of malaria, and who have established a hardware store that honors God and provides opportunities to share the gospel.
These businesses have an even greater opportunity than startups to transform our world. An Uber driver in Kansas City exemplified this idea. As a father of 4 young kids, he drives Uber on the weekends and early mornings to earn a little extra cash. But during the 40-minute drive to the airport, this man could not stop raving about his full-time job at a local company where he earns a good wage and has found a community that cares about him. He described the transformation he’s experienced in his own life just by working around people who demonstrate integrity and biblical love. For him, this company has become a demonstrated apologetic for the gospel.
This is the body of Christ at its best, loving our neighbors through the works of our hands.