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Redeeming the workplace



One consequence, presumably unintended, of separating the sacred and the secular is that we lose our influence in the workplace. Having denied working Christians a voice in church, it is hardly surprising that the Church has lost its voice at work. What was supposed to be a creative space where effort generates wealth that spills over and blesses society, is more often a meaningless grind. So how can the workplace be redeemed? By Terry Young

The fifth and final blog of our series exploring how the workplace can inform our faith




Workplace

 


What’s wrong with the workplace?

So far we have viewed the workplace positively in generating income, as somewhere that we learn things we can take into Church, and as providing, at times, a better Christian response than simply giving. At its best, work is a place of activity, creativity and friendship.

However, there is a darker side, where status or ambition become unhelpful surrogates for purpose or contentment and greed can generate appalling behaviour. At worst – and not just in sweatshops abroad – the workplace is where too many people spend too much time in fear or misery.

How can an environment with so much potential for good have become one in which so much human activity is reduced to a pointless grind? More importantly, how can it be redeemed?



Barriers to redemption

My first job, in commercial research, resembled university and yet the collection of Christians was radically different from the Christian Union.  There were some memorable talks and meals and we prayed together but somehow it didn’t gel. Maybe it was the lunchtime setting or because we were mainly research engineers and scientists. Maybe it was the company structure or the other tasks on our to-do lists, but I experienced a certain isolation. It wasn’t sad for I enjoyed work, but it wasn’t corporate, either: more one-to-one, where dilemmas tracked me down alone.

This sense of isolation is because work is part of the real world while Church, with its crowds, is an aberration. Ironically, this means that our big plans for group studies, services, tents, or neighbourhood evangelism, don’t read easily across from church to work.

Furthermore, a paradox of the workplace is that you have no time and yet lots of time. A crisis may come in a moment – please sign this now – but the life behind the decision is on show for years or decades at a stretch. What you get right in the moment supports your long-term impact, and the long-term pattern of what you do or decline to do usually simplifies what you will or won’t be asked to do.



Rescuing methods

I don’t know how you read 2 Corinthians 10:1-6 but it hints, at least to me, at repurposing the weapons and arguments of the world around in the service of Christ. We have already recommended re-interpreting secular methods (for instance, in making decisions) back into church. Why should churches make weaker decisions, invest less wisely, develop inferior strategies or treat people more poorly than secular organisations? This is not about trusting God to overrule: there is nothing wrong in going against the odds in secular or sacred pursuits, but in each case you need to know what those odds are (Matthew, not Luke, presents this message with his tower-builder and royal general).

Churches readily adopt technology, with tap-and-go offering plates and count-down timers on Sundays, but we are less savvy about processes and methods. We can do better for ourselves and see the methods themselves redeemed to a higher purpose than simply making money.



Redeeming individuals

Have you noticed how often God speaks through difficulties? So, what is God saying when your workmates hit trouble? My experience has been not just with students (who often pitched up as exams loomed) but with colleagues, some who knew me, some who were sent by others, but all of whom wanted to talk. If I lived my life over, I’d focus more prayer on such conversations. I’m not saying I did badly, for there were some nice outcomes, but I might have been a better Christian witness.

In The Debt Saviours, John Kirby from Christians Against Poverty was questioned over why he took people to church when working through debt. Was it fair to the vulnerable? As I watched, I realised that extreme debt needs a lifestyle change: no change, new debts! John’s only lifestyle option is with new purpose as a Christian, so he shares it. A health scare or redundancy may be God raising the topic of lifestyle change, but yours may be the only voice that colleague will hear.

Of course, not every workmate is in trouble: some just want to probe a Christian for a decade before they decide – a sort of extended test drive – or they may want evidence that your standards work. My guess is that we each have a type of conversation that others choose to have with us, so we could support one another better by praying for those events ahead of time.



Redeeming the places

Being salt and light is not just about making the workplace nicer for stressed colleagues or helping workmates to structure and solve their problems – although it is about those things. Striving for a fairer workplace by challenging perverse practices is as important as boosting morale or generating a vision. Insane decisions at work are surprisingly common in my experience – because life is complicated! As a cartoonist, you can show the funny side and make a living out of it. As a Christian, you can share the impact cheerfully or try to change it – either way, you make the workplace better for others.



Redeeming failure

I’ve found being a Christian at work exceptionally difficult and have probably created as many headaches as I have cured. Difficult isn’t bad: President Kennedy wanted to go to the moon precisely because it was hard. It turned out to be hard not just in a physical or dangerous way (although it was both) but because it involved thinking in new ways, working out how to get into and out of places and environments where no one had been before.

In a sense, the workplace is hard for all those reasons. And for all those reasons it is worth a new push. Like the moon, ‘hard’ should lead to fun discoveries – discoveries that last rather longer than microcircuits and Teflon – for eternity.

So, let’s press ahead in faith and trust that in the end, God will redeem our factories, our friends and even our failures.
 

 


This is the fifth blog in a five-part series:
 
  1. How can I bring the workplace into my faith? - While Jesus clearly rejected worldly values, the parables in Luke showed he thought some worldly methods worth a second glance. I am now increasingly convinced that we need to revisit and rethink the workplace, perhaps radically so
  2. Making better decisions and developing people - What can churches learn from the workspace about decisions, development, and supporting good people? 
  3. Evangelism - Churches have accidentally silenced the very people who are most in touch with the dis-evangelised coal face. What is the latest thinking? Where is technology taking us? What philosophies are already changing our lives? Somewhere among the Church’s secular workforce someone will sense an answer. But that is not how we plan evangelism. How could we do better?
  4. The poor - Nobody else was as interested in the poor as Jesus, yet the Church has an underused mandate for entrepreneurial wealth creation to the benefit of others. What role the Christian entrepreneur? 
  5. Redeeming the workplace - Having denied working Christians a voice in church, it is hardly surprising that the Church has lost its voice at work. What was supposed to be a creative space where effort generates wealth that spills over and blesses society, is more often a meaningless grind. So how can the workplace be redeemed?

 


Image | Drew Beamer | Unsplash



Terry Young was born to missionary parents working in the Middle East. He has always tried to unify his life of worship and secular missions, and has been part of church leadership teams in Essex, and at Slough Baptist Church. He has written a few books that link worlds, including After the Fishermen, and Jake, Just Learn to Worship.

After a mobile early childhood his family settled in the UK to the northwest of Birmingham, and eventually he studied at the local university. After his doctoral studies he worked for 16 years in Chelmsford undertaking research and business development in the aerospace sector, where his interest was in fibre optics and photonics. In the end he gravitated to healthcare systems and move to Datchet with a position as a university professor
 




 



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Baptist Times, 24/04/2019
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