Can You Serve God in Your Work?

Faith & Work, by J. Irving, St. Patrick's in NY

Faith & Work, by Justin A. Irving, purposeinleadership.com; location: St. Patrick’s in NYC

Do you see your work as an opportunity to serve God?

Some workers—such as those in overt ministry roles (e.g., pastors, missionaries) or those in helping professions (e.g., teachers, nurses)—seem to have an easier answer to this question.

But what about other professions? How, for example, may plumbers, engineers, writers, carpenters, accountants, programmers, electricians, lawyers, and call center employees see their work as an opportunity to serve God?

Most of us devote upward of 100,000 hours of our lives to work. The significance and meaning of these hours matters. Is this 100,000-hour investment of our lives disconnected from our life of faith, or do these hours connect meaningfully with who we are as persons of faith? In what way is our work a means to living out a vocational call on our lives—a means to serving God in and through our work?

Celebrating Every Good Endeavor

I just returned from a conference hosted by the Center for Faith & Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. What an encouraging time to see how the people of Redeemer Presbyterian are guiding their congregation and city in reflection on innovation and meaningful faith-work integration.

For those new to this conversation, Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf, both of Redeemer Presbyterian, have written a helpful book on the topic of faith and work entitled Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work.

Setting the stage for their discussion in Every Good Endeavor, Tim and Katherine propose a diverse set of convictions and pose the question of whether these convictions are opposed to one another or complementary. They note:

The way to serve God at work is to…

  • Further social justice in the world
  • Be personally honest and evangelize your colleagues
  • Do skillful, excellent work
  • Create beauty
  • Work from a Christian motivation to glorify God, seeking to engage and influence culture to that end
  • Work with a grateful, joyful, gospel-changed heart through all the ups and downs
  • Do whatever gives you the greatest joy and passion
  • Make as much money as you can, so that you can be as generous as you can

Engaging this list, Keller and Leary Alsdorf note that it is problematic if we add the word “main” to any of the above statements (e.g., “The main way to serve God at work is to…”). Each of these serve as a way serve God through our work rather than representing the way to serve God in our work. They additionally emphasize that depending on one’s particular vocational path, cultural context, and historical moment, the way we live these convictions out will look different.

A Means for Joyful Exploration

In light of such observations, connecting our work to God’s work becomes a means for joyful exploration rather than burdensome obligation. Our work does matter to God. Our work is a means to serve God. The opportunity in front of us is to explore how our particular role is an opportunity to serve God in and through our work.

Toward this end, I find that the above list is a helpful prompt.

In what ways is my work an opportunity to …

  • . further social justice
  • be honest
  • share the gospel
  • work with excellence
  • create beauty
  • glorify God
  • work with gratitude and joy
  • be generous?

How will you serve God through your work? How will you invest the 100,000-hour opportunity in your life?

Groups vs. Teams: What’s the Difference?

Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, Scott Maxwell, Flickr

Photo Credit: Working Together Teamwork Puzzle Concept, by Scott Maxwell, Flickr

“A group becomes a team when each member is sure enough of himself
and his contribution to praise the skills of the others.”
– Norman Shidle

Most people participate in some form of a team or group on a regular basis. This happens through recreation in the realm of sports and clubs. This happens on the job as people come together to get things done within organizations.

Although you likely have been part of both groups and teams in the past, do you understand the difference? What are the key distinctions between a group and a team?

Defining Teams

Larson and LaFasto describe three basic characteristics of teams.

  1. Two or more people
  2. Specific performance objective or recognizable goal to be attained
  3. Coordination of activity among the members of the team is required for attainment of the team goal or objective

Independent or Coordinated Effort

Larson and LaFasto’s third point is the key to answering our question.

  • Groups organize around individuals bringing together independent work in light of individual goals.
  • Teams organize around individuals bringing together coordinated work in light of collective goals.

Contrasting Groups and Teams

Groups

Teams

Independent Work

Individual Goals

Individual Accountability

Individual Evaluation

Coordinated Work

Collective Goals

Mutual Accountability

Collective Evaluation

Valuing Both

I highly value teaming done well. However, there is a time and place for both groups and teams.

Groups are generally more helpful for quickly and efficiently getting things done in the context of a temporary working relationship. When individual and independent work can be brought together to advance the individual goals of multiple parties, then a group is an efficient way to work together. Many of the group projects and assignments I’ve completed over the years of my schooling fit into this group model.

Teams are generally more helpful for taking on bigger projects over a longer period of time. When the outcome requires coordinated work being brought together to advance collective goals that will be collectively evaluated, then a team is the most effective way to work together. Although teaming done well tends to take more time than working as a group, this extra time investment pays off in the quality of the team’s performance.

Speed or Quality

  • Groups are best when the stakes are lower and speed is the key.
  • Teams are best when the stakes are high and quality is more important than speed.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

– African proverb

This African proverb sums it up well. Though most of us want to go fast AND far, usually we have to prioritize one over the other. Groups help us go fast. Teams help us go far.

Enjoy the journey of working with others. I’d love to hear your experience of working with groups and teams!

C.S. Lewis on Empowerment — Exploring Leadership Development

C. S. Lewis, Sigurdur Jonsson, Flickr

Photo Credit: C. S. Lewis, Sigurdur Jonsson, Flickr

Empowerment is vital for effective leadership. It is core to most of our relationships…from teaching, to parenting, to leading.

Leading People to Not Need Us

In discussing love and giving, C.S. Lewis implicitly engages the practice of empowerment. Lewis writes:

The proper aim of giving is to put the recipient in a state where he no longer needs our gift. We feed children in order that they may soon be able to feed themselves; we teach them in order that they may soon not need our teaching.”

Celebrating Growth toward Independence

This principle is not only essential for effective parenting or teaching, it is also essential for effective leading. It raises a heart-searching question for us as leaders: Are we leading our people to dependency on our leadership, or are we leading them to a place of independence and interdependence?

Recognizing Leader Struggles Along the Way

Organizational leaders who hunger for power and position will have difficulty leading followers to a place of independence. Organizational leaders who struggle with personal insecurity will struggle to free followers to this place as well.

Secure and follower-focused leaders recognize that it is a win for both their followers and their organizations to create pathways where leaders may be both developed and empowered for service.

Finding the Reward of Empowerment

Lewis continues to press his argument:

Thus a heavy task is laid upon the Gift-love. It must work towards its own abdication. We must aim at making ourselves superfluous. The hour when we can say ‘They need me no longer’ should be our reward.”

All too often, our saying “they need me no longer” is viewed as a threat rather than a reward. But true love—love that holds the importance of others and their goals alongside our own goals—will lead in such a way that both leader and follower values, goals, aspirations, and dreams may be pursued.

Developing and Deploying Emerging Leaders

In reality, leaders who get the concept of developing and deploying their people do not work themselves out of a job, for such leaders are constantly creating new opportunities for new developing leaders. Great leaders create space for others to flourish. Great leaders identify potential, develop this potential, and release this potential into new roles and opportunities.

Leadership development does not need to be a zero sum game. Thriving organizations and entrepreneurial communities benefit from a regular flow of developed and empowered leaders released into new opportunities.

_______________________________

How are you wired as a leader around these themes? Do you tend to hold onto authority over others, or are you wired to identify, develop, and release talent in the cause of your organization’s mission? Great leaders empower their people!

3 Reasons God Cares about Your Work

Work, Wacky Toyo Boy Borj, Flickr

Photo Credit: Work, Wacky Toyo Boy Borj, Flickr

Adding Value to the Lives of Others

Work takes many forms. At its core, work is anything that we do to add value to the lives of others. In contrast to this, play and recreation tend to be things focused on adding value to our own lives.

Sometimes we add value to the lives of others on the job when we are compensated in one form or another for our work. Other times, we add value to the lives of others through volunteer service or through the work we do for our family and friends.

Practicing the Presence of God in Our Work

As I was engaged in this last type of work (cleaning up dishes at home this weekend), my mind was draw to Brother Lawrence and his focus on “practicing the presence of God” in all of life and work. Here’s a link to some of his reflections (The Practice of the Presence of God: The Best Rule of Holy Life).

One of the prayers attributed to Brother Lawrence emphasizes 3 reasons that God cares about your work. Here’s my summary of these 3 reasons:

1.  God Wants to Mold You in Your Work

First, God cares about your work because God wants to mold you and shape you through your work. He wants to form and change you through serving others and adding value to their lives. On this point, Brother Lawrence prayed,

“Lord of all pots and pans and things…
make me a saint by getting meals,
and washing up the plates.”

Through our work, God molds our character and values. Through our work, we are developed not only professionally but also personally. God uses work for our professional, personal, and spiritual formation. He uses work to change us for the better.

2.  God Wants to Meet You in Your Work

Second, God cares about your work because God cares about you. For many Christians, there is a tendency to separate our lives of weekend worship from weekday work. But God is not interested in just meeting you on Sunday morning (or whenever you gather for worship). God wants to meet you on Monday morning as well. He wants to meet with you and have you recognize His presence with you in your work. On this point, Brother Lawrence prayed,

Warm all the kitchen with Thy Love,
and light it with Thy peace;
forgive me all my worrying,
and make my grumbling cease
.”

You can join Brother Lawrence in asking God to Warm all the kitchen / office / garage / home / school / shop / etc. with His Love, and light it with His peace. Ask God for wisdom on the job (James 1:5). Talk with him about the opportunities and challenges you face. When worried or anxious about something you are facing, offer this emotion up to the Lord and invite Him to replace this with His peace (Philippians 4:6-7). Look for God to meet you in your work.

3.  God Wants to Minister through You in Your Work

Finally, God cares about your work because God wants to minister through you to others. Work is one of the main pathways we add value to the lives of those around us. On this point, Brother Lawrence prayed,

Thou who didst love to give men food,
in room, or by the sea,
accept the service that I do,
I do it unto Thee. Amen.”

As Brother Lawrence notes, Jesus not only met people’s spiritual needs, but He also met physical needs for food. We serve similar needs for one another through our work. God not only cares about you as a worker, He cares about the work you do. And, the work we do for others, particularly those with the greatest need, Christ views as service to Him also (Mathew 25:40).

God not only cares about chefs, He cares about the food we eat. He not only cares about dentists, but He cares about dentistry and the care of our teeth. He not only cares about plumbers, but also cares about access to water and a sanitary environment in which we can live. God uses your work to add value to the lives of others and to meet the needs of others. In our service to others, we are also serving Christ.

__________________

Your work matters to God. Through it he wants to mold you, meet you, and minister through you. Are you keeping your eyes, ears, and spirit open to God in the midst of your work?