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offices 1 246Integrating work and faith - 2 

From a study 'From Secular to Sacred: Bringing Work to Church' by Elaine Ecklund, Rice University and others

Work and faith are significant life commitments for many people. Understanding how people integrate these facets of life is important for faith leaders and religious communities.

Researchers in the USA used data from 13,000 respondents to Faith at Work: An Empirical Study. Drawing data from a Christian sub-sample, various questions were analysed:

  • How do Christians draw on their faith community in relation to work?
  • For those in different social locations, in what ways does talk about work come up in churches?
  • What work-related challenges do Christians experience, and how do Christians want their churches and pastors to address them?

They find that many Christians see faith as a resource for enhancing their work lives but do not often encounter discussion of work at church or talk with pastors about work. Further, specific groups of Christians want their pastors and churches to do more to support them in their work and/or to help them navigate faith in the workplace. They also want churches to better accommodate the needs of working people at church, so they can more fully participate.

Denise Daniels, Professor of Management, Seattle Pacific University and one of the authors of the study, recently spoke to Chuck Proudfit, Founder At Work on Purpose. Here is a second part of that interview about 'calling'. The first part can be found here.

In the 200+ interviews that we've done, and we asked people, "Tell me a little bit about your sense of calling. Whether or not you have an experience of calling it work and what that might look like."

What we found was that people experienced calling in really different ways. Hopefully this will be an encouragement to some because we could think, "This is how you're supposed to experience work if you're really a good Christian."

We ended up with four quadrants in two different dimensions. So one dimension is the location of your service, or the location of how your work provide some benefit to others. So that location either can be internal to the workplace, or it can be external to the workplace. So that's one particular dimension. Then the other dimension was what we call intrinsic or extrinsic. In the sense that what you're doing in the workplace, if that feels meaningful to you, that would be an intrinsic sense of meaning. But there are also ways that work can allow you to do things that have nothing to do with the work per se, but the work provides the opportunity. So we call those extrinsic.

Quadrant 1 - external to the workplace and intrinsic to the work itself.
This is work that serves the common good. Their work is important, the work is important beyond the workplace. It's serving the world. I think that historically we have undervalued this particular quadrant, and we haven't really focused on how does your work benefit other people?

So today actually our heating broke and it's been very cold. So we called somebody and we had a tradesman who came out and he just fixed our heating. This is somebody who is really serving the common good, right? His work is allowing me to stay warm today. So that's huge. So, that work is really, really important. Historically, I think we have minimised it, particularly for people who work as what we now talk about as essential workers.

Quadrant 2 -  internal to the workplace and intrinsic to the work.
This would be where the experience of work changes me. So I might experience my work as a blessing from God. I might have the sense of knowing my work is a calling because the fact that I got this job was really just a miraculous experience. So it has nothing to do with what I'm doing or providing necessarily, but it has everything to do with my own personal experience of this particular job, this particular workplace. So that also is a way of knowing that we've been called, that God is in control, that God has navigated, and that God is orienting us to the work that we have in front of us.

God is calling us to be more like Christ. The workplace is the place that God is shaping us to be that person. It almost doesn't matter what kind of work you do, the fact that God's called you to whatever it is that you're doing, allows you to experience that.

Quadrant 3 - external to the workplace and extrinsic to the work itself.
This is serving others beyond work. What I mean by this is that the work itself may not feel important, it may not be the place that God is shaping you. But God is allowing you that work so that you can use the money that you make from that workplace, the experiences that you get from that workplace to do something else in a different domain. I think historically we have almost focused all of our attention here, and the Faith at Work movement has said, "Wait a minute, there're other areas too." But we've almost discounted it as a result, as a reaction.

I want to say, that this is another area that God does provide. There is a sense of calling here. I am called to work so that I can provide for my family, so that I can pay a mortgage and I can put food on the table. That's a really important calling for many, many people. I'm afraid sometimes that we minimise it too much, but work actually has an instrumental purpose for us beyond the workplace. We had one person who said, "I work in software." He didn't particularly feel like that the work that he was doing was particularly meaningful. But he said, "As a result of my skills at my workplace, I'm able to do things in my church context that other people can't do." That would be an example of serving others beyond the work, but that the work provides leverage for.

Quadrant 4 - internal to the workplace and extrinsic to the work itself.
This is where you are serving your co-workers. So maybe you have a real sense of calling to your workplace, not because of the tasks that you do day to day, but because it gives you an opportunity to care for others. It gives you an opportunity to share the gospel with others. It gives you an opportunity to really be the hands and feet of Christ in the setting that God has called you to in that workplace. With customers, with employees, with your boss, with maybe your direct reports, if you are the boss. But it's that relational opportunity at work that is a calling.

I think all four quadrants are really important and there is not a one size fits all that you have to have this one and not that one. There are different types of jobs and different phases of our life. We might end up weighting ourselves more heavily in one quadrant over another, but they're ways that God calls us, and they're ways that God uses us. They're ways that we are serving the kingdom if we're attentive to and faithful to God's call in that domain.

Instead of multi-dimensional or different quadrants, one could have one dimensional mindset. For example, people might say, "Someday when I can finally retire, then I can go do something spiritually significant." In that way of thinking, there just isn't any spiritual relevance and work. We can miss such a broader and deeper perspective of how we can serve and how we can grow-

God uses everything. God doesn't waste stuff. So if some people do feel like they're in dead-end jobs and that it doesn't feel meaningful. We can work on that, "You know what your job is serving somebody, and it does have meaning." or "Your job gives you an opportunity to engage with people who may not know God." or "So where will the light of Christ be in the darkness of that environment if you're not working there?". Every job has a fallen component to it. So there's always the struggle. We're always in the messy middle of trying to figure out, it's not perfect. So how do we recognise and how do we see what God is engaging? What God is able to use us? It's going to be different for different people,

I think one of the things that I've really appreciated about doing this project has been this sense of encouragement. That there are believers in every domain of work, in every single pathway that you can imagine, who are living out their faith in these really profound ways that they often don't even recognise as being particularly profound. But then you see it over and over and you see the ways that God is at work. God is at work in each person and God is at work in the larger institutions of work. We get to be a part of that. I think that is really just remarkable and really profound.

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From a study 'From Secular to Sacred: Bringing Wor, 16/06/2021

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