Musings on work (1)

workLots of people I’ve talked to recently find the world of work a tough place.

A hostile work environment, a domineering boss, relentless productivity targets, predatory competition from fellow workers, deep job insecurity, reduced pay and conditions ..

and that’s just doing the dishes at home …

Work can be fascinating, challenging, enjoyable and satisfying, but it can also be a lonely and dispiriting experience.

We seem to be created to want to make a difference – we want our work to be meaningful. And this connects to the nature of the work being done.  Is it good work? What is good work anyway?

Or am I just a cog in an impersonal multi-national machine, itself an organisation that may be doing a lot of bad work (e.g., unethical exploitation of people and resources) globally?

I hope to reflect some more on the world of work and a theology of work.

To begin, this post offers some musings on why church preaching and teaching tends not to have a lot to say about the world of work (and you might disagree with that assumption).

There are perhaps a couple of reasons for this:

– Clergy / pastors / church leaders tend to inhabit a religious world and don’t have that much personal experience of the daily and weekly challenges of work.

– There is also a long and deeply entrenched dualism within much Christianity regarding work.  ‘Religious work’  (being a pastor, a nun, priest, missionary, church related work etc) is of higher spiritual value than the ordinary secular world of work.

Like the story of the secondary school teacher who takes a career break to go to Africa to teach children with a mission agency. The church puts her photo up on their global mission map beside the African country. They pray for her weekly and send round her prayer letter. On a visit she shares in church all that has been going on. However, on her  full return, her photo is taken down, the prayer stops and she is never asked again what it means to be a teacher who is also a Christian.

Within denominational churches especially, the whole business of ‘ordination’ to ‘the ministry’ shouts loudly of such a dualism. As does the elevation of the pastor / leader within many strands of Pentecostalism as specially anointed by God – sometimes this is married to scary levels of authority.

I left a service a while ago where a leader was appointed  feeling profoundly ambivalent about the whole tone and content of the event. Yes, a call and appointment to ministry of the gospel is a good thing to be celebrated and affirmed within the church community. But over-emphasis on ‘the’ leader and his/her unique call to Christian work, implicitly reflects an unhealthy dichotomy between the sacred and the secular and fosters reliance on the religious professional.

I’m not against leadership per se, but I want to resist an explicit or implicit theology that suggests religious church work is the highest vocation. And I resist the notion that within church work, leaders are called to the most important and spiritually significant work.

This might be good for egos of church leaders, but it is a long way from at least three things:

1) The nature of Christian leadership as humility, service, giving up of status, the way of the cross etc

2) Paul’s theology of the body of Christ where all members (and their work) are to be equally valued and the leader’s job is to release others into ministry

3) A biblical theology of work where there is no sacred / secular divide – where both ‘spiritual’ work and ‘ordinary’ practical & manual work are ‘holy’.

Comments, as ever, welcome.

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