Clarifying Our Place on the Faith & Work Spectrum

In June of 1999, I found myself in London with a group of about 30 young adults from all over the world, gathered together for a month to learn about the intersection of faith and culture. We heard many stimulating speakers and engaged a wide range of thought-provoking topics. The subject that generated the most interest and excitement by far was the topic of faith and work. Very few of us had ever heard the idea that our secular fields of work had robust theological significance and could be environments for every day ministry. “How have we not heard this before?” many of us asked. It seemed like a tragedy that most of us had been Christians for all our lives and had never heard this message.

Thankfully, nearly 20 years later, the subject of faith and work is much more commonly addressed in the church, in Christian ministries, and in university para-church settings. The number of books published on faith and work in the last 20 years has skyrocketed. In fact, the amount of material on faith and work has become so voluminous that it’s sometimes difficult to hear a clear and coherent message! 

In his book God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement, David Miller surveys the many faith and work conversations, and he helpfully suggests a framework for understanding the various approaches. He outlines four main ways that individuals and organizations have framed the faith and work relationship:

1/ Ethics: This approach to faith and work focuses on the need for Christians to allow their faith to affect their work behaviors in order that they might lead lives of ethical integrity in the workplace. The Christian should not just ask at work, “Is this legal?” but also “Is this good?”  This approach also emphasizes the importance of Christian “servant leadership” practices at work.

2/ Evangelism: This approach to faith and work sees the workplace as a mission field, and emphasizes the opportunities to share the gospel at work with non-Christian colleagues, both through word and deed.

3/ Enrichment: This approach to faith and work focuses on the need for the Christian worker to enrich their work with prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual practices within the workplace.  This might involve gathering people within the workplace for prayer groups or Bible studies, or equipping individual Christians with spiritual disciplines to enrich their work life.

4/ Experience: This approach to faith and work emphasizes that the experience of work itself has theological value to God. The everyday work we do has intrinsic meaning and is a participation with God in his ordering of the world.

The truth is, each of these approaches to faith and work is biblical and valuable. One is not more important than the other. However, part of the reason we started Common Good RVA is that we felt the “Experience” approach was not being as robustly addressed in the Richmond Christian scene as the other three. We wanted to start a conversation, especially among young adults, about the value of their work to God, especially as so many of us struggle to find meaning and purpose in our everyday vocations.

But we don’t want to stop there. We want to see an additional approach added to these four, perhaps what we would call “Cultural Renewal” (I know, it doesn’t start with E). We believe that work doesn’t just have value for the experience of the individual Christian, but that our work is a key way we can together contribute to the cultural renewal of our city. Our work can, in a way, be an enacted prayer that the Kingdom of God would come in Richmond as it is in heaven. Our work is not just for us, but for the common good and for the flourishing of our neighbors, whether they believe in Jesus or not. God wants our world and city to flourish, and our work can be a part of that joyful mission.

We welcome you to the conversation. We want to create a network of Richmonders who are inspired to pursue their daily work for the common good of our city. Please join us! 

Corey is lead pastor at Third Church is Richmond's West End and a co-founder and planning team member of Common Good RVA.