The Gospel at Work by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert


You know what I’m really thankful for? That there are people starting to write on the relationship between the gospel and work. This is a subject in which western Christians desperately need to grow in our understanding. Many of us, me included, really struggle to do our work in a Christ exalting fashion. Many of us grumble and complain, and generally struggle to be satisfied in what we’re doing or even see the value in our jobs.

Unless it’s just me who’s guilty of some of these?

Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert tackle this head-on in their new book, The Gospel at Work. Their goal in the book is simple: to help us see how working for Jesus gives meaning and purpose to all of our work, to recognize that “when glorifying Jesus is our primary motivation, our work — regardless of what that work is in its particulars — becomes an act of worship.”1

Idols and idleness

Traeger and Gilbert approach the subject from a different angle than, say, Tim Keller does in his excellent Every Good Endeavor (reviewed here). While one could argue that this is a matter of semantics, the authors are less concerned about delivering a fleshed-out theology of work, as opposed to digging into the practical issues related to how we look at work. In doing so, they spend the bulk of their time examining the twin errors of idolatry and idleness in work.

Signs work is your idol

“Our jobs become idols when we overidentify with them,” they write. “Our work becomes the primary consumer of our time, our attention, and our passions, as well as the primary means for measuring our happiness and our dissatisfaction in life.”2 The key word here is “primary.”

When we give our all to the company at the expense of our families, when our minds are consumed by thoughts of work consistently, when we’re always looking at how we can position ourselves, or even when we see our work as being all about making a difference in the world… This is dangerous stuff, friends.

When work is “primary,” everything else is secondary, and we’ll always be dissatisfied. There’s always a next step, always another rung on the ladder, always a new challenge to overcome… but it will never be enough. [Read more...]

Links I like

Worship in Spirit and Truth

David Mathis:

The issue is not whether we will worship, but what. Even better, whom and how.

On this Sunday, as many of us ready ourselves for corporate worship, perhaps the most significant single biblical text for guiding the essence of what we’re pursuing together when we gather is Jesus’s words in John 4:23–24.

Don’t Teach the Bible

Phillip Jensen:

There is an important difference between teaching the Bible and teaching people the Bible. It is easy to be so engaged in what we teach that we forget whom we are teaching. We can even be oblivious to the fact that we are not teaching anybody. This is particularly true of the sermon. The monologue engages the preacher’s mind but can completely miss the hearers’ thinking.

What Are Your Thoughts on “Minced Oaths?”

R.C. Sproul Jr:

A “minced oath” is a bowdlerization of words or phrases otherwise deemed offensive or blasphemous. Common examples would be the substitution of darn for damn, heck for hell, gosh for God. Some argue that when we use these substitutes we nevertheless stand guilty of using the originals, that gosh takes God’s name in vain, and darn belittles the reality and horror of damnation. While I am sympathetic to that perspective, and give thanks for those who seek to be deliberate and to honor God with their tongues, I do not share that conviction.

Work, value, and the gospel

Paul Grimmond:

Paul’s absolute conviction is that the church is made the way God wants it. So when I sit in church on a Sunday and I look around, I ought to find people there who are wildly different to me. I ought to meet toenails and pancreases, knuckles and elbows, kidneys and eyeballs. And more than that, as someone who belongs to Jesus, I am called to see how each of them is necessary to the life of God’s people. I am to learn to rejoice in the gift that God has given me in them and them in me!

7 Councils: The Council of Ephesus

Tim Challies:

This council came at time of conflict over authority within the church. The First Council of Constantinople had established the bishop of Constantinople as second in authority following Rome, whose bishop carried the title of Pope and who claimed his authority from the line of Peter. Alexandria and Antioch were also powerful bishoprics and their schools of Christology historically came from different positions. Leo Davis explains: “Just as all philosophers are said to be basically either Aristotelian or Platonist, so, roughly speaking, all theologians are in Christology either Antiochene, beginning with the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels and attempting to explain how this man is also God, or Alexandrian, beginning with the Word of John’s Prologue and attempting to understand the implications of the Logos taking flesh.” This council would further expose the rift between the two schools of Christology.

Go ROWE: How a Results Only Work Environment Can Strengthen Your Faith

photo by Piotr Bizior

The alarm goes off late. Again.

It’s 7:30 and you’ve got your mandatory staff meeting at 9:00. You rush through your devotions (promising God—and yourself—you’ll get to them later), dress, down a cup of coffee and head out to the car.

It’s 8:15.

The commute is brutal. The guy in front of you is riding his break and the lady behind you is riding your tail.

At 8:50, you pull into the parking lot. You race to your cubicle, drop off your stuff and you’re off to the board room. You get there at 8:59, just before the door’s about to close.

By 9:10, you’re fiddling with your iPhone under the table trying to catch up on your emails like a good multi-tasker. The guy next to you is playing Angry Birds and trying to look like he’s paying attention to whatever it is the boss is talking about.

If you had to be honest, you stopped paying attention at 9:02.

There was no agenda for the meeting (again). No action items will be given (again). And no follow-up (again).

“Why on earth am I sitting through this? I could be working,” you think (and text to your assistant who tries hard not to laugh).

At 10:13, the meeting lets out. The boss went long again. You and your coworkers are stressed; the meeting was only supposed to last until 9:30. In some ways you’re kind of impressed. it’s got to be tough to talk about nothing for that long. You skip the after-meeting meeting though, because you’re a busy guy.

You get back to your desk and start looking at the pile of work in your inbox. There’s enough work to keep four people busy for the next two weeks!

It’s all marked urgent.

You settle into your projects and just as you’re starting to get into a good rhythm, there’s a knock on the side of the cubicle wall. “Hey guys, can I interrupt? It’ll just take a minute…” [Read more...]

People Are Imitating You; Are You Worth Imitating?

One of the subjects I enjoy studying is leadership.

What motivates people? What makes a “leader”? How can one become more effective as a leader, versus being a “manager”? These kinds of things.

Recently a group of men and I have been working through a leadership training program with one of our mentors, and one of the questions that came up was on the subject of being an authentic Christian leader. The author’s line of thought led him to Luke 6:40:

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.

Basically, the author’s point in mentioning this verse was this:

We become like the people we follow. Who are we following—and what are people becoming like when they follow us?

In Philippians 3:17-20, Paul addresses this very issue (in the context of spiritual authorities), writing:

Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Who is worthy of our imitation?

Is there a person in our lives who we can look at and say, “Yes, I want to be like that”? [Read more...]

Are You In The Business of Busyness

I’m in the middle of a season of extreme busyness at the moment.

I don’t know if you have this problem, but when I get busy—I mean, really busy—things start to slip.

Sleeping properly is usually the first to go. Then my eating goes wonky. Then my exercise patterns get erratic. 

Even prayer and Bible study start getting a bit fuzzy if I’m not careful and my reading will turn into a quick skim. Like wolfing down a McDonald’s cheeseburger in the car because you’re in a hurry, instead of savoring it like a really good steak from the Keg.

Because there’s a great demand on my time at work, I find myself having to sacrifice quality for efficiency. Choosing function over form just makes my skin crawl, to be honest.

Whatever I’m doing, I want it to be the best it can possibly be; and because my work is all about communicating ideas, choosing the right words and narrative structure is essential. Sometimes, though, I have to template things. Sometimes I just have to do a slight polish on something that’s really not very good and just let it go. To make do.

It’s funny how that happens, isn’t it?

Race through reading the Bible, a quick prayer and away we go.

Race through work (often with a quick prayer), taking as little time as possible to complete as many tasks as I’m able.

It’s a bit of an assembly line approach to life.

It gets the job done, but it doesn’t bring joy.

Where can we, even in our seasons of busyness, find opportunities to savor life? To enjoy God, the Bible, friends, family… and even work?

In my case, sometimes it means just saying no. Turning down a meeting request, turning off my email, ignoring my cell phone and disconnecting from the internet for a while. Sometimes it means having to blow a deadline because the work is too important to not do with excellence.

Sometimes it means putting aside whatever else I’m reading in favor of spending some extra time in the Bible and hearing what God has to say.

Occasionally, it means a meandering post like this one. :)

But what about you?

Do you feel like you’re settling for the cheeseburger instead of the steak? Are you looking opportunities to savor?

 Life is too valuable to be wasted with the business of busyness.

I hope you’ll find an opportunity to enjoy it this week.

Book Review: Fake Work

Title: Fake Work: Why People Are Working Harder than Ever but Accomplishing Less, and How to Fix the Problem
Author: Brent D. Peterson & Gaylan W. Nielson
Publisher: Simon Spotlight Entertainment

Have you ever sat at your desk, trying to look busy because you finished your work for the day and you’ve still got three hours before the workday ends, and thought, “Couldn’t I be doing something more valuable with my time?” Have you ever spent hours working on a report that you know your boss isn’t going to read and wondered, “Does all this work really matter?”

Welcome to the world of fake work.

In Fake Work, authors Brent D. Peterson & Gaylan W. Nielson reveal to us the cause of so much frustration, anxiety and inefficiency within the workplace: Fake work.

So what exactly fake work? Quite simply, it is any work that we do that fails to align with the goals of our companies, organizations, churches, and families. It’s the work that we do that steals our time & energy, and destroys our morale. The authors refer to it as “the road to nowhere” – as though you’re building a road on a mountainside leading to the site of your new cabin; you’ve moved rocks, filled the roadbed and faced the oppressive heat and the punishing cold. But you’ve moved ahead, confident in your understanding of the surveyor’s plans. But, as you weave and wind around the landscape, you find yourself at the end of the road, staring down from the edge of a cliff. [Read more...]

Book Review: Find Your Strongest Life

Title: Find Your Strongest Life
Author: Marcus Buckingham
Publisher: Thomas Nelson

It’s not often that I find finishing a book feeling like a chore—but that’s what I found with Find Your Strongest Life by Marcus Buckingham.

Buckingham wants readers to discover their strengths and weaknesses—what tasks, events and people motivate, energize, and inspire them? Conversely, what tasks, events and people are draining, joyless and painful? The key to living a strong life is to minimize or outright eliminate our weaknesses and maximize our strengths. There will always be some difficulty, but there will be a certain satisfaction that comes from it.

That’s the message of this book, and Buckingham illustrates it well, particularly with Charlie, a woman gifted in developing systems who was ill-suited for a career as an office manager and lacked the assertiveness to talk to her boss/husband about it.

While there are some helpful insights, this is a book I cannot recommend. Why?

First, I don’t find Buckingham to be particularly skilled as a writer. I do not enjoy reading his words and felt there was a lot of filler. Admittedly, this is subjective, and other will disagree.

Secondly, this book feels like an episode of Oprah (due, in part, to Buckingham having been a guest on the show). Women (men, too) need to look to themselves and self-actualize their potential to find their strongest lives, according to the author. It’s standard self-help gobbledygook.

My final concern: The author’s belief that it’s a great thing for moms to go back to work right away, rather than stay home. “The good new is that this isn’t stopping women from on-ramping back into work after having kids, in spite of media stories of a new generation of women choosing to opt out. Today, when women leave to have children, they return fast and in great numbers” (p. 38). It’s certainly not wrong for women to work after they have children if they need to, but the author fails to address why they are going back so quickly. In nearly every instance I’ve seen, poor financial decisions, student debt, debilitating injury or illness, and laziness are key factors in the decision to go back to work. Rarely have I seen a woman go back to work because they genuinely want to. Perhaps this is an unwarranted concern, but it is a major red flag for me, simply based on my worldview and values.

In the end, Find Your Strongest Life fails to live up to its title. You may want to look elsewhere to truly find your strongest life.

Not recommended.

Everyday Theology: Preach the Gospel always, if necessary use words

In this week’s edition of this series looking at our bits of “everyday theology,” we come to a particular idea that, honestly, causes a fair bit of contention among many Christians:

Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words.

This is a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, who, born in 1181/1182 (sources vary) was the founder of the Franciscan order of monks. However, while it appears that he never actually said this, it does correspond with much of this Roman Catholic Saint’s theology.

So here’s the big question… is it true?

Kind of.

Different perspectives

Many today in what some call the “Emerging/Emergent/Emergence” stream of Evangelicalism would say this is gospel truth. That you don’t need to share your faith verbally, but all you need to do good deeds, because, as we are commanded, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39). The whole law, says the apostle Paul, is summed up in this word (Gal. 5:14).

Others might say that the statement is complete nonsense. After all, Paul also says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? (Rom. 10:14, emphasis mine).

So which is it?

The reality is, it’s kind of both. We must all proclaim Christ with our mouths and with our lives. [Read more...]

Don't Waste Your Life

Jim was raised by a hardworking mom who worked two jobs to support her son and herself that lived in subsidized housing. She’d come home from her first job, as a cashier, and have dinner with him before going to her second job as a bartender. Every night, she’d tell him, “You can be so much more than I ever could; don’t waste your life.”

Jim was spurred on by his mother’s words. He studied hard in school, pushing for better and higher grades with every project, report and exam. He earned a full scholarship to a prestigious university, and graduated at the top of his class.

After school, Jim continued to find great success. He met a beautiful woman, got married, moved into a gorgeous house in the suburbs and eventually had a couple of kids, two girls.

He quickly rose through the ranks of his organization and was head-hunted by several others. He was a man driven to succeed, to provide for his family what his mother never could. He worked hard, taking on the most difficult assignments, and exceeding everyone’s expectations. He also volunteered his time in the community & at the homeless shelter and supported numerous charitable organizations.

All in all, it looked like he had the perfect life – he had done more than anyone could ever have imagined.

Jim came home one night and found the house was quiet. He looked all through the house for his wife and his daughters (as usual, it was well past their bedtime). He found an envelope in the kitchen; inside was a letter from his wife: She was leaving him and taking the children with her.

Jim fell to the floor, his hands trembling has he held the letter, tears streaming down his face… and at that moment, all he could hear were the words his mother had spoken so many times:

Don’t waste your life.

[Read more...]

Should Christian creatives work for free? ran a brief interviewed Matt Busby Andrews about whether or not creative talent should be paid for doing work for the church. I’d encourage you to read the full article, but sufficed to say, his answer is a resounding yes:

Creative communicators are able to greatly accelerate the mission efforts of the church. Sure, you can pull favour here and there, and get a designer to do your next brochure. But the real step change occurs when you bring creatives in as paid missional partners.

So what do you think; should churches bring in creatives as ‘paid missional partners’?

As someone who makes his living as creative talent, I might be a bit bias, but I believe they absolutely should expect to pay for the work they’re asking for. [Read more...]