How and why your work still matters

Whatever your job, you have likely been dealing with great change in this season of crisis.

You may be adjusting to working from home, or trying to work with school-dismissed children around.  Perhaps you are still commuting but your work routine and environment have radically altered. Maybe your job has been put on hold — with or without pay. Or maybe as an employer you are forced to make painful decisions to sacrifice the health of your business for the sake of public health.

What doesn’t have to change? The core purpose for your work.

In the most general sense, our work serves the foundational purpose of providing for the needs of our household and promoting the flourishing of our community. As people of faith, we glorify God through work well done and point people toward Jesus. And, as Amy Sherman puts it in her book, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, our work offers the world a “foretaste of shalom,” anticipating the fullness of God’s good design for his creation.

Living with a pandemic, we have special need of reminders of God’s provision and promise of shalom. We can continue to work faithfully, or wait to return to work patiently, even when the outcomes are uncertain. Practicing peace, gentleness, kindness, self-discipline, and the other fruits of the spirit in the face of widespread anxiety offers a powerful witness to Christ.

Beyond these foundational reasons for working, we can examine our specific vocational purpose.

Our vocational purpose is the personal, particular way we seek God’s kingdom through our work. Simply put, it means how each individual is called to do what God asks of them.

When you work, what is the distinctive way that your job contributes to the flourishing of your community? How do you uniquely glorify God with the combination of gifts and effort you invest in your work?

From the mandate given to the first human beings in Genesis, we can sketch these four basic categories of vocational purpose: Build an abundant community, bring order, develop potential from creation, and overcome the curse.

Build an abundant community

Work to foster healthy, vibrant, caring social relationships and a culture reflecting God’s truth and beauty. This is anchored in raising a family and growing the family of God, and also includes areas such as communications, financial planning, senior care, the arts, and education.

Bring order to the world

Work to maintain the infrastructure, systems, and environments that enable our society to function well. This includes jobs such as sanitation, city planning and administration, transportation, utilities, banking, insurance, contract law, bookkeeping, and landscaping.

Develop potential from creation

Work to explore, harness, and distribute natural resources for the flourishing of society and all creation. Examples include careers in mining, manufacturing, sales, scientific research, technology, agriculture, and food service.

Overcome the curse

Work to confront, restrain, and restore manifestations of sin and brokenness in human nature and creation. This includes jobs in fields such as health care, criminal justice, charitable assistance, social work, environmental protection, and the military.

Holding onto truth

How do these expressions of vocational purpose relate to our current Coronavirus crisis? First, we can recognize how each area plays an urgent role. Responding to a disaster of this magnitude requires strong family and community networks, infrastructure to maintain vital systems and health protocols, ahead-of-the-curve medical research, and high-functioning healthcare institutions and professionals.

But what do you do if your job is affected, but not directly related, to the crisis response? Rather than grasping for a sense of normalcy, we can be encouraged to hold on to our sense of purpose.

For example, if you manage a restaurant that has been shut down, your core vocational purpose relates to developing potential from creation — gathering raw ingredients and turning them into meals, taking an empty space and making it a gathering place for social connection. What other ways could you pursue the goal of organizing, preparing, and sharing food? Volunteering to help organize meals for quarantined households is one example. Or you might come up with creative ways of connecting people around food — perhaps planning virtual dinner parties.

As another example, if you are maintenance staff at a nursing home, your work serves the vocational purpose of sustaining order, as a vital part of an organization that fosters abundant community. Told to stay home, you might consider how your gifts for making repairs could be applied to your own property, or offered to your neighbors. You could also continue to build community by reaching out to the residents at the nursing home, through cards, care packages, and phone calls. You could also check in on elderly residents in your own neighborhood or congregation.

Remembering your purpose

Holding to purpose is more than just finding a vehicle for your skills and talents. It means paying attention to the ways that your gifts join with others to contribute to God’s good design for the world. It means keeping the larger kingdom vision in ministry. When President Kennedy visited NASA, he asked a man what his job was. This man, who happened to be a janitor, answered the president: “To put a man on the moon.”

God wants his people to live in nurturing, culturally rich communities, where people develop and enjoy the fruits of creation in peace and abundance, preventing and repairing the damage of a fallen world while inviting people to the savior.

What is your piece of this kingdom vision? What is your vocational purpose? How can you hold on to this vision and your particular role in it — even when confined to your home? When this crisis is past, if you are able to return to “normal” work, you may find it brings an even deeper sense of significance and gratitude to God.

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from the forthcoming book, Vocational Discipleship: A Guide to Equipping People for Kingdom Purpose in their Work.

Topics: Current Events, Issues Facing Workers, Theology of Work, Work

About the Author

Tom currently facilitates two Convene Groups in the Atlanta area. With his unique background, Tom guides client companies in the development of strategic plans and implementation designed to ensure the realization of their visions. You can connect with Tom here.

About the Author

Heidi Unruh is a consultant, trainer, and coach helping churches care well for their neighbors. Her books include Churches That Make a Difference and Hope for Children in Poverty, along with a variety of practical resources to support missional discipleship and community outreachYou can reach her at UnruhHeidi@gmail.com.