From college students to seasoned CEOs, from pastors to stay-at-home moms, everyone, at some point, asks how to accomplish their work well. Students grapple with the questions about the future and career choices as they loom thick in the air before graduation, and close-to-retirees wonder what the next season of freedom looks like for productivity and purpose. Pastors in our sphere are trying to answer these questions from the pulpit — How does the work of the people in their pews intersect with Scripture? These questions — whether someone is 22 or 62 — can produce fear, anxiety, confusion, or excitement. As pastors and ministry leaders, how you approach those conversations is an important aspect of your work.
When we understand the purpose for our work, it leads to faithfulness as we navigate various seasons of paid and unpaid endeavors. For Christians, this purpose is grounded in Genesis when God commissioned humanity to be fruitful, cultivate the earth, and work as agents of redemption in the world. Part of our vision for whole-life discipleship includes navigating these questions well, and applying Scripture to our lives. What if we used guidelines for our work — principles for good, hard work that honor God and produces flourishing in our own lives and those around us?
How do you do your work?
When our oldest daughter, Beth, was in college, my business travel often took me to Chicago where she lived for school. We would meet for dinner or dessert to catch up. As she approached graduation, the conversation often turned to what she might do next. One evening, over ice cream, she asked me a question I never forgot: “Dad, how do you do your work?” At the time, I led a large organization, so this wasn’t a foreign topic to me, but the question still gave me pause. Over the next few weeks, I thought about that question often, and in particular, how my faith influenced and informed how I accomplished my work. I sent her a list of six characteristics I thought described the way I approached my work. It wasn’t an exhaustive list, but six of the more important things to me.
We talked about it some, but I didn’t think much more about it until three years later, when our third daughter asked a similar question as she was beginning her job search. By that time, I had switched computers and could no longer find the original file. I tried rewriting them, but it just didn’t seem the same, so I called Beth and asked her if she remembered the discussion and the list. “Remember?” she quickly replied. “I’ve got it right here, taped to my desk.” That list has become known in our family as my “Rules to Work By.” Our youngest daughter even modified it and has her own rules taped to her bookshelf.
How we think about our work — and its intersection with our faith — will influence every other area of our lives.
6 rules for work
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve,” Colossians 3:23.
Be unbelievably prepared.
There are few substitutes for thorough preparation in anything. I learned this one in Boy Scouts, but it’s even truer today.
Be ruthless with time and gracious with people.
Everyone has the same number of hours in the day. It’s easy to squander time on things that add no value, or in fact are simply distractions from doing what you know you should be doing.
Be clear on expectations.
Both your expectations of others and theirs of you.
Have the courage to act. Much time can be spent dragging our feet over a decision that might be difficult, but is obvious to all.
Be willing to work harder than anyone else.
Exceed expectations. And be smart enough to recognize when you don’t need to work that hard.
Be above reproach.
Meet your commitments. Do what you say you will do, and do it with utmost integrity. I want to raise the level of performance of those around me by the way I do my work. I want to be on-time, prepared, thorough, and professional in everything I do. And I want to treat people with unbelievable care and respect, showing them God’s love directly in the way I work with them.
Who we are versus what we do. The rules became a fixture on my desk as well, serving as a constant reminder of how I want to work and love people through my work. They became an interesting point of conversation with others who saw them. I’ve used them in leadership training as well as in faith and work discussions. I’m careful to clarify that these are my “rules,” never meant to serve as universal or prescriptive guidelines. They all start with “Be” intentionally, as a way to bring the focus on who we are to be, as opposed to what we are to do.I shared my rules during a series of classes on work that I taught at the local rescue mission last summer. During the last session, I asked the guys what they had learned and how they were applying it to their work. A hand shot up in the front of the room, and a young man answered without waiting to be recognized. “I was on bathroom duty this week,” he said. “One afternoon there was a particularly nasty toilet, and I thought, ‘I could skip this one and nobody would know,’ but then I thought about Colossians 3 and I cleaned that toilet like God himself was going to sit there.” In Visions of Vocation, author Steven Garber writes that "In the daily rhythms for everyone everywhere, we live our lives in the marketplaces of this world: in homes and neighborhoods, in schools and on farms, in hospitals and businesses, and our vocations are bound up with the ordinary work that ordinary people do. We are not great shots across the bow of history; rather by simple grace, we are hints of hope."
Whether paid or unpaid, for profit, or nonprofit, God doesn’t care as much about what we do as he does about how we do it. How do you do your work?