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The Theology of Work
My Reflections
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January 17, 2011

Question/Topic in focus: How can I make disciples and have a job, too?


making disciplesFor about the last decade I have studied hard to answer questions like these: What is a disciple? How do we make them? What does one look like when we're finished? Do we ever finish?


While I've made significant progress in answering these questions, for the better part of the last twenty years I have practiced making disciples as a full-time pastor. Now, as an "organic" church guy, that's gone. Whereas I used to meet weekly with guys, say once a week, at 6am, 8am, 10am, and 2pm, that's a thing of the past. Now, I work a "real" job. Talk about a game-changer. How in the world did the Apostle Paul do it?



The Theology of Work
Excerpted from Our Souls at Work edited by Mark L. Russell; section written by David W. Miller (David W. Miller, Ph.D. serves as the Director of the Princeton University Faith & Work Initiative)


SoulsOne of my favorite quotes from Martin Luther King, Jr. is, "If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, "Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well." It's not necessarily what we do, but how we do it. There are redemptive purposes in knowledge worker jobs, skilled labor, and unskilled labor. A few points about the theology of work:


  • We are co-creators with God. Think of it as a partnership. Don't forget that God is the managing partner, and we are the junior partners, but we co-create with God.
  • To work is part of humanity. It is part of human anthropology and the doctrine of humanity. It is part of who we are and what we were created to do.
  • There is a time and season for everything. Let us not forget that sometimes work is hard, boring, and monotonous; and sometimes work is easy, joyous, and invigorating. God can be present in both scenarios, if we remember to invite God in.
  • Sometimes we are rewarded for our work and acknowledged publicly, and other times we are not. Just as Jesus taught us to pray very privately, and not to show off and brag in front of others, I think we ought to continue to do our work well whether we are rewarded financially and verbally in public or not.
  • Work is both a mean and an end to honor God and serve our neighbor. Work is a form of worshipping God and serving neighbor, pulling together both the vertical and horizontal axis. If we hold this together, we can avoid the extreme of demonizing work on one hand or idolizing it on the other. That's the essence of the Jewish word Avodah, and the reason I gave The Avodah Institute that name. The root word for Avodah is translated in the Hebrew Scriptures differently, based on the context, it can mean "work," "worship," and "service." Whatever our places and kinds of work may be, our work matters deeply to God. We have a calling right in front of us (2010:29).


My Reflections

 Magnifying glass
About a month back, at Starbucks, a close friend of mine got out a piece of paper and started drawing a grid. On the grid, he detailed what he did during the week: family time, prayer time, Bible time, work time, and so on. The reason he scribbled out his schedule was to set a framework by which we could discuss making disciples. After finishing the rather detailed on-the-fly Excel sheet, he nervously started tapping the paper with the tip of his ballpoint pen. Over the next few minutes, while I just listened, he made statements like these: "I used to pride myself on time management, but now where am I supposed to find time to make disciples?" "[As a pastor], I used to have ten to twenty hours a week to meet with people, but now I have zero." "No wonder so few people in our congregation were making disciples, they didn't have the time." "I didn't know they [the congregation] had it so difficult."


The discussion was as candid as it was gut-wrenching. While coming to terms with our present circumstances, we simultaneously mourned as we reflected on over a decade of mishandling how we taught followers of Yeshua (Jesus) to make disciples. Summarizing, here's what we've learned. Making disciples is less about setting aside extra hours to verbally instruct others how to follow Yeshua and more about inviting others to come alongside us as we live obediently to the Scriptures.


Now, does this mean my friend and I no longer set aside time to instruct and encourage people as they seek to follow our Lord? By no means. At the same time, however, we now see the wisdom of our Lord. Let's get practical, shall we? Notice that each of the below does not require adding hours to your schedule.


  • The Lord knew what he was doing with the Shema (Deut 6). It's imperative that we talk about the Lord and his commandments incessantly.
  • The Lord knew what he was doing with his appointed times (Lev 23). Don't think holidays instruct? Think again. Just ask any adult what childhood memory they remember more: Sunday school or Christmas? God's appointed times are Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Pentecost, Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, and Tabernacles.
  • The Lord knew what he was doing with Sabbaths (Ex 20, 31). Once every seven days, on Shabbat (Saturday), God tells us to rest for the purpose of remembering that he is control, not us. It's powerful.
  • The Lord knew what he was doing with his commandments, statutes, and judgements. Can we agree on one thing? God knows what he's doing. Not one of his instructions is wasted motion; each are intended to instruct (whether we know it or not...think "wax on, wax off" from the movie, Karate Kid).


As the clergy-laity divide continues to recede (that's the trend...and it's a good one), we must grapple with how to make disciples given the reality of a 24 hour day. Disciple maker, I've got good news. God's already figured it out.


As always, The Banqueting Table hopes this was of some benefit to you.


Traver Dougherty
The Banqueting Table

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