Work and Worship Are Not Two Different Things

Work and Worship Are Not Two Different Things

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As the previous post in this series sought to make clear, there is a natural tendency in the human experience to live in an incoherent manner: A divided life. Specifically, we have concerned ourselves with the all-too-common divides that people of faith experience in their work lives. To navigate our way to a faithful approach toward work, we must first explore the various and often harmful postures that prohibit this approach.

The first misguided posture we will explore is the separation of work and worship, or the Work, not Worship Divide. In this view, our faith and our work are both a part of our life, yet unrelated. The Christian behaves one way on Sunday morning, and an entirely different way once they head to work on Monday morning. “I’ve been sinning all week”—a worship leader once announced to a perplexed congregation—“but this morning I am here to worship!”

We may find such a statement strange coming from a minister, but is it any less odd when it comes from the business man or woman? A social worker or nurse? The teacher, store owner, babysitter, or mechanic?

The Work, not Worship Divide is a false view that assumes that our faith has no bearing on our work identity whatsoever. We can literally be two, or more, different people—and navigate in and out of these identities as we go about our lives. Among other problems, this assumes that expressions of faith are merely things we do (without consideration to who we are).

This perspective has even infiltrated our language. Take the use of the word “worship.” While it is indeed a multi-faceted term in faith circles, its usage primarily relates to the 20-40 minutes of the instrument playing, hymn-singing, hand-clapping, arm-raising activity occurring during a particular portion of a Sunday morning church service. “How is the worship?”—for example—is a common question asked at a church service. It is curious that this part of the week is understood as worship, which might risk implying that the rest of the week is something else entirely.

Or, in another sphere, consider the all-too-familiar notion that “business is business.” These phrases are often used as a justification for doing things that are considered inappropriate outside the business setting.

In his award-winning book “Bad Religion”—author Ross Douthat documents his intrigue with a now famous depiction of a Christian business person found within a popular book. The description reads:

[The] chairman and chief executive of the largest natural gas company in the United States…some time ago announced publicly his company’s vision: “To become the most innovative and reliable provider of clean energy worldwide.” His greatest inward satisfaction, however, has a somewhat different focus. “In my own case,” [he] confided, “I grew up the son of a Baptist minister. From this background, I was fully exposed to not only legal behavior but moral and ethical behavior and what that means from the standpoint of leading organizations and people. I was, and am, a strong believer that one of the most satisfying things in life is to create a highly moral and ethical environment in which every individual is allowed and encouraged to realize their God-given potential.”

Douthat writes: “The natural gas company in question was Enron; its Christian chairman was Kenneth Lay.”[1]

Few can argue with Lay’s aim to create a high-level moral and ethical environment or to produce clean worldwide energy. These are celebratory goals and consonant with those who purpose to do good within the faith tradition. Yet given what we now know about Enron and Lay himself, the moral of the story becomes clear: When we so easily separate our work life from our faith life, we risk the identity of the latter being absorbed into the dominance of the former. “This is where the union of God and mammon goes astray,” writes Douthat, “[I]t succumbs to a naiveté about how riches are often accumulated and about the dark pull that money can exert over the human heart.”[2]

The Work, not Worship Divide is simple. I am one person at work and another outside of work. This is no innocent divide, and threatens a more faithful expression of the life of a Christian in the marketplace.

[1] Douthat, Ross. “Bad Religion.” 2012. Free Press: New York (pp. 206-207).

[2] Ibid., p. 207.

Kevin Brown and Mike Wiese are regular contributors to Faith and Work Collective. Thanks, guys!


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