The Myths of Good Hard Work:
Vocation and Destiny in the 21
Presented to the Christian Heritage Committee
In partial fulfillment of the requirements for
The Biola University Christian Heritage Series
nne S. Smith
Biola School of Business
The funds for this research were provided by Biola University and the Christian Heritage
Committee. The author thanks the University and the Committee for their support. Please do
not cite any port
ion of this paper without permission from Biola University.
The Myths of Good Hard Work:
Vocation and Destiny in the 21
Most civilizations have been structured around one of the most basic of human activities,
work. Whether in hunter/gather
er societies where people worked to maintain life or in the
technological societies of the 21
century, work has been an integral part of daily existence.
In the past few decades, the twin forces of international competition and advanced
e created new economic conditions all over the world. In industrial societies, the
nature of work as manual labor has changed as more people are eliminated from the production
process (Rifkin, 1995). Now work revolves around information. People who flou
rish in these
new conditions have skills like collaborative leadership, cross
functional expertise, the ability to
manage (Allred, Snow, & Miles, 1996), and the ability to synthesize vast amounts of data
into usable information (Castelles, 2000).
e information society gives the worker more autonomy and reduces the possibility of
him or her being an interchangeable bit in an organizational machine. However, for some there
is almost too much meaning in the job. Many people, including Christians, fi
nd that what they
do for a living takes an increasing amount of their attention. Employed adults now spend
third to one
half of their waking hours actually working
and that is not
counting time spent preparing for work, traveling to wo
rk, thinking about work, or seeking work
(England & Whitely, 1990). Work can consume more than a third of our entire life.
Why do people work? Not just for a paycheck. Our work heavily influences our
being. For example, in one Gallup
survey over 83% of the respondents said
what they did for a living was an important source of their sense of personal worth (Wuthnow,
1996). At the same time, work can add significantly to a person’s stress level. Some dread their
job, feeling that it is
meaningless (Franklin, 2001). Dysfunctional relationships with bosses and
workers add distress to life. At a more basic level, long hours spent working decreases time
with the family and can even cut into essential health activities such as sleep (Wut
Work is probably the dimension of our life which absorbs the most time and energy and for
many makes the strongest psychological impact.
Work is discussed frequently in Scripture and historically the church has had much to say
about this si
gnificant dimension of life. However, in our generation those insights have been
largely ignored. The contemporary Evangelical church has little to say about work or the
worker. Few of us can remember hearing a sermon about God’s perspective on work. I
n a poll
of 2,000 regular church attendees, 90% said they had never heard a sermon or a seminar that
applied Biblical principles to work issues (Sherman & Hendricks, 1987). A literature search for
articles on the theology of work published in the last thr
ee years found only one written by an
evangelical author. It seems as if the evangelical church has relegated discussion about one’s
daily work to the personal realm and we are left to conclude that God isn’t very interested. The
church appears to tell i
ts members, “as long as you have integrity on the job, you can decide by
yourself how you will earn your money
just make sure you tithe it” (Barrett, 1976).
At this point, some readers may be wondering what the problem is. An important part of
s largely unmentioned by the church, but no one seems to care. There is no groundswell of
demand for a theology of work. Certainly Christians need to maintain morality on the job, but
does it really matter if they do not know God’s view of work?
does matter. Theology is a systematic development of the truths of God in an area
a Truth pattern for practical living (Sherman, 1984). Because the church and Christians
have neglected to develop a contemporary theology of work, Christians hav
e suffered two
unfortunate results: one individual, one corporate. Individually, a lack of clear understanding
about God’s view of work has distorted many Christians’ views of themselves and the nature of
God. Corporately, because of this silence a sign
ificant opportunity for world evangelism is being
Distortion of truth has serious consequences for the individual Christian. Work is a basic
human activity, yet the church’s silence has allowed people to form their own ideas about wo
the principle one being that there is good work
sacred occupations, as it were
else. Occupations that are not in Christian organizations or in the helping professions are
class, fit only for second
class Christians. The 80%
of Christians who work in for
businesses have had the glory of vocation removed from their lives so their work life has become
a wasteland, a way to mark time until they can do ministry.
This leaves the thinking Christian with some disturbing q
uestions. Does God truly
want my whole life
including my secular job? Is making a good living mutually exclusive with
having a strong spiritual life? Is my only contribution to the Kingdom to volunteer at church and
write checks? Is meaningless work
all there is to life?
A second consequence of this silence is that a tremendous opportunity for world
evangelism is not being utilized as it could be. The economic globalization of the contemporary
age has created an unprecedented opportunity for Chris
tians to spread the gospel to all the world
using their basic skills
particularly their business skills. Most of the countries of the world
welcome businesspeople even as they close their doors to more traditional missionaries (Rundle,
2000a). Yet, re
markably little is said among the churches about this unprecedented opportunity.
How can the church and working Christians best take advantage of the opportunity God is giving
In this paper I will endeavor to create a framework which a
llows a thinking Christian to
explore the theological implications of his or her occupation, whatever it is. The framework will
be based largely on the heritage left for us by Christians in the past who deeply explored the
nature of work. To accomplish t
his purpose, the paper will explore three myths common among
Evangelicals today: that some work is better than other work, that hard work is good in
itself, and that it is not proper to mix the good work of evangelism with economic work.
first section of the paper will explore the myth that some work is good and some is
that God smiles upon some occupations and disapproves of, or is indifferent to,
others. This section will specifically discuss the sacred/secular division whic
h was a major
problem in the early church and continues in much Christian thinking today.
The second section will discuss the myth that hard work is good in
of itself, and that
God rewards hard work with prosperity. Many people think that this idea
originated with Luther
and Calvin and was continued by the Puritans. This is not correct.
However, the Puritans did develop an extensive theology of work based on Scripture and
Martin Luther’s teachings about vocation. They tested their theology i
n the crucible of the
economic upheaval brought about by the British Industrial Revolution. Their teachings about
work are surprisingly applicable to their spiritual heirs going through the economic upheavals of
The third section expl
ores the myth that it is not appropriate to use economic work to
evangelize the world. God’s plan for the world
wide spread of the gospel has many facets. In
this section, we will explore the combination of economics and mission that was successfully
ed by the Moravians and the Basel Trading Company.
The final section sets out implications of a Scriptural view of work for the modern
Christian who must deal with the complex economic systems of the 21
THE MYTH OF GOOD AND
A Definition of Work.
Considering the central importance of work to an individual’s existence, a complete
definition of work is surprisingly difficult to find. In its most basic sense, work is identified as
the economic activity by which a person ea
rns a living. Even those who do not receive a direct
wage, such as homemakers, are considered to be economically rewarded for their labor
(Frideson, 1990). A broader definition is provided by Hall (1986) who says that as well as a
living, genuine work ac
tivities must produce services and products that are of value to other
people. At an aggregate level, work is the production operation of the society
the way it
maintains itself and provides the goods and services desired by the society.
worker spends so much time doing a job and interacting with his or her co
workers that it is nearly impossible to separate actual labor activity from the psychological
impact of the job. Thus work becomes not only the activity for which the person is empl
but also the atmosphere surrounding the activity. In other words, “work”, for better or worse,
becomes what the worker perceives it to be. This perception begins with what an individual, or a
society, feels about the value of the work they do (Nord
, Brief, Atieh, & Doerty, 1990).
Second Class Christians and Second Class Occupations.
Many Christians apologize when they tell you what they do for a living. They are “only”
a forensic chemist, or an accountant, or a manager in the DMV, not a past
or, or a missionary or
working for a Christian organization. Many genuinely think that in the eyes of God there is a
value hierarchy of occupations, specifically that vocational ministry
time Christian work”
is more spiritual and more valued by
God than secular occupations.
For those in secular
occupations, the helping ones such as medicine or teaching, or those connected to the land or to
crafts are considered more spiritual, more valued by God, than “money making” occupations
such as being a
loan officer, a stock broker, or running a restaurant. Norm Geisler has called this
the most prevalent heresy among evangelicals today (Geisler, 1982).
Much of this thinking comes from the early centuries of the Church. The early church
n a world dominated by the Hellenistic culture. The Greeks considered paid work,
particularly trade, to be vulgar and degrading because it coarsened the mind for the acquiring of
This thinking sprang from the underlying assumptions of Greek dua
as well as the
sociological impact of slavery (Sherman, 1984). The stigma against the man of wisdom or
virtue physically laboring, or even thinking about economic things, became a common attitude
throughout the Roman world. It was particularly per
vasive around the time of Christ when
approximately half of the population of Rome were slaves (Scotchmer, 1980).
Unlike the pagan world, the early church gave the slave and the worker value as people.
Nevertheless, the church fathers were men of the
ir culture and steeped in dualistic assumptions.
One of the consequences was the rise of the notion that the clergy who were doing God’s work
Many people would den
y this idea if it were presented to them in this way, but accept it by their actions and
statements. For example, a church might have a goal of sending out 10 people into “full time Christian ministry” in
the next year, which implies that only those peopl
e are ministering full time as Christians and the rest are not.
For example, Aristotle said that “any occupation, art, or science, which makes the body or soul or mind of the
freeman less fit for the practice or exercise of virtue, is vulgar…likewise a
ll paid employments, for they absorb and
degrade the mind.”
Book 8, part II.
A variation on the body
mind debate which maintains a strong division between the real and virtuous realm of
Eternal Ideas (mind/spirit) and the illusory and the vul
gar realm of concrete objects and matter (body) (Angeles,
Allegory of the Cave;
Republic, Book 7
). This contrasts with the Hebrew view that
God made both body and mind/spirit and saw them as a “very good” unity (Genesis 1).
(spirit) were of higher status than the laity who were working in secular occupations (body).
Cyprian, for exam
ple, argued that the apostolic succession from Peter promoted the clergy to
spiritual heights far above the laity. Ignatius considered the clergy to be pure mediators between
God and the impure laity (Schaff, 1996).
Another consequence was a marked pref
erence for the aesthetic life as superior to the life
of worldly affairs. For example, Origen proposed two types of Godliness, a lower one that
applied to all Christians and a higher one that applied to saints and those who separated from
and devoted themselves to prayer (Schaff, 1996). Both of these ideas appear to
be Greek philosophy dressed up in Christian vocabulary (Sherman, 1984).
As far as we know, Augustine was the first Christian to write an organized theology of
work. He arg
ued that man’s ability to think and do various forms of work allowed him to
participate in the creative power of God (Augustine,  1999), a theme later picked up by
Luther and amplified by the Puritans. However Augustine also stressed the strong divis
between the clergy and laity. Further, he contended that manual labor, toil, was part of what
Christ redeemed us from. Even so, he felt that it was better to do manual labor and occupy one’s
mind with praise to God than to work with one’s mind and oc
cupy it with the pursuit of riches
(Augustine,  1999).
This stress on a division between clergy and laity and on the unsuitability of Christians
occupying their mind with trade became part of what Geisler calls the Two
world View (Geisler,
This view argues that a Christian’s life is in compartments; his or her work world is
separate from the church and ministry world and the latter compartment is the one that God
really cares about. The consequence is two errors that deprive many Christian
s of meaning in
the large portion of their life given to work:
Error 1: God is removed from our secular work and doesn’t care much about it.
Therefore, we can do what we want in that compartment of life. We can be lazy or
overwork with equal impunity.
As a consequence of God’s indifference our
secular work has no spiritual meaning. This leaves it a daily grind or a guilty
Error 2: what God really does care about is the work we do in the church and
ministry compartments of our life.
Secular work only cuts into time that might
otherwise be spent serving God. Therefore, the best kind of work for a person
who really desires to “serve the Lord” is a Christian ministry or at least, a helping
profession. Any other occupation does not furt
her the kingdom of God.
world view has left the contemporary evangelical church with a largely
unperceived prejudice against secular work and workers that blinds it to the opportunities for
evangelism in that area. It has left individual Chri
stians floundering in their daily activities
rather than seeing the glory of God in them. Martin Luther saw the danger of this view and
vigorously opposed it, arguing that God is the Lord of all of our existence. In the next section,
we will more fully e
xplore his ideas and the way the Puritans implemented them in practical
THE MYTH THAT HARD W
ORK IS GOOD
Like us, the English Puritans lived in a time of great economic change. They were a
practical and a Godly people and believed that all of l
ife was to be lived to the glory of God
(Packer, 1990, Ryken, 1986). Since in their day, as in ours, work and the pursuit of a living
made up a major part of life they had a great deal to say about the ethics of work (V. Smith,
In the following s
ection, we will examine the Puritan theology of work in some detail.
Their view was largely based on Luther’s teaching on vocation. First, however, we must look
briefly at a work myth commonly attributed to Luther, Calvin, and later the Puritans: the
testant Work Ethic.
The Protestant Work Ethic.
The Protestant Work Ethic is in many ways the opposite of the two
world view described
above. This ethic says that work is ennobling, necessary for human development and of value
for its own sake. A man
or woman becomes a better person by the simple act of working hard
(Moorhouse, 1987; Terkel, 1974). A corollary is that God shows His approval for hard work by
give financial prosperity to the worker. Business success becomes a mark of God’s special favo
and a mark of special spirituality on the part of the prosperous person. “Prosperity theology” as
it is called, is as erroneous as the Two
world View (Chewning, Eby, & Roels, 1990) and most
evangelicals rightly reject it.
The Protestant Work Ethic is
commonly, and erroneously, suggested to be taught by
Calvin and later the Puritans
a suggestion formalized by Max Weber ( 1952) in his
The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
. Many scholars argue that
instead this inte
rpretation of work was derived from Benjamin Franklin’s writings and given
form in the United States by the 19
century industrialists (Buchholz, 1978; Henry, 1972;
Roberson, 1990; Wuthnow, 1996). However, it is beyond the scope of this paper to discuss
detail the origins of the Protestant Work Ethic.
The concern of this paper is not with the erroneous work
value attributed to the Puritans,
but with what they actually did believe and teach about work. Many of their work values were
For a fuller discussion of the origins of the Protestant Work Ethic see Y. Smith, 1993.
based on the
teachings of Martin Luther so we will first examine those.
The Work Ethic of Martin Luther: the Glory of God is the Glory of Work.
It was Martin Luther who most influentially contradicted the two
world view of work
based on dualism. He argued that Scr
ipture shows God as a working God, interested in all
aspects of human labor (Sherman & Hendricks, 1987). The Christian can greatly glorify and
worship God in his or her daily work. Further, God is a creator and the working person is a co
creator with him
. This means there is eternal significance in the products of a Christian’s mind
and hand, regardless of whether the Christian is clergy or laity (Wingren, 1957). There are three
key ideas expressed in these statements.
First, God Himself works and He
works in the physical world.
God’s revelation of
Himself in Scripture declares that He is a worker and that His work is glorious. Further, the
work of God is glorious in both the physical and the spiritual realm. God worked in creating the
erse and living things which He saw as excellent in every way (Genesis 1:31). God
takes physical care of man and nature (Psalm 104), establishes physical governments and
authority (Daniel 5: 21; Romans 13), and protects the righteous (Psalm 78). Christ’s
work is in
redemption of the body as well as the mind (I Corinthians 15). He works as High Priest and
intercessor for the saints (Hebrews 9). He also sustains the seen (matter) and unseen universe
18). The Holy Spirit works as helper t
o the embodied saints (John 14:16) and
gives gifts both spiritual and physical (I Corinthians 12). When Christ was on earth, he was a
small business owner, working with both his hands and his mind. Several of His disciples,
notably James, John, and Peter
were also businesspeople.
Second, work can be a means of expressing love to one’s neighbor.
Christian value to all work, including secular work, through his teachings about vocation and
calling. He used the term
“calling”, to sug
gest the Christian’s God
given spiritual work
his or her vocation (Wingren, 1957).
Luther argued that both Christians and non
Christians have stations or roles in society. A
man’s station can simultaneously be as a husband, a son, a business
person, a citizen of his
country, a leader in his church, and a leader in his community (Barnette, 1965). However, only a
Christian can be additionally called by God to a vocation
a relationship with one’s neighbor
that reflects God’s work in the earthl
y sphere. A vocation is a way to minister to and show love
to the people that surround one. For example, a man might have the station of a son but his God
called vocation as a son would as a chaste, moderate, and wise young man that brings joy to his
ents (Wingren, 1957).
Vocation could decidedly be part of a person’s occupation. An occupation allowed a
Christian to provide for his own and his family’s needs as the Scriptures required. However,
vocation was an additional summons to work for his nei
ghbor’s sake (Sherman, 1984), a means
of using the Christian’s occupation to implement Godly and loving service to his or her neighbor.
One demonstration of vocation, according to Luther, was to express love to a neighbor by
honorably and honestly meeting
his or her economic needs (Wingren, 1957).
For Luther, the thing that set vocation apart from occupation was relationship. Vocation
was a means to serve one’s neighbor
one’s employer, employee, supplier, co
in Agape love. This i
mmediately excluded occupations that harmed others, such as
robbery, prostitution and so forth. It also immediately excluded dishonesty, sloppy work, or
exploitation of ones’ employees or customers (Sherman, 1984; Wingren, 1957). As God moved
in the huma
n heart to overcome the ego
centered life, all honest occupations could become
vocations (Sherman, 1984). For example, a graphic artist could have a vocation of preparing
careful and innovative work for his employer, a financial advisor a vocation of givi
helpful product information to her customers. The manufacturer could have the vocation of
using his skills to create useful products for a fair price, the journalist the vocation of providing
accurate information to her readers, and the TV prod
ucer the vocation of providing character
building entertainment for his viewers. All of these would bring glory to God.
This perspective assumed that all honest work, secular or not, could become a holy
activity, an act of worship shot through with God’
s glory. As William Law ( 1955:31)
The profession of a clergyman is a holy profession because it is a ministration
in holy things, but worldly business is to be made holy unto the Lord by being
done as a service to Him and in confo
rmity to His Divine will. For as all men,
and all things in the world truly belong unto God, as any places, things, or persons,
that are devoted to the Divine, so all things are to be used, and all persons are to
act in their several states and employme
nts, for the glory of God.
Third, work is co
creation with God.
Not only is work a means of serving one’s
neighbor, it is also a means of participating with God in His creation. As in childbirth where
woman is the instrument and God the first cause, Go
d continues through our work to fashion His
creation. “God himself will milk the cows through him whose vocation that is” Luther said
This allows the Christian to have great satisfaction in the things he or she
ther understood that Christians must be careful not to become arrogant when
things go well or worry when things go wrong. God is the source of innovation and creativity,
Exposition of Psalm 127 for the Christians at Riga,
XV, p 348. Cited in Feinberg, p. 62.
not us (Sherman, 1984). Our creative accomplishments are “the work of our Lord God u
mask, as it were, beneath which he himself alone effects and accomplishes what we desire”
(Luther,  1979).
The Work Ethic of the Puritans: Do All For the Glory of God.
Our contemporary world is in a time of extensive economic and so
cial change. During a
previous time of economic change another group of Christians, the Puritans, created a systematic
theology of work based on Luther and the Scripture which might prove helpful to us. As
evidenced in their writings, the Puritans displa
yed four predominate attitudes about work.
1) They followed Luther and Calvin in seeing the sacredness of every kind of honest work. 2)
They believed that God called each Christian to a personal vocation. 3) They had a strong view
of the appropriate mot
ives for, and goals of, work. 4) They urged a sense of moderation in their
work (Ryken, 1986). In the following pages we will examine each attitude in turn. First,
however, we will look at the context in which these attitudes were tested.
was part of the Protestant Reformation in England. It began as a loosely
affiliated group of people interested in liturgical reformation (purification) of the Church of
England and over time developed into a distinct attitude towards life (Davies, 1948).
Puritans eventually separated from the Church of England and became nonconformist
Packer (1990) sets the age of English Puritanism between the years 1550 and 1700. This
was also the time of the launching of the English Industrial Re
volution, one of the most radical
breaking changes in the history of commerce to that time, and one that transformed
England to its very core (Tawney, 1926). During the Industrial Revolution commerce changed
Ibid, p 60.
from an agrarian community affair, partic
ipated in between neighbors, to an impersonal,
complex, national and international trade system (V. Smith, 1997) driven by the invisible hand of
the market (A. Smith,  1937). As in our present day, this change was triggered by
the spinning jenny, the steam engine, the application of science to
and was facilitated by the development of an effective central bank and credit
system (Kreis, 2001).
The Puritans placed a high premium on theological truth sys
tems; the intellectual content
of a person’s faith was very important to them (Packer, 1990). John Owen, for example, urged
Christians to “look on truth as a pearl, as that which is better than all the world, bought with any
They also thought t
hat genuine faith would be shown by the works in a person’s life
(James 2: 14
26). Therefore, they vigorously attempted to integrate their saving faith in Christ
into every part of their life. Since in their day, as in ours, the pursuit of a living made
significant part of life, they had a great deal to say about the ethics of work. However, because
they were not members of the Church of England, they were barred from the universities and that
effectively excluded them from careers in the church, th
e government, or the law. For those who
did not own land, the only thing left was commerce (Packer, 1990).
Faced with the practical need to pursue a living in a society that was rapidly moving
away from the ideas of commercial activity based on moral co
nduct, the Puritans sought God’s
truth (V. Smith, 1997). The major work precepts they developed are discussed below.
The sacredness of all legitimate types of work.
As a starting point for their theology of
work the Puritans, like the Reformers, re
jected the dichotomy between sacred and secular work.
All honest work, they said, could be sacred to God, regardless of what the occupation was.
Cited in Ryken, 1986:
William Perkins, for example, wrote that “the action of a shepherd in keeping sheep…is as good
a work before G
od as is the action of a judge in giving sentence…or a minister in preaching.”
This attitude has far
For one thing, it integrates every honest job directly into a Christian’s spiritual life. Every
honest job can, by faith, becom
e the arena for glorifying and obeying God. This provides a daily
means for the Christian to abide in Christ (John 15:5).
The sanctifying of the common allows the blessing of God to be in all work. If every part
of life belongs to God, it follows that
God’s grace can be found in everything, even daily chores.
Mundane tasks such as sweeping the house or washing diapers can be done as a service to God
and a means of His blessing. The Puritans agreed with Luther who said:
Our natural reason…takes a lo
ok at…life…and says “alas, must I rock the baby,
wash its diapers…labor at my trade?” What then does the Christian faith say to
this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised
duties in the Spirit and is aware th
at they are all adorned with divine approval as
with the costliest gold and jewels….When a father goes ahead and washes diapers…
God, with all his angels and creatures is smiling
not because that father is washing
diapers, but because he is doing so in
This attitude also means that every honest job has intrinsic value. “It is a wonderful
thing,” said Hugh Latimer, “that the Savior of the world…was not ashamed to labor… Here he
did sanctify all manner of occupations.”
nizational psychologists argue that a
valued job positively benefits an individual’s mental health and boosts his or her self
(Roberson, 1990). The Puritans understood this very well.
God’s calling to vocation.
The Puritans saw a job as first, an
arena for glorifying and
obeying God and than, as an arena for vocation
for expressing love to one’s neighbor through
Cited in Ryken, 1986:25.
The Estate of Marriage.
Cited in Ryken, 1979: 15.
service. Every Christian, according to the Puritans, had a calling
often an occupation
he or she was placed by God for the go
od of all. Cotton Mather wrote, “Every Christian
ordinarily should have a calling. That is to say, there should be some special business…wherein
a Christian should for the most part spend the most of his time; and this, that so he may glorify
follow that calling was to obey God (Ryken, 1986).
One effect of a theology of calling is to make the Christian in any occupation a steward
who serves God as their boss. If God assigns people to their tasks, a person’s job is personally
chosen by God as
a way to serve his or her neighbors (Ryken, 1986). Because of this, whether
the job is as an account executive, a literature professor, or a sports reporter, it is a means to live
out an individual’s personal relationship to God and serve His world. Bec
ause God knows each
person intimately, contentment and pleasure in the work is part of God’s plan (Packer, 1990).
But how does a person know his or her calling? The Puritans evolved a practical
methodology for finding out. They suggested that a Christia
n pay attention to such things as
“inward endowments and inclinations,” “outward circumstances which may lead…to one course
of life rather than another,” the advice of “parents [or] guardians,” and “nature, education, or
They also belie
ved that if a person was in the right calling, God would equip
him or her for the work (Ryken, 1986). This leaves the Christian in a partnership with God in
finding what God wants him or her to do. It also means that the occupation, when found, is a
The Third Sermon Upon the Lord’s Prayer.
Cited in Ryken, 1986: 25.
A Christian at His Calling.
Cited in McGiffert, 1969:123.
e come from, in order, William Ames,
The Marrow of Theology
, Richard Steele,
The Tradesman’s Calling,
Thomas Dudley to John Woodbridge. Cited in Ryken, 1986: 28.
ans of personal satisfaction as well as a means of praising God and a benefit to one’s
The appropriate motives for work.
According to the Puritans, gaining wealth was not a
proper motive for work. Nor should the Christian use work as a means
for gratifying selfish
ambition. Its purpose was not even to make a living for one’s family. The appropriate rewards
of work were spiritual and moral: work was to glorify God and benefit society. William Perkins
expressed this clearly:
Some men will
say perchance: What, must we not labor in our callings to
maintain our families? I answer: this must be done: but this is not the scope
and end of our lives. The true end of our lives is to do service to God in
serving of men.
If the Christian’s job
is a stewardship to God financial rewards may, or may not, follow.
The choice is up to God. If God decides to bless the work with prosperity it is His grace, not
human merit, that produces the blessing (Packer, 1990). The important point here is not tha
economic benefits were unimportant to the Puritans, but rather that these had little to do with the
reasons to work. Income or wealth were the by
product of work, not the goal. The goal was to
show love and to create close integration between oneself,
one’s God, and one’s neighbor. Self
interest had no place in the pursuit of the Christian’s calling before God (Ryken, 1986).
Another implication of seeing love as a motive for work is that love should guide one’s
choice of vocation. A man or woman sh
ould choose that employment that most honors God and
benefits his or her neighbor. As Richard Baxter stated:
Choose that employment or calling in which you may be most serviceable
to God. Choose not that in which you may be most rich or honorable in
world; but that in which you may do most good, and best escape sinning.
Treatise on Vocations.
Cited in Ryken, 1986:29.
ted in Ryken, 1986: 29.
The motive of the Christian worker is to attend to the glory of God and the good of
society. Any other outcome is secondary.
Moderation in work
. The Puritans scorned idleness a
nd praised diligence and
competence as honoring to God (Packer, 1990, Sayers, 1974) but they did not worship work.
Rather, they strove to be moderate in all things, including time and attention spent on the job.
This means that the Christian was to work
with zeal and be good at what they did, but not
give his or her soul to work. For example, the Puritans had no sympathy for the Christian who
took a second job to increase his income. That was covetousness (Ryken, 1986). Likewise, the
Christian was not t
o set his heart on his calling, even if he enjoyed it very much. That would
make the job an idol. Rather, his heart was to be set on God. Finally, the Christian was to be
careful not to allow his or her immoderate care about the job surpass the limits o
Worry and fret about one’s job showed a lack of trust in the Lord. Philip Stubbs, for example,
So far from covetousness and from immoderate care would the Lord have us
that we ought not this day to care for tomorrow, for (saith he) suf
ficient to the
day is the travail of the same.
The Puritan view of work was that it was necessary, God
given, and pleasant. Work was
not toilsome labor because even the most mundane of tasks could be done to the glory of God.
Furthermore, God gave eac
h person a calling that allowed him or her to create value for others
and serve his or her neighbor. This was the appropriate motive to work. However, even a God
given calling was not to become so important that it became an idol for the Christian.
ration in work, as in all things, brought glory to God and honored Him.
The Anatomy of the Abuses in England.
Cited in Tawney, 1926:216.
THE MYTH THAT THE GO
OD WORK OF EVANGELIS
SHOULD NOT MIX WITH
No Christian theology of work can be complete without considering the instructions of
our Lord, Jesus
Christ. His commands to “Abide in Me and I in you” (John 15: 4) and, “Love
one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12) can be fulfilled as a Christian uses his or her
work as a means to think about and obey God and give loving service to his or he
r neighbor. But
each Christian is also commanded to do the good work of spreading the gospel. “Go therefore,
and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19) was Christ’s last commission.
The contemporary Christian sometimes finds it difficult
to fulfill this commandment
within the work arena. Each worker has a sphere of influence with employees, customers,
coworkers, and bosses and genuine loving service to these neighbors includes telling them the
good news of Jesus Christ. There is prejudi
ce in our society against “pushing one’s religion on
others.” Nevertheless, people will be receptive to the gospel lovingly presented as long as they
first respect the Christian as a competent worker. Competence and diligence at one’s job is a
mark of re
spect to one’s neighbor and stewardship to the Lord (Sayers, 1974).
However, the good work of evangelism does not end with one’s local neighbors. Jesus
commanded us to go to “all the nations.” Here also daily work can be a tool to obey Christ.
ample, a job can be a means of sharing the gospel if the money made through it is
used to finance the needs of others who go “to the regions beyond.” Voluntary financial support
for professional missionaries has been the pattern used to spread the gospel
100 years (Glover, 1960). As a daughter of missionaries, I have personally been on the receiving
end of this generosity and have see God accomplish much through this means.
However, financing a professional class of missionaries thro
ugh voluntary donations has
some disadvantages. Many mission leaders will tell you that it is not easy for a missionary to
raise support and that much time and energy is spent traveling and visiting with scattered “prayer
partners” (Roth, 2000). This is
particularly true in the United States as the Baby Boom
generation, a self
centered group, (Zemke, Raines, & Filipczak, 2000) takes over missionary
support from the Veteran generation who are retiring. The average total giving of the American
mily to missions or charity of any kind is currently less than 3% of
(Blomberg, 1999). A recent report shows that major evangelical mission agencies, not to
mention the individual missionary, must directly spend between 5
15% of their re
venue to raise
funds (Dahlgren, 2001). Some spend much more. This would argue that the church should be
searching out other methods to spread the good news of the gospel.
One method might be to combine economic work with evangelism. The entire glob
economic system is tied together and the business person who is trained to create economic value
in a community is welcome, even in countries where the career missionary is not. People want a
steady job. They want to be able to educate their children a
nd buy medicine when they are sick
and have a house that keeps the rain out. They want some of the comforts of life like a
refrigerator or a cell phone. Therefore they welcome viable businesses in their community. The
world is ripe for a model of evange
lism that uses the Christian’s business and professional skills
as a vehicle for cross
cultural evangelism. At the same time, except for sending people to teach
English as a foreign language (EFL), the Western evangelical church is largely quiet about thi
situation, neither understanding it well nor understanding how to support Christians within it
There is good reason to suppose that if western Christians turned their finances over to God, it would be possible
to fund many more career missionaries (
Blomberg, 1999). The argument here is not that this is a bad method but
that, as things stand, other methods should be also utilized.
(Rundle, 2000a). Thus, a great opportunity for world evangelism is largely being overlooked.
However, there are individuals who see the opportunity
and are taking it. Models that
mix secular work and cross cultural evangelism have deep roots; the apostle Paul paid his own
way on his missionary journeys by making tents (Acts 18:3). There are contemporary Christian
professionals who take jobs overse
as with the intention of supporting themselves and witnessing
to the nationals in their sphere of influence. Other Christians support micro
enterprises in order
to help the poor or give economic support to the church. There are also career missionaries w
have started businesses in order to legally enter or stay in countries that are closed to the Gospel
All these models are viable though there are difficulties, particularly with the last model.
Many career missionaries do not have the
business training that allows them to successfully
create a profitable business. Therefore, they either create a “phantom” business and tacitly lie
about their intention of making a profit (Siemens, 1997), or have a failing business that their
must maintain in addition to the missionary family (Rundle, 2000b). Either of these
consequences can bring shame to the name of Christ and will do little, or nothing, to benefit the
Historically however, Christian groups have been highly succ
essful at bringing the
Gospel to their generation using economic models
businesses for God. The Moravians, for
example, were a community of Christians from Saxony who deliberately created businesses in
order to fund their missionary efforts. The idea wa
s that a Moravian would work in the group’s
economic endeavors for a time and be a full
time missionary for a time (Danker, 1971). The
Swiss based Basel Mission Society used trade as a tool to strengthen the church in India and
Africa (Danker, 1971).
hese businesses for God were designed to be profitable and support themselves and
missionaries as well. However for the Moravians and the Basel Christians, as for the Puritans, a
business for God meant that profit was important, but was secondary to the m
ission of honoring
God and loving one’s neighbor. The Moravians and the Basel Mission Society showed that
when a Godly business is combined with evangelism, it can be a powerful forum for evangelism
and it can strengthen the resulting church.
iness for God is an Influential Forum for Evangelism.
A genuinely for
profit business can facilitate evangelism. A career missionary typically
enters an area and slowly makes friends with his neighbors and social acquaintances. However
from the beginni
ng a person creating a viable business is involved in the daily life of the
community, providing a good or service to customers and dealing with suppliers, employees,
neighbors, community leaders, government officials and so forth. Often these are people w
cannot be reached by more traditional means (Rundle, 2000b). In my personal experience as an
entrepreneur, I became friends with many people I met through the business. A businessperson
who is dealing honestly, not attempting personal enrichment (thou
gh making a fair profit), and
genuinely giving value to the community, will have many opportunities to share Christ.
The Moravians used enterprise as a deliberate tactic to become part of the life of the
community (Danker, 1971). They typically entered
a new field by sending craftsmen who could
support themselves and legitimately develop a business. For example, in 1754 they sent two
skilled tailors to Surinam as missionaries. The new tailor shop soon became known for its
quality work and the men had
so many customers they hired local slaves to help. The slaves
became Christians and were discipled as the group sat together sewing. A brother in Moravia
sent some cloth to sell and eventually came out to help sell more. A department store developed.
e store became a model of loving, honest service and this helped train new believers in a
Christian attitude to work and provided a living for church leaders who needed a second chance.
The Brethren found this business so beneficial to the church that in
1768 they formed a trading
company, C. Kersten & Co. Christoph Kersten was one of the original missionaries (C.Kersten
home page, 2001), but the full name of the company can be translated “Christ
and Company.“ For generations, C. Kerst
en was the financial backbone of the Moravian
missions in Surinam. Today it is the largest trading company in Surinam and provides jobs for
over 1,000 people (C. Kersten home page, 2001). Every new employee is informed of the
missionary purpose of the fi
rm. C. Kersten has had employee profit sharing since 1910 and
provided old age pensions and medical insurance for its employees when such ideas were
unheard of elsewhere. Today it runs a large department store, a taxi company, an agency for
and earth moving equipment, an HMO and a number of other enterprises (C.
Kersten home page, 2001). For 230 years, it has had the reputation of supporting the mission not
only by the profits it earns but by the manner in which it earns them (Danker, 1971)
A Business for God Can Help Build the Church.
In the 19
century, the Basel Mission Society created a weaving works and a tile factory
in India as a way of providing work for Christians who had been thrown out of their cast for
accepting Christ. T
profit enterprise had a strong influence on the church as new
Christians learned by practical demonstration that “godliness is profitable in all things, having
promise not only for the life to come, but already for this present one” (Jahresberict,
1971). The cloth and tiles produced were the best in the district. Fifty percent of the weavers
were widows with no other method of support. The mission had a credit union and a health
insurance plan for their employees long before such things bec
ame common. They freely trained
apprentices who were then able to set up their own small businesses and prosper (Danker, 1971).
Young Christians watched as the day
day activities of life were dealt with in a way that
honored God, and the church became
stronger because of it.
When the mission entered Africa, they created the Basel Trading Company with the
stated intention of demonstrating that the power of the gospel transforms every part of life. In
1889, the company introduced cocoa into Ghana an
d soon the country was the leading cocoa
producer in the world. The resulting economic boom helped develop a class of independent
Christian farmers and for several generations the church was able to support its pastors with little
help from the mission.
This also provided an economic base for the region so that the gin and
schnapps trade, so detrimental to other parts of Africa, was forced out (Danker, 1971). But the
reaching effect of the company was that of being a graphic example of the power
Gospel to work in daily affairs. The members of the Trading Company demonstrated “faith
active in love” in the marketplace and thus facilitated the work of evangelism and the growth of
the church (Danker, 1971).
In the 18
century, two different groups successfully modeled the benefits of
combining economics with evangelism and building the church. These economic models greatly
advanced the cause of Christ in those generations.
With the globalization of the world econ
omy there is a great opportunity to use similar
models in our generation. However, there is a prejudice in the Western church that occupations
based on profits are unspiritual. As a result, the opportunity to send Christian businesspeople to
the world ha
s not been utilized as it could be. Many skilled workers do not realize the
opportunity is there. Career missionaries understand the opportunity but don’t always
understand how business works or how to use it to advantage (Taylor, 1998). Some agencies
ow exist to help the missionary entrepreneur. YWAM, for example, sends teams of skilled
businesspeople to research an area for possible businesses for God (Roth, 2001). However, a
more systematic and concerted effort on the part of the church to send out
businesspeople could reap benefits for generations to come.
APPLICATION TO 21
CENTURY CHRISTIAN ST
What does a theology of work have to say to the 21
century Christian student entering
the workplace in a few months o
r years? The short overview provided above suggests some
principles that might be utilized.
Principle 1: Any Honest Job can be Worship and a Forum for Vocation.
A proper view of work can help a Christian obey the command of our Lord, Jesus Chris
to “abide in Me”. A job can integrate our daily activities with God’s honor and with love for
others. It can be an act of continual worship to God, infused with His blessing and our
enjoyment in the place He has called us to.
Even going about one’s d
aily tasks of writing papers or studying for tests can be acts of
worship if we remember God’s reality in the midst of our ordinary life. This is true even when
we have to clean the bathroom.
Christ’s command to “love one another” is fulfilled in the co
ncept of vocation. Our
neighbors on the job include customers, co
workers, bosses, direct reports, colleagues in the
industry, and people in the community. Our neighbors at school are our roommates, our
housemates, our friends, our classmates, our profes
sors, the people in our class project group,
and so forth. If we genuinely love these people, we can minister to them by telling them about
Christ, by doing what we say we will do, by providing healthy options for them and so forth.
A Christian can also
demonstrate love by simply working hard to be good at what he or
she does (Sayers, 1974). If you are competent, an enormous amount of stress is eliminated for
the people that depend on you. It helps make their job both easier and more fun. If you read
book, analyze the figures, write up the questions carefully, be prepared for the presentation, be
on time to group meetings, you honor God and acknowledge His worth (Sayers, 1974). For
some people of course, the skill of working at being competent mus
t be learned. The Holy Spirit
will be a source of help as you learn to show love through your competence.
Principle 2: God is Interested in Your Work.
God is truly interested in what your job will be when you leave Biola. He will not only
u to the church body He wants you to be part of and the spouse He has for you, He will
help you find His job for you
the place where you can do vocation. Your first job after school
may not be your “ideal” one but, as you follow God’s leading, you will
find meaning and
pleasure in the jobs He leads you to. He will also lead you as you progress through your career.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. God is there, paying more attention to your work life than
even you are.
God is intere
sted right now in the work you do. He has called you to be a
student at Biola University. If you are an indifferent student, one that just squeaks by and does
the minimum work allowable, you are not reflecting glory to God as a steward of your time and
ergy. Now, when you are training for your future, is a good time to start worshiping God in all
Principle 3: Work is in Relationship; You Don’t Have to do It Alone.
Martin Luther was right. Work is not independent, it always affects o
thers. This allows
God to touch other people through you. It also means that you will probably want to develop
relationships with people outside of work to whom you can be accountable and who can help you
think through work issues. Start looking now in
your church or social group or at Biola for a
minded, possibly older, person who can mentor you as you move into the workplace.
If you decide to use your skills and secular talents for kingdom expansion as the
Moravians or Basel missionaries
did, find or create a network to pray with and a team to work
with. Now is a good time to start looking. Various organizations you might contact are listed in
the lecture notes. The School of Business has a class on Kingdom Professionals. You might also
find an experienced business person to mentor you.
Principle 4: Yes, God Does Want You to Have Fun and Have a Life
Snowboarding and computer games are fun and so is writing a paper once you get your
creative juices going. For example, this paper wa
s a lot of work to write but it was also fun to
do. As the paper progressed I could begin to see God’s creativity at work. Of course there are
many people much smarter and more creative than I so the paper has many flaws, but the act of
was very pleasurable.
Right now, God has given you the calling of being a student. If you are willing to stop
thinking of your homework as the “daily grind” and start seeing it as a means of giving glory to
God and of being a co
creator with Him, you wi
ll start to see the real fun, as well as the worship
involved in reading for classes and studying for tests. It is satisfying to master the
and understand what Dante is getting at. It is gratifying to see the team you led get an A
presentation, or the company in your simulation make a profit because you made good
decisions. The more you worship God by what you are doing, the more you will enjoy it.
There is the opposite side of the coin. A person can enjoy his or her work so muc
h that it
becomes an addiction. It is true that on occasion you will need to spend periods of time buried in
work. Starting a new job can be consuming. Certain periods like tax season for accountants, the
editing process for producers, and the end of th
e semester for students can be consuming. You
will soon discover the rhythms of your particular job. But when the crunch is over, you need to
be able to step back and relax. It is easy to let enjoyable work or ambition become your idol.
The Puritan pr
inciple of balance comes in here. God is the God of our whole life: work,
family, friends, and play. Overwork is just as dishonoring to Him as under
work. Contrary to
popular ideas, the Puritans understood this and played games frequently and heartily (Pa
1990). So crank up your surfboard, get out your mystery book, hang out with your friends and
Utilizing the insights of Christians in the past, this paper has endeavored to begin creating
a theology of work for 21
Christians. When properly developed, this system will
smoothly integrate worship with vocation and evangelism.
The basic assumption behind this theology is that there is no difference in God’s eyes
between sacred and secular occupations. This means th
at God gives meaning and form to all our
work. The Christian in any honest occupation, including that of “student,” can see value and
have joy in what he or she does. He or she can be in vocation
can use their job to serve others.
God is honored in all honest occupations also permits a Christian to
be genuine when he tells the people around him that God is relevant in every aspect of life.
Furthermore, this understanding opens up possibilities for cross
cultural evangelism that mi
not otherwise be considered, let alone utilized.
May God give His church insight into these things.
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