When I teach about the integration of faith and work, I get asked one question repeatedly: “Should I leave my job to do something more directly aligned with my faith?” This question comes not only from people in industries with difficult cultures like corporate litigation, acting, or investment banking, but also from those in helping professions like nursing and teaching. The job confusion usually stems from a deepening relationship with God and an associated desire to serve him fully, combined with the lack of an appropriate theological model to understand God’s purpose for work. I know this problem firsthand.
After ten years in banking and management consulting, and another ten in secondary education, I too had fallen prey to a faulty hierarchy of work. In my mind, there was an A team of workers for God which included pastors and missionaries, a B team which included all the helping professions like doctors and teachers, a C team which was everyone else — except for the D team which included management consultants, corporate attorneys, and private equity and hedge fund investors. My husband and I were both squarely on the D team. And, as my faith grew, I could not find a model to help me process this. In fact, I did not even realize I was looking for one.
As a result, in a quick decision in 2003, I left corporate life to help one of my clients start a school. I am hugely thankful for that formative decade of work. But I must confess that my main impetus for the change was that I thought I would be moving from the D team to the B team, and thus doing something God would consider more valuable.
God’s Purpose for Work (Mine Included)
Eventually I developed a better, more mature theology of work through a God-authored combination of personal suffering and extensive reading. My own ‘aha’ moment came as I read Every Good Endeavor from Katherine Leary Alsdorf and Tim Keller.
I was moved to tears to finally understand that I was actually created to work as part of God’s unfolding story for this world. I also realized that the fall and its impact on people, places, and things was part of why work felt so hard. Through further study and leading ‘faith and work’ groups, I began to really understand the depth of how industries matter to God. And I was grieved that I had worked for over twenty years without understanding that, regardless of vocation, we are actually ALL ON THE A TEAM.
Fast forward and I now work earnestly to help others understand biblically how faith and work are meant to integrate. What is especially helpful to answering the question of “should I leave my job” is coming to understand God’s sovereignty over all work — and that, in turn, the industries in the world today matter to God.
Abraham Kuyper, Prime Minister of the Netherlands in the early 1900s and a reformed pastor and theologian, summarized this point this way, “There is not a square inch in the whole of creation over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’” In order to embrace this idea — that God has creational intent for every (legitimate) industry — it is helpful to be reminded of the general pattern of work modeled for us in Genesis.
From Chaos Toward Flourishing
God sent his image bearers out into the world to be fruitful and multiply and exercise dominion. This ‘cultural mandate’ can be paraphrased as ‘go out and further flourishing as image-bearing agents of God.’ And how did God himself create flourishing? Six days in a row, he created structure from chaos and called it good, good, good, good, good, and very good.
There is nary a job in the world that does not follow this model of taking chaos and bringing structure, with the aim of calling it good. Valuing a company in Excel — structure out of chaos to create a just price. Sweeping the floors at a restaurant — structure out of chaos to create a hygienic eating environment. Professional NFL games — structure out of chaos to bring a community together to cheer toward a common goal while appreciating human athleticism.
Each industry, then, is meant to reflect God’s character, i.e., his goodness and grace. We might label this its creational goodness. But each industry is also broken — it has departed from God’s intent. This allows us to view an industry through the lens of its creational goodness, while also acknowledging its brokenness. Which means we can understand the role God intends for any industry, while pushing against an industry’s brokenness as we seek to move it towards its best version of itself.
Good — Yet Broken — Industries
It is helpful to imagine what if a particular industry did not exist. For instance, if we did not have banking, people would still be trading goods and services without currencies — a big step backward toward chaos. Thus banking brings structure out of chaos for the movement of goods and services and a more productive allocation of resources across a community. Banking, therefore, helps facilitate God’s desire for order and fruitfulness.
Yet, along with all industries, banking is broken. I once heard a pastor ask, “If Jesus came back tomorrow, what would he say about your industry?” So, what would Jesus say about corporate banking? He might well note that the pay inequities between the highest and lowest ranking employees are absurd. He might note that often the companies which most need capital are least able to access it. And he might note that corporate banking tends to value financial transactions more than the creation of goods and services that are foundational to human flourishing.
How about investing? Investing is the supply of capital to enable and enlarge the creational good of business. Investing allows businesses to scale more quickly, thereby creating more of the goods and services that foster human flourishing, while also giving employees the opportunity to use their God-given gifts and talents. This also allows them to provide for themselves and their families, and hopefully to have a surplus to share. Investing, therefore, reflects God’s character as one who gives work to his image bearers and brings about growth and provision.
However, investing too is broken. Instead of a strategic allocation of capital to support good business, investing has become narrowly focused on maximizing returns from business. This idolization of returns means investors often fail to consider whether or not a business serves society and human flourishing. Frequently, in fact, investors seek returns from businesses whose effects are decidedly more harmful than helpful — precisely opposite to God’s intent. As well, investors can prioritize short term gain over long term sustainability.
Other companies/industries illustrate the same overarching pattern. Coca-Cola, for example, brings pleasure (joy) to many and can enhance a connecting experience, yet sugared soda is increasingly recognized as a primary cause of obesity and diabetes, especially among the young. The film industry is capable of exquisite and inspiring storytelling, but too often glorifies violence and fails to tell the truth about the harmful consequences of immoral decisions.
Reframing Our Perspective
So as we each interact with, work in, and buy from the variety of industries in our lives, how can we go about appreciating their goodness while seeking their improvement? First, start with what goodness an industry provides to the world. What chaos would ensue without this industry? Next, view the industry through the reality of the fall. What stubborn areas of brokenness exist? Where are incentives misaligned? Where does the industry hurt or exploit people, places, or natural resources? What hurtful barriers or systems has it spawned? Finally, imagine if Jesus came tomorrow what might he see as the potential of this industry? What could this industry be in its best version of itself? How did Christ in his work on the cross begin to redeem his creation so that as someone in this field I can push against that brokenness and join him as an agent of renewal?
Reframing work through the lens of its creational goodness allows us to connect our hearts more deeply with our role with Christ in this already/not yet interval between his ascension and return. Rarely is an industry secular only — almost all of them reflect something of God’s goodness. Thus, the challenge is finding the redemptive edge. What is in the realm of the possible in redeeming the goodness and pushing against the darkness in leadership, processes, and strategies? (That said, there are some business categories that one would be hard pressed to view as redemptive — prostitution, pornography, and illegal drugs come quickly to mind.)
So as I answer the ‘should I quit my job’ question over and over, I see it as a real opportunity to bring others into the story of God’s great plan for renewing this world. Most industries are capable of more good than we imagine, yet are more broken than we care to admit. As Christians, we have the benefit of a framework that allows us to see their potential for goodness, to acknowledge their brokenness, and to work alongside Christ, step by step, toward his new heaven and earth.
This communication is provided for informational purposes only and was made possible with the financial support of Eventide Asset Management, LLC (“Eventide”), an investment adviser. Eventide Center for Faith and Investing is an educational initiative of Eventide. Information contained herein has been obtained from third-party sources believed to be reliable.