How would Jesus work?
Mark Greene believes imagination and love must be better employed
It’s Mark Greene’s first time in Australia, so he doesn’t claim to be well-versed on the Israel Folau debate engulfing our nation. But, as an international expert on faith and work, his comments add more value to the debate than many circling social media feeds.
“From the outside, it seems that somebody of well-intentioned devoted godliness said something in a context that was unhelpful … So what does faithful speech in the public sphere look like and was he well prepared for that? Probably not,” says Greene.
As Executive Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, Greene has spent the past 20 years helping Christians understand how to live out their faith in the workplace, as well as in the community and every other sphere of life. He’s written numerous books on the topic, including Thank God it’s Monday, Supporting Christians at Work, Pocket Prayers for Work and Fruitfulness on the Frontline, which has also been made into an eight-session video course. His latest book, The One About – 8 Stories About God in our Everyday, fuels his conversation with Eternity, as he uses the experiences of real people to illustrate his thoughts on “whole-life discipleship”.
Greene is in Sydney as keynote speaker for the first biennial Transforming Vocation – Work and Faith Conference at Morling College from 4-6 July, which, according to the conference organisers, is the “first significant research conference on faith and work in Australia.”
More than 30 papers will be presented by academics from theological colleges across Australia, as well as other experts, on breaking down the “secular” and “sacred” and championing the workplace as a key means of “influencing culture and community for Jesus.”
They will also explore how the church, theological colleges and the marketplace can work together to equip Christians to share the gospel at work.
Expanding our imagination
Greene believes the issue of faith at work must start with a look inside our own heads – by expanding our imagination about what following Jesus could look like in and outside the workplace.
“Imagine you have a ten-year-old in the church. So what is that ten-year-old going to be taught? Are they going to be taught that what they’re learning in school is significant or not? Are they going to be taught that God’s interested in mathematics or not? Are they going to be taught that learning a foreign language is a good thing because you understand a culture in a different way, because God made people differently, or not?”
Greene is making the point that while teaching Bible knowledge is important, this cannot be divorced from its application in our everyday lives, including in the workplace.
He argues the church must consider the unique skills, gifts and interests of its members in order to help them live out their faith in different environments.
“A church would be seeing all of a child’s life, a teenager’s life, a young person’s life through the lens of the contribution that God wants them to make through all of their life,” he explains.
“What does it look like for a business person to run a business differently?” – Mark Greene
Greene notes how this worked in the biblical examples of Daniel and Moses: “God doesn’t just put Daniel [in the royal court of Babylon] so he can have some lovely visions and one or two dreams; he puts him there to help run an empire.”
“He doesn’t train Moses in Pharaoh’s court and bring him up there for no reason, because who’s going to have to go into Pharaoh’s court to negotiate? Who’s going to have to write a whole set of laws for a nation? Where was he going to get any experience to do that? The answer is, God already trained him in Pharaoh’s court.”
He also offers some modern examples of imaginative whole-life discipleship in action. Rather than simply giving money to a social action agency, his prayer partner of many years started a company in the impoverished country of Moldova in Eastern Europe. Now, he employs 500 local people in white-collar jobs.
Similarly, Greene notes someone working in a bank who “may help a million people sort out their finances” is actually engaging in social action. And outside the workplace, he cites the tennis club member who regularly brought friends from the club to church quiz nights and the Christmas carols event.
Greene expands this vision: “What does it look like for a business person to run a business differently? What does it look like to have a ministry at the school gate? What does it look like to do midwifery differently? … So a church that thinks about how it makes a contribution to the world, thinks about … every sphere where people may find themselves.”
He adds: “Everyone has a ministry in their workplace, whether they’re a church leader, a theological educator or they’re in another workplace or working in the home … Part of the vision is to recognise God’s call on all of my life, wherever we are, whatever we do, it’s all significant and he wants it done in his way.”
Redesigning theological education
Unfortunately, this vision is yet to become a reality in most churches, according to Greene. He says the problem is most church leaders have not been taught about whole-life discipleship in theological college.
“Most theological colleges think all of life is significant to God but until the last ten years, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single theological college who taught a theology of work – despite the fact that everybody who graduates from that theological college will be doing work,” he says.
He makes another key point: “Jesus makes disciples, and theological colleges as a whole don’t, they make converts … The model Jesus has is very dialogical – they eat, they drink, they walk together. He sends them off to do stuff and they reflect on it when they come back … Well, no one in a theological college has been taught how to do that …
“Once a theological college begins to think we’re not just teaching people theology, but teaching people how to live well for Jesus in the world – which is a different thing – then it begins to shift.”
Deepening our relationships
This brings us back to Folau. Greene notes boundaries must be applied to sharing our faith in and outside of work, and relationships (along with sensitivity) are the key to successful evangelism in most settings.
“The role of the Christian in the workplace is a rich role; it’s not simply to stick a stake in the ground for whatever issue is there. [Christians] come to serve in the name of Jesus.”
When speaking up about polarising issues, Greene advises that “almost always the best ways to respond to those things are in the context of relationships.”
He gives the example of a Christian university student who chooses to keep her mouth closed when first meeting another student who asserts her pro-abortion stance. After they become friends, a couple of months later, the Christian gently shared her views on abortion when asked.
“If she’d said on day one this is where I stand … it would have been dismissed,” says Greene, noting “Jesus is sometimes silent.”
“These things are spiritually discerned. The goal is to draw people to Jesus and the Spirit is the one prompting us when to say what and to whom.”
“Do you want people around you to get closer to Jesus?” – Mark Greene
After sharing several stories about the importance of consistent godly actions and character in the workplace, and how these, eventually, have led people to Christ, he says: “Quite a lot of the controversies that have occurred in my context have not really been necessarily about ‘is it OK for a Christian to say they’re a Christian?’ I don’t think that’s the issue.
“If I’m in good relationships, I don’t think anybody cares. But if I or the world perceives me as coming into an organisation or a context to potentially impose my views on somebody else, as opposed to showing who I am, then that’s a completely different framework.”
And living “Christianly” at work is not only important in “secular” workplaces. Greene applies it to the administrator in a theological college, as well as to staff in church ministry.
“What does Jesus want?” Greene asks. “He wants everyone, whether they know him or not, to get closer to him.
“If you are in a secular workplace, you want people to get to know Jesus but you also recognise that it’s going to take time … So do you want people around you to get closer to Jesus? What could you pray for them? What could you give them? How could you encourage them?”
Experiencing the rewards
When describing what whole-life discipleship means for him, Greene stresses that this lifestyle is not without rewards. “It’s to wake up every morning and to know whatever I do or don’t do, whatever I say or don’t say, whoever I meet or don’t meet, it’s significant to God. There is a significance to it beyond my imagining which is liberating for me rather than oppressive because it’s in his hands.”
“For me, whole-life discipleship is about a rich relationship with God in all of life, and that’s the sweetness of it. It’s not just that great things may happen, or that more ministry or blessing may occur, the main thing is that one is engaging with Jesus more – that’s the exhilaration.”
“She used to go shopping but now she goes on a mission trip with Jesus!” – Mark Greene
He shares one final story about 93-year-old Thelma, from a small Baptist church, who “never really felt she had a mission field.”
Thelma’s imagination grew after completing Greene’s Life on the Frontline course.
“She suddenly realised, I’ve got a mission field … the little convenience store run by a family at the bottom of her road,” Greene narrates.
Despite her failing health, “three or four times a week she makes her way, come rain or shine, to that little shop and she prays for them and prays for blessing on them, and they love her. Now they actually carry her shopping home for her.”
“What is the joy of that?” Greene asks. “The joy for her is that she’s engaging with Jesus. Yes, maybe that business will prosper because she’s praying blessing on it. I imagine they’ll be more open to Jesus – and maybe she’ll have lots and lots of opportunities to share the gospel.
“But one of the other things is she’s excited about her purposefulness in life.
“She’s walking with Jesus in a richer and broader way. She used to go shopping but now she goes on a mission trip with Jesus!”
For more information about the Transforming Vocation conference, visit Morling College website.