Can we take our faith to work?

Can I take my faith to work? It is the question most people ask me nervously. For many, work is the place you lie low, keep quiet, get defensive. That is an understandable response. Andrew Thorburn and Israel Folau are just two high-profile examples in Australia of the way that faith and work seem like oil and water, they just don’t mix.

However, I have a couple of issues with the question. Firstly, it implies that we are separating two things that cannot and should not be separated. How can we NOT take our faith to work? I would ask.

From a Christian perspective, we see right at the beginning of the Bible that we are made in the image of a God who works, in the beauty of creation. And the first command to us is to work, to steward God’s good creation (Genesis 1:26–28). We are meant to work for God and with God in every area of our lives.

Even from a secular perspective, it seems unreasonable to deny that something as intrinsic as one’s faith or religion should be expressed in some appropriate way in a public setting.

The workplace is not just a place for Christians to survive; it is a place where our faith can thrive.

The problem is that our theological colleges and churches have been infiltrated by Greek thought that compartmentalises our bodies (and what we do with them) from our souls. We have been taught that what happens in church is sacred, and everything else is at best ‘secular’ and at worst is in the devil’s domain. We have been taught that God’s work is to pray, read the Bible and share the gospel, and not that God’s work is also to provide for the world, to be agents of reconciliation, to create beauty, to do acts of compassion, to give people a fragrance of the kingdom.

So, when society says that faith or religion is a private matter, and has no place at work, we can hardly disagree; when that is what we have been told and taught by our faith or religion.

My second problem with the question is that it implies a threat, that it needs courage to take our faith to work, and that it is something we tend to do timidly. It suggests that God is not present in the workplace already. However, Colossians 1:15-20 declares that Jesus is sovereign over all creation, including every workplace.

The workplace is not just a place for Christians to survive; it is a place where our faith can thrive. It is, as Eugene Peterson asserted, the “primary location of spiritual formation” (in Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places).

God is interested in everything we do with intent or purpose, paid or unpaid.

My third problem with that question, is that it stops us thinking about all our work, and how God can use it. When we say the word “work” we unconsciously are assuming paid work. However, God is interested in everything we do with intent or purpose, paid or unpaid. There is no unemployment and no retirement in God’s economy.

For the name of this column, we decided on Faith at Work. The idea was that we should see our faith as something that is present in our working. We should also see that our faith can be exercised – we can grow spiritually mature, while we work, whatever that context.

We could also have called it Faith that Works. I like that inference that faith is something not just present, but positive for our work. It could reframe some of our negative ideas.

“The healthiest, most productive workplaces are the ones where employees are encouraged to be whole people.”

In the middle of the Andrew Thorburn versus Essendon furore, Baptist pastor Scott Morrison wrote a blog – ‘Can’t I bring my faith to work anymore?‘ – which included this reflection:

“Interest in spirituality at work in all its forms and definitions, is not simply the domain of pastors, priests and clerics. It is now widely accepted and backed by validated data, that the healthiest, most productive workplaces are the ones where employees are encouraged to be whole people. Not simply human resources, or labour hire, but integrated whole, and often messy, human beings. We are physical, social, emotional, spiritual beings who function best when all those parts of our lives are integrated (Jurkiewicz et al).

“When people live dis-integrated lives—being someone with a particular set of beliefs and values in one context and someone entirely different in another—they tend to become disillusioned and frustrated. Moreover, human beings inherently seek meaning and purpose to their lives, of which work undoubtedly contributes to that pursuit (Viktor Frankl).

“After all, work (paid or unpaid) can easily consume well over 50% of our waking hours, year in year out across the span of life. So, it is not surprising that we increasingly want to spend this largest chunk of our life in an environment where we feel authentically ourselves and personally energised by what we are doing, and who we are doing it with.”

Faith is not a liability to our working, but an asset.

We should be encouraged by this, that our faith is not a liability to our working, but an asset, increasingly recognised by research as something that brings capital to an organisation.

Perhaps the pendulum of tolerance that is swinging in our society seems like it has swung too far toward intolerance of Christianity. However, that is a denial of how we were made as human beings, of the Christian heritage of our society, and of validated researched data.

In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of faithful Australian Christians are living out their faith at work in workplaces, neighbourhoods, communities and homes. They are a testament to the kingdom that Jesus has brought by working lovingly, joyfully, peacefully, with patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). That is faith at work!

NEXT TIME: Read a story of a Christian living out their faith at work.

Kara Martin is an Adjunct Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, author of the Workship books and co-host of the Worship on the Way to Work podcast.