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Redeeming Work: Living Wholly within God’s Reign

February 17, 2016

Inagrace Dietterichprinter_friendly

“Work is one of the most significant facets of life. Many, if not most of us, spend more time working than anything else. We express ourselves through our work. We provide for our families through our work. We even find clues to the questions of identity and purpose in our work. We expend a large portion of our energy, time, and resources to our work.”1 It is powerful what can happen when we begin to connect the fruit of our faith with the work of our hands!

The Center Blog in 2016 will engage a year-long discussion on “Redeeming Work: Living Wholly within God’s Reign.” Dr. Phil Kenneson will be the keynote speaker on this topic, July 21-23, 2016 missional church convocation in Chicago.

“There can be no joy in life without joy in work” (Thomas Aquinas). In joy we find ourselves swept up by the overwhelming sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. The experience of joy in work is nothing less than the abiding sense of satisfaction and well-being that comes from knowing that one’s work is part of something bigger and one’s work is making a positive contribution to the well-being of God’s world.


Phil Kenneson wrote an article in Leaven: A Journal of Christian Ministry entitled “Learning to Take Joy in Our work: Some Preliminary Theological Reflections.”2 The reason, he says, so many people experience so little joy in their work is because the frame through which most of us understand and evaluate our work is much too narrow. Largely unexamined assumptions from our cultural and economic context shape the frame through which most people understand and experience their work.


Four assumptions shape our understanding and experience of our work:


work“Work” is equivalent to employment.We assume our “work” is what we do for pay. Yet there are millions of people who undertake vital tasks each day (in and around the house, in our communities), who receive no paycheck for their efforts. So the first question: What is our work. If God has placed us in the world partly to work, and as faithful Christians we are called to understand and evaluate our work from point of view of what God is doing in the world, then will it be enough simply to consider the work we do for pay?


Work as identity.Very often, personal identity and worth are directly correlated to the kind of employment we have. We are what we do for pay, and whether we are regarded in the world as important depends on the kind of work we do for pay. For Christians, this assumption is problematic. Followers of Jesus do not believe that their fundamental identities are to be found in the kind of work they do for pay, nor do they believe that some people are worth more than others. Rather, followers of Jesus believe their fundamental identity is as followers of Jesus, and all citizens of the world are priceless in God’s view, as each is created in the image of God.


Work as Instrument. This view of work does not see the value of work in the work itself, but in what work makes possible. Work has value because the paycheck that such work provides supports our families and funds our leisure.This assumption invites us to completely gloss over the kind of work we do and the value of our work in favor of what kind of lifestyle the work enables us to have.


Work as Necessary Evil. If work is just a means to an end, there is little reason to work if such means can be supplied in other ways. Many Christians mistakenly equate work with God’s curse in the opening chapters of Genesis. But Adam and Eve were given good work to do prior to disobedience; what changes is not that they are. forced to work, but that their efforts are now more difficult and less fruitful.

One of the helpful questions to ask that begins to reframe our understanding and experience of work is to ask, “Am I engaged in the work that God wants done?” To answer this question requires clarity about the work God is doing in the world and the ways in which we have been called to participate with God in that work.

This blog will take up topics of “Redeeming Work: Living Wholly within the Reign of God” throughout 2016, and become focused in the missional church convocation in Chicago, July 21-23, sponsored by the Center for Parish Development.

Questions for Discussion to use in your Church

  1. Reflect upon the quotation from Thomas Aquinas. How do you make the connection between joy and work?
  2. Which of the four named cultural assumptions do you think is most prevalent? Which is most problematic? Why?
  3. What assumptions might be inferred by asking the question, “Am I engaged in the work that God wants done?” What difference might it make?

1 Jim Street, editor of A Leaven: A Journal of Christian Ministry, published by Pepperdine University with these words explained the purpose of devoting 2004 to the theme, “Faith and Work.”
2 Leaven: A Journal of Christian Ministry, Volume 12, No.2, Second Quarter 2004

Inagrace Dietterich

Inagrace Dietterich

The Rev. Inagrace Dietterich, Ph.D. is the Director of Theological Research at the Center for Parish Development.

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