Note: This article is excerpted from Kingdom Calling.
To inspire their flock about their daily work, congregational leaders need to start with the vital truth that work preceded the Fall. This truth is foundational for faithful vocational stewardship. Work is not a result of humankind's fall into sin. Work is central in Genesis 1 and 2. There it is—right in the midst of paradise, right in the picture of God's intentions for how things ought to be. Work is a gift from God. Work is something we were built for, something our loving Creator intends for our good. Work is not evil, nor is it a side effect of sin. This truth can be hard for congregants to trust when they are frustrated in their jobs or unfulfilled in their careers. It's certainly true that the curse of Genesis 3 brought toil and futility into work. Ever since, our experience of work involves pain as well as pleasure. But work itself is good. It has intrinsic value.
Labor's Intrinsic Value: How We Participate in God's Own Work
Human beings are made in the image of God, and God is a worker. Human labor has intrinsic value because in it we "image," or reflect, our Creator. In Faith Goes to Work, author Robert Banks discusses God as our "vocational model," describing the various sorts of work he does and how myriad human vocations give expression to these aspects of God's work. Banks's model is very helpful for teaching congregants the intrinsic value of work. Leaders can explain the various ways in which God is a worker, and then encourage people to identify where their own labors fit. God's labors include the following:
- Redemptive work (God's saving and reconciling actions). Humans participate in this kind of work, for example, as evangelists, pastors, counselors, and peacemakers. So do writers, artists, producers, songwriters, poets, and actors who incorporate redemptive elements in their stories, novels, songs, films, performances, and other works.
- Creative work (God's fashioning of the physical and human world). God gives humans creativity. People in the arts (sculptors, actors, painters, musicians, poets, and so on) display this, as do a wide range of craftspeople (such as potters, weavers, and seamstresses, as well as interior designers, metalworkers, carpenters, builders, fashion designers, architects, novelists, urban planners, and more).
- Providential work (God's provision for and sustaining of humans and the creation). "The work of divine providence includes all that God does to maintain the universe and human life in an orderly and beneficial fashion," Banks writes. "This includes conserving, sustaining, and replenishing, in addition to creating and redeeming the world." Thus, innumerable individuals—bureaucrats, public utility workers, public policymakers, shopkeepers, career counselors, shipbuilders, farmers, firemen, repairmen, printers, transport workers, IT specialists, entrepreneurs, bankers, brokers, meteorologists, research technicians, civil servants, business school professors, mechanics, engineers, building inspectors, machinists, statisticians, plumbers, welders, janitors, and all who help keep the economic and political order working smoothly—reflect this aspect of God's labor.
- Justice work (God's maintenance of justice). Judges, lawyers, paralegals, government regulators, legal secretaries, city managers, prison wardens and guards, policy researchers and advocates, law professors, diplomats, supervisors, administrators, and law enforcement personnel participate in God's work of maintaining justice.