- Compassionate work (God's involvement in comforting, healing, guiding, and shepherding). Doctors, nurses, paramedics, psychologists, therapists, social workers, pharmacists, community workers, nonprofit directors, emergency medical technicians, counselors, and welfare agents all reflect this aspect of God's labor.
- Revelatory work (God's work to enlighten with truth). Preachers, scientists, educators, journalists, scholars, and writers are all involved in this sort of work.
In all these various ways, God the Father continues his creative, sustaining, and redeeming work through our human labor. This gives our work great dignity and purpose. Vocational stewardship starts with celebrating the work itself and recognizing that God cares about it and is accomplishing his purposes through it.
It is worth lingering on this point because much teaching on the integration of faith and work neglects the inherent value of work. Church leaders should indeed teach and preach on becoming certain types of workers—honest workers, ethical workers, caring workers, faithful workers, and salt-and-light workers. But such teaching is biblically insufficient if there's never any mention of the inherent value of the work itself. As my brilliant friend Ken Myers likes to say, we should seek to be more than "adverbial Christians."
Our Work Lasts
A further reason why our work truly matters is because it lasts. Work—pleasurable, fruitful, meaningful work—will be an eternal reality. Passages about life in the consummated kingdom, such as Isaiah 60, depict humans bringing all manner of culture making, craftsmanship, and economic production into the new age. Revelation 21:24 describes how "the kings of the earth will bring their splendor" into the New Jerusalem. It is good for leaders to remind people of this grand truth, because believers sometimes get discouraged by the seeming futility of their labors. Consider Lesslie Newbigin's profound insight:
Every faithful act of service, every honest labor to make the world a better place, which seemed to have been forever lost and forgotten in the rubble of history, will be seen on that day [at the final resurrection] to have contributed to the perfect fellowship of God's kingdom …. All who committed their work in faithfulness to God will be by him raised up to share in the new age, and will find that their labor was not lost, but that it has found its place in the completed kingdom.
Countering False Ideas About Work
Leaders need also to be aware that sin and our fallen culture have twisted many Christians' views on work. As church leaders teach the goodness of work, they also need to unmask and reject our secular culture's false understandings of work.
Because we are fallen, we sometimes act as though success at work equates to a successful life. It doesn't. Sometimes we make an idol of our careers. We need to repent. Sometimes we make decisions about jobs as though the ultimate purpose of work were self-fulfillment. It's not. Sometimes we judge people's worth based on their career position or status. We should seek God's forgiveness. Sometimes we allow work—which is just one dimension of our lives—to crowd out family or worship or relationships or play or Sabbath. We must resist.