Sunday, September 14, 2008

Reality. Check!

What do you do when 90% of the people in your church are unemployed? Is xenophobia understandable (not pardonable, but understandable) within the South African context where hundreds of thousands of people flock into the country from countries around the continent, move into the slums, and stand on the same corners as men and women who are vying for R100-a-day jobs (about $12)?

These were some of the issues we grappled with in the Theology of Work class in Cape Town last week. And as a class from very diverse backgrounds (everyone having grown up in a segregated South Africa), contextualization meant that we had to talk about some very un-PC topics, especially for a group of ministry leaders and pastors. We learned from one another about thoughts on affirmative actions, about presuppositions of other peoples, about our very different worldviews.

The rest of the group will meet again in a month to discuss what changes they have made in their sphere of influence as a result of having attended the seminar. (I won't be traveling to Cape Town for that, of course.) But everyone agreed, we could not go home and slip back into the groove of "life as usual."

In which ways, you may wonder, does a "theology of work" affect your life in general?

First of all, it deals with our identity. We were created in God's image. He is the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sustainer. If we represent Him in our families, our neighborhoods (even a slum), in our workplaces, we need to represent all of him. (In the Christian church, we often focus just on the redemption part, and neglect the creative side, or the fact that we are called to also sustain our environment.)

Genesis 2: 15 talks about God putting Man in the garden to "till it and keep it." We were created to work, to worship God through our work. Next, he gave Man the responsibility of being creative in naming the animals. (Only after that comes the Fall, and with it, work becomes difficult.)

However, Christ came to redeem us from the consequences of sin. Even in the church service I was in yesterday, the pastor talked about this (the Fall in Genesis 3 and Redemption in 2 Cor 5) without suggesting for a moment that more than just the broken relationship between God and Man has been redeemed.

And this, my teachers would suggest, is not an isolated incident. Pastors are mostly trained to focus on the Redemption mandate (Matthew 28), not on the Creation mandate. These two cannot be separated.

So then, if we embrace the fact that God created us to work, and we are to represent God in our workplace the way he intends for us to do, it would have several far-reaching implications. Some are:
* We need to treat our coworkers with the respect they deserve as God's creations. This is one of the most effective ways of actually helping someone see themselves through God's eyes!
* We need to be good stewards of our time, our resources and our abilities.
* We need to trust people and create and environment where they can learn to tap into God's creativity.
* We need to work as equals (just as the Trinity is non-hierarchical, we cannot suggest that one vocation--church ministry, for instance--is more important than a career in sales).

I can go on.

And I will. Believe me, there's so much more to say. Because all of these implications carry over into family, government, business, leisure.

We cannot try to separate the various facets of our lives. But until we as teachers in the church and mission field learn to encourage people in "ministries in society" (what we'd sometimes wrongly call "regular jobs" as opposed to what, irregular or supernatural jobs??) to see their roles, too, as "full-time ministry," our lives will remain fragmented. As will the church. We as Bible teachers will deliver messages that have little impact on the business world because it's not a world we've been educated in. We can teach messages that fall flat in the workplace. But if we humble ourselves and ask those in full-time ministry in society for their input on workplace ministry issues, messages will become much more relevant!

That's a lot to think about. And a lot to talk about. It means we've got to listen more.

I know I'll blog about these topics often as time goes by, since I hope to be focusing more and more on presenting training on this topic as the main focus of the teachings I'll do. There's still so much more for me to learn.

I'd love to hear some of your thoughts on these issues, especially if you're someone who doesn't work in a church or a mission agency.

The journey continues.

Can you tell I'm excited about what I'm learning? :)


  1. Hey Adele! I am excited to hear more about what you are learning in this area as well. I know that one of my "short comings" is to down play my job because I am not in the missions field and yet I am. It's just that my missions field happens to be in a public junior high school. I think that as a Christian I have a grass is greener mentality in thinking that a person such as yourself has it easier when it comes to representing Christ because you are doing it "out there." Thank you for the reminder that it is no less important or easier; that we all are called to represent Him the same where ever God has placed us. Keep sharing :-)

  2. Hi Adele,
    I suffered from some of the "chruch work" is more holy for some years. I was a stay at home mom and volunteered my time teaching, and doing a little missions work. Then I needed to get a "regular" job. I was actually ashamed to tell people I was going to work.

    Once I started working I was SHOCKED at how people acted. And how their actions so easily rubbed off on me, that caused (helped) my actions to become more like them because I was trying to fit into a regular job.

    I still don't have all the answers but after 1 year of full time working I have learned that showing Christ in my actions here has as big on an influence as all the teaching I did in other places. If that makes sense.


  3. Adele, Wow!! How does it feel to be riding the crest of this gigantic River of God wave!

    I've been blogging in this direction from the beginning--It's wonderful to read your fruit of all your study and reflection! Yes, I will participate!