When it comes to the workplace, finding the right balance of your faith and professionalism can be more challenging than we care to admit. After all, faith is central to a Christian’s life, right? This week we spoke to Katherine Leary Alsdorf, the Founder and Director Emeritus, Redeemer Center for Faith and Work in New York City, and the co-author with Tim Keller of Every Good Endeavor. Katherine shares with us her perspective on work and faith.
4word: How have you integrated faith and work?
Katherine: Prior to becoming a Christian, I worked as much and as hard as I could to keep my job, be recognized as someone who contributes, and be able to support myself… until I turned 40 and life was only work and I finally cried out for something more. God was my last resort. I grabbed hold of the Christian faith in large part with hope that God would deliver me from a life of work and only work, in a world that pushed against me harder than I could push against it. So you ask how my perspective on work fits with my faith? In the beginning, the idea of praying to God for change and blessing was a half-hearted attempt to change my fate. However, ten years later, after lots of career highs and lows, a deep understanding of God began to ground my work and give me a sense of belonging and purpose in this world.
4word: What are some of the biggest issues with integrating work and faith?
Katherine: While work in our contemporary American culture is remarkably just and even rewarding, many injustices remain. Artists struggle to earn a living wage. Older workers are discriminated against and workers with health problems struggle too. White men have a huge advantage in career advancement over women and “minorities.” Selfishness is often rewarded. The race for productivity encroaches on our time for family, friends, civic responsibility, rest and recreation. It’s easy to feel that it’s not fair.
But apparently God did not intend for us all to have the exact same capabilities or opportunities, but to steward those we have been given. Our challenge is to reorient our hearts to God’s purposes and blessings. The reward is a far greater joy in being part of his plan and in communion with him.
4word: What should our mindset be when it comes to working in today’s world?
Katherine: Purpose. Forgiveness. Rest and play.
Purpose. What is the “Intrinsic” purpose of the work that we do? I’m not talking about the “instrumental” purpose, such as earning our living or evangelizing our colleague. But what good does our job, profession, company, or industry do in the world? What value does it add to others such that, by doing my work, I am adding value? It is helpful to think about our work this way because a) it turns our mindset from one of serving oneself to serving others, and b) it orients us to the bigger picture in an age when our work is so fragmented and specialized that we often lose sight of who we’re serving and why. Even if our own work is reduced to one, repetitive task, it helps to understand how what we’re doing fits into the bigger picture and who we’re serving from God’s vantage point.
Forgiveness. The world is very broken: people will disappoint us and wrong us, competitors will find an unfair advantage, and industries will collapse as “progress” marches along. We need to learn to forgive, as we are forgiven. Sometimes our career paths are driven by attempts to avoid the brokenness and find an idyllic work environment in which the work is good, our bosses and colleagues appreciate us and reward us well, and the full potential of humanity is realized. God has given us that longing for good work, however, we will only get glimpses of that Edenic perfection in this post-fall world. We forget, in fact, that our own hearts are selfish, and lazy, and fearful, and envious, and that we are part of what is wrong with this world. Forgiveness is essential.
Rest and play. Productivity and Utility are the engines driving our economic worldview, permeating every sphere of culture and every vocation. As a culture we are working more and more hours and with technology we can continue our work at home, on airplanes and on vacation. Have we forgotten how to rest and how to play? The God who made us gave us a rhythm of work and rest – 6 days work and 1 day rest – for a reason. The play and creativity of our work can get lost in the drive for greater productivity. Renewing our ability to rest and to play should help both our work and our relationship with God and others.
How are you doing with viewing your work through an eternal mindset? Do you need more purpose, forgiveness, or rest and play behind your work?