Once in awhile you read something that sounds really right. It makes you want to put it in a piece but you are not quite sure how. I caught the following passage from Will Hutton’s The World We’re In some time ago:
[A good business is much more than a network of contracts. It is an organization — an institution — that functions best if those who work for it believe that it has a purpose and vision that will serve the society of which it is a part.
This is not new age mumbo-jumbo, but the hard reality of business life. James Collins and Jerry Porras showed in Built To Last that successful companies are visionary, guided by a core purpose in which maximizing profit is the oxygen for business but not its heart.
The central component is a sense of purpose beyond just making money — building the best planes, mobile phone, tyres, cars, etc., etc.. It is this that inspires the loyalty and excites the creativity that together lie at the heart of a successful business…
(London: Abacus, 2002, p.451)]
Hutton is realistic. He understands the need for profit. But Hutton and others also recognize that people are challenged to be at their most creative and their most productive when they believe that what they do actually makes a difference.
As Gordon T. Smith reminds us “we long to find and do work that is meaningful, that makes a difference and needs to be done.” (Courage & Calling, Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999, p. 31.)
Unfortunately many companies, organizations, and some governments, work on the basis that money is the only or the main “carrot and stick.” They reduce people to being merely economic beings that orientate their life around money.
Many work for such institutions, institutions that push money but not purpose. They find themselves “confused about work and the meaning of work, and consequently ___ are perplexed about the meaning of who (they) are.” (Courage & Calling, p.20.)
Followers of Jesus are uniquely placed to help seed the working world with meaning and purpose. They can be used by God to begin the process of redeeming the workplace while we all await the Final Redemption when Jesus returns.
Yet again and again, as I meet up with Christians worldwide, I encounter many who have no idea as to the spiritual value of their work in the world. They either have no clue whatsoever as to the theological significance of their work, or they think it is less spiritual and therefore less important than church related vocations.
In their own way therefore, they are also reductionists. While some organizations reduce people to “economic beings,” some of us reduce people to “spiritual beings.” Unfortunately we define “spiritual” to mean “pertaining to the church” rather than encompassing all of God’s creation. Or we understand “spiritual” to mean something that kicks in some time in the future but has little relevance for the present.
I am committed to the ministry of evangelism. I believe that sensitively and clearly we should call people to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. But most people are not just interested in getting a passport to the right place when they die. They need wisdom as to how to live in the present. They need to discover the meaning of their daily lives.
God created human beings to bear His image (Genesis 1:26-31; 2:15). This is a high calling that includes managing His creation with His values and for His purposes. Sin has marred that image. People have forgotten who they are and what they are for. But all carry in their hearts the echo of a memory that they were meant to make a difference, that their lives have purpose.
When we help people understand the value of their work, we help them get a glimpse of the God who created them. We open the door to the kind of conversations that point them to their Creator and Saviour.
I am grateful for the growing number of voices that challenge the artificial scared-secular divide in the world of work. But such voices are far too few. And fewer are those who can help mentor people for the marketplace.
Ironically the world of business has begun to tap on the power of purpose for their agendas. (I find many companies more passionate and purposeful than some churches I know.) In the meantime the relentless march of globalization means more and more people “live overworked and confused lives, caught up in hectic activity that in itself seems to have little meaning or purpose.” (Courage & Calling, p. 19)
Does the church realize that this is a crisis? Will we give our people the help they need so that they will not to be swept away by the maelstrom? Will we equip them to help others recover meaning in their work? And maybe meet the God behind that meaning?