Happy Labor Day, friends. I suppose you know this day means a lot to us, here, since part of our original vision for our Dallastown bookstore was to bring to ordinary folks in an ordinary part of the country what was then, as now, somewhat rare: resources for living out the implications of Christian faith in the work-world. Unlike most Christian bookstores, we stocked books on various spheres of life and culture, from business to politics to science, art to education, medicine and law, raising kids to raising crops. Which is to say, we had books (some theological in nature, some Biblical, some just fun and helpful) on callings and careers, for those in sales or public service or scientific research, for artists and teachers, for nurses and attorneys, parents and farmers. We lamented the gap between worship and work, between Sunday and Monday, and hoped that those who claimed Christ as Lord would see rather obviously, once exposed to these many kinds of fascinating books, that they should read them, talk about them, start study groups and professional associations, maybe even in their workplaces. We thought that pastors, even, seeing books for engineers and journalists and wood-workers and business people, would start to suggest such books for their congregants. Alas, it wasn’t to be.
And so we sit on books offering Christian perspectives on math and medicine, counseling and cooking, books for followers of Jesus who want to honor Him and build signposts of his Kingdom wherever they work, all their live-long days. Butchers and bakers and candlestick makers, as they say.
I describe our vision often by citing Martin Luther’s important line about how the men making the beer barrels and the women milking the cows are every bit as important to the Kingdom of God as are the priests and the nuns.
Or, at least, Martin Luther King’s famous lines:
If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’
Later, I even edited a book of graduation speeches, each rooted in this central idea that work is good, that God calls us to serve in careers or jobs or occupations, and that we can make a difference for reform of this fallen world (usually in small ways) by allowing the Christian mind to shape our thinking and practices about our work-world. That book is called Serious Dreams: Bold Ideas for the Rest of Your Lives (Square Halo Book; $13.99) and even though it is designed for young adults just out of college or trade school, it captures much of what I think about when Labor Day rolls around. There’s even pretty good reflection questions too, making it a fine book for a book group, especially, but not only, for young adults.
(You can read more about Serious Dreams, here.)
Alas, too many churches fail to invite their congregants to think well about all this. We have all sorts of unbiblical assumptions about work. As is often the case in various arenas, we sometimes nearly make a demon out of it; other times we make an idol out of it. Too often to stop to recall the serious struggle that many (often in the labor union movements) accomplished to humanize work and insist on dignity and fair wages and job safety and the like. Few allude to the work-world in the talk about the missional church, too few sing anthems or praise songs about our callings or vocations, few sermons tackle the subject. Few prayers are prayed about the ordinary laborers that they might see their daily grind as holy ground.
Do you know the great album of worship music that was commissioned to create songs somehow about or alluding to our work and callings in the world? We are proud to know some of the song-writers and recording artists behind this marvelous Porter’s Gate worship project called Work Songs. Here’s a little background about the artistic vision of Porter’s Gate. Check out the incredibly artful, deeply moving videos, from the soulful “Establish the Works of Our Hands” to the lovely “In the Fields of the Lord” to the amazingly, folksy “We Labor Unto Glory” to the phenomenal, quiet “Little Things with Great Love.” Joy Ike’s contribution, “Day By Day” captures the theme wonderfully and is as direct as any on the album; you should sing this at your church! “Wood and Nails” featuring Audrey Assad and Josh Garrels is gorgeously amazing, about “a humble carpenter.” The one about parenting “Every Father, Every Mother” is so moving. You’ve got to hear this whole album. We recommend buying it directly from Porter’s Gate…
As you will see below, we have often made book lists about this topic of Christian views of work and thinking faithfully about living out faith in the marketplaces. Most of the best are written (or co-written) by real-world workers, not academics or pastors, but business executives or public school special ed teachers or advertisers or scientists or shop floor stewards. Often considered the very best, Every Good Endeavor Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (Penguin; $17.00) is by the always-thoughtful Timothy Keller (whose Manhattan ministry has long been known by his seriousness about orthodox faith related in gracious ways to the contemporary culture, especially to matters of calling and vocation) but in this he got a major assist from co-author Katherine Leary Aldsorf, who has spent years working in the business world, living out her faith in a high-powered corporate culture. Katherine was the first director of Redeemer’s extraordinary Center for Faith and Work.
But I often say that one of the best starter books was, in fact, written by a pastor, my friend Tom Nelson (now of “Made to Flourish” ) who, in Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work (Crossway; $17.99) wrote about his own “professional malpractice” in not talking about his flock’s true vocations, the way their jobs were their natural venues for Christian service, how their workplaces were their most natural mission fields. He shifted the tone and emphasis and conversations and formational practices and worship language at his church and over time saw remarkable results. It’s a good one to read if you are a pastor, or if you want to give a book to your pastor, but it is also good for any of us (complete with sidebars written by members of Nelson’s church about their own sense of being commissioned to serve God in their careers; these include great little pieces by a teacher, an attorney, an architect, and many more.) Tom rightly observes that this will stretch the imagination of readers and bring practical energy to this bigger theology of work project. Here’s a short interview with him about the book — nice! I love this guy!
Another that I’ve raved about came out a year ago, also by a pastor, who creatively did a long series of sermons about what we can learn about God from various jobs. I’ve shared the stage with the thoughtful John Van Sloten and think he is exceptionally gifted in offering a profound theological framework for this project of nurturing a spirituality of the workplace, Every Job a Parable: What Walmart Greeters, Nurses, and Astronauts Tell Us about God (NavPress; $14.99.) To his credit, John interviewed tons of folks about their jobs, thought well about all manner of careers and callings, including some unique ones, and preached on the redemptive aspects of car repair and what forensic psychologists or a residential landlord can teach us about the Kingdom. It’s really, really good.
Here is a fabulous talk Van Sloten gave at the Colorado Christian Business Alliance’s annual conference last fall. It is well worth paying attention to and his book is very highly recommended. As I mentioned in my earlier review of it, I wondered if we really needed yet another book on this faith/work theology, and when I realized what he was doing, and read it, I soon realized he brings more to this than most. What a book!
Because I’ve got two terrible tooth aches — one was pulled a day ago and one is going to be worked on soon, I can’t write much more, now. I’ve got a host of examples of bad views of work I’ve noticed lately (including some awful experiences over 13 hours at the prestigious Johns Hopkins Hospital where they could use some reminders about caring and excellence starting with the receptionists and custodians all the way up to the highly paid docs and specialists) and some good ones, like a teen at our local grocery store at whose line I’ll wait longer to go through, just to interact with her and her cheerful and helpful demeanor. But my essay will have to wait. You can pick up some of my passion and thoughts in the links below – including the one with the great James Taylor song.
Here is what I’d like to do for you. I will link to several past BookNotes where I’ve written on this topic and described some of the very best books on this subject. Some are on vocation and calling, some are on work; some religious, some not. I’m pretty proud of this compilation and the several times we’ve shared about these sorts of resources over the years. Feel free to pass them on. (Please note that the prices may have changed since I first reviewed some of these, and, in fact, may be described as hardbacks although they are now out in paperback.) There is such good stuff out there these days that it’s a shame that they aren’t more widely used.
And then, I’ll list a small handful of new ones on this topic. One is a pre-order option.
So, here are some older BookNotes columns on faith and the work-world. I invited you to read through a few of these as part of your Labor Day celebration and ponder if any of this might be helpful to anybody you know.
heartsandmindsbooks.com/2012/ 11/every_good_endeavor_ connecting/
heartsandmindsbooks.com/2012/ 09/books_on_vocation_calling_ book/
heartsandmindsbooks.com/2017/ 08/reintegrate-your-vocation– with-gods-mission-by-bob- robinson-and-four-other-key- resources-on-faith-work-and- economic-life/
FIVE NEW BOOKS ON FAITH AND WORK – 20% OFFDiscovering Joy in Work: Transforming Your Occupation into Your Vocation Shundrawn A. Thomas (IVP) $22.00 I am eager to read this soon (it just came a day or so ago) as I need it, believe me. My own job is harder and more painful than I would wish and our situated context within the current less-than-bookish culture, the broken supply chains, the shuttering of faith-based bookstores, the larger global economy, and more, make my days regularly feel “cursed.” My own sins and foibles loom large, too, so I need this. Do you? Coming from IVP as it does, I am sure it’s going to be very well done. And a quick skim leads me to think this is some fresh and practical stuff.Shundrawn Thomas is president of a trillion-dollar global investment management business and is a management group member of a leading financial service company. He’s active in community service work, serves as a trustee of board member of some significant institutions and is active in his local Chicagoland church. He is one of these young men who has already worked in very high-level corporate environments, so Discover Joy in Work might be especially appealing to those who work in the financial sector or in the corporate world. It is interesting, to me, too, that he is an African-American leader; many of the best books so far on the faith/work conversation have been by white guys. It’s nice to have this significant contribution by a person of color.Shundrawn Thomas’s ability to seamlessly weave together timely research, piercing insights, and vivid storytelling provides a truly unique perspective on work as calling.–Carla Harris, Vice Chairman of Wealth Management, Morgan StanleyIn this enthralling book full of personal experiences and practical insights that come from his Christian convictions, Thomas guides his readers through a process of self-reflection that can transform the drudgery of a job into the joy of a calling that serves other people and gives glory to God.”–Philip Ryken, president, Wheaton College
Shundrawn Thomas has written a remarkable book, a work full of cosmic wisdom and concrete advice for anybody seeking to live a life of greater joy, fulfillment, and service. By highlighting the ways our work lives might be improved, Shundrawn shows us a path where our whole selves can be enriched. I highly recommend this book.” –Eboo Patel, author of Acts of Faith, president of Interfaith Youth Core
For what it is worth, I’ve loved Greene for years, and we have even imported a small booklet he once did rejecting the false assumption of a sacred/secular dualism. That was called The Great Divide and I don’t think it was overstating things by saying it was the greatest challenge facing the church today. In the face of a secularizing materialistic naturalism on one hand and a privatizing, nearly Gnostic spirituality on the other, we simply have to recover a wholistic faith within the story of God’s good but fallen creation.
–Dr R. Paul Stevens Professor Emeritus, Marketplace Theology, Regent College, Vancouver; BC Chairman, Institute for Marketplace Transformation; Author of Work Matters and Taking Your Soul to Work
The first time I read Thank God it’s Monday years ago, it totally revolutionized my thinking, my leading and my preaching. With this latest version, I find myself even more inspired, encouraged and challenged that it’s not just important, but it’s also utterly possible, to see the kingdom of God break out in the workplace. In fact, it’s happening! All over the place. Through normal people who simply make themselves available to God. With his wonderful wit, lashings of scripture, pacey storytelling and gentle – but necessary – prodding, Mark has once again delivered a book which envisions and equips us to live for Jesus wherever he places us. Read it! Pray it! Do it! And let’s see all Heaven break loose … –Matt Summerfield Senior Pastor, Zeo Church
Work: It’s Purpose, Dignity, and Transformation Daneil M. Doriani (Presbyterian & Reformed) $15.99 You may know enough about us to know that our earliest visions for relating faith to work, to seeing our jobs as connected to the great “cultural mandate” of Genesis 1, of developing a Christian perspective on work and labor, came from our years ago working for the campus ministry called the Coalition for Christian Outreach (CCO) on the committee coming up with the ideas for the very first collegiate Jubilee Conference in Pittsburgh. (The Jubilee conference, held annually and now in its fourth decade, remains close to that whole-life vision of Christ-centered cultural transformation and relating faith to work, inviting 4000 college students to grapple with the biggest questions about the Biblical story as they relate to their majors and vocations. You should come to Pittsburgh in February; we will, of course, be selling books there. Or, at least, come to the one-day pre-conference for work-world adults, Jubilee Professional.)
I mention this because the author of this fine, no-nonsense, theologically solid (and yet very interesting) book was also once on staff with the CCO. Doriani has had other jobs too — the book tells us he’s been a security guard, construction laborer, freight handler, tennis coach and tour guide. He knows a bit about the hardships of work, the ugly stuff. He has pastored churches and has served as a faculty member of colleges, most notably, at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, where he is now the vice president of strategic academic projects (and professor of theology.) My good friend Steve Garber, author of the must-read Visions of Vocation, has done some teaching at Covenant about how to prepare future pastors to equip their future congregants for work-place calls and vocations in the work-world. Not many seminaries have stepped up to make this a clear part of their ministerial formation, and Garber and Doriani have been part of that. Thanks be to God!
And so, Dan asks, “How does work fit into a meaningful, God-honoring life?” Dan has been thinking about this a long time — in a way, his publisher notes, it was twenty years in the making — and he has conducted hundreds of interviews with people about their faith, their work, what it means to be true to their craft, how to see work as a way to serve the common good, and more. This really is a very good resource to deepen your thinking about this topic.
Notice these rave reviews:
“An important contribution. . . . Provocative and helpful.” —Timothy Keller, Redeemer Presbyterian, NYC, founder The Center for Faith & Work
“The last few years have witnessed a flurry of books that treat a Christian view of work. This is the best of them. Well written, historically comprehensive, theologically informed, exegetically sensitive, this is now the ‘must read’ volume on the subject.” —D. A. Carson, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
“With a high view of creation, a great love for the gospel, and the hope of Christ’s kingdom stirring in his heart, Dan has given us a wonderful introduction to a biblical theology of work. It is accessible, practical, and brimming with Dan’s wonderful personality.” —Scotty Smith Christ Community Church, Franklin, Tennessee
Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon David Kinnaman & Mark Matlock (Baker Books) $21.99 I hope you recall that we invited you to pre-order this a month ago, and it is now out! Thanks to those who pre-ordered it; we enjoyed sending a bunch out. (Say a prayer this Labor Day for the package handlers and truck drivers and mail carriers and others who make our work possible!)
As I explained in those previous BookNotes comments, this book reports on the latest Barna-based research on the sorts of practices and theological visions offered by churches that tend to keep and attract twenty-somethings. In a way, Kinnaman has done two previous books on stuff churches do wrong, attitudes and churchy habits that tend to discourage the emerging adults in their midst. This new one describes what works. In the “starred review” by Publishers Weekly it says it is a “wonderful, thoughtful book that conveys difficult truths in a spirit of humility.” They suggest, if widely read, it could influence the church for years to come.
Here is why I mention this now in the special Labor day issue of BookNotes: one of the five key practices that churches that maintain their relationship with their young adults and attract that age group is “To ground and motivate an ambitious generation, train for vocational discipleship.”
Train. For. Vocational. Discipleship.
This chapter — which, okay, I’ll admit I’m proud about, since it mentions the Jubilee conference and calls Beth and me “booksellers par excellence” — highlights the data that shows that a younger generation “gets” this vision of whole-life discipleship and longs for meaningful labor. They have grown up hearing about making a difference, about paying it forward, with work-world heros like the founder of Tom’s Shoes. The book has some fascinating data about what millennials think of work (around their claim that God calls us to work in order to create abundance, order, and beauty.) Younger adults these days are ambitious and want to shine and we in the church simply have to connect this unique generational vision and energy with Biblical foundations and Christian theology and a robust perspective on work, vocation, and calling. We in the established churches have older work-world leaders that could mentor these younger ones in “vocational discipleship” (and Matlock and Kinnaman explain how) but, to be honest, perhaps some of the older ones might have to learn from some of the younger ones. I sometimes tell eager 21year-olds at Jubilee that they now, having heard what they’ve heard there and having read a book or two that they bought, may know more about this all-of-life-redeemed, vocational, Sunday/Monday work-world ministry stuff than their home pastors and parents and beloved youth ministers. Maybe we in the church need these kids as much as they need us.
In any event, that the Barna research group and Kinnaman & Matlock have identified this as one of the key practices that is necessary for effective shaping of those in this new generation in “digital Babylon” is significant. And, after all, aren’t we all in that same boat? We all need to hear this stuff. I highly recommend Faith for Exiles, and, especially, that chapter on vocationally oriented discipleship.
PRE-ORDER forthcoming due September 2019 Church for Monday: Equipping Believers for Mission at Work Dr. Svetlana Papazov (Brookstone Publishing Group) $14.99 This is another book that is mostly aimed at church leaders to help them develop a passion and the skill sets necessary in order to equip congregants to see their workplace as a missional context. Svetlana is a dynamic pastor and connected with our friends at Made to Flourish, and she and her church are highly regarded. She is energetic and entrepreneurial. She is Spirit-led, evangelical, and innovative about the church’s impact in the public sphere; her small business startup background has made her particularly sensitive to and insightful about issues of marketplace ministry.
Church for Monday will be out soon and we’d be delighted to send you one. Just order at the link below.
Here is what the publisher says about this dynamic book:
Church for Monday is a call to action with a proven plan to unite worship on Sunday to mission on Monday. It offers the local church a practical re-tooling to equip believers for the workweek on Monday, regain relevance in the lives of the lapsed and non-Christians, and re-establish the Church’s witness in the public arena. Dr. Svetlana Papazov shows that churches equipping for Monday seek sustainable ways to grow spiritually, socially, and economically. This is the gospel for a new generation; it is the how-to churches have been looking for.
Papazov (along with her husband, and small, multi-ethnic team) planted their Assembly of God congregation several years ago. Real Life Church, as it is known, is “an entrepreneurial church with a heart for de-churched people and for bridging the sacred and secular divide. The entrepreneurial church is not a “how” church, but a “why” church. It’s not about the methodology, but about the Christology.”
Now that’s a church, I bet, that celebrates Labor Day.
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