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A Review of God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement by David W. Miller (Section 2)

By Mark D. Roberts | Wednesday, January 16, 2008

In the series: God at Work: A Review of the Book by David Miller
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Yesterday I began a review of God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement, by David W. Miller. I explained that Miller’s book is an historical analysis of the Faith at Work (FAW) movement, which began with the social gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The second wave of FAW started after World War II and lasted into the 1980s. It majored in the ministry of the laity in the world, but ultimately petered out for a variety of reasons, including the redirecting of lay efforts from the world to the church. Today I’ll continue where I left off yesterday.

Miller identifies the third wave of FAW as “The Faith at Work Era (c. 1985-Present)” (pp. 63-78). This wave had, and continues to have, a particular focus on personal integration. As Miller comments,

People in the workplace of all levels and types no longer seem willing to leave their soul with the car in the parking lot. . . . Christian businesspeople and other professionals find common agreement that living a bifurcated life, where faith and work are compartmentalized, is neither true to the Gospel nor a healthy way to work. (p. 74)

At this point in the book Miller sets forth a way to understand FAW efforts in terms of four different emphases: ethics, evangelism, experience, and enrichment (pp. 76-78). Ministries with an ethical emphasis deal primarily with questions of right and wrong, including issues of justice, in the workplace. Evangelical ministries see the workplace primarily as a context for evangelism. Experiential efforts focus on meaning and purpose, with work as a context for experiencing God finding deeper purpose in life. Enrichment has to do with “spiritual disciplines, therapeutic healing, and transformation. For instance, many express renewed interest in spiritual nurturing and growth” (p. 77). I find Miller’s “Four E’s” helpful, though the distinction between Experience and Enrichment is sometimes elusive.

Chapter 5 of God at Work is, for me, the most discouraging chapter of the book. It is entitled “Response of the Church and the Theological Academy to FAW” (pp. 79-103). Miller shows how the church and the seminaries have, for the most part, ignored FAW. For example, for a while certain denominations and individual churches took on FAW concerns, but budget cuts and institutional pressures led to greater focus on internal matters and less attention to equipping lay ministers for their work in the world. Individual churches followed suit. One of the saddest quotations in God at Work comes from Bill Diehl, a one-time executive with Bethlehem Steel and one of the leaders of wave three in FAW. Diehl writes:

In the almost 30 years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there by any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry others. My church has never offered to improve those skills which could make me a better minister, nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support in what I was doing. There has never been an inquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate the faith to my co-workers. I have never been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career [as a sales manager]. In short, I must conclude that my church really doesn’t have the least interest in whether or how I ministry in my daily work. (p. 82)

As you might expect, Diehl’s indictment of his church led me to consider our efforts at Irvine Presbyterian Church during the sixteen years when I was the Senior Pastor there. I think we did some thing right. My preaching regularly mentioned the workplace as a context for living out faith. Sometimes I addressed issues that were of particular relevance to working people (such as my sermon series on truth that was the basis for my book, Dare to Be True). In worship we regularly prayed for people in certain vocations. As a pastor I often met with people to talk and pray about challenges at work. And I know that workplace issues were often the focus of small group discussion and prayer. During my weekly prayer meetings with my elders, for example, we prayed for work-related concerns almost every week. This alone would add up to more than a thousand work-focused prayers during my pastoral tenure. (Photo: Bill Diehl’s book, The Monday Connection.)

But, as I read Diehl’s statement, I am also convicted about some of what I did not do as pastor, and ways I did not lead my church into a wholistic, biblical understand and practice of lay ministry in the workplace. For example, as I mentioned above, we prayed regularly for people in certain vocations: government officials, soldiers, teachers and administrators, police officers, fire fighters, and medical doctors. But, to my knowledge, we never prayed specifically for bankers, lawyers, gardeners, accountants, contractors, etc. etc. etc. This oversight might have suggested that we saw certain kinds of work as ministry, primarily service-related jobs, whereas other kinds were not real ministry. I never believed this or preached it. But I might have inadvertently implied it by what I did not say in prayer.

As I think back on my pastoral ministry at Irvine Pres, I wish I had found more ways to use people’s stories of living out their faith in the workplace. We had some lay witnesses on this theme, but too few. And I sprinkled such stories in my sermons, but not as often as I should have. Though I was not a pastor who devalued lay ministry in the world, and though I tried to encourage it, in retrospect I could have done this more effectively. But I did feel the strong pressure to focus on areas of institutional concern.

I do think that sometimes the FAW movement narrows the understanding of work too much. In the introduction to God at Work, Miller writes, “for the purposes of this inquiry, the term work means that activity that is undertaken in a paid job, occupation, position, function, or profession and the place in which one performs that work” (p. 6). I understand and affirm this definition “for the purposes of” Miller’s inquiry. He had to limit his attention somehow. But if one think of work from a biblical perspective, then it includes more than that for which I draw a salary. Work is anything I should stop doing on the Sabbath. My work is everything I do in the world that is in some way productive. It includes my mowing the lawn, driving my kids all over town, listening to my wife, heating up leftover in the microwave, and coaching the neighborhood soccer team.

When you think of work in these terms, the church often does a better job addressing it than Miller’s critique would suggest. But I agree with his criticism of the church in its failure, by and large, to address workplace issues and to equip people for ministry in the workplace. My guess is that preachers speak about family issues, for example, more than twenty times as often as they speak about matters of business ethics.

Though Miller criticizes the church (and the theological academy) for failing to seize the gauntlet of FAW, his book ends with a challenging yet hopeful look at “The Future of the Faith at Work Movement.” I’ll address this future in my next post.

Topics: God at Work |

6 Responses to “A Review of God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement by David W. Miller (Section 2)”

  1. Church Says:
    January 16th, 2008 at 4:38 am

    Hi Roberts
    I’m very happy to read your article and know the review of “God at work” really it’s very interesting for me and I thank for sharing David Miller review on God.

  2. Jennie Says:
    January 16th, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Hee hee, I’d like to know what your wife would say if you said, “Sorry honey, listening to you is work and I can’t do that on the Sabbath, try back tomorrow.” Good blog on what seems like a topic worth considering! Thanks.

  3. Don Says:
    January 17th, 2008 at 7:58 am

    Yup, I’m with Jennie on your definition of work as being anything you shouldn’t do on the sabbath. I heard a great sermon series on the sabbath a few years back where one of the main points was that God wants us to be “refreshed” on the sabbath, and if that means gardening, jogging, or something else that might fall into the standard definition of “work,” that’s okay. Hee hee!

  4. Mark D. Roberts Says:
    January 17th, 2008 at 3:50 pm

    Don and Jennie: Well, yes. So I would qualify what I’ve said by saying that there’s a kind of listening to my wife that is work (talking about family finances, for example) and a kind of listening that is okay and even good on the sabbath (listening with my heart, listening to the things of her heart, etc.). Yes, if gardening is what refreshes us, then it could be a sabbath activity (which is ironic, of course, since the first man’s assignment for work was to be a gardener). But one would have to garden in a sabbath sort of way: enjoying the process, enjoying nature, not rushing to finish the planting, etc. At any rate, I’m not going to try the “can’t listen to you on the sabbath” line with my wife. Wouldn’t be prudent. :)

  5. Kyler Says:
    January 17th, 2008 at 6:34 pm

    Fantastic series yet again, Mark. This topic has been on my mind lately as well; just the other day I watched the movie “Amazing Grace”, in which there is a pivotal sequence where William Wilberforce struggles to decide whether he will spend his life doing the “Lord’s Work” or pursuing a career in politics. In the movie, at least, he made his decision when a group of his friends said to him, “we humbly suggest that you can do both.”

    On a more personal note, I’ve regularly noticed a distinct lack of concern within the church for the ministry of my “day” job, and even (rarely) an indirect opposition to it. One of the most striking instances was when I was a Resident Assistant in the freshman dorms in college. To me, it was the perfect opportunity to live out my faith, but for some in the local campus Christian group, it wasn’t the “real” way that upperclassmen did “dorm ministry”. Fortunately, not everyone felt that way, and I did have several Christian friends who supported me in that particular vocation.

  6. Steve Norris Says:
    January 19th, 2008 at 6:31 pm


    Skimming over your thoughts on Work/Faith leaves me wondering, where do we go from here. How do we make faith life and work vocation connect. It sure is not being done in the church, I can promise you that!



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