Work Matters

There could have been many reasons why I was not the greatest circuit minister, but at least one reason is shared with too many other clergy. Being a full-time paid church employee can distort how you see life and remove you from the more normal experience of most church members. As a consequence, we clergy talk a lot about faith, but too often not enough about how faith relates to the workplace. Too many local preachers, I fear, also make this error. The common question from the pew is ‘what has this got to do with Monday morning?’ I’m not sure that I gave that enough attention, and as one who is in effect a local preacher as regards my involvement in my local Methodist congregation, I listen to more sermons than I preach and I don’t think enough other preachers address this issue.

Work Matters is an attractive theology of work. It begins with the creative purposes of God, and a consequence of sin is that humanity needs to work to survive. From there the Christian meaning of work is unpacked, how work relates to our faith, a Scriptural understanding developed and how Sunday empowers us for Monday rather than providing an escape. With a vocational perspective, all work (paid or otherwise) becomes increasingly meaningful, and Nelson’s book will help us understand better how our faith impacts our work.

While very readable and well illustrated with examples, Work Matters is American and so some examples don’t translate perfectly to Ireland. But that is a small point, and the general principles are very applicable. It lends itself well to group study with questions at the close of each chapter. Other literature on this theme is available from Mark Greene and the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (www.licc.org.uk). Cliff College’s MA programme on mission in the world of work is another example.

As Christians we are part of a faith where Jesus was a carpenter for perhaps 15 years. Our Methodist tradition, particularly in England, contributed to the birth of the trade union movement. We helped Victorian entrepreneurs to understand philanthropy as a normal outworking of Christian faith, with the Rank Trust financial support stemming from this background. Work does matter, and in an era where unemployment is rising and some people are taking jobs that in other circumstances they may not, further thinking on issues relating to work is important.

I hope drawing attention to Work Matters is the start of my rehabilitation for my early ministry in places such as Ballinamallard where I preached with a bit of gusto, but too often left the congregation to make the links between Sunday and Monday.

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