Discover Meaning, Purpose and Mission In Work

Brad Schmidt, CityChurch Fort Lauderdale

Barna Group recently released a study called “Christians at Work” that explores how Christians experience their work in relation to their understanding of the mission of God. What it revealed was that the majority of Christians cannot connect their everyday work to God’s work. Barna characterizes them as “compartmentalizers.” They think that what the pastor does and what happens on Sunday morning is important to God, and what happens Monday-Saturday is a means to an end. As a result, worship is something you do on Sunday and work is something you do on Monday.

So…what’s the big deal? If we take the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:31 seriously…it’s a very big deal! Paul says that whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

The problem is this. We spend one third of the time we have on earth working. Another one third of that is sleeping. This means that if we cannot connect our work to God’s work, then we are spending the majority of our lives NOT worshipping God. It’s a big deal because the glory of God as at stake.

The other category Barna defines is that of an “integrator.” This is someone who connects Sunday to Monday. Someone who worships God as they work. Someone who understands that what they do has eternal significance and kingdom impact. They don’t think the only thing that has impact is becoming a missionary overseas or a local pastor. These integrators have discovered meaning, purpose and mission in their everyday life. 


Compartmentalizers vs integrators

So, what’s the difference between the compartmentalizes and the integrators? I have a theory. It’s all about the Gospel. In my experience as a pastor observing trends in faith and work integration, compartmentalizers adhere to what has been described as a “two-chapter gospel.” That is sin and salvation – fall and redemption. The goal is to leave this fallen earth and go to heaven one day. In that view, what happens on Sunday morning and soul saving is the only deal that matters. Work, in this view, is just a means to an end. If it has any kingdom meaning at all, it’s to provide people with a pool of other people by which to invite to the Sunday morning experience. Or it’s a means by which to make money to give to other causes that really matter. Either way it’s compartmentalizing work itself from what really matters to God.

My theory is that to form integrators we need to first recapture the biblical plotline which presents us with a more robust, four-chapter gospel: creation, fall, redemption, new creation. 

And we then need to show people how their work fits within each chapter.

When we look at the four-chapter gospel, we find that the story of Creation (in Genesis 1-2) gives us the right view of work. The story of the Fall (Genesis 3) gives us a realistic view of work. The story of Redemption (Jesus!) gives us a restful view of work. The story of New Creation gives (Revelation 21) gives us a restorative view of work.


Creation gives us the right view of work

Genesis 2:7 says that in creation, “the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground.”

This was written (traditional scholars believe by Moses) to the wandering Israelites. And these Israelites had every reason not to embrace their work. They were enslaved by the Egyptians – given hard, manual labor, and told they were worthless. You can draw a line from there to the New Testament, and we find in Greco-Roman culture a similar view of work, but with a twist.
The Greeks were known as dualists. They thought the mind was good and the body was bad. The believed that the spiritual realm was pleasing to God, but the physical realm was sinful and degrading. For instance, the ancient philosopher Cicero once wrote: “Whoever gives his labor for money sells himself and puts himself in the rank of slaves.”

It’s into this dualistic, “two-chapter” spirituality that Paul says astonishing words in 1 Thessalonians 4:11, “You should mind your own business and work with your hands…so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

Work with your hands?! This was a revolutionary idea. And where does it come from? Creation. Not only did God create matter and call it good… but God, the Divine, was a manual laborer. In the exercise of Creation, he gets his hands dirty “from the dust of the ground.” And right after he does so, he turns to human beings and tells them to go and do likewise. As Genesis 2:15 says, “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

If we want to become integrators, this is where it starts. If we want to infuse our work with meaning, this is where it begins. Here at creation. Next month, we’ll explore the implications of this. We’ll see how the beginning of the four-chapter Gospel, starting at creation, infuses our work with meaning and enriches our everyday lives with greater purpose. 

Until then, may we continue to endeavor to do it all – Monday to Sunday – for the glory of God.


Brad Schmidt is the Lead Pastor of CityChurch Fort Lauderdale and a City Network Leader for Made to Flourish – a collection of pastors committed to integrating faith, work and economic wisdom within their congregations.

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