Saturday, May 05, 2012

Theology of Work (A Neighbourly Perspective)

One of the most apt titles of books talking about the theology of work is "Church on Sunday, Work on Monday: The Challenge of Fusing Christian values with Business Life," written by Laura Nash, Ken Blanchard, and Scott McLennan.  In a world that trumpets secular values over religious, one may be wondering if any attempt by religious people to bring their faith into the workplace, represents an unwitting mixing of business and religion. No, says the authors. The key point is not in terms of proselytizing one's religion to colleagues in the office, but to enable one to live authentically according to one's profession of personal faith. It is not about converting other people, but in living a life that is converted. It is a private life lived out in public spheres, and not meant to be imposed on other people. This is the essence of faith in the workplace.

Another recent book on the workplace is "Work Matters" authored by Tom Nelson, in which Nelson asks the question of how Christians can do good outside Sunday. Is one's work making a difference in the ministry of good works? This tells us of the two extremes people can tend to become locked into. On the one hand, there is the workaholic situation, where the work itself is seen to be most important in itself. For Christians, work can become an idol, and our working behaviour idolatrous. On the other hand, there is the isolationist. Christians unconsciously buy into the secular-sacred divide, seeing Sunday as the only holy day of the week, and the rest of the week as a license to do anything they want.

Perhaps, one of the strongest reasons for fusing our faith with work is to remember Jesus' command to his disciples, in which we can call it the second greatest commandment.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

Any theology of work needs to stem from these commandments. Firstly, it needs to be a good neighbour by first loving God. Secondly, it needs to be the good neighbour by loving them. Only after loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength, can we be equipped to love others as ourselves. The second commandment cannot operate independently of the first. Without being loved by God first, how can we love others? It is because God has loved us, we are to love one another, to do good to our neighbours. This is theology of work at our workplace. How then do we love our neighbours in the workplace?

A) Be Punctual for Work and Meetings

I believe that punctuality is an important aspect of loving our neighbour in the workplace. If we have arranged a meeting with a client at 9am, make sure we meet that time. Being late, or missing the meeting is a bad testimony. I know of some bosses who tend to assert their positional power by insisting his subordinates be punctual, while he takes his own time to make the meeting. That is not just rude to those who prioritize the meetings. It is also an abuse of power. Likewise, the same applies to how we treat our contractors, our customers, and our suppliers.

B) Be Respectful

Sometimes we let our own sense of importance affect the way we treat others. A brother in Christ whose mum had recently been admitted to the hospital speaks of the doctors being the kings in hospital. It is not the doctors who have to wait, but the family of the patient who has to bow to the scheduling of the highly esteemed and sometimes feared doctors. When asked about why the doctor was late, it is not uncommon to see the doctor roll his eyes to give a look that says, "Now look here. Who's the doctor?"

A Christian doctor needs to learn to be respectful, not simply by throwing his weight around as a doctor. Granted, he may have his own scheduling difficulties, or meeting up with different patients. What about a simple apology? That is not too much to ask. Respect needs to flow both ways. As families and patients give medical personnel the respect, such respect has to be reciprocated.

C) Be Mindful of the presence of the Holy Spirit

This reminds me of the need to recognize the presence of a third person: Holy Spirit. Our lifestyles at the workplace are windows people look through to size up Christian behaviour. Rather than simply living a good testimony, why not live it in such a way that it is not for the public eye to see, but the Holy Spirit to look at. For office staff tempted to look at pornography during his private time with the computer, remember that God can see where no one sees. For people trying to cut corners in their work, though the outside looks reasonable, the compromised quality is visible to God.

D) Be Considerate

Another way we can love our neighbour is to be considerate. Think about how our actions can affect fellow colleagues, even our bosses. Consideration is an important aspect of teamwork, and working together. The psychotherapist, Dr Nathaniel Branden has this to say about self-esteem.
"There is overwhelming evidence that the higher the level of self-esteem, the more likely one will be to treat others with respect, kindness, and generosity."

It comes back to the love of God. If our self-esteem has been built with the love of God, it makes treating others with respect much easier. Otherwise, we are on our own. Any theology of work cannot be practised on our own. It needs at least two other parties. Firstly, it begins with our relationship with loving God. The second party is how we work with others, with the foundation built with the love of God. Let me close with the following wisdom from Tom Nelson.

"Work is an integral aspect of being human, an essential aspect of loving God and his created world, and a vital part of loving our neighbor as ourselves." (Tom Nelson, Work Matters, Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011, 24)

A theology of work needs not be too complicated. We do not need to attend seminars or conferences in order to know what it actually means. For the most part, for most of us, we may even forget all the things that have been said by the professionals and experts. For now, this idea is easy to remember. Love our neighbour as ourselves in the workplace. Be punctual. Be Respectful to people you meet. Be mindful of the presence of the Holy Spirit. Be considerate in every way. All these are examples of loving our neighbour. If you do not remember anything about a theology of work, perhaps, this article can begin your personal quest.


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