By Miriam Whitney, Bethel Seminary St. Paul
Maybe the being is the doing. We talk about faith and work integration in a way that highlights the functional aspects of the movement. But what if we shifted our focus just a bit? What if we removed the lenses that focus our eyes on the brilliant acts of service we are capable of doing? Would “being with” rather than “doing for/to” have a greater impact on human flourishing? “Being” is a multi-directional convergence in which anyone and everyone has a part to play. And relationship is the glue that holds it all together including relationships with the Sacred, with other, and with the created universe. They are all interconnected. How we relate systemically impacts the world around us.
The line is so very thin that divides us between an attitude of truly humble stewardship whose goal of human flourishing for the glory of God and an attitude that easily tips into arrogance when we focus on the feeling of accomplishment we get from what we do. There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling a sense of accomplishment, pride, or joy in the work we do, but this must not be the motivating factor. When speaking of faith and work integration it may be tempting to think of it from this transactional perspective. We may think that as part of our calling as Christians we have a list of tasks or accomplishments to check off as we play our part in human flourishing. Unfortunately, this type of black and white thinking is what tips us over the line out of the boundaries of relationality. People and their needs become merely objects and tasks. We begin to “do for/to” rather than “be with”. When people feel objectified on any level they tend to shut others out and relationship will be harmed. We must take our responsibility to reflect God’s image seriously – we must love by “being with”.
A focus on “doing” can also engender triumphalism in which we the believers take a one-up position to those we consider to be non-believers and attempt to fight for their salvation – as if this earns us an award. And, once again, people who are fellow image-bearers have become objects to be acquired “for the kingdom”. In his book Work Matters, Nelson points out that our calling is to be fully present in the world (2011). There is no room in faith and work integration to become arrogant in what we feel is a special connection with God. There is only room for each of us to be whole and holy people fully present and engaged in our worlds.
I am not suggesting that what the practical aspects of what we do have no value. Creating real-life, down-to-earth change for people is extremely important. However, if we want to create space and opportunity for those around us to engage in any level of relationship with the Sacred all the “doing for/to” in the world will not compel them if we have not “been with” them. This may be what Sherman is referring to in Kingdom Calling when she suggests that we must have not “only a pure heart, but also a warm heart” (2011). All the practicality in the world – water filtration systems, quality maternity and paternity leave, fair wages, etc. – is meaningless to those impacted by them without the relationality behind them.
The being is indeed the doing.
Nelson, T., (2011). Work matters: Connecting Sunday worship to Monday work. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway.
Sherman, A. L., (2011). Kingdom calling: Vocational stewardship for the common good. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books.
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