Faith and Work…”For the Rest of Us”

On a Sunday morning in Silicon Valley I shared a message about God’s work in the world taking place through people who work. The congregants were encouraged as I spoke of the goodness of their work and participation in the economy as pleasing to the Lord. After the service ended, a woman approached me and asked if we could talk for a moment. I sat down on the front row of chairs and invited her to share. Her statement and question remain etched in my memory:

“Pastor, thank you for the wonderful message. I am sure it was encouraging for many. But what about the rest of us?” You see, my husband and I are retired. We have a modest income and help care for our grandkids when we can. Your message about the goodness of work, creating value and wealth and helping the neighborhood was great, but how do we fit in? Some days it is hard to do more than a few chores. We pray for lots of people and try to give what we can, but we are getting up in years. How do we fit in to what you are saying?”

I paused, not wanting to offer a glib answer. Her everyday good deeds were real work, for work is all meaningful and moral activity apart from leisure and rest. But her query awakened far deeper issues in my mind.

It is wonderful seeing pastors and entrepreneurs discovering common ground and bridging the sacred/secular divide. Yet there are missing pieces in our mosaic of faith and work movements. Until recently, most of our efforts have focused on white collar workers. But my Christian sister’s question deserves a substantive answer for “the rest of us” – those who are the unseen and underappreciated in our movements and the wider culture.

How would our conversations change if we included and considered…

  • Retirees?
  • People with disabilities?
  • Service workers often left out of access to prosperity?

Our focus on connecting everyday work with God’s mission is joyfully inclusive as we fulfill the exhortation found in Colossians 3: “Whatever you do…do it all for the glory God…it is the Lord Christ you are serving.” Paul was addressing all believers. In Ephesians 2, St. Paul reminds the Gentile Christians that before they received the gospel, they were, “separated…alienated…strangers…without hope…and far off…”Our empathy is commendable, but we need to move from largesse to liberation, from momentary compassion to mobilizing the capacities of all of God’s people.

Welcoming retirees into the faith and work conversation is not repudiating well-deserved rest or merely saying, “get back to work.” Jim, a violinist in the church orchestra, asked his pastor to pray for his upcoming job interview. The pastor could not hide his surprise, for Jim was 88 years old. The musician smiled and said he was tired of job discrimination as he applied for banking jobs. He has “been out of work” for three years and needed to wake up each day and be productive. The pastor did pray for him and he went to work in a local bank for three years. In Jim’s case, it was not financial distress, but daily work that mattered.

According to Forbes Magazine, assuming reasonable tasks, decent bosses, and good health, working into one’s 9th decade, “Provides people with `substantial financial, psychosocial and cognitive resources’ to draw upon, while retirement can create stress, anxiety and even depression.” Moses was 80 when he started his leadership ministry. He offered several objections to the Lord God – all of which were answered with divine provision! Though not recorded, I am sure age was one of them! The only time God was angry was when Moses cried, “Send someone else!”Our faith and work discussions must engage this growing populace – not just as sources of volunteer labor – but as valuable assets of Spirit-empowered skill and wisdom, a new source of economic flourishing and above all, mentors of the next generation. Many of these women and men have been forced to retire, whether by institutional requirements or cutthroat competition. Some have dreams and desires yet unfulfilled.

People with Disabilities
After 2 decades of hard work, Tom Landis, owner of 13 restaurants, has learned the restaurant business is not about food — it’s about people. “Let’s look at what can we do, not with their disabilities, but what we can do with their abilities,” Landis said. Here is a young man that understands the theology of work without a business or seminary degree! In one sentence he offers a profound anthropology: we are more than our work, yet made to work as an act of worship. The biblical narratives are replete with our Lord choosing people that were alienated from the majority culture. The reconciling mission of the people of God includes an unconditional welcome to all. Sometimes we see miraculous healings as down payments of a future perfection. More often, God works in and through human limitations unveiling his glory in humility. Jacob encountered the Lord God became Israel…and walked with a limp. The Apostle Paul healed many…yet lived with affliction.

His newest work, Hospitality and The Other, continues the conversation started by Miroslav Volf. In a world focused on peak performance, unending quests for efficiency and 24/7 wired living, welcoming these friends is a holy act.“The rest of us” includes retirees that add value to our world and participate in God’s mission at work. “The rest of us” includes people with mental and physical disabilities finding their place in the church and community, contributing their character and skills to human flourishing.

The Unseen Service Workers
What a contrast to the polls that declare that a large majority of Americans dislike or hate their jobs, with even higher dissatisfaction rates among food service, semi-skilled labor and retail workers. Porter Braswell is the founder of Jopwell, a firm dedicated to increasing diversity in the workplace and increasing opportunities for African American, Hispanic and Native Americans that are historically underrepresented, especially in technology. Equipping workers, connecting with companies and building transformational infrastructure are all needed. Porter affirms that his clients need access to good education and life skills training.

Overcoming personal and social discrimination and open doors to capital and markets are also part of flourishing. Many can move from surviving to thriving, finding jobs that use their full capacities. Many of these service jobs have few prospects of advancement. The women and men that harvest and serve our food, clean our buildings, care for our kids and patiently serve our demands as retail customers are often anonymous to us. Many labor and service jobs carry few benefits, scanty prospects for advancement and compel living in crowded living conditions. Faith and work for the rest of us means affirming and empowering retirees for their valuable work, seen or unseen.

The disabled often feel “far off” and only intentional inclusion and wise economic integration will make them feel fully at home. Unseen service workers deserve better working and living conditions to achieve their full potential. Welcoming and empowering retirees, the disabled and underappreciated service workers may compel a cynical world to take notice and glorify our Father in heaven. Perhaps these steps of hospitality and thoughtfulness for the “rest of us” are providential conditions for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

Our faith and work movements are part of the coming awakening. This awakening will not be one ecstatic bonfire, but millions of brushfires as we connect Sunday worship to Monday work. When we realize that personal conversion includes community inclusion and that God cares about “the rest of us” we are empowered as partners in God’s mission. Every person we encounter is a one-of-a kind work of art that adds value to our world.

Will we convene wise people to discover creative solutions for housing, medical care and education for our brothers and sisters? Will we create conditions for full capacity in every member of our church and community?

These workers worship next to us, say hello, have kids in the youth group…Except for their older vehicles, we might never know their daily struggles just to make ends meet.

Will we include economic and educational development, ethics and entrepreneurship in our plans to make disciples and foster an inclusive economy?

“I became an entrepreneur because I wanted to tackle an obstacle that I felt would both help society and fulfill a passion of mine. This journey of connecting companies with minority candidates has been the greatest journey of my life.”

Our third group constituting “the rest of us” are the unseen and underemployed in service industries. If our faith and work movements are going to mature, we must include these brothers and sisters in our principles and practices.

In Phoenix AZ, some professors were enjoying a dinner break from meetings at a poolside restaurant. Professor Johan noticed a particularly energetic server named Angela who worked her tables with a smile, adeptly handled orders, filling water glasses and engaging everyone with joy. As Angela and her manager walked by, Johan waved to them and remarked, “I am a bit concerned…she seems to be enjoying her job too much!” When the laughter died down, Angela replied, “it is my pleasure serving you. It makes me happy to see people served well.”

These friends are powerful contributors to the common good, living parables of dignity and diligence, passion and purpose.

We can unite compassion with action, neither ignoring the disabilities nor letting them be barriers to full inclusion. From those on the Autism spectrum to friends with other physical and mental challenges, the church – and by extension our faith and work discussions – is called to receive and release all members of the Body.

Amos Yong, professor of theology and mission at Fuller Seminary, has written a profound work, The Bible, Disability and the Church: A New Vision of the People of God where he explores reading God’s Word in light of human limitation and urges the church to embrace the disabled. His examination is richly informed by growing up with a Down Syndrome brother.

Puget Sound Personnel in Washington state works with public and private agencies, placing people with disabilities in meaningful jobs that help companies prosper. Their research and experience demonstrates that the mentally and physically challenged are capable, dedicated workers. Their aim is employers that “think beyond the label” and fully embrace diversity.

Coleman Jones, an 18-year-old with Down syndrome, works as a cashier at Texadelphia. “I love my job,” he said. “This is who I am.” “It’s people first, then food. I think that’s where most in the restaurant industry get it wrong.” It makes business sense to hire quality employees. As owner of the Texadelphia restaurant on Greenville Avenue in Dallas, Landis currently employs several individuals with special needs. In an industry where employee turnover is often near 300 percent, Landis says that among the disabled he has been able to find skilled and loyal employees. He is operating a business, not a charity.

  • Friends with disabilities are a second representative of the “rest of us” we can consider…
  • When united with other generations and vocations, the potential is enormous.
  • In God’s reign there is no retirement – only divine reassignment. The pace and price of life may change; however, every person needs to wake up each day with purpose.

Retirees
Wes and Judy Wick lead a mission called, “YES: Young Enough to Serve.” They mobilize men and women for service opportunities, including building churches, mentoring, and community clean up. Their aim is to “make life’s second half count….by inspiring mature adults to be intentional in their praying, serving and making disciples.”

Dozens of studies over the past half-century affirm that happiness and longevity are tied to meaningful activity. Retirees that wake up each day with purpose live longer, healthier and happier lives. Leaders need to validate good work being done and help nascent dreams come alive. We are addressing the value of these mature saints not the sheer volume of activity!

Of course, the good news is that through Jesus Christ, Jew and Gentile, poor and rich, women and men are now “united…reconciled…citizens…hopeful and brought near…” having access to God and full participation in Christ’s new community of mission.

All of our movements seek the common good and the fulfillment of Jeremiah 29 that even while in exile we should seek the prosperity of the city.