Integrating Faith & Work: A New Model
Key Texts: Pr. 29:18, Mt. 22:37-40
Last week, we discussed the old (bad) models that have plagued our society and cemented the divide between what we think of as sacred work and secular work. It’s one thing, however, to deconstruct a model, but it’s an entirely different thing, and one that is exceedingly more difficult, to constructively build a God-glorifying model for work. In the ensuing weeks, we will labor to build a new model for integrating your faith with your work.
A New Model
- Begins with a Faith & Work Conversion
If we are going to change the current paradigm for our work, we will need to begin with a second conversion. The first, and most important, conversion in your life is your conversion that comes when you place your faith in Christ, but as my friend in business said to me, “Stephen, if people are going to come alive in their faith journeys, they need a second conversion—a faith and work conversion.” Why? Because the average person will spend 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime. That means 50% of our total waking hours during any given working day are spent at work. If your faith isn’t active, alive, and integrated during 90,000 hours of your life (and 50% of your waking, working hours), then it will, at the very least, atrophy- if not worse. Friends, we need a 2nd conversion—a faith and work conversion, but what does that look like?
- Your Faith & Work Conversion Begins with Your Why
Our faith and work conversion has to begin with our why. Why do we do the work we do every day? Simon Sinek, a business consultant who literally wrote the book “Start with Why,” argues that Apple, Martin Luther King, the Wright brothers, and all the great and inspiring leaders of the world think, act, and operate out of their why. Sinek points out that they live from the inside out (from their why) and are able to inspire others to join them in connecting to a purpose bigger than themselves. “We all want to feel like our work and our lives have meaning. It’s part of what it means to be human,” Sinek notes in The Infinite Game.
Sinek is unwittingly applying the wisdom of God found in Proverbs, which states, “where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18). Vision provides the why of your life—it is the fuel that keeps the engine burning. Without vision, we perish, meaning we lose heart, and despair can quickly settle in. Conversely, if you see a person, a church, or a company thriving, then you can bet they have a vision that brings purpose to their work. Business and leadership consultant Neel Doshi analyzed tens of thousands of workers, from programmers, consultants, teachers and investment bankers to frontline employees in legendary cultures like Southwest Airlines, the Apple Store, and Starbucks. In doing so, he found one central thing to be true across all industries: “The answer sounds deceptively simple: why you work affects how well you work.” In other words, if we want to be successful in the work we do each day as parents, plumbers, and processors, then our work needs to be anchored and animated by our why.
Some of you are wondering, “Yes, but how do I figure out my why?” A good starting point is to begin with the end in mind, at least the end of the warm-up lap that we’re running here on earth before we cross the Jordan. What do you want to be on your tombstone? For me, this is the vocational thread of my life for all the work I do. It’s the why behind all the work I do. I want my tombstone to read, “Stephen Phelan experienced and multiplied the love of Jesus” –that is why I get out of bed each morning. I then begin the work I am called to do each and every day as a Son of God, a Husband, a Father, a Teammate at Movement, a Neighbor, and a Churchman with that end in mind. What we all know to be true is that you can’t share what you don’t have, so my why begins first with me tasting and seeing the glorious love of Jesus for myself afresh and anew every day and then setting out to multiply his love in the world out of the overflow of what I have experienced. That is my why. The first step in integrating your faith with your work begins here.
- Your Faith & Work Conversion Connects you to God’s Why
Our why, however, isn’t the only why that is important, especially if you are a follower of Jesus. Those of you that are following Jesus also want to align your why with God’s why. Also ask, “What is God’s why for my work?” Hopefully, there is a high degree of cross-over between your why and God’s why, but in order for that to happen we need to begin with a clear understanding of God’s why for work. The answer to why God has called us to do work in the world lies in a bigger, over-arching question that Jesus was asked: What is the greatest commandment? Jesus responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Mt. 22: 37-40).
Jesus said all the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments, which is essentially code for saying the entire Bible, from start to finish, is summed up in five words: love God and love people. There are lots of words in the Bible, but it really all boils down to those five. Theologians and pastors can make it seem much more complicated, but, in reality, the purpose for our work is no different than the purpose for all the law and all the prophets.
Consider the implications for our work when we frame our work through the lens of love. Essentially, Jesus was saying, “Make your life, and all the work you do in it, about loving God and loving people. The work you do isn’t ultimately about you—it’s about loving God and loving people.” To be sure, the ordering is intentional—making love for God as the first and greatest commandment underscores the central point that God is ultimate. He is our deepest and highest and most foundational priority of love, and everything we do flows forth from our commitment to love Him with everything inside of us.
It’s interesting, however, that Jesus says the second commandment (loving people) is like the first (loving God). One way to read that would be to say loving people is like loving God, meaning it’s as if we are loving God when we love people. You see this pretty clearly when Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for me” (Mt. 25:40). So it is no stretch to say that to love people is to love God.
Mother Theresa knew this to be true of her work, which is why when asked how she continued to persevere in loving the poor, she responded, “Whenever I meet someone in need it’s really Jesus in his most distressing disguise.” What if we began to view every single family member, every single customer, every single teammate, as Jesus in disguise (sometimes distressing, sometimes not)? Our work that we do for all of these people sure would take on a new level of significance if we saw the face of Jesus in the face of each client, in each teammate, in each family member, and in each neighbor. Our prayer then, as we begin each day, is one that says to God, “God, give me the strength, courage, and humility I need to love you today with everything inside of me by loving the people in my life through the work I do today.”
Dabo Swinney knows he has built a powerhouse program in college football because he has made the work about loving people. When asked how “little ‘ol Clemson” could have possibly taken down the vaunted Alabama Crimson Tide in their first win over the Tide to win the 2017 national title, Dabo said he told the team at half-time: “The difference in the game was going to be love. My word all year has been love. And I told them that tonight we were going to win it because we love each other.” Dabo knew that the work of college football was really about love and he cast a vision to his team connecting them to what their work was really about: love. His team bought in for many reasons, not the least of which is that we all want to love and be loved.
At Movement Mortgage, we’re charting a similar course of love, albeit in a different industry. In 2007, the global economy collapsed because the work in the mortgage industry became about greed, not love. Predatory lending practices replaced our fundamental call as human beings to love our neighbors as we desire to be loved ourselves. In response, God put a vision in the heart of Casey Crawford and Toby Harris to make the work of mortgages all about love. Love became our why—we exist to love and value people, and we plastered those words on walls and t-shirts and yetis, but we also knew that love had to be more than mere words—love is a verb that demands action!
So, we set out to (imperfectly) love people by acting in the long term best interest of our teammates, which for us means…
- offering just compensation at or above industry standards;
- establishing LoveWorks, a company benevolence fund established to serve teammates in crisis;
- building a mentoring process (Movement Mentoring) that helps teammates experience the love of Christ and develop meaningful friendships at work;
- taking our teammates on vision trips to expand the redemptive love of God in the hearts of our teammates and in marginalized communities around the world;
- helping our teammates thrive physically with health and fitness challenges;
- providing healthy eating options in our operations centers;
- placing crossfit boxes in our operation centers;
- building redemptive, transformational communities (Movement Communities) in marginalized communities in the United States that provide avenues for human flourishing such as great schools (Movement Schools), affordable housing, dream centers (Movement Centers), Movement Wellness Centers, and a connection to the Church;
- A 6-7-1 mortgage process designed to love our customers in the same way we would want our family members who are buying a home to be loved. To begin with, we have a target of 6 hour upfront underwriting to love our customers by helping them know how much they can borrow (or afford) before they ever start shopping. Then we set what most thought would be an impossible goal of processing the loan in seven days (vs. the industry average of 30+) because we felt like it would love our customers by helping them not miss a great home because their financing wasn’t in place. Finally, we committed to loving our customers by closing the loan in one day because doing so makes the closing date joyful and memorable, rather than experiencing the stress of delays. It is no understatement to say that the architecture of our mortgage process is love, and over 80% of our loans are closed through the 6-7-1 process.
But what do Clemson football and Movement Mortgage have to do with me? I’m a stay-at-home mom and my work is changing diapers. Or I work construction. Or I—honestly, it doesn’t matter what you do. Jesus said the whole Bible—the law and the prophets—hangs together on loving God and loving people. He gave us our why for our work (loving God and people), and that why is big enough and broad enough to encompass all of our work.
If we layer in the parable of the Good Samaritan, then the point of our work becomes even clearer. The religious guys in the story didn’t feel compelled, as my friend Steve Garber says, for love’s sake, because they saw a man, not a neighbor. They didn’t need to do any work to help this man, for he was not their neighbor. The Samaritan, however, allowed love to interrupt his agenda, and his work shifted from his planned to do list to God’s to do list. He was summoned “to walk in the way of love” (Eph. 5:1-2) and his work for the day became a reflection of walking in the way of loving his neighbor. The beauty of this story is that the work required wasn’t about a career or a paycheck. It was work for love’s sake. All of us have neighbors, and all of us are called to walk in the way of love for our neighbors as Christ did for us, whether we are paid for the work or not.
- Your Faith & Work Conversion turns a career into a calling
Finally, it is critical for us to connect the dots between our why, God’s why, and God’s specific calling on our lives to do what He created us to do. If we make this step, we’ll move from a career (which everyone has) to a calling (which far too few are aware of). God’s call to all of us everywhere is to love Him and to love people, but underneath the umbrella of loving God and loving people, God has a specific calling for the work he wants each of us to do with the one life He has gifted to us. It takes faith—a faith and work conversion—to believe that God has specific work for us to do, and it takes courage (lots of it!) to step into your calling.
Comedian & TV Show host Steve Harvey puts it memorably when he says: “A career is what you get paid for; a calling is what you are made for.” He’s right, and if we only have a career, then we can tragically miss out on the experience of living into the very things we were made to do. John Maxwell, on a mentoring call with Movement Mortgage, expounded on Steve Harvey’s distinction between having a career and calling when he stated, “A career is mainly about you; a calling is mainly about others. A calling is measured by what you give; a career is measured by what you get.” That’s what we are all after, daily work that is so much bigger than a job, an occupation, or a career centered on ourselves and what we get out of it. Instead, we want to be awakened to something bigger.
The word calling, for many, seems foreign, often because the sacred and secular divide is so wide and so deep that we can’t see across it or over it, leading us to wrongly conclude that people in ministry have a calling and everyone else has a job (in the real world). Part of the distance between followers of Jesus and their calling stems from a misunderstanding of the word. Thankfully, the word itself (calling) is an approachable word that is meant for all of us. We all receive calls on our cell phones every day. Similarly, God’s calling on our lives is much like the phone calls we receive every day—it involves God reaching out to us and presenting us with things he wants us to do. Much like the film Mission Impossible, God is calling us to a mission that, if we should choose to accept it, will radically impact our lives and, in the case of our work, will fundamentally alter the way we view both our work and our place in the world.
The English word calling has roots in the Latin word vocare, meaning to call, and it is where we derive the word vocation. Sadly, we have uprooted the word vocation in the modern world, severing its roots from the notion of being called by another to a particular purpose. Instead, we use the term calling synonymously with words like occupation, job, or career—words largely focused on self-promotion, self-advancement, and self-actualization.
Yet, in the same way that Lucy, Susan, Peter, and Edmund were called by Aslan into Narnia for a particular purpose, the Bible is a story about a God who creates and calls His sons and daughters into His Kingdom to accomplish His kingdom purposes. The Kingdom of God is one of, if not the, metanarratives of the Bible, which is why Jesus constantly teaches about the work that he came to do of building the Kingdom of God.
This notion of God awakening, or calling us, to something bigger and more beautiful than simply finding a good job can be found in 1 Corinthians 7 where Paul says, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches” (1 Cor. 7:17). Paul doesn’t have in mind here pastors and those doing church work, but he is talking about God calling each and every person in the church (i.e. all of us!) to things that most of us consider secular work. “The implication,” Tim Keller notes in his excellent book Every Good Endeavor, “is clear: Just as God equips Christians for building up the Body of Christ, so he also equips all people with talents and gifts for various kinds of work, for the purpose of building up the human community.”
Herein lies the two transformative elements of a calling—a calling can only be a calling if…
- it comes from someone else (in our case God) and
- is for someone else (in our case the common good).
There is much that we can and will say about understanding our work as a calling from God for the common good of the world. It’s a Copernican shift, requiring us to reconceive just about everything with our work. Tim Keller highlights the revolutionary shift in our work when these principles come together, “Christians should be aware of this revolutionary understanding of the purpose of their work in the world…The question regarding our choice of work is no longer ‘What will make me the most money and give me the most status?’ The question must now be ‘How, with my existing abilities and opportunities, can I be of greatest service to other people?’”
Kirby Sevier made the Coperican shift in his work as a lawyer from career to calling. Because I have a law degree and spent time in the legal world, I know lots of lawyers, far too many of whom (sadly) seem quite miserable in their daily work. Not Kirby—he is called by God to serve and love both God and people in the area of wills, trusts, and estate planning. At the firm where I clerked in the summers of law school, Kirby was the hiring partner and one of the founding shareholders of one of Alabama’s largest law firms with over 270 people, but more importantly he was affectionately known as “Doc.” He received his nickname because he became the doctor of the law firm—everyone went to him for healing, comfort, encouragement, counseling, and general wisdom for life.
I asked Doc about his calling and two things he said stuck out to me. First, he wasn’t a follower of Jesus when he began his legal career, which should encourage those of you who feel like you just happened into your job, almost accidentally. Doc started out with a career, not a calling from God, because at the time he began his legal career he didn’t know God. He went into law because, as he said, “I wasn’t a Christian at the time I went into law and I wanted to create some career options to support my family.”
Then, along the way, a loving, merciful God captured his heart and Doc said, “since then, I have tried to focus my efforts as a lawyer—indeed, as a man—on serving an Audience of One, King Jesus.” Notice that Doc’s career became a calling, and his work became focused on serving an Audience of One because King Jesus was the one who called him to his work. God’s word became his instruction manual, wherein he found that, as he puts it, “the essence of life is all about fulfilling the 2 Great Commandments—loving God with all our hearts and loving others as ourselves. As I see it, that should be my ultimate calling, whether as a lawyer, a priest, a janitor or an NBA star.”
Hopefully, Doc’s story encourages those of you who feel like God wasn’t involved in any way, shape, or form with your decision-making process for where you currently work. Remember, careers can become callings. In Doc’s case, he didn’t need to go to seminary and become a pastor to fulfill his calling—he simply needed to reframe and refocus what he was doing, who he was doing it for, and how he did it. As Doc made this Copernican shift, law turned to love, and over the years everyone in the firm (and the community!) received the love of God through Doc’s work. Joyfully, this Copernican shift is possible for all of us as we move from simply having a career to being called by God to do the work in front of us spouses, parents, employees and employers, students, and beyond.
- What did you find most impactful in the training session?
- Read Prov. 29:18. The first step in integrating your faith with your work is to gain a vision for your work that is connected with your why. Why do you do the work you do? Discuss your why.
- Read Mt. 22:37-40. Discuss how this is God’s why for your work.
- Discuss the difference between a career and a calling.
- What are the 2 essential elements of a calling? Discuss how you do or do not have these elements.
 Simon Siinek Infinite Game Pg. 83.
 Neel Doshi (pg.. xi, xiii), Primed to Perform
 Keller, Timothy, and Katherine Leary Alsdorf. Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work. New York: Dutton, 2012. Print, Pg.. 54.
 Ibid pgs. 55-57.