At Work & Theology 101

How Blue-Collar Work Enhances the Common Good

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Through our participation in the world we discover the way things should—or ought—to be.

This is true in our understanding of God, of man, and our work.

As well, it’s the heart behind much of the recent faith and work conversation in the church and Christians centers—to view the mission of God speaking directly to the way you approach every activity of life (child rearing, political engagement, daily work, etc.).

In recent years and throughout church history, many have made great strides to promote a theology of work that encapsulates the scope of God’s redemptive mission and affirms the dignity of all honest labor.

This is right and well.

However, this theological motivation must be extended beyond just white-collar vocations in the C-Suite all the way to those in traditional blue-collar jobs.

Employment of plumbers, pipe-fitters and steamfitters, for instance, is projected to grow 16 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations, a New York Times article from April 2018 reported.

Take, for example, a garbage man who works for a waste management company. How might this work really matter to God? The worker, I can imagine, might feel disengaged with their work given the routine monotony of running the same trash route, smelling of waste at the end of a long work day, while riding around on the back of a truck in whatever elements mother nature brings that day.

But could we imagine a world without trash men? Our garbage cans would quickly overflow. Our homes would attract critters and varmints that rifle through the waste. Our property values would drop. Our quality of life would dip as the waste and its impacts would undoubtedly have impacts on our health.

Contrast this with the work of a politician: what might happen if these public officers took a week off from work? Presumably, life would carry on as usual for many in our country given the structures and systems of society are set in place to carry out their policy.

The impact of trash collection stopped, however, would result in an emergency health hazard within only a few days.

Do you catch the vision? Trash collectors aren’t just pushing paper, they’re helping us maintain life as we know it. They’re creating structure and order (of which God models himself as he sorts out the earth from the heavens in the opening account of Genesis) and calling it good (Gen. 1:3-4).

They are helping create beautiful places so that we can enjoy God’s earth, and they are pushing back against the eroding effects of sin on creation.

A message that needs emphasis in transmission to those in blue-collar work are the ways their perceived “mundane” work offers them a specific role to play in bringing about redemption in their spheres of work.

A construction worker, for instance, is thoughtfully engaged in both the process and their physical work itself is ripe for finding ways to create sustainable, safe, effective, and innovative solutions to how a home is constructed.

After all, he or she is the one present in the process of discovery and is afforded the opportunity to ask, Have things always been constructed this way, or can I help improve this process?

Can you imagine the cultural impact if every day we walked into our work and asked, How can I leave my workplace better than I found it?

During a stint I spent working in a steel mill I came into contact with a process common in many trade vocations: Lean.

Lean Manufacturing is a framework of waste elimination many factories use as a basis for creating efficiency and flourishing in their businesses.

Those eight wastes are:

  • Defects
  • Overproduction
  • Waiting
  • Not utilizing talent
  • Transportation
  • Inventory excess
  • Motion waste
  • Excess processing

While it may seem just a method to create more ROI, I see gospel-infusions on approaching our work with restoration in mind (Rev. 21:5).

Taking this approach to work allows workers to consider how they can continually improve the task they’re engaging with every day. God’s redemptive scope and mission is not exempt from the mundane—it’s present for the journalist and the janitor.

A cut-down on overproduction, excess inventory, wasted motion—these are all words for engaging your work critically. Not to simply complete a task given, but to consider a way to improve the process and recommend a solution to your superior. That is engaging your work with the mission of God in mind.

In her book Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, Amy Sherman offers an all-encompassing framework for approaching work in God’s world in quoting Lesslie Newbigin’s insight on the topic:

Every faithful act of service, every honest labor to make the world a better place, which seemed to have been forever lost and forgotten in the rubble of history, will be seen on that day [at the final resurrection] to have contributed to the perfect fellowship of God’s kingdom.

Sherman adds, “All who committed their work in faithfulness to God will be by Him raised up to share in the new age, and will find that their labor was not lost, but that it has found its place in the completed kingdom.”

What would our work look like if job-shaming those who serve through more blue-collar labor was replaced by job-praising? What would it look like to help others see “every honest labor” as “contributing to the perfect fellowship of God’s kingdom?” Our theology of work must be vigilant in doing this well if we truly seek God’s kingdom to be “on earth as it is in heaven.” (Mt. 6:10).

Editor’s note: Happy Labor Day! This article was republished with permission from the Center for Faith and Work Los Angeles. See the original article here.

Learn more about why all work matters to God in How Then Should We Work?

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