At Work & Theology 101

What Is a Good Job?

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“Why do you want to leave your current position?”

This is the dreaded question that almost every candidate has to answer when interviewing for a new job. Experts tell you not to say, “My boss is a jerk” or “The work environment is toxic” because it will probably be the last question you receive.

Instead they suggest responding with something like this: “My current job is fine, but what I am looking for is…” and then state what you are looking for in your next position.

Next, they advise you to ask a question about the possibilities of getting what you want. For example: “Can you tell me about the initiatives you have in the areas of…?”

The problem is that this advice assumes you know the answer to a bigger question: What is a good job?

According to Gallup’s World Poll, what the whole world wants is a good job, yet few can describe what a good job looks like.

What Factors Contribute to a Good Job?

What is the most important factor contributing to the definition of a good job? Christian Overman posits some answers in a post titled, “What the Whole World Wants.”

  • “Pay is not the most important factor.” For most of us our job must cover the basics, but “pay alone does not determine whether a person feels his or her job is a good one.”
  • “Matching one’s strengths with one’s work is [also] an important factor…. But matching one’s strengths with one’s work is not the only or most important factor in a good job.”
  • “Making progress is important, too,” but it’s not sufficient. If your work lacks meaning, making progress won’t keep you going in the long run.

Personal meaning has been found to be the essential ingredient for a truly good job. Personal meaning speaks to the why behind why we do what we do, and it leads to a feeling of significance.

This leads some people to ask, “How can my work have personal meaning when it really doesn’t?”

How Can Your Work Have Meaning?

Overman addresses this question later on in “What the Whole World Wants.” At one point, he mentions an interview he had with an executive from The Coca-Cola Company:

Bonnie Wurzbacher, while serving as Vice President of Global Accounts for The Coca-Cola Company, once told me, “We don’t find meaning in our work, we bring meaning to our work.” This is a profound idea.

Overman continues, recalling further that,

She went on to say that until we understand the theology of our work, and truly embrace a biblical worldview that allows no “secular and sacred split,” seeing how our work truly fulfills and advances God’s purposes for the world, we cannot bring meaning to our work.

This is a very important concept. It’s one of the main reasons I wrote How Then Should We Work. Only as we understand the biblical doctrine of work can we bring significant meaning to what we do every day at work. Only then can we see that all of our work is important to God.

This biblical doctrine of work, when properly understood, allows us to see how all work, especially our vocational work, fits into the larger context of God’s purpose for the world. As Overman suggests, the key lies in our ability to “contextualize” the work we carry out. We must put our work into the context of the “larger frame of reference” provided by a biblically-shaped view of work and the world.

This is how you can bring meaning to your work.

In his book The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative, Christopher Wright describes what we do in this larger context of God’s purpose as,

Our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation.

This mission includes what we do every day.

A good job is one where God allows us to bring purpose and meaning into the work he has called us to do, understanding there is inherent value in that work itself because it is important to God. This is true whether we are a dishwasher or a CEO, a stay-at-home mom, or the pastor of a mega church.

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  • Andy

    I agree with the overall sentiment of this article, and am thankful to the author. However, I very much struggle to see how working for Coca-Cola “truly advances God’s purposes for the world”…or is participating with God “for the redemption of God’s creation”. I mean no disrespect for Coca-Cola or its employees, but I just don’t see how making or selling that beverage is in any way connected with what God wants to see happen in the world (I want to see how! I just can’t see how). And I feel the same about a hundred (thousand?) other jobs that exist in the world today….much literature on faith and work says there’s no sacred-secular divide, and that God has purposes for our work…but if you start thinking through specific jobs that people do it’s extremely difficult to actually find meaning in them. Does the author or anyone else have any thoughts or additional nuance to add? I’d appreciate any input.

    • James Edward Earl II

      Andy, to answer your question, I think it’s not always about the work itself, but the interactions we have with our co workers ie spreading the gospel to unbelievers, that ultimately advance God’s purposes for the world. I maybe reaching, but I definitely understand where you are coming from.

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