Lisa Slayton: JPro Just Work From Toil to Joy!

We say it all the time, many of us. “I am just a florist” “I am just a………” student, Just a plumber, Just a stay at home parent, the possibilities are endless. And when we say this, we are really not intending to diminish the value of that particular work, or are we?

I am going to unpack for you the 7 transformational shifts we must make both personally and systemically for work in the world to move from Toil to Joy.

As Jim mentioned in his introduction, and you heard from others in their talks, there is a triple entendre inherent in JUST WORK that may very well provide insight into how we view our work and, in many ways, how we view justice.

Just as a reminder, the three meanings of Just work are

  1. I am Just a….. the diminishment of our work. that many workers see their work as unimportant. They do not view themselves as important members of society who are embracing their call to contribute to the larger economy and to do good work as worship unto God.
  2. But work was indeed broken by the fall and the second entendre of Justwork Implies that not all work is at it should be. work is laced with toil, difficult bosses and co-workers, environmental

As well as unjust systems and structures that can make work very difficult.

  1. The third ‘entendre’, as you have heard from our speakers so far this afternoon, truly Just Work can emphasize the importance of work and the value that comes from seeking to embracing God’s command for all mankind to, “Be fruitful, to be filled with both compassionate AND capacity.

Work, as defined so well by Tim Keller, is both creative and assertive.  It is rearranging the raw material of God’s creation in such a way that it helps the world in general, and people in particular, thrive and flourish.

 Work has inherent dignity because it is something that God does and because we do it in God’s place, as his representatives.  

We would do well to remember here that a biblical view of work must start in the garden-Genesis 1&2 as Tom reminded us

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”


“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

Work is NOT a function of the fall, but instead was and remains apart of God’s design for his world!! And I would suggest a significant part of his plan for redemption and justice, not just then, but in the now and not yet of the Kingdom.

As we at PLF have invested time and thought into a theology of JUSTWORK a new initiative we are undertaking. we know that in order for this to truly become embedded in the hearts and minds of every Christian, there are some transformational shifts from Fallen Work towards Restorative Work we must make to move away from the secular view of work and towards a biblical understanding of work.

I’d like to use the metaphor of physical health as a way to walk into these needed shifts. In each of our bodies, we have many systems that must function interdependently in order for us to be healthy, not just physically but emotionally and spiritually. They include things like your nervous system, your skeletal system, your circulatory system and many others. When we visit with our doctor, whether as a preventative or to address an issue, they often ask questions that lead them to look at the health of these underlying systems.

The idea of attending to our physical systems has taken on a whole new meaning for me personally in the last year. In late 2017, I became aware of some health signs that told me that I needed to make some significant shifts if I was to enter my next decade on the planet healthy and whole. Last March, just a year ago, I began working with a health and wellness coach to help me make these shifts. You might say, oh you went on a diet. Yes I did, but it has been much more than that. I made significant changes to my food- But I also began to see that the shifts I was making were impacting not just my physical body, but also my spiritual, emotional and mental well-being. All of my interdependent systems were being slowly transformed.

I have lost weight, quite a bit actually-now the equivalent of the newest member of our family- Grace the Fox Red Lab – but the transformation is more holistic than just diet, and I have ways of monitoring where I am in my journey- not just on the scale, but by assessing weekly things like sleep, water, exercise, mental alertness. Am I connected to God in an authentic way?. This regular monitoring has made a huge difference. Regular assessment and audits of my health IS part of the journey to wholeness.

Let’s look at how this works in an organization. There are embedded flawed human systems that make work and workplaces unjust, where power is being abused and poorly stewarded.

The most recent statistics from census data, and other research, shows that in the US for people who work fulltime and year-round, the pay differential between men and women in the US is on average just over $10k per year, or about a 20% difference. Sixty-minutes last year did a case study on this with the CEO of Salesforce Marc Benioff. Benioff was challenged in 2015 by his personnel chief to undertake an organization wide audit to determine pay equity between men and women. Benioff, who is known as an activist CEO and has worked hard to build a great culture at Salesforce, was disbelieving that they could have such a problem. But the audit told a different story, there was indeed a pervasive gap across all areas of the 30,000 employees. It cost Salesforce over 3 million dollars to correct the problem that first year, but they did not stop there. They had already had good policies in place, but this required more than just policies. They sought to root out underlying behaviors that were contributing to the gap. When they repeated the audit a year later the problem persisted, although progress had been made. They now audit throughout the year and work at the systemic issues that have surfaced. One is the “mommy penalty” an unconscious bias they uncovered that women returning from maternity leave will be tired and less able to do their jobs at full capacity, or another that demonstrated that on average it was taking 36 months to consider a woman for promotion whereas a man in a similar role is typically considered in 12-18 months.

Our desire is for all workers, in other words all humans, to experience relief from toil and move towards a sense of accomplishment, holiness, joy, and gratitude in work. The story of the pay gap between men and women at Salesforce is just one small example of how deeply entrenched injustices can, with intentionality and humility, be moved from toil to joy. And it started because those in power yielded that power in search of the truth, for the good of all. This is what the bible calls Righteousness, the Tsaddiqim, a primary way of talking about biblical justice.

Let’s step into these 7 transformational shifts that we must make if we are to see movement towards more wholistic and Just Work. And while I am doing this, I want you to give yourself a score of between 1-5 on how you find yourself doing on each of these transformations. Likert Scale

  1. The first shift is from leisure to Sabbath.
    We start with this one because Work without Rest is disordered. Period. In the Hebrew culture, the week began with Sabbath so that the rest of the week of work was properly grounded in a deep connection with God.In our workaholic, over connected 24/7 world, many of us have lost the ability to truly sabbath. We experience leisure at the expense of others or worship at the idol of hurry or busy and we exhaust ourselves because we cannot cease. Sabbath, true rest, is the result of good work and we can cease and allow others to cease in the midst of our communities. Last year’s JPro focused entirely on this topic and the talks are available on our website. I encourage you to watch them particularly the foundational talk given by Andy Crouch. Here is a question, particularly if you are a ‘boss,’ –are you sending messages to your team that you expect them to be ‘on duty’ 24/7? Do you send snap chats or emails late at night or over the weekend? This subtly sends a message that you expect them to be responsive whenever you want them to be and it disallows sabbath. In an article written last year in the Washington Post, an INSEAD business School professor said this about entrepreneurial icon Elon Musk, “He is really the poster boy of a contemporary culture that celebrates impulsive authenticity and obsessive overwork, He’s the symbol of a workplace culture in which we long for a very personal, even romantic (and I would suggest idolatrous) relationship with work” This is the message our culture sends- work as an idol. So let’s start right here and give yourself a score on Sabbath- yes I know how to cease- a 5 or Sabbath does not come easily to me—a one or a two.
  2. The second shift is from Wandering to Calling
    Work as wandering is work that does not feel true to who we were meant to be as workers. However, work as a means to live out our Calling is rooted in God’s Command for us to be fruitful and to multiply as his divine image-bearers. Now, please don’t hear something I am not saying- I am NOT saying to drop everything and pursue your passion or twist yourself in knots to ‘figuring out your calling.” Calling is not your job or even your career and you CANNOT figure it out. Calling is a more about uncovering and ‘excavating’ as Dan Allender says, who God created you to uniquely be and how you bring yourself to every role you play- as a worker, as a parent, a spouse, a boss and more. Allender goes on to say that calling is most often revealed when our dreams die and we embrace loss and suffering as a pathway to true purpose and joy. This work on the stewardship of calling is at the heart of our mission at PLF. Are you a wanderer or do you have some clarity about your calling? Note your health score on this one.
  3. From Toil to Goodness:
    we know for certain the effects of the fall have brought toil to our work; it includes disorder that is often difficult to overcome, we build things, or create things only to have them fall apart. People and things just don’t do what we want them. (especially if you are a 1 on the Enneagram- any 1’s out there?)
    But work is, can and will be restorative. Good work is rearranging the particulars in a specific part of the world to produce flourishing. Almost 10 years ago I took a Theology of Work intensive as part of my master’s program at Bakke Graduate University, BTW, BGU, one of our sponsors offers a fully integrated faith work and economics business masters, Find MBA program director Lynn Bell who is here today to learn more) During that intensive week, our professor, Dr. Paul Stevens shared a story I have never forgotten. Paul is a theologian and perhaps among the foremost thought leaders and teachers on a biblical Theology of Work. So his story surprised me. He was talking about the new heavens and earth and what might ‘make it through to the other side”. At his home in Vancouver BC Paul had built, with some help, a very large sturdy all cedar deck. He pondered with us that day, that when Jesus comes back and the earth is fully restored and perfected, his deep hope is that his cedar deck will be there for him to enjoy to in its fullest. Good work well done.

Do you view your work entirely as toil, hard and pointless- or is your work good- producing flourishing for you and for others?

  1. From Disconnection to Contribution:
    Disconnected work results when we find that our work is meaningless and mundane or demanding so much of us that we are overwhelmed by it and not in right relationship with others. But work viewed as contribution can imbue even the most tedious job with meaning. Jeff Van Duzer, in his very good book Why Business Matters to God offers what he calls the Genesis model for business. He contends that business, understood biblically, is purposed:
  • to produce goods and services that enable the community to flourish, and
  • to provide opportunities for meaningful work that will allow employees to express their God-given creativity.You heard from Jason Wolfe earlier about his deep commitment to bring redemption to a broken industry sector. His people know- wherever they work on his team- that the work they are doing is contributing to something good for the world- a product that has the ability to change an industry. Being able to contribute, in small and large ways, is part of being human, being image bearers. So where do you fall on the scale for this one- are you disconnected, or viewing your work as contribution.
  1. From Secularism to Worship:
    In our western culture, our habitual hurry is a signal that work has become an idol- we worship at the altar of busyness, productivity. But work, understood as worship, is something very different. The Hebrew work Avodah translates loosely in English to Work, Worship and Service. The Christian culture tri-furcates this into three distinct activities- we work Monday thru Friday, we serve in our community or at church and we worship on Sundays before the message. Because we have compartmentalized these things we are disintegrating. Work is intended to be worshipful, so what are you worshipping? Your busy calendar? Your productivity? Or are you worshipping the God who made you and offering your work back to him as worship? Give yourself a score
  1. From Malformation to Formation:
    We must understand that our work forms us every day- but the question must be asked- how is it forming us? When we fragment our work, worship and service into three distinct boxes, we create the conditions to look at the work box as a place where we do what is necessary, or what is normative in our workplace to get our paycheck. When we adopt this stance, we allow our work to inform our behavior and actions in ways counter to the gospel and it becomes easier to say- it is ‘just how work works here’. It can become a justification for cutting corners, or making compromises. It is here that individual actions can become systemic and institutional injustices. This often happens slowly and overtime. But when we integrate work, worship and service, we are formed into wholeness and our hearts are deeply transformed and conformed into the Christlikeness and work becomes a primary place of discipleship and formation. So how is your work forming you? Into a more hard-hearted, less empathetic ‘just get it done’ leader or worker? Or into a person of love and grace, closer and more fully into an Image bearing ambassador?
  2. From Cynicism to Evangelism:
    Cynical work develops when the other 6 elements are not being lived out incarnationally in us and through us, when we show up joyless, and disconnected and we opt to live merely within the realm of fallen work. In this condition we can feel that there is no meaning for our work. Anybody seen this book, recently published? Not sure I want to say the name out loud. Without doing a long review of the book, I will say, it focuses almost entirely on this kind of cynicism and he has had a huge response. Like any work of this nature, there is some truth to be mined from his assumptions. There truly are some BullShit Jobs out there. But he is fundamentally missing a robust theology of work that is rooted in an understanding that as Christians, we must bring our identity, our “In Christness” to our work. In evangelistic work, however, it is possible for a worker who is embodying the first six elements of their work to have a contagious effect on others who have not yet seen the Kingdom of God lived out. In our daily work, we are the signposts for the coming of the Kingdom.

Evangelist Billy Graham famously said almost 20 years ago “I believe one of the next great moves of God is going to be through the believers in the workplace” And I am not sure Graham meant only because there were more workplace bible studies, or 4 spiritual laws Conversations-although these are truly good things to do. But in a post Christian world, often the first witness of the gospel will be WHO we are as Christians living out love and grace in a coherent way and then HOW we do our work, with excellence.

Are we producing excellent goods and services that bring flourishing to the world? Or as Dorothy Sayers says so simply and well “The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.”

We have a significant opportunity to invite people to be part of building FOR God’s Kingdom when we show up as a beloved son or daughter of the most High God and do your work excellently with love and grace, where ever you are placed.

And so, Sayers may be onto something, the making of good tables may be the best evangelism of all. So are you a cynic or an evangelist through your daily work? Take a minute- look back over your notes- how did you score? Were there any that were low 1’s or 2’s or 3’s? Any very high? What created resonance or dissonance?

Do you find yourselves mired in unrest, wandering, toil, disconnection, secularism, malformation and cynicism? Our hope is that today we helping you move towards a robust theology AND praxis of Sabbath rest, work as a means of expressing calling, Work as goodness, work as contribution, work as worship, work as formational, and work as evangelistic- an effective witness of the coming of the Kingdom and its King, Jesus Christ, the renewer of ALL THINGS

In this passage alone, Paul uses that little word ALL 7 times and is referring, well, to ALL things- people yes, but also the material world and its interdependent systems.

Paul’s beautiful cedar deck. The carpenters table. A Chief police officer who addresses systemic injustice. A Gifting App that encourages generosity. We must embrace these transformational shifts, and engage in a whole life discipleship that fosters human coherence—the head, the will AND THE HEART, the dignity of creative image bearing that moves us towards rich communion with others and the redemption of our world, individual and corporate, personal and systemic. So I leave you with this question, borrowed from our friend Steve Garber- How are you implicated by what you now know? What might God be calling you to respond to as a result of what you are learning today?

Join me as we reimagine work as God designed it to be, a primary means of justice and righteousness in our fallen world.

What we call Just Work