Work as “Partnership with God”: The Gospel-Centered Life at Work
The Gospel-Centered Life at Work is “about the spiritual dynamics of work and life and how God uses our work in the lifelong process of making us more like Christ.” Robert W. Alexander says, “This study is a tool to help you build a bridge from your personal faith to your work. It will help you see how Jesus’s work for you applies to the work you do every day” (1). Through a combination of biblical study, good theology, practical application, and hands-on exercises, Alexander’s book is capable of helping any Christian living out faith at work.
What is work? Alexander says, “Work from a biblical point of view is whatever activity a believer pursues in the sight of God, for the glory of God, to the benefit of others” (3). The “vocation or calling of those who live by faith” is that “even the simplest tasks we perform by faith become acts of worship reflecting God’s character and ways” (8). Work is, ultimately, “a partnership with God” (10).
Having lain the foundation of work as partnership with God, Alexander addresses God’s work as Creator, Provider, and Redeemer. We, too, as participants in this work, create, provide, and redeem (10). Alexander is at his best in offering specific examples of each of these kinds of work. A biochemist, for example, is a provider because she or he says, “I help in harvesting and/or restoring of natural resources” (11). The book’s first exercise inspiringly calls for the reader to “jot down how your work reflects aspects of God’s work” (12).
If “vocation” is an imposing word or concept, Alexander helps demystify it. “Work” for Christians moves from being “a daily grind” to the locus of God’s work and presence, that space where we live out our faith (14). Vocation is discipleship, in other words, and the workplace is one of a few “chief laboratories of the gospel” (65).
Our jobs (whether inside the home or outside it) turn a mirror on our hearts, motivations, and idols (lesson 2). We are flawed and so either pretend or perform at work, if we’re not careful (lesson 3). But in our partnership with God (Creator, Provider, and Redeemer), the Gospel calls us to several roles: image-bearers (lesson 4), imitators (lesson 5), bond-servants (lesson 6), stewards (lesson 7), ambassadors (lesson 8), and messengers (lesson 9).
Alexander offers guidance and asks questions to help the reader think through each of these roles, which build on each other. For example, of image-bearing he asks, “How can Jesus’s work and presence in your life affect your own fears, expectations, desires, and goals?” (41) With this in mind the worker is more confident in his or her identity as image-bearer of God.
Both the Leader’s Guide (pictured and hyperlinked at left) and the Participant’s Guide (pictured and hyperlinked up top) have a “Big Idea” introducing the lesson. The Leader’s Guide adds a “Lesson Overview” for small groups (complete with times!) and “Bible Conversation,” a guided tour (with ready-made questions) through relevant biblical passages that ground the topic at hand. One would hardly need to do much more supplemental preparation to lead a group through the material.
A few minor points in the book gave me pause. Alexander speaks of “housewives” (in 2016!) without mentioning “househusbands,” or the “stay-at-home mom” without considering the stay-at-home dad. And he inadvertently uses the Greek word diakonos in describing stewards. (The intended Greek word is oikonomos, which has to do with managing the economy of a house.) There are also a few points that feel Christian jargon-heavy.
But the spiritual meatiness of the book, coupled with practical questions and exercises, far outweigh any drawbacks. To take just one more example, Alexander offers a two-columned assessment a Christian can make of his or her day, including both a “To-Do” list and a “Done-For” list, which focuses on “the ways God worked through others to serve you as his beloved child” (66). I found this reassuring and motivating.
The final lesson on Sabbath-keeping is the best one in the book, alone making it worth the price of purchase, or the time it takes to go get it at the library. While the book is well-suited for individual use, Alexander has done small groups and small group leaders a service in writing his articles, exercises, and study guide.