Monday, April 16, 2007

A Biblical View of Work?

“Exactly what is a biblical view of work?” you might ask. Or you might not. But I ask that question about three or four times per month, usually when I’m stuck doing something I dislike or which bores me, and when I’m longing for some sort of supernatural intervention that will strike down all the Bean Counters/Mr. Spocks of the world I live in and elevate me, Mr. Liberal Arts/I Hate Science and Technology Except When It Plays Music to Most Awesome Employee status. That’s biblical, isn’t it?

Marcus Buckingham was something of a guru in my MBA program. We read three of his books – First, Break All the Rules, Now, Discover Your Strengths, and Go, Put Your Strengths to Work. And Buckingham’s central thesis is that teams should be filled not with well rounded people, but with a diverse group of unbalanced people — people who are investing all their energies in their areas of personal strength.

It certainly sounds good in theory. And now I see that my buddies Jeff and John have fallen under his sway. So I’ve thought some more about that central thesis. To some extent Buckingham’s ideas make sense, but I think they have to be taken with a large grain of salt. For example, there are jobs/tasks in any company that will not correspond to anyone’s idea of their strengths/passions. But they have to be done anyway. I’m spending about half my work life right now creating Visio diagrams showing servers, routers, firewalls, etc. Does this play to my personal strengths? Nope. And if you know of anyone who’s just salivating to do IT infrastructure architecture diagrams, let me know and I’ll gladly fob them off on Mr. or Ms. Passion.

This is my main objection to Buckingham’s approach. Show me a garbage man, er, sanitation engineer, who daydreamed at age 5 about tossing wilted lettuce and coffee grounds from a garbage can into a big truck. But somebody has to do it, and there are plenty of jobs — most of them, I suspect — that aren’t going to lead anyone to a heightened sense of meaning and purpose in life. If you can earn a living and put your kids through college and align your passions with a paycheck, then more power to you. But it seems to me that it is the lot of many people – Liberal Arts folks, in particular – to spend 40+ hours a work earning a living, and their time outside of work pursuing their passions and dreams. And, Mr. Buckingham’s advice to the contrary, perhaps that’s not such a bad solution.

Sometimes I wonder whether the mud-spattered feudal serfs in 13th century France dreamed about self-acutalization and aligning their passions and giftings to their careers. This seems to me to be a peculiarly late-20th, early-21st century American approach to life. And so I come back to that biblical view of work. I suspect that Buckingham’s thinking might be a small component of that, but so is Genesis 3, and working by the sweat of your brow, and encountering thorns and thistles along with the sweat. Buckingham doesn’t address those issues at all. And so I would like to suggest that a biblical view of work has to leave room not only for passions and vision, but also for the daily drudgery of doing what has to be done. What do you think?


Beth said...

Yeah, Tim and I have had this discussion more than once...I tend to think that to some degree, work is just that: work. And there will always be many aspects of that that are fallen and just plain the same time, the time we live in allows some (only some) the luxury of aligning passions and work. Less so for us liberal arts folks, I guess. But all and all I consider myself pretty lucky in this regard.

jackscrow said...

Just look at my profile.

Trapped and can't afford to escape.

Probably regret it in a few years.

Hummm, maybe already.

Anonymous said...

I think a biblical account must take into account work in all its forms.

I wonder what we Christians make of work after the resurrection? Are some jobs better than others? Are some jobs off limits? Does it make sense to say we're "trapped" by a job, if we have hope in the resurrection?

The trouble I see with self-realization philosophies is that they are "works gospel." You know, pull yourself up by you boot straps. The save yourself kind of stuff. This find-work-that-is-fulfilling is eat up with that same works gospel bs.

Jake T said...

I graduated with an English degree and worked in ministry for 7 years.

Now I'm doing marketing. And definately asking the same question, mostly b/c it seems like such a big waste of my time.

I stumbled on to this article the other day about the false gospel of work, as he put it.

I don't know if helps or not, but it's got my wheels turning, at least.