Though some work may seem useless, Christians understand that all work is God’s work. Our work only seems insignificant because we fail to grasp the big picture. This is what economists refer to as the “knowledge problem.” The knowledge problem means we can’t always see the big picture because knowledge is dispersed among many people; no one person knows everything. In the vocational sense, this means we may not understand how our work is part of a much larger economic dynamic. If we can’t easily see how our work contributes to the common good, we may understate the effect of what we do.
Some positions make it difficult for workers to see the end product, but that certainly does not mean that their work is insignificant. Just because a factory worker doesn’t receive the instant gratification of seeing the final product that he helped to create doesn’t change the reality that his effort contributed to that product…
… It’s important to remember that the value of our work may never be fully realized in our lifetime. In medieval times, it could take hundreds of years to build a single cathedral. The laborer laying the cornerstone might never live to see the top of the steeple. (more…)
Katie Nienow worked in youth ministry for four years. After deciding to transition into the world of business, her former boss was not pleased. “You’re leaving the one thing God has best designed you to do,” he said.
Throughout her time in ministry, Nienow says that her interest in business and economics felt “ancillary to the call.” In a new video from Nathan Clarke and This Is Our City, she explains how that perspective was fundamentally transformed.
As Nienow explains:
God really awakened me to understanding that the gospel going forth in the world was a much broader restoration of communities, of cities, of economic systems, and that perhaps, just perhaps, God had gifted me because he wanted me to participate in that in a broader sense. (more…)
On a return trip from summer camp, Michael Hess’s young son was stuck at Chicago O’Hare airport on a four-hour layover. Having run out of his spending money, he soon grew hungry and called his Dad for help.
His father’s recommended solution: “go to any of the sit-down restaurants and ask if his dad could give them a credit card over the phone.” His son tried it, and everyone turned him down. “None would even try to figure out a way to help,” Hess explains.
What happens next is quite delightful:
But as a concerned dad, I couldn’t give up. Knowing O’Hare practically by heart, and being addicted to pizza, I knew that there was a Wolfgang Puck Express (“WPE” in the dialog to follow) not far from where he was killing time, and with two or three calls I was able to reach them directly. This is how the call went:
Me: “Is there any way you can take my card and charge his meal? I’ll send a picture of the card, whatever you need to feel comfortable.”
WPE: “Unfortunately, we have no way of taking a credit card over the phone…”
Me (assuming that was the end of the sentence): “But, there must be some…”
WPE: “..so just send your boy in here and we’ll make sure he gets a good meal. My store manager and operations manager are both here, and we don’t want him to be sitting around hungry. You don’t have to worry about paying for it.” (more…)
In light of the latest hubbub over the minimum wage, I recently wrote that “prices are not play things,” arguing that we do ourselves and our neighbors no favors by trying to subvert and distort market signals according to arbitrary whims. Instead, I argue, we should reach beyond such low-ball thinking, focusing on creation and contribution rather than sitting and settling.
Over at Think Christian, Jordan Ballor offers some related thoughts, including a helpful reminder that while prices matter, wages do not represent a “commentary on the value of the human person as such.” Tying our self-worth to marketplace value, he argues, “can be a misleading and potentially destructive identification.”
In Work: The Meaning of Your Life, Lester DeKoster pushes heavily in this same direction, going so far as to say that although work and wages move on “parallel tracks,” “neither track is the cause of the other or the goal of the other”:
What is a just wage? It is a paycheck that recognizes the personal relationships that underlie work and civilization. Involved are both the needs of the worker – at all levels – and success of the enterprise – in which all are involved…[T]hose whose work is concerned with the creation and administration of wage and price scales must be economic artists whose jobs bear heavy moral responsibility. What the traffic will bear or wage scales that only grim necessity will oblige the poor to accept are artistic guidelines that enjoy no endorsement from heaven. The search for just wage and fair price is never-ending, for the market is always changing and so are the forms required of work. Economic justice is by no means universal even in the best of civilizations.
How, then, do they relate? (more…)
There are two prominent schools of thought within conservative Protestant circles that continue to clash over what Christianity is about because their starting points comprise different biblical theological visions. I use the word “prominent” here because I fully recognize that there are other more nuanced voices in the Christian diaspora. No “binaries” or “false dichotomies” are intended here. This is simply a distinction between the two dominant voices in a choir of others.
One begins by constructing an understanding of the Christian life orientated around Genesis chapters 1 and 2 and the other begins with Genesis chapter 3. A Gen 1 and 2 starting point views the gospel as a means for human beings to have a realized experience of what their humanity was meant to be and to do, whereas a Gen. 3 orientation sees the gospel as a means of saving us from our humanity in preparation for the eschaton (heaven).
Over at the Kern Pastors Network, Greg Forster points to Rev. Robert Sirico’s speech from this year’s Acton University, drawing particularly on Sirico’s emphasis on Christian anthropology. “One may not say that we are spirits inside of flesh,” Sirico said, “but that we are spirits and flesh.”
Christianity teaches that the human person is, in Sirico’s words, both corporeal and transcendent. We cannot make sense of ourselves if we are only bodies. How could a strictly material body think for itself and make its own decisions, much less be aware of itself as it did so? Yet it is equally mistaken to locate our humanity only in the transcendent, as if we are spirits trapped inside bodies. It feels liberating at first to think that the mind and the will are all that matters, and that the body is an appendage to be used and reshaped however we wish. But whenever we try to live that way, our lives quickly become arbitrary and meaningless.
How we approach such matters impacts everything we do. When it comes to economic life, that means everything from our daily work to the economic systems we work within:
The worker who knows that his spirit and body are integrated on equal terms is able to find satisfaction in work. Unlike the materialist, he knows that work can have dignity and meaning. Unlike the Gnostic, he knows that the ultimate source of that dignity and meaning are outside himself. He can see the possibilities for transcendent satisfaction in so-called “menial” work, and he hears the call to humility and service in so-called “mind work” that others would use to glorify themselves. (more…)
There’s a real business advantage to treating employees well, says Jim Sinegal, CEO of Costco Corporation, an international membership warehouse club. Boasting the lowest employee turnover rate in retailing, Costco pays 40 percent more than its closest rival, Sam’s Club, and provides health insurance to more than 90 percent of its employees.
“Wall Street is in the business of making money between now and next Tuesday,” Sinegal says. “We’re in the business of building an organization, an institution that we hope will be here 50 years from now. And paying good wages and keeping your people working with you is very good business.”
And the advantages don’t stop at profit margins and good wages.
In an open letter to Sinegal and president Craig Jelinek, Chris Horst of HOPE International shares a beautiful story about how Costco gave his brother a career, a community, and much, much more: (more…)