As an undergrad at Biola University, one of my favorite classes was business ethics with Dr. Kenman Wong and Dr. Scott Rae. I still remember some of our discussion! Dr. Rae remains at Biola (and is my co-host for the Think Biblically podcast), but Dr. Wong now teaches and researches at Seattle Pacific University.
For the past three years, Dr. Wong has been working on a fascinating project helping Christians integrate their faith and work. He has created a 14-part series of short documentary videos that chronicle the stories of people living out their faith in the workplace. These stories are remarkable in their own right, but also perfect for ministers, teachers, parents, and really anyone wanting to develop a Christian worldview of work.
Check out my brief interview with Dr. Kenman Wong, and then please check out the (free!) videos and consider sharing them with a friend. This is a valuable resource for the church that people need to hear about.
SEAN MCDOWELL: What is the story behind the recent video series you created on faith and work?
KENMAN WONG: A generous donor approached us about creating a series of short films that tell compelling stories about Christian businesspeople who see their work as service to God and neighbor. As the founder and CEO of a technology company, this donor’s own life was deeply transformed by a Biblical understanding of work when he was well into his 40’s and by his own estimation had already put 40,000+ hours in at the office. That’s a lot of time to spend doing something he saw as spiritually insignificant. So, his (and our) hope is to bless others with the message that changed his own life. Based upon the film series we also created a small group curriculum and a free online course.
MCDOWELL: Why is this series so vital today for the church?
WONG: Unfortunately, many of us have an insufficient theology of work. We often assume that the real work of God takes place in the church or on the mission field. So, if we are employed in “secular” fields, our work only serves purposes like evangelism and earning money to support the church and those spreading the Gospel in far-away places. However, if Christ’s mission truly encompasses reconciling himself to all things, then why and how we do our daily work, whether in business, science, government, the arts, medicine or education, also matters greatly to God and plays an important role in what he wants to accomplish.
MCDOWELL: What makes these videos unique?
WONG: We’re humbled by the compliments we’ve received about the production quality. I guess it comes as quite a surprise that films about businesspeople can be entertaining. However, it’s the people who are living out the actual stories that make the series unique. We filmed across a wide range of industries and geographies (in the U.S., and in Mexico, Vietnam and Ethiopia) and purposefully chose subjects who are taking risks and fighting great odds to honor and serve God in their work.
As examples, the Christian principles behind the design of the customer experience at the original Apple retail stores, a car dealer who offers 100,000 mile warranties on used vehicles, and the connection between the restoration of a broken marriage and the revitalization of a small Southern town are just some of the compelling stories we are privileged to tell.
MCDOWELL: How do you respond to the Christian who says that faith is meant for church but is not related to work?
WONG: It’s somewhat understandable to hold this view given what we’re often indirectly taught in our churches. Despite a Biblical understanding of work that originated during the Reformation and that sees all work, with few exceptions, as God’s work, we continue to elevate some forms of employment over others.
For example, when students go out on short-term mission trips, we bring them up front and commission them, but rarely, if ever, do we do the same for those embarking on internships in business, law, entertainment or in a laboratory. Likewise, when a pastor is “bi-vocational,” we assume the “secular” job is only a means to earn money to support his or her work in the church. Tragically, this communicates to most of the people in the congregation that what they do all day is devoid of spiritual value.
There’s been a lot of good writing lately on the theology of work, so I would point people toward books by Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf, Amy Sherman, Steve Garber and my colleague Jeff Van Duzer. All attempt to point believers toward an understanding that all work matters for God’s kingdom and mission.
MCDOWELL: What difference do you see in the lives of believers when they start making faith-work connections.
WONG: I think it can make dramatic differences not only in our own lives but also in the lives of our co-workers, employees and communities. Changing our view of work from an exchange of labor for money and/or as a place where we get to “pursue our passions” to an understanding of it as a venue to worship God, serve others and grow spiritually makes a big difference. When we see that the actual work we do (and not only the opportunities to share the gospel or to earn money to give), whether it involves designing, strategizing, teaching, coding, analyzing or selling matters to God and his mission of redeeming all things a lot can happen. It can lead to a much deeper sense of meaning, purpose and motivation and it can prompt us to make changes, even small ones, in our organizations and industries so that our neighbors flourish too.
One pleasant discovery we made while making these films was the number of subjects who described their work as a venue for spiritual growth. Over time, they came to see risk, struggles, conflicts, failures and successes not only as career obstacles and milestones but as opportunities to test and deepen their faith and be formed, sometimes painfully, into Christ’s image.
Check out the free videos here.