Work as Worship: How the CEOs of Interstate Batteries, Hobby Lobby, PepsiCo, Tyson Foods and More Bring Meaning to Their Work
Mark L. Russell, author and editor
Boise: Elevate Faith, 2012
A book review by Matt Johnson
Worship is not just a Sunday event; it is a lifestyle. Decades of worship wars often focused on worship as what happens only on Sunday mornings, but an examination of our practices and the Scriptures has expanded our definition of worship to include both nonmusical and non-Sunday events. With the proliferation of books on leadership, it was only a matter of time before an interdisciplinary entrepreneur like Mark Russell produced a book on Work as Worship.
In this book, Russell, cofounder and CEO of Elevate Publishing (formerly Russell Media), makes his own valuable contributions to this topic and also compiles input from more than a dozen business, political, and academic leaders.
If the names of the CEOs are not familiar, the companies they lead (Hobby Lobby, PepsiCo, and Tyson, to name a few) will be. All the contributors are Christians who have chosen to serve God by walking the path we often label “secular.”
Every Member Ministry
We know all believers are priests (1 Peter 2:4-9). While agreeing to this idea in the abstract, we often seem more comfortable drawing hard lines in practice between the sacred and the secular or between clergy and laity. Russell and his power brokers narrate their experiences and share personal examples to remind us that many believers can find their calling as priests in the business office or the boardroom, as well as in the church.
Ken Eldred, cofounder of a $40 billion Internet business-to-business company, challenges the myth that all committed Christians should go into vocational ministry. He sees ministry opportunities for all workers in all fields. “Do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31) takes on fresh meaning when coming from a nonordained entrepreneur. Or, as leadership consultant Dave Gibbons says, “It’s a wave of global leaders who aren’t going to let the pastors have all the fun.”
The professions represented in Russell’s book focus more on the power suit than the street sweeper. The danger of this approach is the reader could easily start to correlate “worshipful work” with financial success in a way that edges toward the prosperity gospel. David Miller, director of the Faith and Work Initiative at Princeton University, counters this tendency with a reminder that in the Bible, God often called people to nonglamorous work. He writes, “Let’s embrace that and find God in the daily, the mundane, and the profane.”
This is not the prosperity gospel, but it is the gospel for the prosperous—and for the hardworking.
If we change our view of work from being a necessary evil to a vital part of God’s mission, then our jobs may also qualify as a calling. Dennis Bakke, cofounder of Imagine Schools, reminds us that Noah was a shipbuilder, Esther was a pageant winner, and Daniel held public office.
The goal in Russell’s book is not to deflate the position of clergy but to elevate the ministry of laity. He argues that our greatest missional context is our work; outside of our family, it is our primary mission field and our greatest opportunity to carry out the Great Commission. According to the creation order in Genesis, he points out, God gave us work before giving us a family.
For some, this is an issue of stewardship. Mo Anderson, vice chairman of the board (and former CEO) of Keller Williams Realty, writes that getting comfortable with a call to make money is not about building a bank account. Instead, she argues, it is about the good that can be done with wealth. She references Jesus’ parable of the rich man in Luke 12 to imply that a rising tide should lift all boats. Wealth, Jesus says, is to be shared, not hoarded.
Not all contributors agreed on how they applied a calling to their work. While Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A close their doors on Sundays, many other businesses mentioned in the book do not.
Henry Kaestner’s Bandwith.com draws a firm line by refusing to provide its services to the porn industry. Jeff Russell’s Easy Office (now known as Jitasa), however, does not limit its clientele to like-minded people. The accounting and bookkeeping services provider’s strategy is to reach out to the largest possible customer base in order to extend its ministry influence.
Both businesses and callings are unique, and the book offers more points to ponder than pat answers.
Worship as a Lifestyle
Work as worship can also be a means of loving God and others, not just making a living. Norm Miller, who at one time had controlling ownership of Interstate Batteries, wanted to honor God without being unnecessarily offensive. This begged the question of asking a blessing at business lunches. He and his brother developed a rule: “If we pay, we pray.” Miller’s company has enjoyed two decades of increased sales.
Approaching work as worship freed the contributors to apply their occupational passion to their faith. Their biggest challenges were often professional, so they integrated their faith through both success and failure. They became guarded from extremes by neither demonizing nor idolizing work.
Many contributors noted the practical benefits of God-honoring business practices, including dramatically reduced turnover rates and increased recruitment of quality employees.
None of the businesses represented in this book were religiously homogenous. This produced both opportunities and minefields. An important distinction and recurring theme in the book is that businesses are not Christian—people are Christian. Therefore employees, clients, or partners do not have to subscribe to the same faith.
Instead, reframing work as worship gives us the opportunity to cooperate with others, influence them, and work with them toward common goals out of the principles of faith for the glory of God. That’s not a bad way to worship 40 hours a week.
Matt Johnson serves as pastor at Levittown (Pennsylvania) Christian Church.