Re-thinking Work – The Need for the Church to reclaim the Cultural Mandate

The cultural mandate calls us to be stewards of the world and cultivate it for God's glory.  This includes our work.  Yet, churches have largely left work to the domain of the 'secular world'.  There are two reasons I believe this occurred, first Western Christians are shaped by an enlightenment, Platonic dualism worldview  (creating a false secular/sacred divide).  Secondly, we have a limited view of the gospel.   When the gospel is reduced to just individual salvation, the fullness of God's redemptive plan is not understood.    The evangelical world had focused almost exclusively on the great commission at the cost of seeing their entire life as part of God's plan. If we broaden our gospel understanding, how does this change the way we think about work?

First, it should change how we think about our job.   The themes of creation/fall/redemption are a pattern we must examine our work by.   For example, here are conversations I've had with people regarding their work:

Insurance Broker – God provided for man in creation placing him in the garden, because of sin, death/disease entered the scene.  An insurance broker seeks to bring peace in the face of sin by providing people with health care so they can be taken care of in a time of need.  This is redemptive work bringing shalom to a broken world.

Merchant Service Account Exec – (Provides credit card processing at a company that eliminates banks as the middle-men so they offer significantly lower rates).  In the garden we should have shared and taken care of one another.  In the OT God forbids the Jews from charging interest to one-another.  Because of sin, we don't want to help others in need and charge high interest rates (and because of sin people abuse credit.)  Lower interest rates seek to reduce the consequence of the fall as best as possible.  It is trying to reduce the impact of the fall.

It is important for Christians to see their work as valuable as they act as agents in this mandate. Are churches encouraging Christians to think this way?  How would it change for Christians if they connected their work to God's redemptive plan?  

Second, kingdom-mindedness would mean companies would re-org in effective ways to reduce waste, miscommunication, lack of delegation and responsibility.  Shouldn't distinctly Christian organizations be leading the way as it relates to employee satisfaction, customer service, etc?  In addition, these companies would re-invest back into the community.  What else would a kingdom-minded company look like?  (I'm excited that a member of our church is starting a job where he will provide consulting to companies that want to think through what it means to be kingdom-minded.  It will be interesting to see what develops from that.)

Lastly, work should play a bigger part of life in the church.  What would it look like for churches to be involved in enterprises, employing people, meeting needs, job training?  Doing all of this with the cultural mandate in mind?  Fortunately, there seems to be a re-discovery of the cultural mandate.  Hopefully this will broaden people's understanding of work beyond just a 'mission field'.  We will recognize that our job of cultivating the garden was given prior to the fall. Cultivating the earth was our primary mission.  Yet we know this redeeming process will not be completed until Jesus comes. 

  • Derek Brown

    June 26, 2007, 12:33 am

    Sounds great, and I completely agree with the Church missing the cultural mandate for the most part. We’re starting to “get” art/music/media on the whole, but a lot of us still ignore the workplace. One question: what do we do about jobs where compromise with Scripture is inevitable? You touch on it with the merchant service account exec: wouldn’t the thing to do to bring the most shalom/harmony be to reduce a debtor’s interest rates to zero, in accordance with Scripture?

    Of course, reducing interest rates to zero is out of the question in his/her work situation. There are also worse scenarios where one’s occupation requires compromise, I’m sure you can think of many. What balance should there be struck, if any in those kinds of situations? I’ve struggled with these questions for some time now. Great post, by the way.

  • sacred vapor

    June 26, 2007, 8:04 am

    The only problem here is if churches try to transform the culture by making it their brand of ‘christian,’ much like the music industry has something called ‘christian music.’ In my opinion, this is just another form of the secular/sacred divide as you mentioned.

    I think what you are alluding to, which I would agree with, is to transform our work ethic from the foundational level (worldview), so that the mandate becomes the natural response to our culture. We don’t define this as ‘christian work’ but ‘work’ which is recognizable as Christ-centered.

    I agree with Rob Bell when he says that ‘christian’ makes a great noun but a terrible adjective.


  • D. Goodmanson

    June 29, 2007, 11:14 am

    Derek, while eliminating interest rates totally would bring shalom, it won’t deal with the heart issues of people who would abuse this and therefore it would create alternative problems. This is the already/not yet tension we live in.

    vapor, good clarification, yes it’s a worldview change.

  • Daniel

    August 13, 2007, 1:08 pm

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article inking Work – The Need for the Church to reclaim the Cultural Mandate, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.