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Abbey Presbyterian Church, Parnell Square North, Dublin 1, Co. Dublin, Ireland.


What Work is

Sometimes we wish that there was no such thing as work so that we could laze around and generally enjoy ourselves, but work is actually God’s gift to us; and when we do not have work we soon realise its value. God Himself is a worker, the first humans were given work to do and Jesus was a worker. Work is intended for the fulfilment of the worker (Ecclesiastes 2:24; 3:22) and yet it is not ‘indispensable’; the climax of creation was not work but Sabbath rest (Genesis 2:2f.). Work is also intended for the benefit of the community; by it our families’ needs are met, the poor, the alien, the widow and the orphan are cared for, and other lives are enriched (Ephesians 4:28). Furthermore, work is intended for the benefit of God, to glorify Him and to reveal and fulfil His purposes through us (1 Corinthians 10:31; 15:58), thus ‘work is worship’, as the old saying goes. So a definition of work might run as follows:

Work is the expenditure of energy (manual or mental or both) in the service of others, which brings fulfilment to the worker, benefit to the community, and glory to God.
(John Stott)

Preparing for Work (as a ‘Sphere of Influence’)

Since work is an honourable, humanising dimension in our lives; and since we will spend a large portion of our lives at work, it stands to reason that our work will be another major ‘sphere of influence.’ We will have ample opportunity to live out our faith before the eyes of others and to enter into their lives in deeper ways. It may be that our particular work and choice of career is significantly determined by our faith and vocation. Indeed we should encourage one another in this regard. And given the changing work patterns, with fewer ‘jobs for life’, we must prepare one another for multiple roles and challenges over the course of a working life.

Continuing in Work

It is likely that people will need to retrain several times and may end up in a career quite different to the one in which they started. Young people (even well qualified) are finding it more difficult to get into the workforce, so the Church needs to be supportive, creative and the defenders of young people.

Redundancy, unemployment

All of this sets the context for then understanding the trauma of unemployment; especially if this becomes an inter-generational experience in some families. Industrial psychologists have likened unemployment to bereavement: first, shock, followed by depression and pessimism; and finally, fatalism as the unemployed person becomes demoralised and dehumanised. The ultimate solution for unemployment lies in the realm of macro-economics and Christians need to be involved at this level. More short-term remedies include government incentive schemes to encourage employers and employees; increasing small businesses; job-splitting/job-pairing; reduction of weekly hours worked; curtailment of overtime; extension of annual leave; increase of sabbaticals and earlier voluntary retirement. The Church can and must help by:

  1. Changing our attitudes (and those of others) towards unemployment – the values of the so-called ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ such as industry, honesty, resourcefulness and thrift, tend to despise those who are losers in the struggle to survive, as if it were their fault;
  2. Taking our own initiatives to value, support, train, assist and employ people who want to work but can’t;
  3. Publicizing and acting on the distinction between ‘work’ and ‘employment’. Although all employment is work (we are not paid for doing nothing), not all work is employment (we can work without being paid for it). What demoralises people is not so much lack of employment (not being in a paid job) as lack of work (not using their energies in creative service). Significant work gives people self-respect.