Friday, July 19, 2013

Paul Rude’s “Significant Work”

Some 22 years ago, I joined a newly formed group called The Salt and Light Fellowship. Led by Jerram Barrs of the Francis Schaeffer Institute at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, we were focused on the idea of being salt and light right where we were.

Barrs taught a number of sessions about work, and specifically to the idea that everyday work – no matter what kind of work it was – mattered to God, and that “secular” work was just as important to God as “spiritual” work. In fact, all work was “spiritual,” no matter if it were preaching on Sunday, serving in the mission field in India, or being a speechwriter for a Fortune 500 corporation. Or a waiter. Or a scientist. Or a business executive. It all mattered.

Two decades ago, that wasn’t the most accepted of ideas in the church. Most of us still believed that “church” work was somehow more spiritual, more holy, and more acceptable to God that “secular” work. Because we differentiated between the two, we could easily take the next step, and decide that what we did in our 9 to 5 jobs didn’t really matter – and we could act just like everyone else in our workplace.

What Barrs helped all of us understand was that all work is actually “church” work.

Today, the idea has broader acceptance. All kinds of organizations (including The High Calling, with which I’m affiliated) exist to champion the idea that our everyday work matters. And a number of books can now be found on the subject, but none so comprehensive (and easily readable) as Significant Work: Discover the Extraordinary Worth of What You Do Every Day by Paul Rude.

Rude leads an organization called Everyday Significance, devoted to helping individuals and organizations “overcome the sacred-secular divide.” It started when he spoke at a church missions conference, and discovered the desire of people to connect their temporal, everyday lives to what they believed. Today he’s a speaker, consultant and counselor, and has distilled what he does into Significant Work.

“The truth is stunning,” he writes. “The truth is that the regular, everyday, earthly life of our lives holds a breathtaking significance bestowed by the touch of God’s magnificent glory alone. The daily grind of our lives leaves far more than a tiny fingerprint on eternity. It strikes cosmic hammer blows that forge the very shape of eternity.”

What follows from that rather astonishing statement is not a roadmap, not a how-to guide, but an explanation and understanding if the true significance of work. Rude doesn’t tell us how to live our work for God, but instead explains why our work matters, and why it has eternal significance. How we go about living that understanding is part of the journey each of us is on.

Rude divides the book in two parts. The first, “The Lie,” describes how and why we came to accept the belief that “ministry work” is both more important and more spiritual than “secular work,” what he calls the Sunday-Monday divide. And he walks the reader through a considerable number of misconceptions we have about work.

The second part of the book, “The Truth,” explains what God created work to be, and what God created us to be in the work we’ve been given to do. It’s eye-opening and encouraging, even for someone familiar with the ideas and concepts. Rude has thought through his subject, studied it, spoken about it, helped others understand it – and now put it together in one place.

Significant Work is itself a significant work, because this misunderstanding we’ve embraced about work isn’t some theoretical idea. It has had real consequences, not the least being how we act and behave in the “secular” workplace can distort who we are and what God intends for us to do.

It’s one of the best business books I’ve read. Ever. But its application reaches far beyond business, because work is something every one us does.


Photograph by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.


Sheila Siler said...

I so agree with this. A.W. Tozer addressed this idea and also says there is no secular/sacred divide. This is something I've tried to keep in mind with our kids as they explore what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Thanks for the post!

Anonymous said...

i think i will stick to drawing lines with a pencil.