Friday Five Interview: Greg Gilbert
Greg Gilbert is the Senior Pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and the co-author of The Gospel at Work. He's also the co-author of What is the Gospel? and What is the Mission of the Church?
Today we talk with Greg about faith and work.
1) There have been quite a few "faith and work" books published in recent years. What motivated you to add to the conversation and what makes The Gospel At Work different?
The short answer, I think, is "the more the merrier!" I'm glad Christians are thinking about this issue. There's so much to think about and say in this area, from huge theological and biblical questions right down to the nitty gritty questions like, "How do I pick a job?" and, "How do I deal with difficult co-workers?" This book isn't really trying to lay out a full biblical theology of work. There are several good books out there that do that job very well. Sebastian and I are simply trying to apply biblical truth about work to the practicalities of work life. How does the fact that I am a Christian make a difference in the way I approach my job? That's the question we're trying to answer.
2) I'm guessing the typical Christian, when hearing "the gospel at work" thinks of evangelism. But you are aiming for a more holistic vision of the workplace, right?
That's right. This is not really a book about workplace evangelism (though we do talk about that). We're actually aiming to try to help Christians think about how their faith in Jesus changes the way they think about and act in their jobs.
Most Christians, we think, tend to fall into one of two traps when it comes to their work. Either they make an idol of their jobs, or they become idle in their jobs. In other words, they either find themselves trying to find ultimate satisfaction and meaning from their jobs, or they lose sight of God's purposes for them in their work. Neither of those, though, is the right way to think about work. Work shouldn't be the center of our lives, but it also isn't merely a necessary evil. Whatever you do, the fact is that you work for the King. It's God who has deployed you to that particular job (or lack of a job!) at this particular time, and he has purposes for us in our work. In fact, our jobs are actually high profile arenas in which he wants to bring glory to himself and make us more like Jesus. If we remember that, it changes everything about how we approach our work.
3) How does a pastor balance an impulse toward missions and sending with a healthy doctrine of vocation?
I think much of the pastoral work we do in this area is helping people discern how their own gifts and abilities, their desires, and the opportunities available to them come together and intersect. Depending on what Bible verses I'm preaching, I try to exhort my people both to think about international missions and also to be faithful in the obligations God has given them right now. Both are important. And when someone comes with a desire to go to the mission field, we begin a good conversation with them about whether that desire is a deep and lasting one, whether it's in line with that person's abilities and gifts, and if so, whether there are opportunities available that they could pursue. Those are never easy or short conversations, but they are good ones!
4) What are some practical ways pastors can affirm the laity in their Mon-Friday callings?
Make sure you preach to them not just about their church life and family life, but about their work life, too. Scripture is full of exhortations that have deep applications to how we interact with coworkers, those over whom we have authority, and those whose authority we ourselves are under. The workplace is one of the main arenas God uses to sanctify us and conform us to the image of Jesus. Help your people see that. Help them cut the root of idolatry of work, and help them see that their jobs are not just accidents. They have been deployed there—for good and real purposes—by their King.
5) If you could speak to a fellow Christian who doesn't receive income from a "Christian" organization, what would you say to affirm their worth to the Kingdom?
I would encourage that brother or sister to remember that it is God himself who deploys us to our various vocations in life. Yes, some of us he deploys to full-time Christian ministry, and others he deploys to other assignments. None of those deployments are more "valuable" than others, and in fact, Jesus would probably rebuke us for even asking the question about "value"—just like he rebuked the disciples when they were arguing about which of them was greatest in the kingdom!
The poit is that wherever the Lord has deployed us, we should recognize that we work ultimately for him, for his glory, and for his honor. And so no matter what it is that we do, we should do it with faithfulness and energy and with our whole hearts. That's the point we hope Christians will take away from this book and be encouraged by: "Whatever you do, you work for the King!"
Daniel Darling is vice-president of communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He is the author of several books, including his latest, Activist Faith.