Our work should be an offering to God for His goodness in our lives.
A book I read in graduate school revolutionized my understanding of work. Max Weber, a German sociologist and economist of the early 20th century, wrote a series of essays in 1904-05 that later became his famous book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Sociologists regard it as one of the most important books of the 20th century.
Weber’s research led him to conclude that Protestant Christians brought a new mindset to their workplaces. Their faith in God fostered a strong work ethic. They viewed their work skills or crafts as God’s calling on their lives, and this calling added new meaning to life itself.
Weber found that Protestant Christians took the scriptural admonition seriously: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24).
Protestant Christians believed their witness for Christ should shine brightly in their work.
A group of radical German pietists moved to east-central Iowa, USA, in 1856, with this Protestant work ethic in mind. The Amana people became the longest lasting and most successful religious commune in American history. They loved the Lord and the work God gave them. It did not take long for folks in that part of the state to recognize the superior workmanship of everything Amana workers produced. They made the best candles, clocks, furniture, and clothes that anyone had ever seen. Their beef, canned goods, and bakery items were second to none. Why? Because the Amana people personified Colossians 3:23-24.
I was honored to write my doctoral dissertation on their faith and how they lived it in daily life. Their understanding of God’s desire for a relationship with us and a call to holy living parallels Wesleyan thought in many ways. I gained a deep appreciation of their Christian witness through their work skills. Their products are as highly-valued by patrons today as they were more than 160 years ago. Visitors to the Amana shops may attribute the superior workmanship to a German heritage carefully passed from generation to generation, and no doubt pride in their heritage may have its place.
However, my interviews with many of the Amana residents, along with their written history, pointed to a more important consideration: their love for Jesus.
They want patrons to wear their clothes, eat their bakery items, or sit on their furniture and recognize the high quality as an offering to God for His goodness in their lives. Their Christian work ethic has challenged me for a lifetime.
Could it be that our work ethic might be so winsome that we point people to our Savior? Could the spirit we project in the workplace serve as a conversation starter to our faith in Christ? Might our careful attention to high quality mark us as servants of the Lord?
I spent most of my adult life as a Christian university professor. Local businesses often called for a reference regarding the potential employment of our students. Most often employers said, “We try to hire as many students from your university as we can. They are honest and hard-working; they genuinely care about the needs of our customers.” What a positive witness. May all of us represent Christ well in the workplace.
Frank M. Moore is editor in chief of Holiness Today.
Holiness Today, May/Jun 2018.