A Lack of Specificity

Several weeks ago, Greg posted an article that stated that stated that Christians should be better workers. This is too important of an issue to allow Greg’s article to silently fade back into the archives of Hang Together. As I reflected upon his article again and upon my own preaching, it occurred to me that there is often a lack of specificity in preaching and teaching when it comes to the difference that faith makes in our work.

The underlying assumption of the connection between faith and work is not that Christians WILL be better workers but that they SHOULD be better workers. But why aren’t they? One reason is that we are sinful, fallen creatures and the reality that even after we are redeemed we continue to fall into sin. We do not live perfectly after coming to faith in Jesus Christ and we do not suddenly become super workers. The second reason, in many cases, is a lack of understanding of what it looks like to be “better.” People are told they should be ‘better’ but fail to grasp what that means.

This lack of comprehension often comes when preachers and teachers fall into generalities. When on average there are sixty or so adults sitting in one’s congregation, the temptation is to make broad applications of a given topic or scripture that will apply to as many people as possible. Thus, a pastor might say from the pulpit something like Greg’s article “Christians should be better workers.” But this general statement falls short because it fails to defines itself or offer specifics. Case in point, examine the comments section and push back following Greg’s article. Not everyone fully grasped what Greg was trying to say.

The main question revolves around what it means to be ‘better.’ Does ‘better’ baseball player mean higher batting average (or on base percentage for you followers of sabermetrics!) Does ‘better’ mean that a worker makes more money, signs more contracts, or sells more product? The answer to these questions is ‘not necessarily.’ A baseball player may have higher statistical averages once they understand the connection between their faith and their work, but this does not have to be the case. Instead, ‘better’ means that the overall qualities of that person as a player improve. They become less self-centered and more team oriented, they are more respectful of coaches and fellow players and officials, their play is more ethical, they try their hardest, give above and beyond their best effort, and they are known for moral behavior off the field as well as on. These changes in a player may very well affect batting average, but regardless, the Christian ballplayer is a ‘better’ player.

As one might notice, it took an entire paragraph to explain what a ‘better’ baseball player might look like, and many of those qualities do not apply to lawyers, doctors, bus drivers, or garbage collectors. Out of fear of being specific to only one group and not having time to address all the others, many teachers and preachers settle for being general. Yet, as I have noticed in my own preaching, generalities are not particularly helpful, especially if there is a lack of agreement on what that generality means. To simply say “better’ is not as effective as specific applications. But is there time for specific applications to all different types of people?

The solution to this dilema is to realize that specific application is actually a further illustration. For instance, one might include a specific application to an auto mechanic in a sermon, but this specific application is actually an illustration of what ‘better’ looks like, not simply an exhaustive check list of what must be done to be ‘better.’ As the Christian auto mechanic hears the specific application, he or she further understands what it means to be a ‘better’ mechanic and can apply this application to other areas of their job as. Likewise, as the lawyer hears they examples of what ‘better’ looks like for auto mechanics and secretaries, the lawyer better understand what ‘better’ means and is challenged to think of what ‘better’ looks like for lawyers. The specific examples have served to further define ‘better’ so that everyone can grasp the concept.

Preaching, teachers, and yes, even bloggers, need to take the time to find specific examples and applications when talking about faith and work so that workers know exactly what they are being called to by their creator. This makes more work for the teacher, but they are called to be ‘better’ teachers as well.


1 Thought.

  1. Thank you for this – you’ve seen exactly what the key points are! And this is, as you say, a big challenge for pastors who are unable to speak specifically about every vocation.

    This is why a lot of people in the faith and work movement have focused for some time now on trying to form vocational affinity groups – small groups of people in the same or similar professions who meet regularly to talk about what “better” should look like in their context and how they can work together to make it happen.

    My impression is that these efforts have not gotten off the ground much, and I suspect the main thing we need to do to change that is . . . wait for it . . . convince pastors to drive this by preaching it!

    Chicken and egg! 🙂

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