Review: Work and Worship

Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy, Matthew Kaemingk and Cory B. Willson (Foreword by Nicholas Wolterstorff). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020.

Summary: Proposes that a theology of work is not enough. In scripture, people were formed in their work through worship rather than simply an intellectual engagement.

Many of us have believed there is a disconnect between Sunday and Monday through Saturday. Our answer has been to develop a Christian theology of work. A variety of books have been published (I posted such a list recently). The assumption has been that if we can get our thinking about work right, then we will follow Christ as disciples in our work. We organize Bible studies, book studies and adult education courses. We have created marketplace ministries. And this has been helpful.

The authors of this book affirm these efforts but believe there is a missing element. It is the connection between worship and work. They observe that how the people of Israel and how followers of Jesus were formed in the ways they worked was through their worship. And they brought their work into their worship through thanksgiving, through offerings, and through prayers for God’s blessing of the work of their hands. Then they brought their worship into their work. Sadly, worship often fails the workers in the pews. It is institutionalized, spiritualized, individualistic, saccharine, passive, privatized, and mainly designed as a fueling stop. The lack of connection of work and worship leads workers to conclude that work doesn’t matter to the mission of God. This is essentially the first part of the book.

The second part of the book shows the way work and worship were integrated in scripture and the life of the early church. The Pentateuch shows the bringing of work into worship, especially in the form of offerings. The Psalms may be seen then as singing God’s work into ours. The prophets denounce the destruction of the connection of work and worship through idolatry and through injustices toward workers while maintaining the façade of worship. Turning to the early church, they consider the very earthy gatherings of early believers in homes in the context of meals in which people brought various fruits of their work to help fellow believers and then in the Lord’s table were nourished by the work of Christ. Likewise, the street processionals of the early church in the early centuries engaged the market place, the economy of their cities in liturgy.

With this background, the authors then consider practices in which work and worship may be integrated in the contemporary liturgical context. They begin with seven actions of workers in the Eucharist or Lord’s table: examine, approach, thank, receive, share, hold, and consume. They then discuss how people are prepared to approach and how worship space may be configured. They suggest five ways of bringing work tangibly into worship: trumpets of praise, ashes of confession, tears of lament, petition for the workplace, and the fruit of their work. They include examples of a variety of prayers for the workplace. Finally, they consider how workers are scattered to their work.

Throughout the text are a variety of sidebars offering examples from various contexts of the topics under discussion. Sometimes, I find sidebars distracting. Not here. These were both relevant and beautifully illustrated the ideas of the text. Some are prayers or songs or stories or practices. I appreciated the pointer to The Porter’s Gate Worship Project and particularly their collection of work songs.

More than this, I appreciate the focus in this book of not simply developing worship for workers, but worship with workers, and affirming how the workers in our pews are also priests of God bringing their work (and other workers) to God and bringing God into their work places. The book helped open my eyes to how we cannot bridge the disconnect between Sunday and Monday through Saturday only through theologies of work. For many, that theology must first be lived out and given voice in our worship. Ora et Labora (pray and work) is not simply the rule of the monastery. It needs to be the rule for us all. This is a wonderful resource to begin to bring our prayers and our work together.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Ten+ Books on Theology of Work

Photo by Ono Kosuki on

Most of us spend the majority of our waking hours at work, paid or unpaid. Losing work is devastating for most people. Why is work such an important part of being human? How are work, rest, and leisure properly related in our lives? And what does God think of our work? From the work of God in creation in Genesis 1 to Revelation 21 where the kings of the earth will carry their splendor into the new Jerusalem, the heavenly city, work runs through scripture. Yet teaching on our work has often been absent from our churches. Yesterday, I reviewed Workplace Discipleship 101 by David W. Gill, an excellent book on work. I’ve included it again here along with others I’ve found helpful.

Keeping the Sabbath Wholly, Marva J. Dawn. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989. God’s intent for us is not endless work but a rhythm of work and rest. Dawn explores the biblical material on sabbath and practical suggestions for keeping it.

The Common Rule, Justin Whitmel Earley. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019. Daily and weekly spiritual practices that may be used by people in the workplace, and may become “common” by being practiced in community.

Workplace Discipleship 101David W. Gill. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020. Focuses very practically on how we may follow Jesus as we prepare for and engage in our work.

The Fabric of this World, Lee Hardy. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990. One of the early books on this subject, surveying various views of work in classic philosophy and through church history.

Leisure and Spirituality, Paul Heintzman. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015. Using biblical, historical and contemporary leisure studies to look at the relation of work, rest, and leisure, contending that “leisure reaches its fullest potential when our lives are lived in relationship with God.

The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1951. A Jewish rabbi contends that Judaism is a religion of time, not space and that sabbath represents the sanctification of time.

On Human Work, John Paul II. Washington: United States Catholic Conference, 1981. John Paul II’s encyclical on work addressing what it means to work and be human, the conflict between labor and capital, the right of workers, and the spirituality of work.

Work and Worship, Matthew Kaemingk and Cory B. Wilson. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020. One I’m looking forward to read making the connection between our Sunday worship and our work the other six days.

Every Good Endeavor, Timothy Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf. New York: Dutton, 2012. Explores God’s plan for our work, our problems with work and how the gospel transforms work.

After Sunday, Armand Larive. New York: Continuum, 2004. A theology of work grounded in the Trinity.

Kingdom Calling, Amy Sherman. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2011. A theology of vocation, focused on stewarding our faith and work toward righteousness.

Your Work Matters to God, Doug Sherman and William Hendricks. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1987. One of the early books addressing a theology of work.

From my shelves to yours, a good collection of works on work, rest, leisure, and spiritual practices spanning seventy years. Hopefully they will become good friends to you as they have for me, enriching my understanding of these rhythms of work and rest. Work existed before the Fall and is not the curse. Work reflects something of what it means to reflect the image of God, the God who works. It is well worth exploring works like these to enrich our work and our lives!

Review: Workplace Discipleship 101

Workplace Discipleship 101, David W. Gill. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2020.

Summary: A practical guide to living as a follower in one’s workplace focused on how we get ready for our work, impact our workplace, and beyond our workplace.

As a teenager who had been raised in a Christian home and church, one of the things I struggled with in high school was making the connection between Sunday, and Monday through Saturday. Had it not been for the Jesus movement and later, the collegiate ministry I was involved with, I may have walked away from Christianity. To say Jesus is Lord but then live six days a week as if he has nothing to do with them seemed just a wee bit inconsistent. Atheism seemed more consistent and less hypocritical.

David Gill writes out of a similar conviction. Observing that we spend the largest part of our waking hours at work, Gill contends it only makes sense for those of us who follow Jesus to learn how we may do so during those hours. He then proceeds to give us a book (part of Hendrickson’s “Theology of Work” series) grounded solidly in a theology of both discipleship and work and incredibly practical in its applications.

The book is organized in three parts. The first considers how we might “get ready for our work.” He begins by inviting us to commit to be a workplace disciple and share it with someone else who won’t let us evade that commitment. He then writes about prayer, both crisis prayers and ongoing prayer with models of workplace prayers and even how to use the Lord’s prayer in praying about our work. He addresses the other side of our communication with God in listening to Him in scripture, understanding it as centered around Jesus and God’s mission in the world, and then offers ways to engage the scriptures personally and in groups. He urges us not to go it alone but to have a “posse” of the like-minded and offers helps for forming such a group. Finally, Gill believes we need to be lifelong learners, and particularly commends the importance of reading (I knew there was a reason I liked this guy). He makes extensive suggestions of books to get us started on a theology of work.

Having gotten us ready for work, the second part of the book speaks of our impact as Christians at work. First of all it means aligning our work with God. After looking at God the worker, he makes recommendations about understanding our gifted passions and pursuing them as disciples of Christ. Our model as imitators of Christ is a big part of our impact, living with the qualities of righteousness, peacemaking, and joy. He encourages us to be light in our workplaces, bringing the unique insights and questions that our shaped by our reading of scripture, with humility but without apology. We don’t have to say, “the Bible says,” but simply, “what do you think of this?” As we live in these ways, we will have chances to share our faith. As we listen to others, they will be ready to listen to us. Gill suggests various ways we might initiate but concludes “that the best time to share the gospel is when someone asks you about it and wants to hear your answer” (p. 163). Sometimes we will be confronted with wrongdoing or conflict in the workplace, and the challenge here is to be overcomers. He talks about how to identify serious wrongdoing in the workplace and how to address conflict with humility, courage and prayer.

The final part of the book moves beyond our workplace with a number of ideas of how we may contribute the gifts and skills we use in the workplace to the benefit of the wider church. His last chapter is on rest and the importance of sabbath in our lives as workers. He contends that intentional efforts to schedule and set aside sabbath, vacations, date nights, and periodically, longer sabbaticals, is crucial to gaining control of our time.

The text is broken up with periodic “chalkboards” summarizing key points and chapters conclude with a “to do” list and questions for reflection and discussion. This makes the book ideal for use in a church or workplace group. It also includes a postscript for pastors, urging them to address the workplace life of a congregation, including visiting people on the job.

What distinguishes this book from many I have read is that it is at once solidly grounded in a theology of work (without the author showing all his work!) and at the same time extremely practical and applicable. The challenge of this book is not figuring out what the author is saying or how to put it into practice. Rather, will one practice and live into the clear steps of discipleship laid out by the author? Again, having a posse will add to the impact of this book as you urge each other on the path of workplace discipleship.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Working in the Presence of God

Working in the presence of God

Working in the Presence of GodDenise Daniels & Shannon Vandewarker. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2019.

Summary: Addresses the question of workplace spirituality–practices that help us engage with God in the context of and amid our work.

Most often, when we think about spiritual practices, we think about a retreat to a monastery, or some other remote place, or at least in a quiet place in our home, if such exists. On the other hand, writings about workplaces often deal with the biblical theology of work, and biblical principles shaping the excellence and ethics of our work. This book makes a unique contribution to Christian workplace literature in exploring spiritual practices that one can weave into the ordinary rhythms of day to day work.

In fact, taking a page from Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary, the authors begin the book by inviting us to identify our work rhythms and then encourage us that God wants to meet us in these everyday rhythms. The practices explained in this book are elaborated in ways that weave into those rhythms. These are organized around orienting to our work, engaging in our work, and reflecting upon our work.

Orienting to our work begins with our commute and creating a liturgy that fits the surroundings and circumstances of that commute. The authors then propose practices that set apart and remind us that our work places are holy ground. They take up our calendar and our to-do lists and the surrender of these to God. Finally there is the reading and reflecting on the scriptures–even a notecard in our pocket with a verse upon which we reflect throughout the day.

Engaging in our work commends practices that remind us of our call to be co-creators with God in our work. They begin with the affirmation of our call, both general and particular to our work. They encourage gratitude and celebration, recalling God’s blessings, the contributions of others. Sometimes, though, we contribute to the problems in our workplace. In this case, we practice confession at work, the ways we have fallen short. Finally, there are futile systemic problems for which we practice lament.

Sometime we need to step away and reflect on our work. They explore the practice of solitude–time alone with God. The practice of examen helps us review our days and allow the Lord to search our hearts–our joys, sorrows, the places where we need forgiveness, and grace. Finally, they encourage sabbath to rest, reflect, and relate.

In each chapter, the writers explain the practice, then share stories of several people and how they implemented the practice in their own lives, followed by practical suggestions for beginning the discipline. The chapters conclude with questions to use after practicing the discipline for a period of time.

This is a great book both for individual study and for a group of Christians in the workplace to read, practice, and discuss together. It upholds a vision of meeting God in the rhythms of our daily work. As part of Hendrickson’s Theology of Work series, it upholds a high vision of work as mattering to God. It goes further in reminding us that God’s presence extends beyond the parking lot into the workplace, into the places where we spend most of our waking hours.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: Every Job a Parable

every job a parable

Every Job a Parable John Van Sloten. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2017.

Summary: A theology of work proposing that our different jobs are “parables” that reveal various aspects of the character and ways of God, and therefore that all work matters and that God speaks to the world through our callings.

John Van Sloten has approached the theology of work in a way I’ve not seen before. He notes how so many of the parables of Jesus focus on the various kinds of work his hearers would readily have recognized and observes:

“When Jesus wrapped a parable around a particular vocation, he was affirming the creational goodness of that job.

I think Jesus is still doing the same today–through the parable that is your job.”

For him, this sheds new light both on how we image God in all of our endeavors, how God is revealed in our work, and how we might more effectively image God in our work. He traces the significance of our work from creation where God speaks through our work and our world; the fall and the ways we are hindered from experiencing God in our work; redemption and the transforming power of naming God’s saving presence in the world, and the New Earth that reminds us that our work is a foretaste of our eternal destiny.

He did something else I’ve not seen before. He interviewed and studied scores of workers from different occupations: astronauts and Walmart greeters, forensic psychologists and restaurant servers, emergency response personnel and asphalt contractors and explored how God meets them in their work and reveals himself through it. One of the powerful experiences for both Van Sloten and the various workers was to see their work in new light as they revealed that it all matters to God.

Perhaps one of the chapters that most resonated with me was his discussion of our lives as part of God’s great story, that he speaks through us–where we have the sense that we are participating in something greater than ourselves, where Someone greater than ourselves is speaking or singing or composing or caring or building or crafting through us. He calls this entering into the spokenness of our work.

Through short chapters that weave stories of workers with theological reflection, Van Sloten offers one of the richest and most accessible treatments of the theology of work I’ve read. He invites individuals and groups to join him in this reflection on the significance of our work with reflection questions titled Lectio Vocatio at the end of each chapter. Van Sloten has also created a series of YouTube videos around different vocations. One example is a sermon on restaurant servers. He includes a list of links to all the videos in an index.

There are many people who sit in our churches who wonder what connection their work has with the things we speak of Sunday by Sunday. They spend the major portion of their waking hours at work in many cases. John Van Sloten offers the tremendous news that God not only speaks on Sundays but through us in our work, which matters greatly. God “calls” to the world through our callings. Rather than a necessary evil, our work images the good and beautiful and true God. The book may serve as a great resource for an adult education class, or a preaching series, giving people hope that it is not simply through their involvement in the church, but also through their work in the world that they may know the pleasure of God upon their lives.