If one were to summarize the underlying thesis of the contemporary faith and work movement in a single sentence, it would likely be “Your work matters to God.”
Dozens of books have been published on the subject and a seemingly significant movement of conferences, websites, and resources has gained traction in the past two decades. The answers to why our work matters to God and what that means practically may vary, but the message “Our work matters to God” has shaped much of the conversation in churches and Christian workplaces alike.
But I believe we need a more Kuyperian understanding of this concept. Our work matters to God because all of the created order belongs to Christ, and we find in the creation account not just the anthropological truths that matter to this subject (mankind is an image bearer of God) but the ontological truths as well (our very being is connected to our pre-Fall mandate to be the workers and cultivators of God’s creation). This foundational appeal to a theology of work requires a pre-Fall understanding of work and purpose and then a post-Fall application.
A Kuyperian understanding of this theology provides a vision for work that is, like all of nature, tainted by sin yet under the redemptive work of God’s plan in history. Human beings as image bearers of God, created with an incomprehensible capacity for productivity and creativity, demonstrate the lordship of Christ even in a fallen world and participate in the glorious redemption process as our earthly endeavors build God’s kingdom, business by business.
“Some people imagine the state of glory around God’s throne as though all labor will have ended, to taste heavenly bliss in pleasant idleness,” Abraham Kuyper has said. “These people know neither God nor his angels nor life as it will be in heaven.”
A declining view of work in the culture at large has managed to portray work as a meaningful contributor to stress, anxiety, desolation, and isolation. Humanistic assumptions, often subconsciously wedded to elitism, have given birth to the idea that standard market professions—often blue-collar or not requiring of a post-graduate degree—are “less than,” contributing to a societal nose-thumbing and to a severe worker dissatisfaction. This cause-and-effect dynamic is a vicious cycle that undermines fulfillment and flourishing.
The faith and work movement promises to be an antidote to this negative feedback loop. A high view of work negates the need to succumb to the thinking of a “dead-end job” and certainly avoids the temptation to exit the workforce all together (where degrees of despair are most magnified).
But I would argue that in the very creation mandate itself (Gen. 1–2) we find meaning in our earthly endeavors, which offers a remedy for this crisis of despair. Not only can we avoid the terribly counterproductive notion that work is causing these problems, but we can embrace the resolution that work may provide in solving these problems.
Western society seems to suggest that high social strata and economic value in the marketplace are meaningful, yet surrenders to the idea that other forms of work cannot deliver meaning and fulfillment. But is the faith and work movement prepared to do better? Have a few decades of saying, “Your work matters to God,” really prepared us for the occasion at hand? Or does “Your work matters to God” only count for the same demographic that secular culture is speaking to—elite, well-paid, highly educated, white-collar members of the workforce who gain significant cultural accolades in their professions?
I may be an imperfect candidate to make the claim that our work matters universally to God, not merely when accompanied by affluence and gravitas. I freely recognize that I am a white-collar worker who has achieved financial success in a field known for cultural recognition (on Wall Street). The frustrated busboy or exhausted machinist may not be interested in hearing that their work matters from a wealthy coastal elite wearing cufflinks. And yet the universal value of all work is the crux of a properly ordered understanding of work, calling, creation, and the theological commitments surrounding this subject.
A 21st-century appeal to the integration of faith and work, as well as any pleading for the significance of all work, dies when not connected to a creational understanding of the human person, purpose, and plans.
The message that our work matters to God is accurate, but the implication that this is true to the extent it leads to corner-office success is exclusionary, arrogant, and worst of all, theologically lacking, even if well-meaning. The world, and too often the church, struggle to give purpose to the workforce because the very foundation of the message that our work matters to God is flawed or incomplete.
Our foundation for work and calling is always about the human person. God cares about the work because he cares about the worker, and in a distinctly Christian anthropology, we are not dealing merely with producers and consumers and unit economics but with human beings made by God with purpose and dignity.
While some work requires more skill or education than others, all work is being performed by a human made in the image of God and for the benefit of humans made in the image of God. The economic reality that people will only pay for work that provides value is paramount. Our labor plays some part in the production of goods or services that meet human needs. At a basic economic level, this was as true when I swept the floors of my neighborhood movie theater at age 16 as it is now at age 50 managing investment portfolios.
That the subject of work (the worker) matters to God is the message of Genesis 1. There can be a wide variance of the value in the object of the work, sociologically, culturally, and commercially. What does not change is the subjective value of work embedded in a creation that gave dominion and dignity to the subjects. God, in his infinite love and wisdom, and who is no respecter of persons, tasked all of human creation with the blessing of work—of a creative, productive, and innovative process of service and activity.
Throughout history, both technology and capital have changed the objective ramifications of this by altering the means and circumstances by which goods and services are produced. But they have never altered the subjective reality of Genesis 1, that the creation mandate was universal and was inseparably connected to the human person as the protagonist of economic activity.
And if the human person is that protagonist, it is work that is the verb of economics. In this framework, we divorce ourselves from class envy, class struggle, and a caste system for the faith and work movement. Market forces provide different values for certain skills and functions, yet cannot alter the creational reality at play in this discussion. Varying levels of compensation and status are not going away, nor should they, when we think about the objective dimensions of work and vocation.
The fact that a diversified workforce will always have variances in market pricing of different skills, services, and endeavors ups the ante for those of us calling for the integration of faith and work.
The Kuyperian message of Christ’s lordship is upheld in the restaurant kitchen and in the executive boardroom when the message starts with creational truths about anthropology. The foolishness of the world’s message is that work matters to the extent that it builds status, which leads to a high population of those dissatisfied with how such status is hard to come by. The message for the 21st-century faith and work movement must be that work matters because the worker matters.
David L. Bahnsen is the founder, managing partner, and chief investment officer of The Bahnsen Group and author of Full-Time: Work and the Meaning of Life (2024).