Book Review: “The Gospel at Work” by Sebastian Traeger and Greg Gilbert

Posted: May 4, 2014 in Book Reviews
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TheGospelAtWorkBefore I get to my review of this book, you need to know why the book is of interest to me and the background I bring to it…

As a junior in high school in the 1970s, I felt led to pursue an education that would lead me into full-time Christian ministry. It was during my freshman year of college at the University of Kentucky that I decided my graduate studies would be at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, so I transferred for my remaining three undergrad years to William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri – just a few miles from Midwestern.

I double majored in psychology and religion in college and then spent three years getting a Master of Religious Education degree at Midwestern Seminary. I served as an associate pastor from 1982-1985 and then decided to move to Louisville to pursue doctoral studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. By that time, I had honed in on Christian education as my focus of ministry and I still assumed I would spend my life in related church or denominational positions.

As life happened and I got involved in other pursuits while furthering my education, plans changed. I became comfortable with the notion that maybe I was suited just as well for non-ministry educational roles, relegating my Christian ministry to volunteer service through my local church. I’ve continued that path for nearly 30 years.

I don’t think it’s possible for anyone who has felt “called” to ministry to take lightly a shift in those plans. While I believe God has led and blessed my family and me along the way via the route taken, there have always been – always – lingering questions about my life and ministry, such as:

  • Did I make the right decision to leave full-time ministry for secular roles?
  • Could I have done more for the kingdom of God by remaining in full-time ministry?
  • Did I take the easy, convenient way out?
  • Did I pursue what I wanted, or what God wanted, and were those the same things?

I still ponder those questions. I still wonder if I should go back to full-time ministry to close out my work life doing that which has an unquestionable eternal significance versus very temporal impact in a business setting.

So with that info as background, it was with great interest that I read the book by Traeger and Gilbert, The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs. What would this book have to say to my situation? Being very familiar with one of the authors – a pastor a few blocks away from my church in Louisville – gave me encouragement that I would find sound, biblical wisdom within its pages.

I was not disappointed.

The book does not assume that the only valid ministry is that which happens in the context of vocational Christian ministry – quite the opposite. It extols the virtue of carrying into your daily work – whatever that is – the right attitude of serving as though you are serving Christ himself. The scripture verse repeated throughout is Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men” (New International Version).

One chapter is devoted to answering the question “Is full-time ministry more valuable than my job?” They state in the discussion, “The value of our work isn’t finally found at all in the particular thing we do; it’s found in the fact that whatever we do, we do it for our King.” They also add the helpful reminder that “We should never assume that God’s standard of value and honor is the same as ours.” Those are soothing words to someone like me who has struggled with this question for decades. I also appreciate the chapter’s reminder to “Consider yourself privileged and blessed beyond measure even to be in his service at all. Trust him. Trust his judgment. Trust his wisdom in how he is using you. Serve him with everything you are, wherever he has placed you.”

From the early chapters of the book, the authors make very clear their warnings against both the idolatry of work and idleness in work. They remind readers of the opportunity all believers have to worship Christ daily in their jobs when they bring the right heart and attitude to their work. They identify spiritually healthy and scripturally sound motives that undergird the believer’s work regardless of its nature. They offer advice on how to choose a job by flipping the normal sequence of priorities from a concern with self first, then others and lastly God to one that first seeks to please God, then serve others and lastly satisfying oneself. They make a distinction between the must-haves in a job scenario and the nice-to-haves.

Additional chapters deal with balancing work, church and family, handling difficult bosses and coworkers, what it means to be a Christian boss, how to share the gospel at work, and defining success. In that final chapter on success, their claim is that “for a Christian…the definition of success really has little to do with…money, power, influence, change, a respectable standard of living. Instead, success is defined as faithfulness–doing whatever we do with sincerity of heart because we know the King is watching.” When reading that definition, I was reminded of a definition of success I read decades ago that has ever since been my working definition of the term. I read it in the book Success, Motivation and the Scriptures: “Success is doing what God wants you to do in the way He wants you to do it.”

I commend this short 158-page book to individuals or Christian study groups for a closer look than this brief review provides. Discussion and reflection questions at the end of each chapter lend themselves to personal or group reflection. I suspect I’ll continue to wrestle on occasion with the fact that God has equipped me for certain ministry roles that I am still not filling. I remain open to the option of changing careers once more to close out my work life in ways that devote full-time attention to the gospel. However, I am more comfortable now having read this book continuing in my current or other secular roles than before, believing that God can and will use me for His purposes wherever I am if I am serving Him and others with the right motivations and attitude.

If you occasionally wonder if or how your work and the gospel cross paths, I suggest you read The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs.

  1. khaganh says:

    Jeff, as I read the beginning I thought –Wow, does he not know what a role model he is? I wanted to jump up and shout to you that you are leading by the way you live and how you show Christ in your worklife! I understand the struggle because you want to be what God intended, but you have shown me that I can be a Christian at work and it is ok to tell people that I am, but more importantly, it is imperative that I SHOW people that I am a Christian! Thanks, Jeff. I will read this book, too.

  2. tlay65 says:

    I plan to get this book and suggest it for a bible study. Thanks for the review and your insights. I echo Kay’s comments.

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