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Pursuing a God-led career path

by
26 September 2007

It is important, says Ruth Ward, to take your faith to work

God at Work: Living every day with purpose
Ken Costa

Continuum £12.99 (978-0-8264-9634-8)
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

reviewed with

God at Work: The history and promise of the Faith at Work movement
David W. Miller

Oxford University Press £17.99 (978-0-19-531480-9)
Church Times Bookshop £16.20

KEN COSTA says in his introduction: “If the Christian faith is not relevant in the workplace, it is not relevant at all.” But integrating faith and work, bridging the “Sunday-Monday gap”, as David W. Miller puts it, has proved difficult.

Costa and Miller believe that today’s business world is ready to face up to faith at work. Miller’s research shows that “most companies who compete for top talent in the global marketplace have a mixture of race-friendly, female-friendly, family-friendly, and sexual orientation-friendly policies.” And he believes that faith at work is next, as work-based faith groups and corporate chaplaincy increase, and business schools and consultancies focus on faith at work as a discipline (and source of revenue). My own “faith-friendly” employer now allows staff to apply for unpaid leave, not only to undertake charitable activities, but to go on pilgrimage.

But what about the Church? Costa and Miller — who both stepped out of the world of finance to study theology — see the laity as leading the reconnection of the workplace with Christianity. The Church, says Costa, urges people to live by the values of Christ “without paying sufficient attention to the pressures of day-to-day life”. Miller says it risks abandoning “millions of Christians for five-sevenths of their weeks” unless it changes its view that “work in the Church matters but work in the world does not.”

So these two books entitled God at Work are timely. Costa’s book focuses on his personal experience of reconciling a Christian and commercial life (most recently as Vice-Chairman of UBS Investment Bank). Miller seeks to provide a broader academic historical and social framework by focusing on the North American Faith at Work movement.

Enthusiastic endorsements from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Vice-Chairman of Goldman Sachs set high expectations for Costa’s small, short book. It is a “God help” rather than a self-help manual, a practical guide to dealing with the challenges of life at work. It is well designed to appeal to curious but reluctant business readers — those “exploring the bigger questions of life, who would describe themselves as sympathetic to Christianity, but not quite as shareholders”.

Costa’s business and spiritual life has stretched from South Africa and Marxism to the City of London and Alpha, via a “divine tug of war” as he tried to negotiate a joint venture falling short of a full Godly takeover. I guessed that he studied law before his book told me so. It was clear from his life’s pursuit of certainty, and his decision to study theology “to see whether the claims of Christianity could stand up to the rigours of academic examination”, before committing himself “to find God’s way in the world, and to work to change the world”.

It was also clear from the way he has structured and written this book. He tries to provide not only an answer to each issue, but also a practical, God-led road map — from “Seven biblical strategies to keep stress in check” to “Recovering from disappointment — five steps to renew our hope”.

Costa points to God’s creation as the original “work with purpose”. He believes we should take God to work with us, and pursue a God-led career path and Christian ambition, “the passionate and contented pursuit of challenging yet attainable God-given objectives”. He does not believe that Christians are called to be miserable. Instead, Christians at work should be entrepreneurial, ambitious, passionate, determined, robust, and joyful.

There is not much joy in Miller’s book. As he notes, “though high-level theoretical discourse is import-ant and necessary, it often ends up unusable by the average white-collar or blue-collar worker.” Although Miller provides much to stimulate and interest the academic reader, his book lacks the appealing focus, brevity, and readability of Costa’s book.

Ruth Ward works for an international law firm in the City of London.

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