Being Productive–Working from Rest - Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Public Square


Being Productive–Working from Rest

The Mockler Center is partnering with Faith in Business in Cambridge, UK, to co-sponsor their Faith in Business Monthly (FiBM) webinars and their 2024 Cambridge Leadership Retreat in April. In addition to those resources, check this page periodically for blog posts by Mockler Center Fellows and friends on the topic Being Productive–Working from Rest.

Learn more about our partnership with FiB, and read the blog posts below.

Reclaiming the Gift of Time by L.O. Natt Gantt

Reclaiming the Gift of Time: Reflections on the January 2024 Faith in Business Monthly Webinar

The Mockler Center recently partnered with Faith in Business (FiB) in Cambridge, UK to co-sponsor the FiB monthly webinars and its 2024 Cambridge Leadership Retreat in April. These events center around the new FiB theme Being Productive–Working from Rest. The December webinar featured Distinguished Mockler Professor of Christian Ethics at Gordon-Conwell Dr. Autumn Ridenour and fellow panelist Bev Sheperd as they discussed Sabbath as Reprioritization. You can view the webinar here.

I had the pleasure of participating in the January webinar on the topic, Resistance: Reclaiming our Time. David Steinegger and I presented on this topic, and Ravi Gidoomal moderated the session. In my remarks, I stressed how my entire understanding of time has changed over the last few years as I undertook an investigation into the biblical conception of time. I pointed out two particular ways in which our modern, western conception of time contrasts with this biblical conception, insights I initially gleaned from reading a provocative essay by M. Cathleen Kaveny titled “Billable Hours in Ordinary Time: A Theological Critique of the Instrumentalization of Time in Professional Life” in the Loyola University Chicago Law Journal.

First, I highlighted how the world teaches us that time is only extrinsically valuable; that is, its value is based only on how it is used and that it has no inherent value. I employed the illustration of an empty work calendar to challenge the attendees to think about whether we view time as only valuable when we fill it up by what we feel like we need—or want—to do. The Bible, in contrast, teaches us from the beginning in Genesis that God created time as we know it and that, just like other aspects of his creation, it has intrinsic and inherent worth and is good and sacred.

In her book Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time, Dorothy Bass stresses how the Bible teaches that “time is a gift.” She adds, “When our emphasis on using time displaces our awareness of time as gift, we find that we are not so much using time as permitting time to use us” (page 2). Reimagining time as a good gift from God can help us avoid the “tyranny of time.” Because all God’s creation is good, its very nature cannot be tyrannical and is intended as a blessing. The pressure we face in managing our time should not lead to guilt or shame.

Second, I relayed how our modern conception of time teaches us that time is a fungible commodity—that time on Sunday morning has the same value as time on Monday morning. In fact, the ubiquity of technology is continually eroding the differences between day and night and summer and winter such that we live in an endless, rhythmless existence.

Old Testament law, however, is full of specifications for feasts and traditions that are intended to be carried out during the year at certain times, tied to the natural order of the seasons (see, e.g., Leviticus 23). The liturgical calendar of current church traditions similarly progresses through the year with periods at certain timesdesigned to reflect important moments in the salvation history. Biblical time sees our moments as unique and calls us to focus on “this day” (see, e.g., Matthew 6:34).

This second aspect of time relates specifically to Sabbath, and as I reflected on the uniqueness of time, I came better to appreciate the rhythm of Sabbath. Just as the Scripture calls the Israelites to specific feasts at certain times, the Bible establishes a rhythm of Sabbath whereby we have six days and then one day devoted exclusively to rest in the Lord. As I shared during the webinar, I have found that following this biblical rhythm of Sabbath is freeing. Following this rhythm is about trust in God. It is about identity.

As one of my former pastors preached years ago, busyness does not equal importance; and resting on the Sabbath reminds us, in a completely counter-cultural way, that our identity is not based on our productivity or accomplishments, but on our created status as image bearers of the King. Indeed, resting on the Sabbath protects us from the tyranny of time and helps us recognize we cannot “get it all done” and that our ultimate trust should not be in our own abilities but in our sovereign, gracious, and loving God.

You can access the recording of the January webinar through this FiB link. The next webinar, “Reimagination: Finding our Sacred Spaces,” will feature Mockler Center Visiting Fellow Kara Martin and Curt Hopkins. The webinar will occur from 12:30 to 13:30 GMT (7:30–8:30 a.m. EST). I encourage you to register for the webinar.

Reimagination: Finding our Sacred Spaces by Kara Martin

Reimagination: Finding our Sacred Spaces – Reflections on the February 2024 Faith in Business Monthly Webinar by Kara Martin

I was delighted to join entrepreneur Curt Hopkins in presenting on the theme of reimagination, for the February Faith in Business Monthly webinar, which you can watch here.

There were two themes that emerged which resonated with our audience. One was the theme of seeing our rest as an opportunity for re-storying our workplaces. How could we practice re-imagination such that we see God as the center of our working and living?

I used the following quote from Paul Woolley of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity to illustrate:

John Koessler notes how ‘Sabbath affords a rest by which we are not so much restored as re-storied.’ In the biblical narrative, Sabbath displaces work from the centre of human life and invites us to reimagine a world that is centred around the God who made it. In taking rest seriously, we are not only refreshed but ‘re-storied’ with a true account of God, the world, and ourselves.”

Using our Sabbath rest as not just for being restored, but for being re-storied. What would this look like?

Here is an example from my own business, which I run with my husband: a small home maintenance business. Every year we have a chat with our accountant which tends to be depressing. He suggests ways we could increase our profitability—legally, of course—and comments on how much effort we put in for relatively small reward.

However, as we leave, I remind my husband of the way that God is the center of our business, which means that our business story is a different. For example, each week, my husband does a job for free or reduced cost for someone who cannot afford to pay. One time he sat with a lonely elderly woman and chatted with her over a cup of tea for more than an hour, before removing mold from her home. Another time he fixed a drawer that was broken and replaced some lightbulbs for an older man, and did not take the cash that was offered after he saw how little the man had.

We also employ people who are at career transitions but who initially have little maintenance skills. So, we had a young man just out of high school who was not sure what he wanted to do; a guy in his twenties who returned after being stuck overseas during COVID and desperately needed both work and thinking time; and an older psychologist who was burnt out and not sure what might come next.

My husband pays our employees much more than the standard rate, trains them up, buys them tools and helps to organize their next step. The young man ended up taking up an apprenticeship, the guy in his twenties became skilled enough to take a maintenance manager role at a school, and the older guy has fully recovered from burnout and just committed to getting his handyman license!

Our business story is not about maximizing profit, but about giving customers and employees an experience of the kingdom of God. What would that look like for your work? How can you rewrite the story of your team culture, or your workplace experience, or your work relationships, with God at the center?

The second theme that emerged was the possibility of creating sacred spaces in our workplace. Curt Hopkins spoke about using the practices of solitude, silence and prayer, as an antidote to busyness, anxiety and burnout. Even though his business is not Christian, and his employees comprise many faiths or none, he often opens up meetings with silence or prayer, and his employees enthusiastically respond, enjoying those different rhythms.

In a breakout room I gave an example of a friend I was visiting in the hospital who stopped me as I went to walk into her room with the words, “Be careful, this is holy ground.” It was a phrase she greeted every orderly, nurse and doctor with, explaining that she prayed and welcomed God’s presence in that place. She had many spiritual conversations as a result, and her room was the center of laughter, compassion and hope, going both ways.

Curt spoke about the need to translate our faith in ways that others can understand. All of this takes God’s gift of imagination, and to do that we need creativity, curiosity, prayer, and grace that frees us from the stories that limit the choices of other workers.

How could you create some sacred space at your workplace? What spiritual practices could you observe? Try drawing or something else creative, or asking hard questions, or praying with God about new ways of working made possible because of his gift of grace.

Kara Martin is an Adjunct Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and lectures at Mary Andrews College, is author of the Workship books, and Keeping Faith and co-host of the Worship on the Way to Work podcast.

You can access the recording of Kara and Curt’s February webinar discussion through this FiB link. The next webinar, “Sabbath as Renewal” will feature Mockler Center Associate Director Dr. Sara Minard and special guests and will occur on Thursday, March 7th, from 12:30 to 13:30 GMT (7:30–8:30 a.m. EST) and you can register for free here.

Stay tuned in the months ahead for more on this work and its applications for pastors and other ministry leaders. To learn more about the Mockler Center’s upcoming events, research, teaching, and programs, email Associate Director Sara Minard at [email protected].