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David H. Kim on Faith and Work

Imagine how your work would change if worship services felt less like a destination and more like a launching pad.

David H. Kim is executive director of the Center for Faith & Work and pastor of faith and work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. In this edited conversation, he discusses how church worship can prepare people to integrate their faith and work in ways that glorify God and promote human flourishing.

What is the purpose of the Center for Faith & Work?

We have two audiences—the church and the city around us. We help churches consider what it means for them to translate faith into practice. Within the larger Reformed tradition, we think of the invisible church, the church in all time and space, all week long. Most Redeemer members spend a significant time as part of the invisible church in the city, much more than they do as the gathered church convened for worship. So we encourage and help churches look at how that dynamic affects their programming and liturgy.

Seminaries and colleges sometimes perpetuate a split between faith and work. What do you advise so pastors, worship leaders, prayer leaders and musicians don’t perpetuate the split?

People too often curate the worship service as a destination instead of a launching pad. What are your worship services launching people towards? Leaders need to steward that weekly hour or 90 minutes to reenergize people as a scattered church, seeing their work through a gospel lens. You have to be interested in, immersed in, actually spending time in workplaces and the community. And by community I mean what goes on beyond the walls of a worship space.

Where have you seen this modeled in prayer and preaching?

Helping worshipers connect faith and work depends on context. For example, our downtown congregation often has a representative from an industry, say, the financial industry, who will give a great two-minute overview and then pray for her sector. This deep authenticity resonates with people. This kind of contextualization applies as well to the preaching. They find sermon references to the New York Times and Wall Street Journal more credible than examples from a preacher’s personal life. In other contexts, these specific examples might not work well. If the larger culture is used to a more conversational, off-the-cuff approach, then our style might feel startling or off-putting.

How can worship be a spiritual antidote to overemphasizing work?

Work becomes a substitute for God when we make it the source of our identity instead of an expression of identity. Worship uniquely reminds us of all the privileges that are ours as a child of God that the gospel uniquely brings.  When we worship, work can be renewed to become a gift that brings order out of the chaos of our world.

How well does your Center for Faith & Work approach translate to congregations filled with workers of a different status, like nail salon employees or hot dog cart vendors?

We help churches understand the critical importance of theology in developing ministry practices that meaningfully connect faith and work. We start with Scripture and show people how this leads to particular theology that creates a theological vision from which our ministry practices emerge. Having a robust theological vision provides a certain discernment that enables you to consider a gospel response to a wide range of work. Every workplace is broken and this brokenness manifests in motivations for work, relationships at work, and how the very work is done. When we worship we need to see how the gospel is able to equip us to engage and renew our workplaces. Then work becomes more than a place to get a paycheck.

The Center for Faith & Work hosts an annual, weeklong summer intensive that brings people from all over the world and many Christian traditions, from farming communities in Zimbabwe to fast-paced urban centers like Hong Kong. We want to help people see the power of the gospel to renew work and culture for the common good of their communities. We help them hear God’s purposes for themselves and those around them—whether in agriculture, mining, the arts, government or another sphere.

What other faith and work practices should churches explore to make worship a launching pad?

Consider church liturgies and the Christian Year calendar. These were shaped as responses to secular culture. Lots of evangelicals are talking about going back to the church calendar for the sake of tradition and history. But the power of tradition comes when it leads us to reflect upon the truths that God is sovereign and God cares about people in every time and place. This leads us to take seriously our context and what consumes most of the waking hours of our people. Through worship, we can revive a sense of the royal priesthood of believers by asking people within an industry to meet regularly for prayer and study and to help the church understand the pressing issues of their sector. 

Read Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work by Timothy Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf.