UC Observer logo
UCObserver on SoundCloud UCObserver on YouTube UCObserver on Facebook UCObserver on Twitter UCObserver's RSS Feeds


Theology of work

By Trisha Elliott

What is work? A curse? A paycheque? Something to cash out of as soon as possible?

In After Sunday: A Theology of Work, retired Episcopal priest and philosophy professor Armand Larive argues that while God designed humans to work, the church fails to recognize it. “Most of the sermons talk about how to enhance personal spiritual life and don’t talk about our ordinary work in our secular lives. Not only are laity not honoured for what they do, but much of the strength of their spirituality comes from their occupation, and the church is missing that,” he says in an interview. “Who we are, including our spirituality, is fed by our work. It’s too bad the church ignores it, because there is a goldmine of theology there to be found.”

God is no stranger to work. In the Bible, God is a jack of all trades: farmer, composer, gardener, architect, tent-maker, shepherd. From the beginning, God as a divine worker creates the world. The very first word God speaks to humankind is the command to work: like a teenager mowing lawns, Adam’s first job involves tilling the garden.

Rev. Robert Rayburn, a minister at Faith Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, Wash., writes in a sermon posted online that “the original idea of the early church seems to have been that of Christians giving glory to God in and through their occupations.” By the fourth century, things changed. “The ordinary daily callings of ordinary Christians were second-class. . . . Ministers, monks, and nuns lived the Christian life on the higher level — they worked to serve the Lord — the rest worked to eat.”

In the mid-20th century, Christian humanist Dorothy L. Sayers tried to recover the early church’s understanding of work: “The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables,” she wrote in Creed or Chaos?

Exploring the theology of work requires wrestling with deep questions: Is it helpful to think of work as a calling? Or are we better to see work as an act of co-operation with God, as Miroslav Volf argues in Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work?

Making good tables isn’t all that’s at stake. An undeveloped theology of work makes us less equipped to speak to issues like workaholism, segregated job markets, poor working conditions, the plight of migrant workers, child labourers, unemployment and devaluing the unpaid work of caregivers and “stay at home” parents. Developing a theology of work would equip the church to find a fresh voice outside the church — where it matters most.

Rev. Trisha Elliott is a minister at City View United in Ottawa.

Readers’ advisory: The discussion below is moderated by The UC Observer and facilitated by Intense Debate (ID), an online commentary system. The Observer reserves the right to edit or reject any comment it deems to be inappropriate. Approved comments may be further edited for length, clarity and accuracy, and published in the print edition of the magazine. Please note: readers do not need to sign up with ID to post their comments on ucobserver.org. We require only your user name and e-mail address. Your comments will be posted from Monday to Friday between 9:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Join the discussion today!
Promotional Image


David Wilson%


by David Wilson

If statues could talk

Promotional Image


ObserverDocs: Stolen Mother

by Observer Staff

The daughter and adoptive mother of one of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women share their story

Promotional Image


July 2017

From far and wide

by Various Writers

Meet 11 immigrants who are putting down new roots


June 2017

A suitcase for Cuba

by Christopher Levan

You’ll find more than giveaway toiletries and hand-me-downs in the writer's luggage. Each carefully chosen gift offers a glimpse into the lives of Cubans today.


June 2017


by Kristy Woudstra

Up to half a million people are living in Canada without official status. The ‘sanctuary city’ movement is growing, but the fear of deportation persists.


June 2017

Resisting genocide

by Sally Armstrong

In August 2014, ISIS attacked Iraq’s Yazidis, slaughtering thousands and forcing women and girls into sexual slavery. Today, the survivors are fighting for their ancient way of life.


April 2017

Dear Grandkids

by Various Writers

Six acclaimed Canadian authors write letters from the heart


March 2017

Called to resist

by Paul Wilson

Liberal Christians in the United States test their faith against a demagogue

Promotional Image