Blog - Grasping Vocation

Book Review: The Integrated Life

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

In last week’s blog, I promised to review some of the books now available as resources for Christians in the work world. A day or so later, I received an email suggesting that I review The Integrated Life by Ken Eldred. That book is part of my library—so here goes.

Eldred says the lives of far too many believers in so-called "secular” work are disintegrated—broken into unrelated parts. To survive in the work world and yet hold onto vital faith in Christ, many believers cope by compartmentalizing their lives.

Eldred has lived through the compartmentalization he writes about. He founded and served more than 20 years as CEO of the International Microcomputer Accessories Corporation (Inmac). As a result of his work in Silicon Valley, he was named "Entrepreneur of the Year.” His book is full of examples from his own work experience. But his business training provided no help in learning how to live out his faith on the job. Nor did he find such help in his church for integrating his faith and his work.

Lessons Not Learned in Business School. Eldred had to unlearn many lessons the world teaches about business. "Ask the average MBA what the goal of a corporation is, and he’ll respond reflexively without thinking, ‘To maximize shareholder value.’” But the real goal, Eldred counters, is "to serve others to the glory of God.” To continue doing that, the business must make a profit but not confuse it with the true goal.

Business training also failed to provide any moral foundation for business. If the main target is to maximize shareholder profits, then ethics must bend to that goal—even if that means lying or cheating. Self-interest and personal gain provide "a poor standard for morality in business.” Instead, "a robust moral culture is formed when the higher authority of God is the source of ethical standards.”

Lessons Not Learned in Church. From church Eldred did not learn the biblical teaching about wealth and profit. He observes that, "Many in the church have concluded . . . that profit runs contrary to a spirit of love and service.” But both the "poverty gospel” and the "prosperity gospel” distort biblical truth.

Among other lessons he has learned (but not in church): That ". . . work is good, mandated, and sacred, that business is not spiritually inferior to work in a Christian organization.” That "All followers of Jesus are called to be in full-time ministry.” That those in the work world are called to a ministry at work, of work, and to work.

In the ministry at work, we touch people and display our faith. In the ministry of work, "Our work itself is ministry” in which we "further God’s own goals and serve his purpose through service and creation.” In the ministry to work, we serve as "transformational agents in and of the marketplace.”

In church, Eldred did not learn "that the real goal of business is aligned with the mission of the church.” Instead, the sacred-secular divide contributed to a compartmentalized life by promoting the "all-too-prevalent work hierarchy that considers full-time employment in the church more spiritual than secular vocations.” This division prevents us from working wholeheartedly, deprives us of a sense of calling in our work, keeps us from serving as "redeeming agents in the marketplace,” and "relegates a large part of the church to the sidelines.”

"Many churches,” writes Eldred, "have focused on impressive and moving worship services on Sunday that have little carryover into Monday, leaving us ill equipped for our marketplace ministries.”

On Reintegration. In the final sections of the book, Eldred shares what he has learned about how to integrate faith and work. He describes how to partner with God at work, to live out faith on the job, and to serve others to God’s glory.

As one who served years in so-called "secular” work, I recommend this book to those in that world as a valuable aid toward integrating faith and work. And as one who worked as a pastor for 21 years, I recommend it to pastors who wish to help believers learn how to serve God wholeheartedly in the scattered church.

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