The Gospel at Work: A conversation with Greg Gilbert and Sebastian Traeger

January 15, 2014

Greg Gilbert, Senior Pastor of Third Avenue Baptist Church, in Louisville, Ky., and entrepreneur Sebastian Traeger, have co-written a book answering tough questions about life and work, adding clarity and a theological framework to the faith and work discussion. The book is called, The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs (Zondervan) and is available January 28.

I asked Gilbert and Traeger to share more about their book and how it might benefit the church.

Why did you decide to write The Gospel at Work?

Traeger: Too many Christians make an idol of their work: caring too much about it, relative to the gospel. Too many Christians being idle in their work: not caring enough about it, especially in light of the gospel. We wanted to help Christians see God's purposes for their work and how the gospel relates to it.  Doing this will counter confusion Christians have as well as make them better, more faithful–and I think fulfilled–workers.

Was your partnership strategic? (Note: Gilbert is a pastor and Traeger an entrepreneur) Did you think it was important to provide both perspectives?

Gilbert: Yes, it was very deliberate! [Sebastian] has been in the professional world for decades now, and all these questions are ones he's faced every step of the way. As a pastor, I've faced most of them, too (as any pastor will tell you, this is a 50-plus hour a week job), but I've also spent years studying what the Bible has to say to us about every aspect of our lives–including our work. Sebastian and I have been friends for years, we've been talking about these things for years, and we just thought that together, we might be able to bring some careful biblical thinking to some profound questions about how to be a faithful Christian in the workplace.

Traeger: I'm an Elder at my church…so yes, a non-staff Pastor. Greg is a close friend and a great writer, so he could help shape the book and make it more poignant. He is a full-time pastor who shares the same vision as me for building up Christians in the workplace. 

Why do you think it is important to discuss faith and work?  

Gilbert: Because God in his love and wisdom has created us to work!  Our work, our jobs, our careers–those things are not just incidentals or necessary evils that we tack on to our spiritual lives.  Our jobs are a massive arena in which God matures us as Christians and brings glory to himself.  And like any such arena, this one brings big challenges to us in terms of whether we'll remain faithful.  Will we turn our work into an idol, and start thinking that it is the most important thing in our lives?  Will be become idle in our work, and lose sight of God's purposes for us in it?  Or will we remember that ultimately whatever we do, we do for King Jesus?  Idolatry and idleness are ever-present and deadly traps for us in our jobs, and discussing with other believers the meaning and implications of faithfulness is the only way we'll be able to approach our work as God intended.

Traeger: A few reasons: 1) The gospel should impact the way we work and it should motivate us. 2) It's a huge part of our lives. 3) It's a great way to talk about discipleship and following the Lord. 4) There isn't a lot out there about applying biblical wisdom to the nuances of our work. 5) The workplace is a great mission field – and it's becoming increasing hostile

How has your faith shaped your work ethic?

Gilbert: Just like it is for anybody else, maintaining a healthy work ethic is a challenge for me.  From one day to the next, I can fall into idolatry, manage to crawl out of that hole, and then find myself falling into the opposite hole of idleness!  But I try to keep in mind the Bible's teaching that the work I do is always ultimately done “not as for men, but for the Lord.”  When I remember that, it keeps me from thinking that my work is going to be able bring some lasting happiness to me—after all, my joy is secure completely and only in Jesus.  And it also keeps me from slacking off in my work, doing it half-way or with a bitter heart.  After all, no matter the particulars of what I'm doing, I'm doing that thing today because this is what my King has deployed me on this particular day to be doing!

Traeger: The big idea of the book – who you work for, is more important than what you do – has been extremely important for me.  It's helped me tackle any job – even ones I've considered mundane- as though I'm working for the King, because I am.  It's also helped provide context and humility for when I've been 'in charge' helping me to serve those under me because I'm ultimately serving a King. 

Was there something that clicked or an “aha” moment where you realized that you had been separating your faith and work or has this conviction and way of thinking always guided you?  

Gilbert: I think some understanding that God cares about every detail of my life, including my work, has been with me as long as I've been a Christian.  But I don't think it was until Seb and I started talking deeply about these issues that I realized how incredibly profound and practical and gritty the implications of knowing that I work for The King really are.  From choosing a job, to how we treat co-workers and bosses and employees, to how we define success, to how we think about calling and long-term career, the reality that I'm a servant of the King has incredible clarifying and encouraging power.

What is some advice you might give to a person who finds it difficult to find significance in their work?  

Gilbert: Ha!  I'd tell them to read The Gospel at Work!  Because what you'll find there is (I hope) an encouraging, practical, in-the-dirt meditation on the fact that what you do is far less important than who you do it for.  Once you grasp that truth, then it cuts the root of both idolatry of work and idleness in work–two problems that lie at the heart of probably 90% of the troubles Christians have in their jobs.

It seems that often pastoral ministry can be elevated. Do you think this is the case? Do you think that it affects the way we work?  

Gilbert: Sure. A lot of Christians think that if they're not doing church work in particular, then their job is insignificant and not important to God–or at least not as important to Him as their pastor's job.  When that kind of thinking sets in, you can really quickly find yourself being idle in your work—not caring about it, doing it half-way, grumbling through your week, and generally being a terrible witness to Jesus in the process.  But I don't think that's the way we should think about it at all.  The fact is, just as God deploys people in the local church to various roles (think 1 Corinthians 12), in the same way He deploys his people in the world to do all kinds of different things, and He cares deeply about every single one of them!  Wherever you have been deployed at this stage of your life, whether as a salesperson or a doctor or a barista or an office-holder or an assistant or a teacher or a parent or a homemaker or a pastor–or even unemployed right now, for that matter!–remember that this is where your King, in his wisdom and sovereignty, has chosen to deploy you for this time of your life.  Therefore your job now is to serve Him faithfully in that assignment.  Does that mean the King will never change your assignment?  Certainly not!  He may change it tomorrow; he may change it ten years from now; he may keep you deployed in one assignment for the rest of your life.  But as long as he has you here, do your work well.  You work for the King!

How might the church grow in discussing these topics?  

Gilbert: I think it would be a great topic for churches to give some deliberate time to thinking about in small groups, book clubs, Bible studies, Sunday Schools, etc.  The question “What does it mean to be a Christian in the workplace?” is one every faithful Christian asks, and it is a huge and a right question. Churches should be out front in helping people think through that question well.

Traeger: It starts with the Bible: studying the Bible and understanding God's radical claim and call on our lives – every part of it.  Then, applying this to our workplaces. I think where churches can grow is going past the basics – of course you should do your work for the Lord – and into the specifics.  So what does this mean for choosing a job? Is it ok to quit a job or fire someone? Does it mean being passive or is there a role to be outspoken and competitive? Should I feel bad if I'm 'just a salesperson' instead of a missionary?  What do I do if I'm stuck in what seems like a dead-end job where people are hostile to the gospel? What are the implications of all of this if I'm only 18? 

There's a lot more that we need to help people think about once we teach them the core.  The book is an attempt to begin to do this, but, hopefully, we'll be out of a job one day as churches build all this into their teaching, Sunday school classes, small groups and discipling relationships!

Along with the book is a set of conferences by the same name. The Gospel at Work conferences, organized by Traeger, are held in various locations throughout the U.S. To find out more or to inquire about hosting your own Gospel at Work conference, find them on their website.

Trillia Newbell

Trillia Newbell is the author of several books including A Great Cloud of Witnesses, Sacred Endurance, If God Is For Us, Fear and Faith,and the children’s books, Creative God, Colorful Us and  God’s Very Good Idea. When she isn’t writing, she’s encouraging and supporting other writers as an Acquisitions Editor at Moody … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24