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God's Purposes for Your Work - Tom Lutz

How do you find purpose in your work? Does your faith give your work purpose? Or does your work give you perspective on your faith? We explore what the Bible has to say about the purpose of your work with guest Tom Lutz. Tom brings decades of entrepreneurial experience to his work coaching marketplace leaders. He also teaches biblical studies at Metro Atlanta Seminary and leads workshops to help Christians work with purpose. Tom is the co-author of the book Equipping Christians for Kingdom Purpose in Their Work.

Scripture References

  • Matthew 5:1-12
  • Ephesians 2:8-10
  • Ephesians 4:11-13
  • Genesis 50:20
  • Mark 4:1-20
  • Matthew 7:24-29
  • Matthew 25:31-40
  • Genesis 1:26-30
  • Genesis 3:1-19
  • Revelation 21:9

    Additional Resources

    Equipping Christians for Kingdom Purpose in Their Work, by Tom Lutz - For a limited time, receive a 30% discount using the code WORK30 (valid 4/1-4/25/23) at HendricksonRose.com

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    Transcript

    Leah Archibald: Making It Work is brought to you by The Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary and the Theology of Work Project.

    Mark Roberts: Welcome to Making it Work.

    LA: Through conversation, scripture and stories, we invite God into work’s biggest challenges... so that you can live out your purpose in the workplace.

    MR: I’m Mark Roberts.

    LA: And I’m Leah Archibald. And this is Making It Work.

    How do you find purpose in your work? Does your faith give your work purpose? Or does your work give you perspective on your faith? Today we're exploring what the Bible has to say about the purpose of your work with our guest, Tom Lutz. Tom brings decades of entrepreneurial experience to his work coaching marketplace leaders. He also teaches biblical studies at Metro Atlanta Seminary and leads workshops to help Christians work with purpose. Tom is the co-author of the book, Equipping Christians for Kingdom Purpose in Their Work. Tom Lutz, welcome to the Making It Work podcast.

    TL: Well, Leah, I can't wait to hear more about me. That was a good intro.

    LA: Well, let's go into more about you. You started out your career as a pastor...

    TL: I did.

    LA: But say you actually found your ministry when you went to work for an engineering company. Tell me more about that.

    TL: Yeah, so it was actually a construction information company, but it was a company that distributed information throughout the commercial construction world. As a young man, a lot of people who I really respected said to me in one form or another, if you want to serve God, you'll become a pastor. So as an impressionable young man listening to people I respected, I went to University of Maryland, got a degree in Greek and Latin, figured I was going to study Greek in graduate school, went to graduate school, come to seminary, got my Master's of Divinity. So my wife and I and several of our children moved to Baltimore and started a church.

    I had some Christian friends who were starting a business, and they basically said, hey, we'd like you to come work for us, and we'll cut out time for you to do your pastoral work, but we can afford to pay you more. So sure enough, I followed up on that prayerfully. My wife thought that was a good idea. Within several months, I tell my pastor friends, after having been a pastor for a while, God called me to the ministry.

    And it kind of started with that journey. Because at that point, one of the big challenges was, is this okay? Have I let God down somehow?

    LA: Is it okay to be a Christian and to be following a calling into the workplace?

    TL: Is it okay to have been trained to be a pastor and to be a business guy. And so I naturally learned to illustrate my sermons and apply my sermons to the world in which I was alive, right? And so then fast forward years later, we actually sold that company in the year 2000. It had 1,800 employees in 18 countries. And largely, you know, not all Christians, but all the ownership at the time were believers. And I just discovered as I went along, I began to realize, you know, you teach differently than the average pastor.

    I'm just preparing my New Testament survey class that's coming up. One of the assignments we have is study one of the gospels, I assign them to different students, and notice how frequently Jesus mentions someone's work in his sermons or in his, you know, you can't understand one parable that Jesus taught unless you know the intricacies of someone's job.

    But we just kind of let that slide over us, but the net result, I think, is in the Sermon on the Mount, where again, he uses illustrations that come right out of people's work life. At the end of it, they say, this one teaches with authority, unlike our scribes and Pharisees. Right? So they notice that Jesus spoke wisdom into their life because he understood, because he had run a business for 18 years.

    LA: Mark, you've worked both in the workplace and as a pastor. Does Tom's story sound kind of out of the blue to you?

    MR: Oh no. Utterly familiar. I was raised much as Tom was. So I mean, I had become a Christian very quite young in life, but in college I had just an amazing encounter with Jesus and thought, okay, I guess I have to go into the ministry, which Tom will soon correct us, but that meant pastoral ministry. Or for some reason I thought being a professor was okay, as long as you're teaching the Bible. So I mean, I'm serious. That's what I thought. So I changed course and went that way.

    But I mean, I so relate to your story and the struggle that you had to say, man, is this okay? Or am I somehow really letting Jesus down? I'm going to take sort of the “second class” road and I'm going to go make money, which is the way often pastors talk about it “so you were satisfying your materialistic impulses and leaving Jesus behind,” which is a pretty sad and unbiblical way. But it's the way many of us were led to think by very well-intentioned people.

    TL: Agreed. Agreed. 100%.

    LA: So when did that change for you, Tom? When were you kind of able to let go of some of these maybe unhelpful suggestions that the pastorate or that being a minister is very separate from the working life?

    TL: Yeah. Well, I began... There's a couple pivotal times, I think, early on. One of them I I started studying Ephesians. I don't know if you're familiar with the Greek word ergon. If you look it up in a Greek, a classical Greek, not a koine or biblical Greek, a classical Greek diction, it's basically the first meaning is what one normally does as a job. And so two...

    LA: And where does this come up in Ephesians?

    TL: Yeah. So two passages in Ephesians. One of the most often quoted biblical verse probably is, for it is by grace you have been saved through faith and that not of yourselves it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast. That's two, eight and nine. Number 10 says, for why? What's the purpose? Why are you... Why is this redemption offered? It says, for you are Christ's workmanship, masterpiece, created in Christ Jesus for... ergon agathos, work that is good.

    And again, one of the topics... I probably mentioned this in the book. I say, if you're studying the scriptures, go to the dictionary that Paul would have had access to. Because Paul didn't have access to a dictionary that 2000 years later has studied the history of the way Paul talked. He had the dictionary that Plato would have had access to, Aristotle. And that word to Paul did not mean church work. It meant work. And then two chapters later when he's talking to disciplers, he says, for God has given us apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor teachers. Again, what's the purpose? For the purpose of training people to ergon diaconia, work that serves.

    And again, so that's... And all of a sudden that word, I started thinking, man, I have learned a church centric spiritual language. You know, when you read those verses in the scriptures, it says good works, right? Good works are things that happen in nights and weekends, right?

    LA: They're your volunteer activities. They're not your everyday activities.

    TL: The things you don't get paid for aren't soiled by money. Whereas I think what Paul is saying is, no, no, no, you're... And we'll get into this concept of the overlying principle in the book, you know, is the idea of we're image bearers first and foremost. We also happen to be church members, but we're image bearers first and foremost, which means the reason God created the earth and put the image bearer in there is he's got a vision for a flourishing, wonderful, other side of redemption, absent sin, absent to curse, spectacular, rich, flourishing world. And every image bearer has some part to play in making that happen.

    LA: So this was really a transformative moment examining the scriptures and feeling for yourself that the Bible actually did have something to say, not only to your congregation, but to you in particular. I mean, how did it change the way you saw your work in this company?

    TL: Yeah. Well, it was kind of interesting. So the Construction Market Data is the name of the company. Early on, the principals, myself included, because I became a partner early on, were all Christians. And I dedicate, acknowledge in the book, my debt to Errol Wolford, our president, because he was a man that I just, I saw him live out the gospel as he was doing business.

    LA: Say more, how did he do that?

    TL: Just the way he treated people. I'll tell you one particular story. We had one of the partners, so at that time, each of us ran a different branch. One of the partners, I was in Baltimore at the time, he was in Washington, DC, had, under a great deal of stress and whatever, had done some things he shouldn't have done. He ended up shutting down the office there, telling the customers to send checks to him, getting us aced out of the relationships we had that we gathered information, and it was just a bad deal. Then I see Errol come in and recognizes that to some degree, it was partly his fault to have put such pressure on this young man and prompted it. And he basically said to him, look, what you've done is wrong. There needs to be a penalty for that. We are going to take back your shares in the business and you're going to be let go. And then what did he do? He took his own money and paid him the value of that stock and set him up in his business separately by himself.

    And I just remember watching that and I'm thinking there's, talk about grace in practice. Here's somebody who's really living out what he says he believes. So that was really... And then he did a lot... I could tell you now a dozen stories like that, but just an awesome guy who really put his faith into practice in the workplace.

    LA: Well, I want to sit on this story a little bit more because it's so compelling. And I wonder, Mark, if you see a connection between the story of really workplace malfeasance and then making good on that for both the bad actor and the customer. And how does that relate to this concept of good works that Tom was quoting from Ephesians?

    MR: Sure, I'll go for that, but let me even connect it to image bearer. So God creates all things good, and very good. It's all good. And then we blow it. What is God doing from then on, taking malfeasance and working it for good.

    Working it all things for good. So the God we know and the God in whose image we're created is somebody who takes what we are evil, our wrong, our mistakes, our horrible things, uses that for God's own purpose. You know, you got Joseph and so many other things. And so if we're going to be like God, then that's the kind of people we need to be. And then one of the things we would do or one of the good works we would do is to take what is wrong and work it for right. Now that doesn't mean, of course, that we just...

    Forget all kinds of sins and offenses. We're not talking about that at all. I mean, God takes very seriously what we do wrong. But in terms of the intentionality, my intentionality isn't to get revenge, to punish for punishment's sake, to ruin somebody's life. My intentionality is to be like God, who's going to use this that was wrong in an individual life, in a company, and discover how I can work in that for good.

    TL: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, if you think about it, he executed justice. The deed was wrong and deserved a consequence, and then laid that over with mercy.

    MR: Yeah.

    TL: So holding both of those, that's a picture that we tend to go one way or the other. Not really have a, that was a good balance to see.

    MR: Yeah.

    LA: Now, I wonder, Tom, if in this situation, did you turn to Scripture to help you understand how you could react in the situation or what would be the right way moving forward from this situation? How did you use Scripture to inform, the process of dealing with a very tricky workplace confrontation?

    TL: Yeah. And because it's uncharted territory, right? It was step by step, inch by inch, I would ask, what does it mean to be meek? Right? And it was kind of at that point that one of the other kind of pivotal aha moments was I went and studied Jesus' parables. Because I thought, well, that's where he's, that's where he, I mean, that was his didactic method. He told stories about people's work over and over and over again. And so I just started reading them. Okay. Let's think parable of the sower, huh, it shows intimate knowledge of the work of a farmer. The parable of the house built on sand or foundation, huh, intimate knowledge of the work of a builder. And so then I began to realize that's why these people said he speaks with authority it is because he uses illustrations, not from his life, but from their life.

    Right? And Jesus had been, and so that was one of the pivotal times. I also studied another kind of big moment for me was, and this is years and years ago, studying the last judgment scene, the sheep and the goats. And that always, it always confused me to tell you the truth, because Jesus says, come to me blessed of my father for when I was hungry, you gave me to eat. When I was thirsty, you gave me to drink. When I was in prison, you visited me etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. And what did they say?

    LA: They said, when did we do this? What are you talking about?

    TL: What are you talking about? When did we do that? Right? And I thought, now look, I've been in, I spent seven years in ministry. When I read that, I knew exactly what he was talking about. He was talking about me and he was commending me for, so then I thought, well, but are those people just being disingenuous? Are they trying to be, oh shucks, don't go on, you go on. No, I think they legitimately said, what are you talking about Lord? And then it dawned on me. And here's what hit me. At that point, we had 1,500 employees around the world. And it just, the Lord said to me, look, you've got 1,500 families who are not naked, who are not hungry, who are not in jail, who are not thirsty because you provide work for them. And I went, oh my goodness, that's huge. That's huge. Because... And so it was that kind of thing. I began to then talk to my partners, I said, hey guys, do you realize that God is thrilled that we have 1,500 employees? He sits in heaven and he smiles and nobody tells business owners or executives or workers that what they do is important to God. That led me back to start studying this whole idea of image bearer. Right? And are you familiar with the concept of the four chapter gospel?

    LA: Yes, but you can explain it.

    TL: Okay. Well, okay, I'll do it quickly. So basically, I think most, and this is what I call reading the Bible in a church centric mode. Most Christians have been taught to think in terms of two chapters, fall and redemption. And so we get to the point, because that's what the church is all about. Right? And that's really frankly what most of the Bible is about, granted. But it leads then to this biopic perspective where subliminally what we say is God created me in order to redeem me. The purpose of my existence is to be redeemed. And once I'm redeemed, the job's done. Right? And subliminally what it's saying, God just wants a bunch of buddies up in heaven and we're going to sit around and eat bonbons in heaven. But if you go back to the creation of the image bearer, basically what you have is God creates this incredible world and then he creates a cultivated place to show them, this is what I want you to do with the rest of this untamed world. And he gives them three instructions. He said, number one, this place is empty. I need you to create abundance. That's the Hebrew word. Not fill. We tend to think fill means have babies. No, it's create abundance. So having babies is part of that. But have your crop be produced a hundredfold. Take that seed that's in the ground and somehow get it wrapped on the shelves at Kroger.

    LA: This is what you're talking about going in as one of the early founders of this company and growing it into your 1,500 employees worldwide.

    TL: Precisely. Yeah. And then question number two or statement number two is this place has infinite potential. We will never exhaust. And how is that potential cultivated? It's cultivated by workers, image bearers who go in. Steve Jobs didn't invent the iPhone. I love my iPhone. He extracted it. Right. God planted that. Silicon was there on day one. The computer revolution couldn't have happened without sand. But we didn't figure that out until thousands of years later. Billions of years later.

    MR: Let alone the knowledge and the creativity of the people that God created.

    TL: And all that, that goes with it. And then the third one is, and this is always, it raises eyebrows. This place is incomplete and dangerous. I want you to subdue it. So you've got power of wind, power of heat, fire, water. It's all of those powers. The image bearer's job is to harness them. And the purpose for all of it is to create a garden, a flourishing place where God's people, then and as Mark said, we screwed it up. Redemption had to occur. But I think it's so important that people understand is redemption has an antecedent. Redemption is not an end in itself. Redemption is to return us to what we were originally created as image bearers to be capable of doing. Fast forward to the fourth chapter, fourth pillar then is a restoration. So on into eternity, Jesus will return. And when he returns, he's going to bring back, he said, I go away to prepare a place for you. And when I come back, you'll be with me. So he's gonna be bringing back a 1,400 mile deep, wide and tall Jerusalem, which is going to be placed. And that's here to Nebraska. Right? That's how big this city is going to be. And the angel takes John by the hand and says, come here, I want to show you the church. I want to show you the church.

    And he doesn't point to the temple. As a matter of fact, he's just told us there will be no temple in the new Jerusalem. He points to the city. And again, that was one of those aha moments for me. I went, wow. So the church is that organization which ultimately, absent of sin, absent of the curse will operate the city. Right.

    LA: Now. Go ahead.

    TL: Oh, Go ahead. I have one more thought on that. But go ahead.

    LA: Finish your thought. And then I'm going to turn to Mark.

    TL: Okay. So then he told of me and this Mark back to turning the word ministry on its head. Nothing that you consider you would use the word ministry for. I think just pop out a couple of what would you what are some things you would use ministry for?

    MR: Preaching, evangelism, mission trips, small groups, feeding the poor, working for justice.

    TL: Yeah. All the stuff that they were judged on there. Hold on to your hat. None of that will be done in heaven. There will be no what you call ministry in heaven. To me that was one of the mind blowing-iest thoughts that came to me. What will happen is all the stuff that businesses do to keep the economy moving, keep people flourishing, keep things clean, beautiful landscape, raking the leaves, all that stuff will keep going on. But there will be no minister because we'll be absent of sin, and absent of the curse. The world will have been cleansed, as Peter says in chapter three, by fire, whatever that means. But just like with the flood, it'll still be here. And so I guess when I use this kind of language with workers, it's different than they've ever heard. One of the big questions, I think there's a whole chapter on it in the book that says, ask this question, particularly in a blue collar audience, but ask this question. Because the blue collar audience, people that collected trash or people that labor in factories or what have you.

    They're not given dignity by our world. And we discovered during COVID how important those people are, truck drivers and the like. But ask this question, what would happen if nobody did what you do? What would happen if nobody did what you do? A profound question, I use it in a lot of the workshops that I teach. And I've had just some examples. I've had a trash collection company. And he just said, wow, we'd all be dead. My people, you know, in other words, not just his company, but his industry. If trash collectors didn't collect trash, we'd have bubonic plague and we'd be dead. Another one of my favorite stories is a company that makes fasteners. So in construction, door hinges and hooks and screws and nuts and bolts and plates and the stuff that holds things together, fasteners. And this guy just got laughing and he said, you know, we'd be living in caves eating over open fires because nothing in the world could be built without fasteners. And so again, so then another business’,,,they install, this is a kind of a humorous point, but they install beverage equipment in convenience stores. And so when I challenged them, well, what would happen if nobody did that?

    He said, man, there'd be a lot of unhappy people commuting to work who can't get a cup of coffee and a donut. And so when you think about this idea of flourishing, every one of those, every one of those is essentially important for the world, for you to experience a world that's flourishing. Everybody doing their part. And so we've got to treat them with dignity. People that clean up are important to God. The people that fix coffee machines are important to God. The people that, you know, all those jobs, and so are the surgeons and the lawyers and the doctors, but they know it. It's the moms at home, for example, who don't get a lot of dignity.

    LA: And I wonder, Mark, for you, this is not news, but do you feel like this is news for many of the people who are just starting to engage with the Bible, bringing it into their workplace, as opposed to just the thing I engage on Sundays at church?

    MR: Oh, absolutely. And all three of us have been doing sort of faith work things for a long time. It's easy to assume that, ah, most people get this. In my experience, most people don't get this. Most of them have never even heard it yet. And so, Tom, what you're talking about is just is transformational for folks. And of course, we've seen that in people's lives and how affirming it is. And then also how you begin to look at the Bible differently. Tom, you said something earlier that I've rarely heard anyone say, though it's profoundly true. You referred to Jesus in his ordinary work as a business person, not as a carpenter. Now...

    TL: He was a builder.

    MR: Of course, he made stuff, right? But your point is he didn't just make stuff. He was running a small business. We don't know when his father died, but presumably, he was a, and the reason that, I mean, that can be transformational to so many people. You think, oh my gosh, God came to earth, the Son of God, the incarnate Word of God was doing kind of what I do. And that is just, that's empowering and it's challenging...In the big time. It's part of, so your book lays this out really well. I would say...It's a great primer, if you will, for folk. But then again, because of the practical stuff, it's also really good for people who kind of get this, but don't know how to live it out.

    TL: Don't have a language. We just don't have a language. And that's part of, I tell the story in the book. I was at a conference at Reform Seminary here in Atlanta. I forget who was speaking, maybe Steve Garber, Tim Keller, or Amy Sherman.

    And I was sitting in the room, listening to it and noticed, you know what? I'm in the same room with the same people I've been in dozens of years. And then I heard the Lord say, I don't know how I heard this. It wasn't, nobody else heard it. So it wasn't, it was just me. But I heard him say this to me, hey Tom, until every Sunday from every pulpit, every sermon is illustrated from and applied to the marketplace, they're not going to believe it. And I think why, that's why Jesus was so effective because he taught differently. And so what happens is they'll go, they'll read a Tim Keller book. They have come to a conference here, Tom, Lutz talk. You know, they'll sit in, and I'll do a workshop and they'll go away. But then they go back to church on Sunday and they're going, hold on. Now, I guess, I guess.

    LA: They're not hearing what they need to be hearing.

    TL: Well, because there's the authority, right? Tom Lutz may be eloquent. They may like him. He may, they may think he's cute, but at the end of the day, they go back to church and there's silence on the topic. Just send the money, your work is not, you know, what's important. And this is the church centric as opposed to the image bearer centric method of discipling. They're basically saying, bring the money, do good works nights and weekends. And frankly, I don't know what you do. Just don't sin when you're out in the wasteland.

    MR: It's a good point.

    TL: Do you know Dorothy Sayers? A famous little quote from her book called Why Work?

    MR: Oh, yeah.

    TL: She says, what the church does is it tells the carpenter not to be drunk on weekends and to come to church on Sundays. What the church ought to tell him is to make good tables. And that's, that's the message. That's the message.

    MR: I have an illustration. I think you'll really appreciate. So I was the preaching pastor, and the lead pastor of a church for 16 years. And though I didn't have a very articulate faith work theology, I pretty much got this stuff. So now I leave, I go to Texas, where I'm just in a church. And it was right in the time when a lot of folks were unemployed, 2008, 2009 and all. And so the pastor gets up and is praying and then praying for the people in our church who don't have a job. And I'm yeah, yeah, okay. I'm good with that. I would pray for that. And that's a good, and then he says, and so Lord, we ask you to bless the businesses in our community. We ask you to bless the leaders of these businesses so that they, their businesses can grow so they can hire people. And I got to tell you, I thought, Oh my gosh, I have probably prayed for the unemployed a hundred times and never once for businesses, even though it's so utterly obvious. Right. And it was really, for me, it was this sort of watershed moment, a kind of a moment of repentance.

    Like, Oh man, I got some work to do and gratitude for a younger pastor who just understood that there's this integration of faith and work at a much deeper level. So it was not only coming from the pulpit in preaching, it was embedded in the pastoral prayer.

    TL: Yeah. That's right.

    LA: Well, this is the change that we want to see both in churches and in individuals in the workplace. So Tom Lutz, we're so glad you're bringing it. And we'll say it again, the book is Equipping Christians for Kingdom Purpose in Their Work. We hope that if you're a Christian in the workplace, that you'll read it to get a really deep theological backing of what it is that God has for your purpose at work. And we also hope that pastors will read this book as well and bring it to the people that they talk to on Sunday.

    TL: Okay. So a campus minister, a pastor, a discipleship leader, men's or women's discipleship group leader, Christian business coaches, anybody whose job is to help people be better Christians outside of church. That was, and I think Mark mentioned, I think that's what makes the book unique is it's not a tome on the theology of work. I know Tim Keller, I've known Tim Keller a long time. I'm not going to write a better book than Tim Keller. But this book is different and it tries to accomplish something. It tries to say, okay, Tim Keller's theology is great. Here's 24 tidbit ideas of how to put it into practice.

    LA: Short, practical. That you can use. Tom Lutz, thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today. It's just been a pleasure.

    TL: It's been exciting and I appreciate the work that you all do it's so important.

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