Some Basic Thoughts on Manhood: Work, Again
A couple days ago, we continued our series of basic thoughts on manhood by taking a look at work and manhood. I suggested that based on Genesis 1-2, what we call “work” is essentially God’s charge to mankind to “tend and take care of” the creation. Work orients us to creation as stewards, and specifically we are stewarding the glory of God since the aim is to fill the earth with God’s glory. We didn’t argue for a list defining “man’s work”, but tried to raise some general principles. This is a series on “basic thoughts” after all, and I am not the expert on manhood.
The ensuing conversation in the comments thread was a really good one, raising a couple issues I thought it might be helpful to address in this post. So, here we go, work, again, from someone trying to get his hands around “manhood” and is inviting you to think out loud with him.
What about School Instead of Work
One brother asked in the previous post:
What say you regarding the man who chooses to go to school, i.e. seminary for some years while his wife works? Is his training work?
Good question. Here’s my original reply, which on further discussion seems inadequate and in need of more comment:
Good question: Is his training work? Well, it’s at least work training . I don’t know that we need to call it work in order to justify it. Such cases will be temporary, and many cases will involve the man working as well as attending classes. I don’t think such a situation is sin and it may be the best investment of time in order to secure better work and ability to provide in the future. So, I suppose it’s an investment rather than work.
I think I assumed too many things in that comment, which, gratefully, later comments revealed. So, let me try to add a couple things.
I do think of graduate education as another form of work training. I didn’t always think that. When I filed my plan of study for my PhD program, I visited a committee member for her signature. She asked me a couple questions like: “Why are you getting a PhD? What kind of work are you currently doing? Is it the work you want to do? Are you good at it?” I think I mumbled something like: “You’re supposed to get a PhD in psychology; you can’t do much in the field without one. I love what I’m doing and, yeah, it seems like I’m pretty good at it.” To which she (someone in the business of helping people get PhDs) replied, “Thabiti, you do know that a PhD is just another form of job training, don’t you? If you’re already doing what you want to do and you’re doing it well, I’m not sure you need to get a PhD.” I was gobsmacked. Didn’t expect that answer at all! It changed my view of graduate education. Unlike a liberal arts undergraduate education, which used to be for “a good well-rounded education,” the advanced degrees are about specialization and work/career preparation. Graduate education is not the work itself, but sometimes a prerequisite for the work.
But in any case, further education must not prevent a man from playing leadership, caretaking, and provision (broadly defined) roles in his family. Neglecting a wife to “hit the books” just won’t do. Neglecting the children in order to go the library simply won’t suffice. There are family responsibilities and worship responsibilities that must be met even while we’re students. Someone may say, “That’s really difficult.” Fair enough. But I’ll offer two thoughts. First, the difficulty may suggest that your class load is too high. Slow down. Take fewer courses. Think carefully about the syllabi and workload of each course before you combine them. Make sure the cuts occur on the class schedule side of things instead of the family and worship side. Or, second, the difficulty may mean you’re not cut out for the particular degree program or graduate school. Face that. Consider it. Then act accordingly. If adjustments to your class load fail to keep proper priorities of worship, family, work, then school, it may be that school needs to be cut off the list. And, brothers, that’s not a failure. That’s living according to proper priorities, taking responsibility, and leading well. If any of this hits home, arrange a sitter for the kids and take the wife somewhere where you can talk prayerfully and unhurried about these things.
I would say (ALERT: here comes a non-expert opinion!) that in most cases men should be able to study and work at the same time. The work could be part-time or full-time. It could be entry-level or career-level. But it’s good for the man preparing for ministry to know something about the simultaneous demands most of his congregation will be facing. Seminary can provide a time of concentrated study and reflection (which is wonderful), but a man with a wife and family may not be able to afford that kind of experience. So, he needs to work. And that work comes before school, imo.
And before anyone starts banging the you-don’t-understand pot, let me assure you I do. I worked in senior leadership in a highly political state-level initiative through nearly all my graduate school years. During that time, we had our first child and then our second. I took a full load of 9 to 12 graduate hours each semester while working full-time. My wife was a stay-at-home mom and didn’t have the luxury of not working. I was four classes short of completing my doctoral class work when our second daughter came along. For a variety of reasons, I left the graduate program and began preparation for ministry in the local church itself.
Now, I want to avoid two things here. I want to avoid generalizing from my experience to every other man’s experience. My journey does not set the standard for anybody. I’m just saying that I know what it’s like to face the load and make tough decisions. Second, I want to avoid necessarily implying that a man in graduate school but not working is not a man. I’m not saying that. I’m not trying to reinforce either the superman or the whimpy man caricatures. I’m saying, we can’t use seminary or graduate school as an excuse for not providing attention, time, resources for our families. That won’t do.
So some principles to think about (please add others you think would help us be faithful in this area):
1. How am I going to provide time, attention, labor, and resources to my family during my period of study?
2. How much study load can I assume without neglecting #1 above?
3. What specific period of time will this arrangement last?
4. Is my wife consistently happy and supportive of the arrangement, including class load, times set apart for study, help with the home and children, and overall leadership?
5. At what point will I need to scale back or suspend studies altogether?
6. Is this the correct season of life to pursue graduate school? Keep in mind graduate school and the ministry are options, being a faithful husband and father is not.
On Promotions at Work
One of the things I offered as an application was that men should prioritize worship and family by denying work and promotions. One brother–a faithful member of his local church, husband, and father–followed up with an excellent set of questions:
Do you think Christians should always turn down promotions? If not, what are the circumstances where it is ok or even good to accept one?
Those are good questions so I thought I’d bring the conversation to this post.
First, “no,” I do not think Christians should as a rule turn down promotions. The offer of promotions ought to be one evidence of our doing our work “as unto the Lord.” While we look for our reward from Christ, we might expect that our good deeds in the workplace result in praise to God and appreciation for our labors. What boss would not want a couple folks who work for him as if he were Jesus?! It’s likely that such employees would be seen as promotion-worthy. And sometimes, perhaps often, they would be inclined and positioned to accept. Those who are faithful in little will be made faithful in much.
Yet, work is not our highest priority. While we work as worship, we don’t worship our work. So, I’d say the first indication that a Christian should probably refuse a promotion comes when the work will hinder their worshiping with the saints. So, if the promotion means you’re no longer going to be an active member of a local church (attending on Sundays and perhaps mid-week, participating in or leading a small group, discipling others, etc.), then the promotion is at odds with your spiritual health and the spiritual health/mission of your church. I’d encourage turning it down in such cases.
Second, if the promotion will entail neglecting your family, I’d recommend turning it down. We all know this, but promotions can tempt us to forget that paychecks cannot replace fathers. We can see how the additional income could benefit, but we don’t see as clearly how the additional absenteeism will hurt. We may even need the additional income. But time and again we learn that the additional time with the wife and the children is far more critical. So, I’d want to know that the promotion would not significantly intrude on time with the family, that my wife were supportive of any schedule adjustments we might have to make, and that I knew my family would have my attention. This will take some effort to push back against the easy but often false division of labor that says, “I’ll earn the money and she’ll raise the kids.” That needs, imo, to be resisted. As I said, a father is more than a paycheck and research is pretty clear that the engagement of the father in the family routine makes all the difference in life outcomes for our children, especially our daughters. But if I were okay on these fronts, I would accept the promotion.
Third, if the promotion would put me into morally compromising positions, I would decline the promotion. Morally compromising positions could mean a range of things from unethical accounting or business practices (just had a young man with integrity decline a job for that reason just yesterday) or inappropriate relationships with persons of the opposite sex (for example, the job requires overnight travel with women). If work is worship, then we want to worship at work in spirit and in truth. This might be the more difficult area to discern, but it’s no less vital to our spiritual health and our reputation. Think of it this way: Every man, imo, should aspire to be an elder in his local church. Two qualifications for an elder is “above reproach” and “has a good reputation with outsiders.” Being known as a leader in an unethical or morally compromising promotion would disqualify the man for further service in the local church. If it disqualifies from the eldership, don’t accept the promotion.
Fourth and finally, but not least, will the promotion give you joy? Will it add life to you, or will it drain zest and zeal? We must remember that we work not merely as a duty but as worship, and worship should bring God’s people joy. There will be times to accept work that’s not ideal, that doesn’t bring high levels of satisfaction, or that we just don’t like. A good friend and business mentor once told me, “Either love what you do, or why you do it, or who you do it for.” That’s stuck with me because sometimes we don’t love what we do or some aspect of what we do. But it’s noble to work such a job when you’re doing it for a wife and children you do love or for a cause that’s greater than your own happiness. But if the Lord permits, accept a promotion when it gives life and joy and that delight can magnify the praise and greatness of Christ in the workplace.