A Case Study
Tim Blencowe, Baptist Chaplain, Macquarie University
and Senior Pastor, Macquarie Baptist Church
Get Tim Blencowe talking about the importance of integrating faith and work he’s frank.
‘The workplace is where we spend most of our life, all of our best energy. We train for it for years. We exhaust ourselves into it, and if we don’t help people join the dots between Jesus and their work, we’re inviting all sorts of disconnection. People cope with it either by compartmentalising their two lives or by eventually seeing their faith shrivel because it does not correlate at all to their day-to-day experience.
‘I want our people to understand the privilege of being made in the image of a worker God whose work continues each day and the privilege of becoming a co-worker with God.’
As Senior Pastor at Macquarie Baptist Church and Baptist Chaplain to Macquarie University, Tim ministers to two diverse and quite transient populations: students and staff of the university, and workers at Macquarie Park, which is a hub for economically significant global businesses and one of the strongest growing employment centres in Sydney.
Tim credits a friend at his previous church for helping him see God’s vision for work, which in turn led him to help organise some conferences for young workers. These meetings exposed a huge spiritual need and ignited Tim’s passion to provide people with a more supportive theology of work.
‘What we discovered was that it’s in the first five years after uni that young workers are especially vulnerable because they’re just not equipped. They go from the warm nest of their university Christian group to the brutal reality of the workplace. And, within five years, there’s a massive fall-off rate of Christians.’
Typically, he says, in a context like Macquarie University a student will get great input and lots of love and attention from their Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students (AFES) or another university-based Christian group.
‘Then, if they put their hand up for some kind of “ministry” role like pastor or missionary, they get very clear runway lights and all the resourcing and equipping they could ever want, and almost celebrity status.
‘But if God calls them to be an engineer or an accountant say, then the runway lights are just not there. There’s a subtext that says, “Yeah, well, if you chose that, you chose a lesser role anyway.” And there’s no vision for equipping people in that space.’
During his decade at Macquarie, Tim has worked hard through teaching, preaching and conversation to expand people’s understanding of God’s vision for work and to help them bridge the faith-work divide.
Each year he asks people to focus on three aspects of worker experience – the work, the worker and the workplace – and to contemplate questions like: ‘What does it mean to be an accountant to the glory of God or write code to the glory of God?’
Periodically Tim has also:
‘It’s quite ground-breaking because people are not used to having their vocations talked about and their work-day experiences validated in the context of church – unless of course they’ve got a gift that can be used in the church.’
Tim provides a paradigm to help people think about how to be a co-worker with God. It starts with them walking into their workplaces prayerfully and expectantly and being good to people in their work team. It extends to them shaping organisational culture and policy so that their organisation does good in the community and offers a genuinely helpful product that’s good for the environment and blesses the world.
‘I think that’s God’s vision for work.’
Tim has run successful seminars at Baptist churches about the importance of integrating faith and work but theological resistance on campus has meant he has not been able to cultivate an awareness of God’s vision for work in that context to the degree he would like.
‘It’s a work in progress,’ he says. ‘We’ve certainly made progress. But it’s a hard push.’
He says the resistance arises from the ‘faulty theological grid’ of Western evangelicalism – a grid that has helped shape Sydney evangelicalism and its restrictive theology of work.
‘We’re very big on being gospel-centred and highlighting the importance of people trusting in Jesus for salvation. But I think we’re pretty shrivelled in our vision for what that redeemed life then goes on to look like other than making more disciples.
‘I find the only key messages I hear about work are that’s it a place to evangelise and it’s a place to make money for serving the gospel. I hear almost nothing that helps people understand how their daily work needs to be to the glory of God or how we’re made to be workers in the image of God the worker.’
Tim takes issue with Christians who find themselves in organisations that are ‘not blessing the world’ yet don’t act to change those organisations from within or to leave them.
‘Too many Christians compartmentalise. They’ll sing big in church, and they’ll give big in church, and they’ll talk big about glorifying God on Sunday. But Monday to Friday, they’re part of workplaces and work cultures that are abusive and self-interested. Whole industries offer nothing to society except wealth creation for people, and I think that’s got to be challenged. And the higher we get in organisations, the more responsible we are for this.’
Marjorie Lewis-Jones, on behalf of NCLS Research, conducted this case study interview, as part of the Faith and Work Integration Study by NCLS Research.
This paper uses data from the 2016 National Church Life Survey to explore the integration of faith with matters related to work in Australian churchgoers. The study was sponsored by Reventure Ltd.
'Time strapped' people with less time for volunteering and participating at church.
Church attenders in paid employment have distinctive characteristics