Interview with Kara Martin

The fifth and final retreat for my year with the Community of St Anselm was titled ‘Me, God, and My Job: One Life?’ and we were encouraged to come up with a working life purpose (see my very first blog post here). I love Kara Martin’s writing about work and faith – and I love how her work has a definite purpose to it. As I continue researching ancient future faith new connections keep popping up and Kara’s books Workship and Workship Volume 2 are no exception. I hope you enjoy this interview (via email, December 2018). 

In your first book, Workship, the six main chapters were centred around looking at the lens of work through the six streams from Richard Fosters’ book Streams of Living Water. These streams translated in your book as Prayerful Working, Holy Working, Spirit Empowered Working, Social Justice Working, Gospel Working, and Incarnational Working. I love how this brings a holistic approach to our work. What inspired you to go down this path? 

For a long time, I’ve been inspired by Richard Foster’s organisation Renovaré, and his approach to spiritual formation. Those six areas identify also the emphases that some denominations have adopted as their distinctives: ritual or holiness or the Holy Spirit or social justice or evangelism or a Jesus lifestyle. However, Foster pointed out that these are all features of Jesus’ spiritual lifestyle. When looking at faith applying to our work, we might emphasise one of those elements, but a more balanced approached would practise all six.

I found that I also tended to emphasise a couple of those approaches, but it helped me see my work differently be looking through some other lens. I also found that this was God’s way of using work to spiritually form me: as I practised a more prayerful attitude, or looked for ways my character was being formed, or responded to the prompting of the Spirit, or look to get alongside the vulnerable at work, or tried for innovative ways to share the good news, or tried to be creative in seeing myself as God’s hands or feet.

I’ve now developed a questionnaire to help people to work out their biases and give them ideas of application.

In Workship Volume 1 you write “God makes things that aren’t just inherently good, useful or, functional. They are also beautiful. … Our work should have an aesthetic dimension also.” In Workship Volume 2 you devote a whole chapter to Beauty in the Workplace which I just loved. I research where the monastic and the charismatic meet, and beauty is one such area. I’m interested to know what makes certain churches suspicious of, or blind to, aesthetic quality?

In my opinion, I think it is partly the issue of the reformation. There was a reaction to the excesses of the church, which included opulent lifestyles of priests, wealthy and ostentatious monasteries and flamboyant religious art. There was a process of stripping back to the essentials to ensure that people did not think that salvation came by anything but faith.

There also developed a very pragmatic response through the Wesleyan movement, captured by the famous saying “Earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can”. His approach to money was: “Do you not know that God entrusted you with that money (all above what buys necessities for your families) to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, to help the stranger, the widow, the fatherless; and, indeed, as far as it will go, to relieve the wants of all mankind? How can you, how dare you, defraud the Lord, by applying it to any other purpose?”

There was a questioning of the value of anything that was not directed to evangelism and social justice. Churches were stripped back to simple forms, with little art. Christians had always been on the forefront of music, art, literature, architecture… and gradually they faded from being cultural influencers in that way. For a long time appreciation of beauty has been missing from our expression of the Gospel.

I imagine you bring your particular gift or teaching to spaces where there is a sacred/secular divide and help in correcting that. In Richard Foster’s book he writes about the potential perils if the pendulum were to swing too far. In your particular charism, what areas of teaching need to be balanced with empowering people in the workplace. In other words, what could possibly happen if this became the sole focus of a church? 

There have already been some question marks about an over-emphasis in this area. A recent article by Michael Jensen in Eternity News dealing with issues with theological education (Have we got too many Bible colleges?) he says, “What is needed, I believe, is a new vision for gospel ministry that does not see it as a vocation for Christians that is superior to secular work, but one that is compelling none the less.” This was in response to many comments in his research that failing numbers of students in theological education was due to an over-emphasis on secular work as a valid expression of Christian vocation.

An over-corrective to a poor theology of work, may suggest that paid Christian work is less attractive, and result in falling numbers as suggested. However, a proper teaching would emphasise the need to respond to God’s calling to whatever role; leading to a trust that God will provide for the needs for both the church, and Christian influence in all areas of society.

This should actually lead to more Christians at Bible college, as they seek innovative ways of expressing their faith wherever God has placed them.

There is also a fear that people will be less keen to evangelise or fight for justice, seeing their work as their primary means of serving God. However, a greater awareness of living our whole life in discipleship to God should increase our desire to serve him in gospel proclamation and to care for others around us, as we become more like Jesus.

I often hear people decry churches who call singing “worship” and the person leading a “worship leader”. The argument is that using the word worship in this context takes away from other forms of worship, (say for example – work as worship). The flipside is that by not labelling the music in church as worship we can diminish its importance to just singing. What are your thoughts on this? 

Although I think whatever we do to honour God is worship; I do think that music and singing are particular ways that we can corporately express our joy and wonder. It is effective as a means of making us aware of the transcendent God and has great biblical precedence. It is clear that people spontaneously respond to honour God with singing, dancing and poetry. Miriam sang and danced after the people were rescued out of Egypt; David sang and danced and composed almost half the psalms; and Mary’s response to the news of her pregnancy was a powerful prophetic poem of the might of God.

Where are you in the world and what are you currently working on? 

I’ve just returned home to Sydney from a writing retreat in Norway, but will be heading to Melbourne in January, Singapore and Malaysia in March, Perth in May and The Philippines in June.

There are some wonderful opportunities to help people explore issues of work and worship.

I am currently working on some research into how we can better equip Christians for the workplace. What are the specific knowledge, skills and values that we need to develop in Christians so they can connect their faith with their workplace? Initial findings are very interesting. The first priority for knowledge is “spiritual disciplines that lead to intimacy with God”; the first priority for skills is “Influence through servant-hearted leadership”; and the first priority for values is displaying “Godly values”.

What is interesting is that we rarely develop those three areas in Christians to equip them for the workplace. I think this work will be interesting in helping churches, theological colleges, Christian higher education and Christian professional organisations to be more targeted in the training they provide.

Thanks so much, Kara, for your time and I look forward to reading Workship Volume 3!

If you wish to buy Kara’s books you can get the 2 volume set from Wandering Bookseller here. 

Rachael is Currently…

Just came home from exploring my own city while apartment-sitting for some friends… Melbourne is truly wonderful.
Finished reading (again) Today Matters by John C. Maxwell and realised how much impact it had on me in 2004 as a highschooler… I have printed out his Daily Dozen and stuck it in my planner under the page New Year’s Resolutions.
Binge watched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix and I’m writing something about it (hoping to be able to share it soon)

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