Most writers would love to be writing full time, but it isn’t financially feasible. Enter the day job, which, let’s face it, can sometimes feel more like a curse than a blessing. Author and pastor Tom Nelson is here to tell you why your day job matters far more than you know. In fact, your work is built into God’s very design for humanity. You’ll come away with a whole new appreciation for the wonder of God’s plan, and come Monday, you’ll be ready to face your day with renewed hope and energy.
About Tom Nelson
Tom Nelson is president of Made to Flourish, a network that seeks to empower pastors to lead churches that produce human flourishing for the common good. He has also served as senior pastor of Christ Community Church in the Kansas City area for over 30 years. Tom is the author of several books, including Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work, Economics of Neighborly Love: Investing in Your Community’s Compassion and Capacity, and The Flourishing Pastor: Recovering the Lost Art of Shepherd Leadership.
Karen: Hello, friends, and welcome into the deep with us today. Boy, have we got a treat for you! We have a guest, and I’m going to let Erin introduce him.
Erin: I get to introduce somebody! I’m excited, and I am delighted. I get to introduce Tom Nelson. He is the author of several books, including Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work. We’re going to be talking about that today. He’s got another book coming out soon. Tom is the president of Made to Flourish. That’s a pastors network for the common good.
He’s also served on the board of regents for Trinity International University. He’s a regular speaker and facilitator on faith, work, and economics. If that’s not enough, he has a doctorate from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. On top of all that, he’s been a senior pastor at Christ Community Church in Kansas for almost, I’m thinking, thirty years. Now, the reason I know Tom is because when my husband and I moved to Kansas, this happened to be the first church on our church shopping quest.
We thought it was going to be a long and arduous quest. Some of you guys might be familiar with that church shopping thing. Well guess what? For us, we went there and we never tried anywhere else, because one visit was enough for us to know Christ Community needed to be our church home. Now, Tom Nelson is a humble guy, and he’d probably want to tell you that it is not all because of him that this church is the wonderful place that it is.
But I’ll tell you, I think a big part of it is because of Tom’s example as a genuine and caring servant leader. And that carries through the entire church leadership team and down into the congregation. We feel like we’re on mission together. My husband and I are delighted to be part of the church, and now I am delighted that Tom could be here with us today. Welcome, Tom.
Tom: Wow, Erin, that’s wonderful. Thank you. It’s a delight to be with both of you on this podcast. I’m thrilled and excited to have a conversation with you guys. You seem like pretty amazing, amazing people.
Karen: Yes, of course we are. But you see, now you have to answer the question every guest on our show has to answer. What does the deep mean to you?
Tom: Well, when I think of the deep, I think of St. John of the Cross, the great Spanish mystic who labeled this experience of the Christian, and maybe it’s an experience of all humans in their journey, as the dark night of the soul. So when I think of deep, I think of dark, right?
Or our place is difficult. And for me, when I think of the deep, however we understand that time, I do see it both as a time of disorientation and a time of orientation, or reorientation, because in my sort of journey in the deep, there’s some clarification in the deep, and I’ll just say a couple of things that really stand out to me.
The deep experience, whether it’s in my own relationship with God, my work, my creativity, whatever, it helps me to separate adequacy from competency. I have to continually remember that I have a stewardship of competency in my life, but that I’m never adequate. God is my adequacy. So the adequacy/competency dynamic becomes more clear in the dark.
Another one would be intimacy versus accomplishment. I mean, I need constant reorientation that intimacy is the most important, and that actually accomplishment flows out of intimacy. Intimacy is foundational. Sometimes I get these things confused. I’m busy, and adequacy and competency sort of comes together. I get the wrong convergent there. Intimacy/accomplishment gets out of whack.
Other than that, I’d say mystery versus creativity. I think that’s really true for writers because the dark helps me to not miss mystery. Sometimes I confuse mystery with creativity. So it helps me prioritize mystery over creativity.
I think lastly, would be a sense that the deep for me helps reinforce where my hope lies. Not ultimately in the seen, but the unseen realm for my security. So, you know, the deep is disorienting. It sounds negative. But it does have a potential to reorient our lives to greater wholeness and greater flourishing, I think. That’s what I think of when I think of the deep.
Erin: Yeah. I love that.
Karen: That’s wonderful. Thank you.
Erin: Very cool. So, I said we were going to talk about Tom’s book Work Matters. You guys, I really liked this book. It has a lot of great perspective about work, which, let’s face it, that makes up a lot of our day, whether you’re a full-time writer or whether you have a day job on top of writing. I know that there are writers out there who maybe don’t love their day job, and that’s where this book can really help us.
So, Tom, let’s just start with some groundwork here. In the book, you talk about how humans were created for work. Why do you think that’s true?
Tom: Great question. And again, I am assuming that my answer to that question, at least my comprehensive, integral answer to that question, is found in Torah, which is the first five books of the Old Testament. So that’s where I’m coming from in terms of my framework.
If we look at the early chapters of Genesis and the Torah, which means instruction, this great repository of wisdom from the past, what we have in the first three chapters in Genesis, which again is the first part of the Torah, you have a profound picture of a God who works and who reflects that working aspect of his being in making humans.
The emphasis of the first two chapters of Genesis, the primary emphasis, is work. God’s works for himself. God is a creator God. In fact, the first verb in the Genesis account is bara, it means to work, it’s to create. So God introduces himself, where he’s introduced, one true God, in the Hebrew standpoint, as fundamentally a worker.
Now we understand he’s more than that. He’s a personal God and so forth, but that begins to be unveiled later in revelation. So if you didn’t know anything about the God of the Hebrews, you would begin to realize right away that God is a creator. God is a worker. God’s an active God.
Then he makes humans in God’s image in chapter one. Right after he says male and female are made in God’s image. Image here, selem, this brilliant Hebrew word, has a sense of reflection and connection. The two main semantic threads. Humans reflect God’s image, and they do that in terms of reflecting what God is like, what he does and his personality, his creativity, but also in not only reflection but connection—that God is deeply relational. That his created expression is deeply relational and humans are that, of course.
Then right after that, in verse twenty-eight, there’s five Hebrew imperatives put together, which is very unusual Hebrew. It’s a picture of how humans fit into the integral creation. So you have this beautiful, integral creation, an integral God, and he says be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it, and have dominion. We can unpack this at great length, but what we understand is that humans have a job description. That’s the picture. They have a job description.
Then in Genesis chapter two, you have another full picture of how humans fit into work. There’s an incompletion. There’s water, bush, land, but there’s no human to work the ground. So God creates Adam puts him in the garden. And in chapter two, verse fifteen, you have two Hebrew infinitives. Again, writers love this, I trust. Language really matters, right? Language really, really matters. The artistry and the etymology and morphology.
So in Genesis 2:15, you have this picture that God puts Adam in the garden, right? Because the garden was not complete without Adam, without man, a human guide. There’s an incompletion, okay? That’s the picture that they’re to cultivate and keep the garden. That’s the English translation. So the idea of cultivate, nourish, keep, and protect. So you have this brilliant picture of how humans fit into that created order. And then you have this scripture where God says, “It’s not good for Adam to be alone. I’m gonna make a helper.”
Now, helper is not at all demeaning. It’s not less. It’s a very misunderstood word. It is a sense of a partner. And the question is, why is it not good for Adam to be alone? Yes, there’s a relational component and marriage is going to respond to that. But the primary focus of the Genesis text is a job description and it’s not, you know, cultivate the garden, protect the garden, it’s not to do the work without Eve.
So, I mean, I did a little more of that because there’s so much emphasis of work in the Genesis text as we’re introduced to God and our creator and our place in creation. So it’s not that we worship our work, because of course, that’s idolatry, but our work paid or unpaid is a real big part of our worship.
I’m going to wrap it up there, but I’m just saying, if we understand the early chapters of Genesis, if we don’t get the book end of the story right, if we don’t get the front and the end, we’re going to miss this story. So the early chapters of the story, of the biblical story, are so important, and a major thread, a MAJOR thread, of that story and how humans fit into it, is the work they do. Your work is fundamentally contribution, not compensation. It is our creative contribution for the created order.Our work is fundamentally our creative contribution for the created order. #amwriting #chritianwriter @karenball1 Click To Tweet
Erin: I like that. Now, in Work Matters you also talk about this distortion of work dualism where one type of work is seen as maybe a higher vocational calling than another. For writers out there who feel tasked by God, called by God to write, are we in danger of falling into this distortion if we think our writing is a higher, more sacred calling than, say, our day job? And if that’s bad, how can we change that view?
Tom: Yeah, it’s very bad. It’s very common for all vocations. Let’s go back quickly to theology and then I’ll press some more into it. If we go back to Genesis chapter two, I mentioned verse fifteen that we were created to cultivate. That word cultivate in creation is avodah and in the Torah avodah, or to cultivate, actually work the garden, is a seamless idea. In other words, it’s used to describe a priest in the tabernacle doing priestly things. It’s used to describe a farmer in the agrarian context working the land, and it’s used to describe someone worshiping God.
Now this is very important because there’s no separation. The picture early is that all of life is meant to be a seamless act of 24/7 worship.The picture in Genesis, chapter 2, is that all of life is meant to be a seamless act of 24/7 worship. #amwriting #christianwriter #dayjob @karenball1 Click To Tweet
Tom: Again, Genesis, chapter 3, comes in and disintegrates that. But the good news of the Bible story is that Jesus came to bring integral-ness back and new creation back. My point is, Paul will often say whatever you do, do it heartily as unto the Lord. There’s no place in the biblical story for a platonic dualism of the secular and sacred.
Here’s another reason why. Because regardless of what a writer does, how will we make our loving, whatever we do, if we’re changing diapers, if we’re helping grandchildren, if we’re helping a neighbor, if we’re working in the garden, if we’re running a company, whatever we are doing or writing, we live and breathe and serve before God, our audience of one 24/7. We were created to worship God in all that we are, all that we think, all that we do, and every relationship we have as an act of worship.
So again, what is so perilous about a secular sacred dichotomy is it impoverishes God’s worship. God should be worshiped in everything we do and say. So we have to reorient ourselves that worship is not just what we do on Sunday. That matters, right? I mean, if you’re a Christian, you’re a part of a church, or a faith community, we do have a joy of corporate praise or worshiping, but our primary place of worship is Monday, wherever God calls us and whatever we do.Our primary place of worship is Monday, wherever God calls us and whatever we do. #amwriting #christianwriter #dayjob @karenball1 Click To Tweet
I don’t worship God more when I give a message or preach than I do when cleaning a bathroom at home. All of it is to be an act of worship, and that brings such fullness and meaning and joy, even for the most mundane task. Even when our economic engine, you know, to help us provide, is not the same passion as our calling. And many of us find that.
Karen: I’ve always kind of been aware of this because my dad was a pastor of the same little church for forty-five years. He and my mom pastored there. But the church was so small that it could never pay him a salary. So he was bi-vocational. His job was as the program director at the YMCA here in the Rogue Valley. And the work that he did there with kids, and the things that he did to support those kids and encourage them, especially young men who were from very difficult backgrounds, that was as much a part of him and his ministry as his work was in the church.
We lost my dad in 2016, and I was both amazed and yet not amazed that so many of those kids that he impacted just by being who he is, came to his service and talked about the change that had happened in their lives because of Dad. Even if they didn’t accept Christ, which I continue to pray that they will, but he was the first positive influence, man influence, for a lot of those kids.
He looked at everything that he did as an outgrowth of who God made him to be and what God made him to do.
Tom: Yeah, and that is so true. What a great example. Theologians, I’ve heard this said by a handful, but I think it’s true, that the greatest heresy of the 20th century in the Western church is the sacred secular dichotomy. The damage of elevating one kind—now again, we’re not diminishing missionaries and 501C-3 workers and pastors, that’s an important calling—but to raise their calling at a higher level than a stay-at-home mom or stay-at-home dads, or whatever, that is really unbiblical, and it’s damaging to the church, to our world.
So many people, you know, I run into this as a pastor, will come up to me and say, “I’ve always felt like a second-class citizen because I didn’t go into full-time Christian ministry,” which again is another terrible phrase. I was with someone who was a good soccer player in college. He knew I was a part of a Christian organization. He said, “Because I didn’t go on staff in that kind of organization, I went in corporate international business, I always felt like I was on the B team.”
Like pastors and missionaries were, using an athletic metaphor, the A team, and he’s the B squad. This is so common across our nation and even similar parts of the world, tragically. This is one of the greatest perils. We need to work very hard at having a biblical understanding that everyone is called to serve God in different places, different ways, whether they’re paid or not paid. And they’re to do it for the glory of God, and love of their neighbor. The transformation would be amazing.
Karen: Don’t you think that dichotomy, that dualism, is what plays into the whole celebrity status of so many high powered pastors and pastors of mega churches. And then it contributes to the fall because it gets so focused on them as the center of what’s taking place.
Or for authors as well. Best-selling authors. People treat them like super-humans, and they’re not. I can tell you, they’re not. Not in a negative way. But they struggle every day, just like we do, and they’re discouraged and they’re disheartened. When we hold them on those pedestals, we do them such a disservice.
Tom: Yeah. I couldn’t agree more. There’s a whole combination of factors at work there, but fueling that, like you’re saying, can be a sacred secular dichotomy that leads to some people viewing that they have a greater ministry or are more important because it’s bigger. You know, both sides of those are very true. It’s like if we have a sacred sector dichotomy and pride to evolve that, what happens is some people think they’re way too important. Like, “I’m really used by God!” And other people live under the terrible cloud. Like, “I’ve just not done enough for God. I’m just not as good.” And so one leads to great pride, one leads to discouragement and despair, and it’s so dangerous.
Karen: On that issue of believing you’re better and you’re all that, in publishing we call that believing your own press. That’s never a good idea.
Tom: That’s true for pastors, speakers, all kinds of celebrity stuff. Very perilous.
Erin: Let’s talk a little bit about another thing you wrote in your book, which I found so fascinating. You were talking about Jeremiah’s message. This is in Jeremiah 29, verses four through seven. You were talking about how Jeremiah tells God’s covenant people, they’re in exile, they’re in Babylon. They hate it there. And yet, Jeremiah says, “Hey, settle down. You’re going to be there for awhile. Seek the welfare of Babylon.” How does that apply to writers? Maybe not just in their writing, but also at their day jobs. How do they seek the welfare of Babylon?
Tom: Yeah, it is surprising because I think the Jewish people at that time thought, “Babylon’s so bad. I just want to get back to Jerusalem.” It is stunning. And the language that Jeremiah uses is, you know, picture a family, economics, work. It is truly seeking the best of a very pagan city and really being, I’ll use James Hunter’s language, a faithful presence there rather than separate from culture, or accommodating the culture. To be fully present there for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor.
A couple of things come to my mind as I think about writers or what we are doing. A good understanding of creation—I’m gonna go back to that again—tells us that God’s creation was good. You remember the word good, good, good. At the end of Genesis two it’s very good.
Tom: When Genesis three comes, I’m going to go back to this, but we have to get the first part of the story right. Then you have a massive disintegration of God’s good creation, but you don’t have the eradication of it. There’s still a remnant of goodness, right? So that’s where common grace comes from. I think writers need to think about the difference between saving grace and common grace. That everyone has God’s image print on them. That humans haven’t fallen as far as they could have. There’s a gracious aspect that everyone gets part of the story right.
So what is important, I think, in common grace is to look at my workplace, look at my context, and to have a posture of humility, a posture of curiosity, a posture of respect for others. And to realize that God’s creation is still good. It is fallen, but it’s still good. It’s worthy of our encouragement, to try to build that culture, to love people, respect people.
And then to remember we are in a moment of human history and redemptive history where we are in the “already-not-yet.” One day, yet future, it will be as it ought to be, but I live in the “is” moment. Like what is now. And I am called to be a redemptive agent in that. How I love people, how I do my work, how I serve.
In this already-not-yet moment we are in proximate context. We’re not in the full perfection context. So I just encourage people to say wherever God has called you, God has specifically called you there. And common grace is there, and love is there. And to do your best to nourish that common grace.
You don’t have to agree with everyone. Obviously we’re going to see things differently. But how important it is to be present by your words and your deeds in that place of work, and do good work and love your employees, or love your fellow colleagues. I’m just saying live in the common grace, and understand how important it is in your Monday world, again, whether you are actually doing your writing or supporting your writing, or whatever.
Then stay curious. I think we need to have not a life of certainty but that of teachability. I think writers need to constantly be observers who can be teachable and curious. One of my favorite bumper stickers—I’m not a real bumper sticker fan, y’all—but it said: stay curious. It’s a simple two words. Stay curious. What is God up to? What’s going on in the world? What can I learn here? How can I be teachable? To be a sponge that way.
Erin: Yeah. I had an example. I used to work in a library, and I had to explain something to a man who was kind of hostile. “Kind of” is probably a nice way of phrasing it. He was angry, and I had to explain, I had to take him through a whole process of doing a self-checkout, which he did not want to do. But for many reasons, I had to do it that way. This ten second process for most people took like five minutes. And he was, you know, he did it wrong and was frustrated and was angry.
For whatever reason, God gave me an amazing patience with this man. I have to say it was God. We went through this process and, finally he left. He still wasn’t happy, but he got what he needed and he left. I didn’t know that there was a librarian nearby, just because of the setup, and she was listening to this whole interchange.
She said to me afterwards, “How in the world did you answer that man so kindly and so patiently through that whole process? I could have never done that.”
I got to thinking about that and I’m like, “Oh, yay, I’m so glad someone noticed that,” was the first thought I had. Then the second thought I had was, “You know what? Yes, I was shining God’s light and that was purely God’s grace. But even if nobody saw that, I still am called to shine that light, and to treat this man as an image-bearer. He deserves my respect, even if he’s not nice,” which, you know, we dealt with nice people, and we dealt with not nice people.
Anyway, the next thing, or the last thing really, we have time for is I’d love to know if you have any other tips or advice for writers who are struggling with their day jobs. Maybe they feel creatively stifled or physically or emotionally drained. Any thoughts that you have for them?
Tom: I don’t know if I have any good wisdom. I always encourage people—because I can relate to that, I mean, I have multiple tasks on my plate when I’m writing. There are many things I’m doing and sometimes it feels like it takes away from my best energy. A couple of things I encourage is that God doesn’t waste anything. And sometimes it’s frustrating if we feel like we have too many distractions. I’m not saying we shouldn’t plan well and build margin that can create a space to think. I mean, obviously that’s part of our stewardship.
But interruptions, things that come at us that we think take us away from our writing can actually be used by God as a remarkable opportunity that comes back into our writing. I think of that over and over again, where I’ve been frustrated because like, oh, I’m trying to get this chapter done. I got this, this, and this. Then there’ll be something, not always, I’m not trying to be Pollyanna, but there’ll be something where I felt like it was a distraction, but actually God used it, not only to teach me, but it found its way into my writing very soon.Things that come at us that we think take us away from our writing can actually be used by God as a remarkable opportunity that comes back into our writing. #amwriting #Christianwriter @Karenball1 Click To Tweet
Pastors are known for this, right? I have people kidding me, “Hey, there’s an illustration for you, Pastor.” I’m not minimizing that. You know, life is hard. Work is hard. It’s meant to be worship, but sure it’s hard. It’s fallen. But I just find that the writing process is always live. The question is are you depending on your competency or adequacy? Do you have a good sense of God’s presence and timing? And patience?
Transparently, one of the hardest things for me, I mean, I plan for my writing because I write best early in the morning. I should do some planning. I think that helps, but it’s a mystery. It’s a faith journey. My adequacy has to be in the Lord. As much as I want to be competent.
But some of my struggles and frustrations around my life, whether it’s personal relationship or it’s work, actually can be a space where I’m more centered when I recognize the dependency on God, and God uses some of that in ways…I’ve just been stunned. Like most of my writing has come out of my failure. I never imagined I would write on work or economics because I made some bad mistakes or failures as a pastor. God often uses our frustrations and failures if we have a longer time horizon.
Karen: Nobody can say God doesn’t have a sense of humor.
Tom: Yeah. Often it’s our weakness or some of the hardest times that God uses the most.
Karen: Tom, this has been so delightful. I have loved hearing everything that you’ve shared with our listeners. I just know that God is going to use this to bless them and encourage them. It’s been a delight for me because I’m realizing that I’m really simpatico with you. I actually have a whole talk that I do, two of them. One is “Nothing is Wasted in God’s Economy.” And the other is “The Detours are the Journey.”
It’s really important for us to recognize that everything that comes to us comes by the hand of God, and everything that comes to us is there first and foremost to, as you said, make us into a reflection in God’s image, and to refine us, and to give us that sense of who he has asked us and called us to be as his children, in whatever context he has put us.
Tom, thank you so much. We will have to have you back again. I say this to a number of guests, but it’s because as I listen, I think to myself, this guy is a wealth of wisdom for our listeners. Thank you so much for planning to put us in your schedule and taking time out of everything that you have to do to be with us.
Tom: Thank you. It’s a delight to be with you both.
Erin: Thanks, Tom!
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Do you have a day job? Have you seen any ways you can use it to serve the common good?
Books by Tom Nelson Mentioned in the Podcast
Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work by Tom Nelson
THE NOVEL MARKETING PODCAST
We’re so grateful for the sponsorship from the Novel Marketing Podcast, with host Thomas Umstattd Jr. It’s the longest running book marketing podcast in the world. We know and trust Thomas, and his podcast is full of great information and advice—like Novel Marketing’s 10 Commandments of Book Marketing, which we’ve been bringing you.
Today we’re talking about commandment #4: Thou shalt measure thy marketing.
It doesn’t do you any good to spend time or marketing dollars on tactics that don’t generate sales for you. And the only way you’ll know is to measure it. To look at the data. We writers have limited resources in time and money, so we need to be wise in how we invest.
You also have to be careful about copying someone else’s tactic that worked for them because it might not work for you. Worse, it might not even work for them, because they may or may not have measured their own data.
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