Kara Martin is a freelance consultant, speaker, writer, lecturer at Sydney's Alphacrucis College, and former associate dean of the Marketplace Institute at Ridley College in Melbourne. She has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organisations. She was director of the School of Christian Studies for three years and has lectured with the Brisbane School of Theology, Macquarie Christian Studies Institute, Mary Andrews College and Wesley Institute.  
     She is the author of Workship: How To Use Your Work To Worship God (April, 2017) and Workship 2: How we can Flourish at Work (May, 2018) - both of which were shortlisted for Australian Christian Book of the Year. Her third book, Workship 3: How to Shape Christians for the Workplace, will be available in 2021. She speaks about work as worship, how her views were shaped by her own workplace experiences, and how the coronavirus pandemic has helped break down divides between our jobs and our faith...

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 Kara Martin. PICTURE: Supplied

On your website you point out that the Hebrew root for work ('avad') is also the root for service, particularly serving God in worship. But don’t most (Australian) Christians just see worship as a Sunday activity and work as what they do the rest of the week? Are you advocating that workers sing hymns on the job? 
"I think it’s a problem with how we interpret worship. If we see worship as only that which has to do with the church, and in particular singing, then we artificially set up this divide between Sunday and the rest of the week. 
     "And this divide between ‘secular’ and 'sacred' is something we inherited from Greek philosophers; it led to enormous problems in the early church. Plato said the flesh is an inadequate container for the soul and saw the soul as the beautiful thing; he believed the body was a distraction and waste of time. Because of his influence in the early church, there was a big debate about whether Jesus could be fully human and fully God, which led to Gnosticism. 
     "Today, we take it for granted that Jesus had to be fully human to be an adequate sacrifice for our sins. But He had to be fully God to be worthy of our worship and to be raised from the dead. So what Jesus exemplifies is a wholistic way of living, not just souls going to Heaven, but our bodies, minds, emotions, and souls all working together as a whole. They should not be treated separately. 
     "When we go to work and we don’t tell people we’re Christians, we’re not taking our whole selves to work, we’re dis-integrating ourselves. It’s not just us who miss out but those in the workplace. When I used to work in human resources, we always looked for people who were passionate on the job, who were whole-hearted in the work they do, because they’d invest more. And as Christians you can’t be passionate if you don’t take your faith to work. That’s why Paul writes in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.” The principle applies to us as employees [not just slaves] because we have so much more control and agency about the work we do."

"When we go to work and we don’t tell people we’re Christians, we’re not taking our whole selves to work, we’re dis-integrating ourselves. It’s not just us who miss out but those in the workplace."

What happened in your own career and faith journey that ignited your passion for helping Christians see work as a form of worship; that faith can infuse our work?
"I was working as a television reporter and excited to be in the newsroom. I’d always hoped that God would use me to bring truth and justice there, pillars of journalism. But the culture and the pressure to do certain stories was intense and I realised very quickly how unprepared I was. How would I handle a specific story as a Christian, especially difficult stories that could have been interpreted as sensationalistic? I began to ask 'Where was God in my work?' and 'How could I survive in journalism when it felt like a god-less place?' It didn’t help that my church wanted me to do stories about church. So I felt squeezed from both sides. 
     "As a result, I began to meet with a print journalist and a radio journalist who were Christians; we called ourselves 'Scoop for Christ', mostly as a joke. But our frustration was real and we met to help each other, even though we didn’t have much wisdom or sense of how the Bible spoke to our work. We decided to hold a conference where we invited more experienced Christians in the workplace to share their wisdom with us. That was my first faith and work conference, and maybe for the others as well. There’d been such a dissonance for us between faith and work, even the older Christians told me that they hadn’t before thought about how God could use them in their work until that conference. That began the journey. 
     "Then I was a part of a Christian organisation within a secular university. I went on to do some work in Christian higher education but I kept coming back to just how big the problem [of this disconnect] was. Students would tell me that our course discussions and theological study [were] different from what they were hearing in church each week. What they saw celebrated and elevated in the church was professional ministry and so these students got the impression that their work was considered less important. They’d tell me they’d sit in the pews feeling guilty because they were working in the secular world, and in many ways the church often put on them a bigger burden: to try to make a difference at work as Christians, even though their work was seen as lesser than. 
     "One student finally told me it was a revelation for her to realise that God was already at work and she just had to find out how to join Him!"

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The two books on the relationship between faith and work which were shortlisted for Australian Christian Book of the Year 2020. 

Why do you think we - and the culture - often values a person based on the work they do?
"We claim our jobs as our identity. Often the first thing we ask people, what do you do, as if that determines who we are. We answer with an identity statement: “I am a...” as if we pay our bills based on who we are. And this can lead to a hierarchy of ‘work’; the man I talked to yesterday was embarrassed to tell me he worked at MacDonald’s and was hoping to work at Coles soon, as if feeding people and caring for their needs wasn’t as important as other jobs.
     "Instead of asking people what they do, I often ask people what their story is. That doesn’t assume anything, and it gives them freedom in how they want to answer. That way, they also don’t think I’m going to make a judgement. I hate it when people answer with I’m just a...a stay at home mum or in retail or whatever - as if their tasks or pay determined their value instead of their dignity as people made in God’s image. But all work matters because it can all have an impact on others."

We’ve heard that you came to Christian faith not from growing up in the church but from books like Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time and CS Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. What was it in the books that grabbed your attention and your spiritual curiosity?
"There’s a beautiful moment in Wrinkle when a girl has to make big decisions on behalf of her family and she encounters an evil presence. And the thing she realises that can overcome the evil is love; that grabbed me. That love could be the most powerful force in the universe was both intriguing and soul expanding. 
     "And in the Chronicles it was Aslan, of course, who was both intriguing and a wonderful companion, who was wise and powerful but you felt safe with him. He took the time to name your faults and your gifts. 
     "Those books fired up my imagination so that when I found out the authors were Christians that meant that God loved the imagination as well." 

You wrote on your blog recently that the pandemic is "great news for faith-work connection". What were you thinking?
"One of the things about COVID is now that everything is happening at home - work, church, etc. It’s broken down the compartmentalisation we used to have, that we work in a place or do church in a building or take classes at a school. Now we can’t separate our work or church from our home. Obviously, I’m the same person in each and God is the same as well. 
     "But now, we’re beginning to see that church is not just what’s happened in a building; church is being redefined not as a place but a people. A minister recently told me that it’s challenged him to re-think discipleship; where it was once centred on the gathered church on Sundays, now he’s asking how can we disciple for the whole person who’s at home doing life? That focus on church as whole discipleship rather than just a gathering is a critical shift."

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A person I admire..."Aelred of Rievaulx, a 12th century English Cistercian monk and spiritual writer."

A book that’s recently inspired me..."Uncommon Ground: Living Faithfully in a World of Difference"

A favourite Bible verse...James 4:8A ("Come near to God and He will come near to you")

Why should Christians develop a theology of work? What does that look like and what do you think might happen in our culture as a result?  
"First, too many Christians believe in a narrow gospel, meaning it’s only about your soul being saved so you can go to Heaven after you die. But Jesus’ mission was to reconcile everything on Earth and in Heaven to Himself. When we see that, we realise our work can be used by God as part of that reconciliation process to bring the Kingdom to Earth as it is in Heaven. 
     "Second, the church is struggling to attract people, but throughout the week each person in the pew has contact with 10 to 50 people who might never step through a church door. We may be the only Jesus they ever meet, Jesus with skin on wherever we go. 
     "Third, my fear is if we don’t understand that God cares about our work, we may be tempted to make work our god."

On your website, you offer a series of short video chapters on seeing work as everything from holy or cursed to redeemed and incarnational. How might Christians and/or ministry leaders use these videos to help form a theology of faith and work?
"I created the videos for a church in New Zealand that was working through my book in small groups. Each week they would use the video as a starter for the chapter they’d be discussing. In the same way, I’d encourage leaders and ministers to use them for that, or of course, for personal devotional or even as a resource as part of a sermon series."

What gives you hope for the Christian community in today’s workplace?    
"My mind has been blown lately by what’s happening around the world as I talk with leaders in the faith and work movement - Christian businesses are going into developing countries to lift people out of poverty. Some bigger corporations are encouraging the creation of employee resource groups to embrace diversity and many Christians are gathering in ERGs in those organisations. 
     "I’m seeing in places like China how Christians are realising that God can help them grow in their faith at work even when they’re unable to meet as a church. So there are lots of good examples of God at work in the workplace throughout the world."

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.