Taking God to work

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My first job out of college was serving as a children’s magazine editor at a large Christian organization. As I edited content for kids designed to help them grow in their relationship with God, it was easy to see how my work was contributing to the kingdom.

Many of my peers had a different experience. They worked in secular fields as realtors, mechanics, human resources specialists, teachers, nurses and administrative assistants. Most of them had jobs where they lived out their faith in more subtle (and at times more difficult) ways than how I lived out mine.

While we can’t know an exact number, Christians who work for churches or faith-based organizations are certainly the minority compared to those who don’t. Even the Apostle Paul, one of the most famous missionaries of all time, made his living making tents. And a study, “Christians at Work,” conducted by Barna research in 2019 reveals that 55 percent of pastors had another career before pursuing vocational ministry.

Bible passages about work seem to assume that believers are using their skills and influence in a variety of vocations. Even Jesus was a trained carpenter. And Song of Songs, believed to be written by King Solomon, who possessed divine wisdom, says: “Behold, what I have seen to be good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which one toils under the sun the few days of his life that God has given him, for this is his lot,” (Ecclesiastes 5:18).

The author doesn’t specify which job a person should have, only that the worker should enjoy his work and be content in it because it is from the Lord. From the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1) to the future new Jerusalem (Isaiah 65), we can see that work is part of God’s plan for his created beings.

I spoke to three believers living and working in the Central Valley of California who have found ways to “take God to work” with them in three very different career fields.

Josh Newfield with his children

Josh Newfield: Fruitful work

Josh Newfield, 38, grew up in Bakersfield, Calif., with a heritage in the farming industry and the Mennonite Brethren community.

“My grandfather on my dad’s side was Mennonite and was born in Russia and came here when he was 8 years old,” Josh says.

Growing up, Josh watched his father and grandfather work their family business, producing boxes for grapes.

“I was raised to know that working hard glorifies God and is part of what we do as Christians,” he says.

Josh, who grew up attending Heritage Bible Church, observed how his father worked long hours in a stressful environment in a godly way. His dad would explain to his children that he worked hard because of his faith.

“I ended up in the farm management business by accident,” says Josh, who originally studied psychology in college. “My father-in-law managed a farm that grew blueberries and pistachios, and I ended up seasonally managing the blueberry packing operation along with my other job.”

Josh eventually went fulltime with the business.

“Packing blueberries, we worked long, long hours—seven days a week, 14 hours a day, for two months,” he says. “It’s kind of insane, but it’s fresh fruit. It’s coming in, and it’s got to go out.”

The remainder of the year, Josh worked in the field helping with irrigation management and pruning.

In 2018, when his father-in-law retired, Josh started his own farm management company and took over the pistachio clients. Josh’s business, Newfield Ag Management, now manages 1,000 acres of pistachios and has seven employees. Josh serves as an elder at The Bridge Bible Church and plays guitar on the worship team, but he sees his day job as an opportunity to proclaim Christ in simple, meaningful ways.

“I try to be a generous boss,” he says. “The farming industry is stressful because you’re dependent on factors outside of your control, like the weather.

It’s common for managers to take these frustrations out on their employees. That’s not how I treat my guys; I show them respect. They notice and have even remarked on it. I’m able to say it’s all because of my faith.”

Josh, who is married to Tara and has four children ages 4 to 13, says it’s important to him to live a consistent witness on the job.

“I don’t want to have a work persona and a church persona,” he says. “I don’t want to be one guy on Sunday mornings and another guy at work.”

He admits doing this can be difficult when job responsibilities mount and pressures arise.

“I still have to do good work,” he says. “But I don’t have to be a jerk. I can treat people with dignity.”

Jara Hinkle

Jara Hinkle: Pushing forward

Jara Hinkle, 27, works as marketing director at Organic Tagua Jewelry, a company founded by a Christian couple. Tagua sells jewelry and accessories crafted by artisans in Ecuador using the tagua nut.

“It’s a generational art that’s been passed down for many years,” Jara says.

The founder of the company, who is originally from Ecuador herself, “saw that these artisans had the skills but didn’t know how to make money doing it,” Jara explains. “I love hearing about how these artisans can now provide for their kids and families through the jobs our company has provided. It’s an amazing opportunity to help a community and push it forward.”

Growing up, Jara was always interested in fashion. This led her to pursue a degree in fashion marketing at the University of Central Oklahoma, in her home state.

Jara says that working to honor God was a principle her parents instilled in her as a child.

She finds inspiration from Colossians 3:23, which says, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (ESV).

“I keep that in mind when I encounter frustrations,” she says. “There are always frustrations in any job. Working for the Lord means I put in my best effort.”

Jara’s hard work has led to some lucrative opportunities such as managing a Charming Charlie store during college and nabbing a denim design internship at the Buckle following graduation. A few months later she married her  husband, Stephen, and joined him in Florida where he was serving as a youth pastor.

Jara worked a few jobs in Florida before landing at Tagua, which was an answer to prayer.

“I wanted to work in fashion with a company that was fair trade,” she says. “That combination isn’t easy to find. But God provided it in my current job.”

Early this year, Jara and Stephen moved across the country for a worship pastor position at The Bridge Bible Church. Now Jara works remotely, performing many duties for the company, such as graphic design, managing two websites, photography and even a little jewelry design. Jara loves that her job is fast paced, and she gets to do a lot of different things.

“I’m always researching different ways of doing things and trying to improve,” she says. “I think I’ve been able to push the company forward and help us stand out from competitors. I love seeing growth.”

Even though she’s no longer in the office, Jara starts each day with prayer about her workday.

“I pray I’ll have wisdom,” she says. “I pray for my coworkers. It brings peace that gets me through the day.”

Jason Hodgson

Jason Hodgson: Agent of hope

Jason Hodgson, 44, has been working in education for 22 years. During college, Jason went on a mission trip to Romania and was moved by what he saw in the orphanages.

“My heart was completely blown away with the lack of hope in the children,” he says. “I knew I needed to do something to make a difference in the lives of kids.”

After earning a degree in English literature, Jason started out as a high school English teacher in the farming community of Arvin, Calif. The school was struggling academically, and half the students were English learners.

“It was a mission field,” Jason says. “Most of my high school students had never left the city of Arvin. If we took them skiing or to the beach for an outing, it was the first time they’d ever seen these things. It’s incredibly challenging to work with students who have little hope for the future.”

While at the high school, Jason took on leadership of the Health Careers Academy program, which connected students with internships in health fields. After five years of teaching, Jason stepped into an administrative position as dean, and a year later, he became the assistant principal.

In these roles, Jason discovered that he could help adults rally around shared goals, which ultimately bettered the lives of students. Working with coaches and teachers, he developed culture and community pride. After six years in the assistant principal seat, Jason took a job as a middle school principal.

He thrived being hands-on with students again and found many opportunities to live out his faith at work.

“I love trying to build people up by helping them develop a plan of growth and the belief that they can succeed,” he says. “Each of my roles has been really challenging, which has allowed me the opportunity to show that my trust is in something greater that myself.”

For the past five years, Jason has worked in district-level administration, most recently as director of professional development for the Panama-Buena Vista School District in Bakersfield. He was recently named one of 12 Leaders to Learn From by Education Week magazine for outstanding achievements in school district professional development. Over the summer, he took a position as superintendent of the  Taft Union High School District in Taft, Calif.

Jason, who is an elder at The Bridge Bible Church, where he attends with his wife, Kerri, and their two teenaged children, believes God has intentionally led him every step of the way in his career.

“Most of my roles have been God events where I’ve been approached with an opportunity to help.” And help he does, while modeling Christian faith and integrity, being transparent about his weaknesses and seeking to address the needs of those around him.

“God is the one who is working through me,” he says. “I’m a selfish, sinful person, but his gifts in my life cause me to desire to invest in other people, create community and bring hope.”

Whatever you do

These three workers set an example for living out faith in the workplace. 1 Corinthians 10:31 says, “So, whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” All includes work. At times we may feel like the purpose of work is simply to pay the bills, but we’re created to find purpose and satisfaction through vocation, ultimately, to bring God glory.

Whether out in a pistachio field, behind a camera or leading teams and organizations, Christians can live out their faith in the workplace. As we seek God’s wisdom to address job-related challenges, and seek to love like Jesus, his light will shine in and through us, bringing hope to dark places.

 

Suzanne Hadley Gosselin
Suzanne Hadley Gosselin is the co-author of "Grit and Grace: Devotions for Warrior Moms." Her husband, Kevin, is a pastor at Bridge Bible Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Bakersfield, California. They have four young children.

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