Mastering Monday, by John Beckett, provides excellent guidance for integrating the Christian faith with the responsibilities of work. By all accounts, Beckett practices what he preaches, and this book is, as far as I can tell, written by a person of integrity, love, and genuine faith in God.
The book is organized into three sections: John’s own story, reflections on people who worked in the Bible (from Adam to David to the disciples of Jesus), and explaining five Biblical themes for the integration of faith and work. Throughout, Mastering Monday is an encouraging, hopeful treatise of practical ways to integrate an active Christian faith with the demands of our jobs.
John’s own story is largely encouraging. He shares openly about the heartbreak of losing his dad, the challenge of nearly losing his business to a fire, and the guilt he carried from making bad decisions. He reveals that his company’s values, on paper, are basically the same as Enron’s – an embarrassing similarity, except the difference, of course, is in the practice of these values. At the same time, he is humble in acknowledging God’s providence, the joy of knowing God’s forgiveness, and in speaking of his generosity towards others.
As we are encouraged in Hebrews 13:7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” Based on the endorsements by John’s friends and from the stories he shares of his own life, there is a great deal to emulate.
The second section is a sampling of stories from the Bible about the integration of faith and work. For instance, Beckett leads us to reflect on the significance of God himself working in the first chapters of Genesis: to work is to imitate God, intended to bring us pleasure, reveal our dignity, and reflect our Maker’s creativity and desire to benefit others.
As Beckett retells the stories of Joseph, Noah, Moses, and Bezalel, as well as many other Biblical figures, he points out key insights that are relevant for today’s workplace. He does so in part by putting the Biblical stories side-by-side with modern day stories, such as the courage of Sherron Watkins, a whistle-blower at Enron, and of Dennis Kozlowski, the CEO whose corruption nearly ruined Tyco. The parallels between the Biblical narrative and contemporary challenges are striking.
In addition, Mastering Monday is full of insights, well-organized, about wise leadership. Some are more obvious than others, but all of them are useful to running an organization well: never compromise your integrity, delegate responsibility to trusted employees, build a team, train others in new skills, prepare for leadership succession, care for your people, depend on God in prayer, gain credibility before attempting to influence others, persevere in the face of opposition, understand the problems before beginning a project. These are useful reminders, especially in companies where these values may be challenged on daily basis.
But this section is by no means a list of platitudes and positive thinking. Beckett strongly warns us against those practices which God opposes: spiritual abandonment, excess, corruption, pride, devaluing people, abusing influence, and rejecting God’s servants. The book actively discourages a me-first approach to work and religion.
By placing Biblical and contemporary stories side-by-side, and in drawing nuggets of wisdom from the Biblical stories, Beckett is modeling how to read the Bible carefully, noting its relevance for our lives, and clarifying its application for the world of work. It is also encouraging to see how frequently the Bible addresses the importance and nature of work. There is no need to keep the two at arms-length from one another.
In the final section of the book, Beckett lays out a road map for “God’s workplace agenda.” These are major themes that stretch across the canon of Scripture, reappearing time and time again. Beckett sees five of them: Purpose, values, people, stewardship, and serving. These aren’t rigid formulas, but are meant to be worked out in dependence upon God, with love for those around us. When everyone at your business understands why they are there, which values to uphold, with a desire to honor others, take responsibility, and meet the needs of customers and clients well, your business has made great progress in integrating faith and work.
What I especially appreciated about this section is his awareness that not everyone owns their own business. He offers guidance for implementing these values as a manager or employee. He tells stories from his own business of how people from every level of the office have contributed to the integration of faith and work. For instance, one of the plant floor employees came to his office with a complaint: his manager had let out the news he had been passed over for a promotion without talking to him first. Understandably, he was hurt and disappointed by the process. The next step was reconciliation between the employee and his manager, and a renewed trust and productivity. Noticeably absent: the employee getting halted by the secretary on his way to see the CEO, a lawsuit, retaliation, or a hasty firing. It was one of many stories about the value of respecting every individual.
There are a few criticisms to be made. At times, the examples given set such a high bar as to be intimidating. For instance, we are told of Michael DeBakey, the chancellor emeritus at Baylor College of Medicine, who regularly slept four to five hours a night, stayed in excellent health, and diligently worked from 5am-6pm, with an additional 2-3 hours of daily reading in the evenings. I’m all for hard work, but this is an impossible standard, especially for those with young children or elderly parents in need of care, or for those who are actively volunteering in their church or community.
Beckett also speaks with relief that his company avoided becoming unionized. While this does appear to be a net benefit for his company and his employees, largely because of his willingness to provide good working conditions and pay for those at his company, there is little to no consideration of how a Christian might choose to participate in a union for redemptive reasons, especially in a corporate environment with little regard for human rights. I’m not advocating for one approach or the other, but instead, suggesting that a more nuanced approach towards unionization would better reflect the diversity of ways to integrate faith and work.
There is also a tendency towards abstraction or vague encouragement where specific ideas would be far more valuable. For instance, Beckett discusses for a few pages how Christian employees can resist the powerful cultural pressure to unreservedly affirm the gay lifestyle. The encouragement to depend on God, balance mercy and truth, and influence an organization where you can, even at personal risk, is helpful. However, how these high-level concepts work out in practice remains largely unexplained.
Still, these criticisms do not substantially detract from the value of John’s book. There is too much encouragement from John’s story, the stories of work from the Bible, and the overview of Biblical themes that connect to our daily labor.
Overall, Mastering Monday is a well-organized, insightful, and relatively quick read. It avoids the simplistic, reductionistic ideas that work is just a vehicle for evangelism (though John shares with joy about leading an employee to faith) and that work is about making money to give to others (though John still advocates for being generous with your earnings). If you are struggling to integrate your Christian faith with your responsibilities at work, or want to be prepared to help others with the process of integration, I warmly recommend Mastering Monday.