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Why your work matters to God – and how you can show up on Monday believing that it does.

Photo of Tim Yearsley

Hannah Sandoval interviews LICC’s Tim Yearsley ahead of ReWork Conference on Saturday 17 June – a one-day event for followers of Jesus in the first decade of their working lives.

Hannah: So Tim, right now you’re working as Head of Innovation at the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity, where you support young adults to live out their faith in everyday life. But can you tell me about a time where you worked outside of a faith setting?

Tim: My first ever job was working as a chip boy at the fish and chip shop near where I lived. My job as a 15-year-old was to rock up early on Saturday morning, haul sacks of potatoes off a lorry into a massive pile, and then take them off one by one without getting crushed by the whole thing, empty them into a big drum that would spin the potatoes round and take the skins off. Then I’d put those potatoes into a chipper, which chipped them and fed them into these enormous waist-high barrels. I’d fill up six of those barrels and haul them into the side of the kitchen area, where they would be cooked and sold later that day in portions costing the same amount as I was being paid per hour at that time – £3.20.

Hannah: Sounds like hard work!

Tim: Yeah. But you know what? It was an amazing learning experience. Not least because I was so good at it, and did so many hours that even at £3.20 an hour, I was earning more than I knew what to do with. I didn’t have any free time because I was working all the time or at school. And what I learned was, if you have loads of money, but no one to spend it with or no free time, then you’re still miserable.

Hannah: That’s true.

Tim: So I learned a lot about working. And the trials and tribulations that go with it.

Hannah: And how did you see God in that?

Tim: Well, I was part of a church youth group at a time, which was full of great people. And I learned a lot. And it really helped me figure out lots of things about my faith and how that was personal to me. But I don’t ever recall being at a church youth group meeting where we talked about work, or even our studies at school. So I ended up keeping my Christian life and the rest of my life very separate. I don’t think I did see God in my work – I just showed up because my mum told me I had to get a job.

Looking back on it now, I think I have a very different perspective. I do see that actually, the work I was doing was meaningful. The people I got to relate to were interesting human beings with dignity and worth, who were all doing their best with what they had. I could contribute, both to the workplace and also through the work I did. I was a small part of the entire chain. But the end of that chain was giving families or giving busy working people a nice meal they could enjoy at the end of a long day or a long week.

Martin Luther says when we pray ‘give us this day our daily bread,’ we’re actually praying for the weather; we’re praying for the farmers, we’re praying for the distributors, we’re praying for the bakers. There are loads of moving parts that go into providing for us on a day to-day basis, that go into God’s provision for us. My work was part of that and I think it mattered to God.

Hannah: So tell me about the ReWork Conference on 17 June.

Tim: I’m really excited about ReWork – it’s a day event for young adults in the first decade of working life. We want to inspire young Christians to see how their faith speaks into what they do during the week. Often, we know what our faith looks like in the four hours a week we spend doing church stuff or in a small group; we’re less sure of what our faith looks like in the forty hours a week we spend at work. ReWork is about inspiring us to see that actually our faith does connect with the work we do, and we can thrive in our work as part of what it means to be human beings made in the image of a worker God.

To put it another way – following Jesus isn’t just about filling up our leisure time with Christian activities – it’s about infusing everything we do with a sense of purpose and meaning as we get done in the world what God wants done in the world – like giving people their daily bread. At ReWork, we want to equip people with that vision, but also with the practical tools to be able to make a difference with God in their day-to-day work. We want to build on the work that the Diocese of Sheffield has been doing around creating a Personal Rule of Life and some of LICC’s recent findings in our spiritual practices research.

Hannah: What can people expect when they arrive? What’s the day going to look like?

Tim: As soon as you arrive at ReWork, you’ll be given a doughnut. If that isn’t a good start to a day, I don’t know what is! But even better than being given doughnuts and coffee is that you’re going to hang out for the day with like-minded young adult Christians who are asking these same questions. It’s a great place to share learning, bounce off one another’s experiences and figure this stuff out together.

There’ll be a couple of talks from the front – you and I, Hannah, will be speaking about what it means to see our work as something that matters to God, and how to show up on Monday believing it. There’ll be mentors on the day to meet with the participants so they can have conversations about how this really works in practice. I think one of the church’s best kept secrets is all of these working Christians who have been doing amazingly faithful, good work in their careers over decades. And many are sitting in pews on Sunday mornings, not connecting the dots between their years of experience in the working world and their years of experience in the church world. So, what we want to do at ReWork is create a space where older Christians can come and offer some of their wisdom, experience, their highs and lows, to the participants, as they wrestle through some of the questions that are going to come out of the content we’ll be sharing from the front. ReWork will be a great day, I’m super looking forward to it.

The ReWork Conference will be held at STC Sheffield on Saturday 17 June, 10am-4pm.