We?re starting a new series of posts this week entitled Wednesday Workout.? In this series, we are investigating how Christians in different occupations/professions work out how their faith and work integrate ? what it means to be a whole-life-disciple for Jesus on their workplace frontline.
For this first post, I interviewed “John”, a mechanical engineer working for a company developing high end solutions for the global mining industry.
Murray: ???? John, tell me about the times when you feel most fulfilled in your work.? When do you get the deepest sense of satisfaction and joy from the work that you do?
John:???????? I lead a team of about five engineers in developing new products and finding innovative solutions to problems that our customers bring to us.? When my team is in the middle of an exciting project and we are in the design phase, that?s when I really enjoy my work.
?It?s messy and complex but when you develop something that works and that is economically feasible and you get the go ahead, that?s when it gets really exciting.
?And then you see it develop of the workshop floor ? the fruit of your labour is there in front of you, you can see it taking shape.?
Because our company is dependent on global trends in the mining industry, there are may peaks and troughs and we?ve recently had to put off a number of staff.? So the sense of satisfaction is particularly strong when times are tough but you can see that what you have been working on is going to make a contribution ? the problem has been solved, customer will be satisfied and there is income-generating work that helps people keep their jobs and provide for their families. That is very satisfying.
Murray:????? What about the other side ? when do you find your work a struggle?? Does it eve feel pointless or lacking value or meaning?
John: ??????? It?s interesting ? about 12 months ago I moved from the production area to innovation and I have had to change my mindset.? In production, you could see clearly that you were making a difference to the company bottom line.? Products were being designed, built and sold.?
But it?s harder in the innovation area to feel like you are making a difference.? You can feel like a dead weight in terms of generating income.? You are doing engineering for the future but there is no certainty in that, that ideas will actually get off the ground and generate income for the company.
Murray:????? But does your work ever get frustrating?
John:???????? Well, yes ? when you?ve worked on an idea and developed it up and it doesn?t go anywhere, that is very frustrating.? Sometimes being involved in innovation you feel like you are caught between the production side and the sales side and when there are no orders coming in for something you worked on for ages, you wonder, ?What was the point??
And then, because of the cyclical nature of our business, there are times when work is really intense and people are working 60+ hours a week to meet deadlines for weeks at a time and you wonder about the impact this has on their families and the rest of their lives.?
I?m very fortunate to work in a company with a very good workplace culture ? they work very hard at it but sometimes the work just has to be done and the lack of work-life balance can have an impact on morale.
I also find work a struggle when it gets repetitious.? That?s why I really enjoy my current role because there are new challenges all the time.? Most engineers dream of designing things ? when they are at university. They don?t think they will be doing repetitious stuff but that is often what happens ? you are going through the same process on the same basic projects and that can get pretty boring.?
So I like what I am doing now ? developing new products and solutions.? I am being stretched but I don?t want to snap!? But I also want to kick some goals for the company.?
Murray:????? It sounds like there is some tension there in this role ? interesting and challenging work but also a need to demonstrate your value to the company?
John:???????? Yes, that?s right.? But this sort of work is where the company sharpens its teeth.? It?s where we develop capacity and potential.? But there is always the bottom line and that is always in the back of your mind ? are we pulling our weight?
Murray:????? So John, standing back and looking at the big picture of what God is doing in the world and the role we can play as Christians in building contexts for human flourishing, how do you see what you do as making a contribution??
John:???????? Challenging question!? The mining industry is a very dangerous environment and the machines we develop are literally at the coalface of some of the world?s biggest mines.? Without getting too technical, we have developed solutions that reduce down time required to retool mining equipment and enable companies to increase production time from say 90% to 95%.? That is hugely significant in terms of their income and capacity.?
Apart from the economic benefits which flow through to reduced costs for our clients and maybe even lower costs of living for their products which can have global benefits, our solutions also contribute to workplace health and safety on mining sites.? Previously dangerous and hazardous jobs are now done safely and with minimal risk.?
Murray: ???? Thanks John.? I can see how having that bigger picture of how what you do contributes to human flourishing would be really helpful and motivating.
After my interview with John, I took a few moments to jot down some thoughts about the work of mechanical engineers:
- It was easy to see how mechanical engineers reflect the image of God in the work that they do.? I could picture John standing on the workshop floor when a design became a reality and saying to himself and his team, ?It?s good? (Genesis 1:31).? As John puts it, ?You see the fruit of your labour right there in front of you.?? This is real creative work, taking the materials of God?s creation, using the gifts and skills that God has provided to create new products and find solutions to problems. ?Tim Keller puts it this way: ?Through our work we bring order out of chaos, create new entities, exploit patterns of creation, and interweave the human community ? we connect our work to God?s work.? ?(Every Good?Endeavour, Chapter 3)
- When John talked about the frustration of having great ideas, but having the disappointment of not seeing them come to fruition, I thought, ?This is how God must feel about his creation.?? So much potential, such an investment of time, energy, emotion and creativity.? How frustrated and disappointed must our Father feel when he sees what he has declared ?very good? not only not reaching its potential but also being destroyed and decaying.? Read the prophets and time and again God?s deep sadness is evident as he weeps over what has become of his people and his creation.?
- And finally, when John spoke about the bigger picture of how his work contributes to the global economy and human flourishing, I thank God that he has an even bigger picture of how the work that he has done in Jesus will make an eternal difference.? We look forward to that day when through the work that Jesus did on the cross, God will ?? reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.? (Colossians 1:20).? And the stunning part – we are invited to partner with God in ushering in this new kingdom in the work that we do ? creation work, fall work and redemption work.
?Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.? (1 Corinthians 15:58)
Murray Wright (2 March, 2014)
PS: ?If you want to explore more about how engineers reflect the image of God, you might like to watch John van Sloten’s sermon entitled, “God’s Engineering Mind”.
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