Book: Proving Ground by Graham Hooper

There was a time when Christians spoke as if work was a necessary evil, which had to be got out of the way as early in the day as possible in order to do “God’s work” in the evenings. The implication was that people who didn’t organise their work lives around church rotas had a bit of a problem with ‘the love of money’ and that their lives were the product of that ‘root of all kinds of evil.’  With a worldview embedded in an assumption of a sacred-secular divide, the aim of the Christian was to spend as little time on the wrong side of that line as possible, it seemed. The suggestion that work was ordained by God before the fall, or that He might want us to work our discipleship out as much in the market-place as in the worship-space, was almost never made.

It was perhaps John R. W. Stott who shifted the conversation decisively for evangelical Christians in this regard – regularly seeking to address workplace issues in books and sermons. Subsequent leader at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC) Mark Greene then wrote the seminal book “Thank God It’s Monday” which sparked a significant shift in many church’s attitudes to work. Several other authors have then weighed in, with titles like “The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work” (D.Cosden, Baker Academic 2006), and Tim Keller’s “Every Good Endeavour” (Hodder, 2018). Here at Solas, we have looked at this subject, with a series on interviews with Christians seeking to live for Christ in a wide variety of secular workplaces, which you can read here.

The latest contribution to this field comes from the pen of Graham Hooper, a Christian who has been in business for over forty years – in several countries. In fact, he became a Christian whilst working abroad early in his career, and helpfully reflects on the differences that Christian faith made to all aspects of his work. His new book “Proving Ground” makes a really helpful contribution to this important topic – which has been so neglected by the church.

The book contains “40 Reflections on Growing Faith at Work”, and these come in five sections. The first looks at ‘why’ we work, and examines our motives, probing Christians to think through what we actually ‘get out of bed for in the morning’. Helpfully he examines things such as what it could mean for a Christian to ‘take a pride in their work’ but not indulge in the deadly sin of ‘pride’. Section 2 examines the values that we seek to foster in ourselves as disciples of Jesus, integrity, service, opposing corruption, and out witness in the workplace. Three, is a section about relationships with a healthy mix of how to handle both power and humility. The fourth section looks at the struggles all face at work, stress, frustration, redundancy, boredom, setbacks and so forth – this is a very useful and helpful response to, and acknowledgement that work under the fall is both God ordained and subject to the curse (Gen3:17-19). The final section draws back the lens and looks at the bigger picture of what is for, how it fits into the picture of discipleship and what we are called to as followers of Jesus. This also contains some very helpful wisdom from someone who has clearly thought-through and lived-out the calling of discipleship, which extends well beyond Sundays and into the rest of the week.

Hooper’s very accessible volume is well theologically grounded, takes whole-life discipleship seriously and is both practical and addresses the issues of the heart that undergird our outward actions. Especially helpfully, at the end of each of the forty ‘reflections’ on a different aspect of serving Christ through work, he has added three or four questions for personal study. These could easily be discussed by a group – (such as a workplace Christian group of the type that Transform Work UK are pioneering), or by a church housegroup made up of working age people. While evangelism is Solas’s area of special interest, what is helpful in this book here is that Hooper sets ‘speaking for the Lord’ in the wider framework of what it means to serve Him in all aspects of life in business: values, temptation, integrity, pride, relationships. identity, conflict resolution and so forth.

Equally significantly, I think pastors should read this book. If their job is to ‘equip the saints for works of service’, then they need to be fully aware of the challenges, opportunities and callings and costs of ‘secular’ work – and this is a great place to start opening up those conversations. I can recall many conversations with friends who think that the quality of the exposition of scripture they receive on a Sunday is not matched by adequate application or illustration – because so many preachers have not been employed outside the church for so many years. We, of course, rightly expound Galatians, Ephesians etc; but our task is make disciples who will follow Christ in call centres, retail parks and financial houses and care homes; not first-century Greek cities. Perhaps if a pastor decades into ministry were to read Hooper with some thirty-somethings in his congregation it would be very helpful for all.

Proving Ground by Graham Hooper is available here.