Work in church history can be presented in phases beginning with the early Christians. Middle ages, industrial age and in modern Africa.

However, certain attitudes towards work remained the same throughout much of the history.

Work in the early centuries of Christianity

The beginning of Christianity witnessed oppression and exploitation of workers. This particularly took place in North Africa, which was part of the Roman Empire. This period was characterized by the following.

Slavery was practiced. The rich people forced the slaves to work hard for little wages.

The slaves were forced to work in mines under very poor conditions of service. This resulted into the death of many of the workers.

Christians who refused to worship and respect the Roman gods by not offering sacrifices were also sent to work in the mines.

The above practices influenced some Christians to defend the rights of workers basing on the life and teaching of Jesus. Their emphasis was laid on the following.

Having good relationship between employers and employees. (Math 18: 23 27).

Being honest and responsible in work. (Mathew 21: 28 - 31).

Having joy and solidarity in work. (Luke 15:6)

Being reliable in work. (Mathew 24: 45 - 47)

Having rest from work. (Mathew J 1: 28 - 29, 12: II - 13)

As a result of the above development, some Christians chose to live monastic lives. They isolated themselves and lived in the desert as a way of serving God. These people later became known as the Monks and the Nuns.

Work in the middle ages

This period witnessed the peak of monasteries. There also came the new development of craft guilds where the workers organized themselves into unions.

The Monks and the Nuns made three promises in their attempt to try and follow exactly the commands of Christ and live as he did. These promises included.

Promise of Poverty

The Monks and the Nuns vowed to be poor, owning nothing for them, but to remain self supportive through toiling and hard work.

Promise of Chastity

The Monks and the Nuns vowed not to marry and to live pure lives so as to dedicate themselves and remain friendly to God.

Promise of Obedience

The Monks and the Nuns vowed to remain loyal and obedient to any person chosen to have authority over them. They looked at authority as the will of God.

Work of the Monks and Nuns

1. The Monks and the Nuns preached the good news. They were following the commands of Christ who instructed His disciples to evangelize the whole world before his second corning.

2. The Monks and the Nuns promoted education. This was made possible by building school where people were taught to write and read. This reduced the level of illiteracy among the converts.

3. The Monks and the Nuns taught people new and better skills like carpentry. This enabled people to be employed and earn a living.

4. The Monks and the Nuns cared for the strangers. They provided the strangers with food and shelter as they travelled across the Sahara desert in North Africa.

5. The Monks and the Nuns carried out charitable work. The needy including the poor, the old, disabled and the orphans among others were given food, medicine and even comforted.

6. The Monks and the Nuns campaigned for the abolition of slavery; they advocated and indeed succeeded in freeing all their former slaves who were later offered better terms of service.

7. The Monks and the Nuns got involved in agricultural practices. They cultivated crops and sold the surplus to other people cheaply.

8. The Monks and the Nuns lived exemplary lives. They called for strict self-discipline by offering themselves as examples to others. This promoted co-operation among people.

9. The Monks and the Nuns engaged in prayers. They had nine services of prayers each day. They also encouraged other Christians to do the same as a way of showing their faithfulness and commitment to God.

10. The Monks and the Nuns founded churches in their areas of operation. Permanent structures were built to accommodate the increasing number of converts.

11. The Monks and the Nuns carried out fellowships among themselves. They could stay in-door so as to reflect on their faith and encouraged one another to share their experiences. This was aimed at seeking for divine inspiration.

12. The Monks and the Nuns participated in trade. They offered goods, money and lodges for accommodation across the Sahara desert.

13. The Monks and the Nuns introduced small-scale industries in the desert. These industries offered employment to many people.

14. The Monks and the Nuns offered medical facilities to other people. They treated the sick and this helped to promote good health among people.

Why the Monks and Nuns Fail in their Work

1. The Monks and the Nuns became so rich. This was because wealthy Christians gave them gifts. They also worked hard and produced more harvest than needed for them and were forced to sell the surplus. As a result of this, the Monks and the Nuns turned away from their vows of poverty.

2. The Monks and the Nuns found it more important to attend services in church than to work with their hands. They had nine services of prayer and worship each day. Therefore they failed to' realize their set objectives because of failure to strike a balance between the spiritual and the physical life.

3. The Monks who later became priests made it a custom to celebrate a holy communion each day. This made them to leave the ordinary work like digging, cooking, cleaning the buildings to the lay brothers and sisters.

4. The practice of indoor confinement made the Monks and the Nuns to fail in their work. This left the Monks and the Nuns out of touch with the people they were serving.

5. The Monks and the Nuns faced language barrier that could not allow them to achieve their goals. They could not communicate easily with the native Africans.

6. The Monks and the Nuns failed in their work because of the influence of Arabs, especially in North Africa. The Arabs opposed the introduction of Christianity against the already established Islam.

7. The traditional Africans also opposed the Monks and the Nuns. Some Africans looked at Christianity as a threat to their cultures. This blocked the Monks and the Nuns from achieving their objectives.

8. The Monks and the Nuns became too authoritative as they employed more and more servants. This was contrary to their vows of obedience.

9. Too much involvement in trading activities rendered the Monks and the Nuns helpless to realize their set objectives. Activities such as offering goods, money and accommodation to their traders blocked the Monks and the Nuns from attending to Godly issues.

10. The Monks and the Nuns subjected their workers to slavery conditions. The workers were paid less compared to the workload and under very poor conditions.

The Craft Guild (Worker's Union)

Craft guild refers to workers' union. It was an association of skilled workers that developed in some European countries during the industrial age.

It was formed in response to the poor working conditions in factories like long hours of working and low payment. The craft guilds had the following responsibility. The guild aimed at protecting workers from oppression and exploitation by their employers, protecting even those workers who go for further education.

The guild gave scholarships to the children from poor backgrounds. This was intended to help such children get jobs in the future and be able to sustain themselves and their families.

The guild made donations to the church in the form of beautiful stained glass windows. This was not only intended to glorify God's name, but also to advertise so as to attract more and more people to join the guild. .

They were to ensure strict discipline among the workers based on Christian values. Any one breaking the guild rules was expelled.

The union served as an advertising channel to help attract more to join the union.

It offered employment opportunities to the great number of the unemployed youth.

The union gave unemployment benefits like some small allowances, medical facilities.

Work in the industrial age (18th – 20th centuries)

This period witnessed the discovery of new inventions, which changed many processes of work. People also developed new attitudes towards work. This period was, therefore, characterized by.

Trade and commerce, which made wealthier people to gain a new level of prosperity. The poor also demanded for a share of this wealth.

Hard work, honesty in business and simple living were seen as Christian virtues that could lead to a reward of prosperity from God. Laziness was considered as a sign of poverty punishable by God.

People were made to work for long hours and yet given poor wages.

Some workers were laid off. This was as a result of the introduction of machines in the various industries. This led to unemployment and the suffering, of the people.

Workers became out of touch with their family members because of working far away from homes.

• Forced labour later became common among the people. Because of the above development, Lord Shaftesbury, a member of parliament in England influenced by the Evangelical Awakening Movement condemned such acts and demanded for the following.

He campaigned for the passing of laws that would protect workers from long hours of work. As a result, the Ten Hours Act was passed in 1847.

Lord Shaftesbury also campaigned for good working conditions like having better accommodation.

He called on employers to pay their workers a fair wage.

He used trade unions which had been set up to improve on worker's conditions. He encouraged workers to voice their complaints and problems to the employers through these unions.

Lord Shaftesbury worked hard towards the establishment of schools for the poor. This was intended to help them earn a living in the nearby future.

The church and work in modern Africa

Soon after the arrival of the missionaries in Africa, they were faced with acute shortages of manpower. They needed workers to help them in their activities. The missionaries therefore did the following.

1. The missionaries opened up schools such as Gayaza Secondary School and St. Mary's college Kisubi among others in Uganda where they later on trained teachers.

2. The missionaries also opened up hospitals like Mengo in 1897. They did not only treat the sick but also trained nurses to help in treating the sick.

3. The missionaries employed many Africans in the mission stations to help with church activities including cleaning.

4. The missionaries trained people life skills including carpentry and brick lying among others.

5. Legitimate trade was introduced to tight against the ongoing slave trade.

6. New methods of farming and cash crops including coffee, cotton and tea were introduced.

7. The missionaries campaigned for the abolition of forced labour, especially among the Kenyan settlers.

8. The missionaries built many church structures like Namirembe and Rubaga Cathedrals.

Work in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament, various guidelines can be identified basing on the teachings it offers about God's work which include creating the universe caring, providing for man, monitoring over the creation, calling and commissioning various personality. Therefore, the main teachings include the following.

1. God is a worker. He worked for six days as when creating the universe. In Genesis 2:7ff. God took some soil from the ground and formed man out of it.

2. Man and woman are to work together as co-creators so as to bring the earth under control. (Genesis 1:27-28).

3. Resting from work was God's original plan. He rested on the seventh after finishing His work of creation (Genesis 2:2-3).

4. Work is God's will. God is seen giving man the control of the world through work. God also placed man in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it. (Gen 1:26-32, 2: 15)

5. The purpose of work is to bring man closer to God and fellow man. God is seen promoting this requirement as an important aspect of human life.

6. Work is enjoyable and has to be appreciated. God was pleased after completing His creational activities and appreciated them as perfectly good. (Genesis 1 :31).

7. Work should always produce a positive change. God through his creation worked to change a formless and empty world into an organized form. (Genesis 1: 1 ff).

8. Resting is part of God's original plan for work. God worked for six days and blessed the seventh day and set it apart as a special day. (Genesis 2:1-4). In Exodus 20: 9-10, God is quoted as saying, "You have six days in which to do your work, but the seventh day is a day of rest dedicated to me".

9. Work is supposed to bring complete harmony and unity among the people, animals and plants. Man as a master is not supposed to destroy creation through work but to develop it. (Genesis 1:29-30).

10. Selfishness in work is condemned. Work is meant to be for the better of all. God punished Cain for his selfishness and jealousness that made him kill his brother Abel. (Genesis 4: 1 ff)

11. Work should involve trust and faith in God. Failure to observe this is a fail in one's work. This is evident in Genesis 11: 1- 9 where the builders of the Tower of Babel lacked faith and trust in God's provision, but their work became meaningless following the destruction of the tower and the mixing of the languages.

12. Man should share and enjoy the fruits of work with one another. Work is for the service or man. (Deuteronomy 24:9-22).

13. Jeremiah 22:3-17 warns against the dangers of exploitation of workers. He points out that that workers should be treated with due respect instead of exploiting and oppressing them.

14. Hard work was encouraged among the people of Israel. In Proverbs 6:6-10, the Israelites condemned lazy people in their communities

15. The spirit of togetherness and co-operation in work was encouraged. Therefore, work should involve all people. This means that work is a social activity and therefore a communal activity. (Ezra 3: 9-11).

16. According to the Old Testament there is time for everything including time for work. (Ecclesiastes 3:2).

Misuse of work in the Old Testament

Despite the various teachings and guidelines about work in the Old Testament there are many cases where man misused work. In such cases, man failed to serve God and one another through his work as seen below.

1. Man failed to perform the duty of controlling and conquering the creation as commanded by God. This is evident in the disobedience of Adam and Eve who ate the forbidden fruit that resulted into broken relationship between man and God, man and man, and man and other creatures. (Genesis 3: 1ff).

2. Man misused work through his selfishness and jealousness. For example, Cain killed his brother basing on the fruit of work. (Genesis 4: 1ff).

3. Work was abused when it brought a curse to mankind. In Genesis 9:20-27, Noah cursed his son as a result of drunkenness from the wine of his harvest.

4. The building of the Tower of Babel as recorded in Genesis 11: 1 ff reflects a misuse of work. The builders misused their freedom basing on their false wisdom to erect a building reaching God. This was a misuse of God's resources.

5. In Exodus 1:9-14, there was enslavement and suffering out of work. In this text the Israelites were made to work as slaves in Egypt to an extent where the Pharaoh could not allow their departure.

6. There was also forced labour during the time of kings. For example, King Solomon promoted his building programme using forced labour. This was a kind of exploitation, which was not different from the slavery situation in Egypt that God was against. It was also contrary to the covenant faith. (1 Kings 5: 13-16).

7. There was also greediness in work. For example, King Ahab grabbed the vineyard of Naboth and went ahead to approve his death. (1 Kings 21:44).

8. There was corruption in the field of work. In such cases, the rich influential Israelites misused their positions and used public facilities for their own benefits. (Amos 4: 1 - 3 and 5:11).

9. Work was misused through cheating, using wrong measurements, over charging and selling low quality goods expensively. (Amos 8:5-6).

10. Work was also abused when some activities were done on the Sabbath day. This was a misuse because it was against the Covenant faith that stopped man on working on the Sabbath day (Amos 8:5 and Exodus 20: 9-10).

11. There was bribery in work. This was a common practice among top officials and judges. This did not serve fellow man in the way God had commanded. (Micah 7:3)


The New Testament just like the Old Testament provides believers with different views about work; its teachings are based on the life and attitude of Jesus Christ who is presented as a person familiar with work situation. He was able to point out certain values about work including the following.

1. Jesus was born in a working environment. His earthly father Joseph was a carpenter.

2. Work according to Jesus remains normal and essential. He blessed those who worked for peace.

3. Jesus called for a good working relationship between employers and employees. He illustrated this in His parable of the unforgiving servant. He expected the heart or forgiveness to prevail among the servants (Mathew 18: 23-27).

4. Jesus also called for honesty and responsibility in work. This was in the parable of the two sons. He emphasized the need for the individuals to take care of any given task instead of pretending (Mathew 21:28-31).

5. Jesus stressed the need for reliability and faithfulness in work. He expressed the happiness that would come after doing the assigned duty. (Matthew 24:45-47).

6. Jesus taught the need for having joy and solidarity in work. In the parable of the lost sheep, He showed how everyone would celebrate the effort of a person. He looked at work as an avenue of bringing people together (Luke 15:6).

7. Jesus emphasized the need for doing a given job well and thoroughly. He gave an example of two builders. Accordingly, one built his house well and it withstood an over flowing river. However, the other one had his building swept by a flood because of rough work (Luke 6:48-49).

8. Jesus taught the followers to use their talents in order to serve others. He illustrated this in the parable of three servants whom the master gave coins according to their ability. He emphasized that failure to do so is a way of cutting oneself off from God and fellow man. (Mathew 25:14-16).

9. Jesus taught the value of resting from work. He rested in a boat after finishing preaching. By doing so, He showed the need to balance work and leisure. (Luke 8:22-24).

10. According to Jesus, man can express the love for God and his neighbours through work. He points out that work is a service to God and fellow men. (Mathew 25: 31-46).

11. Jesus said that the final goal of work is the union with God and fellow man in the heavenly kingdom (John 6:27).

12. He encouraged people to work for payment in heaven instead of expecting the earthly rewards. This was in the parable of the rich fool who thought he had it all here on earth because he had a piece of the land with good crops (Luke 12: 13-21).

13. Jesus taught dedication and service above self. He humbled himself and washed the feet of his disciples. (John 13:5).

14. Work should transform the earth and hasten the day of fulfillment of the kingdom of God. (Romans 8: 18-25).

15. Work is a duty to man. St. Paul points out that it is wrong to become a social parasite. He stressed that 'whoever does not work should not eat'. (2 Thessalonians 3: 10). This came at .a time when the people wanted to abandon their everyday work with the thinking that the world, was coming to an end.

16. The New Testament emphasizes the need for having hope in work despite any difficulties. Jesus also worked in situations that appeared helpless. (Mark3:5, Romans 8: 18 - 25).

17. Work is a way of fighting evils. It is seen as a pre-occupation that keeps man away from redundancy which is the source of evil. (Ephesians 4: 28).

18. Saint Paul said that work should bring glory to God. He advised every believer to be conscious of their work (1 Corinthians 10: 31).

19. Saint James warned against employers exploiting their workers. He accused the rich of failing to pay the wages of their workers (James 5: 1-6).

20. Saint Peter encouraged everyone to work with the real desire to serve instead of expecting mere pay (1 Peter 5:2-4).

Explain a Christian attitude towards work.

· Christians are to accept work as a responsibility.

· Christians are to realize; that they are co-creators with God,

· He or she should be able to sacrifice his or her time and life at work.

· Christians should be honest at work.

· Christians should de work effectively without supervision.

· Christians should balance work and leisure.

· Christians should work for the kingdom of God.

· Christians are to use their talents to serve others.

· Christians should accept any kind of work without despising any. Christians are to be hopeful in work even in times of difficulties.

· Christians are to seek God's guidance at work daily through prayers. Christians should have love for their work.

· Work should be a normal activity for Christians.

· Christians should have joy and solidarity in work.

· Christians should share the fruits of their labour with others

IDevice Icon Revision Questions

1. What is the Old Testament teaching about work?

2. Using the Old Testament, what advice would give to workers in your community?

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