In a recent interview on Meet the Press, Mike Rowe, the former host of Discovery Channel’s “Dirty Jobs,” lamented what he perceives to be a general lack of enthusiasm for work—and a particular lack of enthusiasm for the kind of work featured on his show: physically-demanding, often socially-stigmatized “dirty jobs.” People are too busy waiting for the perfect job, Rowe says, to invest time and energy in any less-than-perfect job, while 5.8 million open American jobs go wanting.
What Rowe understands (and fans of his show seem to appreciate) is the rich value in ordinary labor—blue-collar, hands-on work—not just for the tasks accomplished but for the worker involved. He notes specifically the satisfaction many find in physical engagement with their work and the reward of seeing tangible progress in a product or service offered. That joy is echoed in the words of a thirty-year-old masonry laborer speaking to Jeff Torlina, author of Working Class: Challenging Myths about Blue-Collar Labor. “Like if you were to write a paper or something,” he says, “it’s great, and it may last hundreds of years or not, but concrete walls, unless somebody knocks it down or bulldozes it, it’s usually going to be there.”
This satisfaction with hands-on labor is nothing new. It’s rooted in the imago Dei—humanity’s creation in the image of God. The creation accounts of Genesis 1 and 2 reveal God as One who works, first speaking the worlds into existence and then forming Adam from the dust of the earth. Indeed, the Hebrew word that describes God’s creation of Adam, yāsar, is then used repeatedly of ordinary human labor throughout the Old Testament, most frequently of the work of a potter forming the clay. Humanity’s labor echoes that of our Creator.
God’s propensity toward actual engagement in labor is also reflected in Adam’s assignment in Eden. Adam continues the work God began, shaping the world by the work of his hands. Adam is—and we are—invited to join God in cultivating and caring for this world toward its consummation in Christ. God’s tangible involvement in our creation affirms that creation stewardship is not limited to mental engagement or verbal declaration, but includes the physical tasks necessary for care and cultivation.
In short, Mike Rowe argues for truth that the Scriptures revealed long ago: All work matters. Whether it’s laying a bed of asphalt, running a plumber’s snake, bussing a table, or picking up after an active toddler, work that moves chaos and disorder toward harmony and structure reflects fulfillment of humanity’s original assignment and our creation in the image of God.
For nearly thirty years, Kent Duncan has served as pastor of Jefferson Assembly of God, Meriden, KS. For the last five years, he has focused significant time and energy on facilitating faith-work connections within the blue-collar workforce. Learn more by visiting ordinarylabor.com.
Join Kent Duncan in a ground breaking, 4-session virtual workshop, involving a live classroom setting, reflective exercises, and a customized plan of action! All sessions are held online via Zoom Meeting on Wednesday mornings, 10:30-11:30 AM CST. Begins May 17. More information.