It’s Thursday! Time for another Q & A post!
A question someone posed to me a few weeks ago (I’m sorry, I forgot to write down who asked this…):
“I am a fellow photographer desiring to make a business and have been thinking through things such as: What is work according to God? What does it look like? What does rest look like? How have these two been redeemed by Christ? What are they going to look like for my life? … I would love to hear your mission statement: the reason you work and the way you should work. I would also love to hear any edifying words you have for someone starting a photography business.
This is such a great question, and a necessary thing for any person to think through, whether Christian or not— regardless of whether you are an artist, a businessman, a homemaker, or a student. I’m going to answer this in points, that could, perhaps, be an entire blog series, but I have so many other questions to answer that I’m just going to do this all in one shot.
Warning: This may be a long blog post. You might want to make yourself a cup of coffee, find a quiet corner, and settle in for a bit.
1. Defining Work
What is work according to God? What does it look like? What does rest look like? How have these two been redeemed by Christ?
Answer: work is an expression of God’s character. It’s original purpose is the “advancement of human flourishing to the glory of God.” We were made to work, because we were made in th image of God, who is a Worker.
I attended The Gospel at Work Conference back in January. The opening session was entitled, “The Theology of Work,” and is to date, one of the best sermon’s I’ve ever heard. You can download the message here (and I highly recommend that you do so… like, NOW). A few basic points from that message:
- God is a worker. The story of the Bible begins with God working— creating, making, doing. Like the rest of creation, we as humans are a work-product of God, but unlike the rest of creation, we were made in His image. This means many things, but part of what it means is that we, too, are workers, by our very nature, and doing work reflects the very nature of God, in whose image we were made.
- Work pre-dates the Fall. It is not part of the curse, or a result of sin. Things changed when sin entered the world (work became toilsome, work is futile and never satisfies, it is a compulsory act for survival, etc), but work in and of itself is not a result of sin.
- Sin turns work into idolatry. What was once a means of saying, “Look at God!” and bringing glory to Him, work has now become a means of drawing attention to ourselves and brining glory to us. Our work becomes a kind of idolatry that defines us in relation to our work— either by our work or by our avoidance of it.
- People are redeemed; work is not. Jesus Christ’s work was to redeem human hearts, not our earthly context. Redemption does not change our work— it changes individual hearts. Souls are eternal; our work is not.
- The end of the story of work is that God is making all things new. God rested on the seventh day of Creation, the same day that we took up our work. So our working is an expression of us entering into God’s rest. This does not mean that we cease from work. Instead, it is a cessation from the toilsome futility of sin associated with work.
What does all of this mean for me, in the way that I work? It means that I see work differently. Instead of resenting the work that I do, I can rejoice in the fact that I can work, because work reflects the glory of God. I’ll touch on this a bit more later.
2. Defining Success
When she wrote this question to me, this friend referenced a post I wrote on Defining Success. I re-evaluate my definitions every year, just to make sure that I’m maintaining good goals as my business grows and changes, and as I grow and develop on a personal level. Every sentence I wrote then, I still believe now. I spent some time condensing it down a bit for my present focus, and it looks like this:
- Love God well, and allow His Word and ways to define my life.
- Love people well— self-sacrificially, giving time and energy to build into others’ lives.
- Live well within Christ’s Body— being an active, committed member of a local Church.
- Have set work hours and clearly defined expectations for myself and my employees, so that I can work well on a daily basis.
- Earn a sufficient income, so that I am not a burden to those around me, can give generously to Gospel endeavors, and can care well for those God places in my care.
- Care well for each one of my clients, loving them faithfully as Christ has loved me.
- Do good, honor God, and commend the Gospel— not just in the work that I do, but also in the way that I do it.
- Maintain healthy relationships with wedding planners and venues in the area. (serve as best as I can, as often as I can).
This means that at the end of any given work week, regardless of what tasks remain on my to-do list, I should consider that week a success if these things have been prioritized. I may not always do them perfectly, but if they are my goal, then my work is successful.
Having these definitions/goals/priorities have made all the difference in the world for me and my business. I’m such an over-achiever + optimist + idealist that my plans can often seem more delusional than realistic. I need good goals and boundaries to ground me.
3. Answering the Question “Why”
She asks, “I would love to hear your mission statement: the reason you work and the way you should work. I would also love to hear any edifying words you have for someone starting a photography business.”
I also re-evaluate and re-write a Vision statement, Mission statement, and Objectives list every year. Here is my most current version:
Ampersand Photography exists for the glory of God, to commend the Gospel through faithful work, to support healthy marriages, and to document life in a naturally beautiful, pleasing manner.
Ampersand Photography’s wedding coverage documents the deep, lasting commitment and covenant promise on a wedding day, and the way that it pictures the Gospel— Christ Jesus’ sacrificial, never-ending love for His Bride, the Church.
Ampersand Photography’s portrait photography documents the unique & personal beauty of individuals, and the collective love and emotional texture of a family.
Ampersand Photography specializes in on-location, natural-light photography to best capture individuals in their natural setting.
Ampersand Photography is for people who are in love with love, and believe that it is worth both documenting and remembering forever.
As Ampersand Photography’s owner, I (Sarah Danaher) am committed to genuinely loving and serving my clients, to provide a safe atmosphere, and foster mutual trust in the client-photographer relationship.
Ampersand Photography will be known for warm, timeless, thoughtful images, and for the genuine, heartfelt care given to each client.
- To increase net profit by 25% in my fifth year.
- To develop systems of production for each product category that are easy to replicate with new clients, to keep their experience simple and fun so that I can focus on the relationship that I’m building with each client instead of random details.
- To enjoy a job where I wake up every morning excited to work, because I love it that much.
- To manage my time in such a way that I can enjoy my friends and family and serve well within my Church.
- To have a unified brand that accurately reflects the vision and personality of my company.
- To be publishable, and to have easily-recognized work.
Sarah Danaher has worked as a wedding and portrait photographer for over five years. She has found that genuine, loving care and personal relationships with her clients is the key to a successful (and satisfying) business, and started Ampersand Photography with that belief, first in Fredericksburg, Virginia and then transfering it to Washington, DC. She is committed to carrying out the mission, vision, and objectives of her company to the best of her abilities, all the while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
4. How This Makes a Difference
It’s easy to talk about theories, and goals, and the reason why behind action, and forget that unless it’s put into practice, none of it matters. Here are a few examples of how all of the above helps to inform the way that I do business and make decisions.
- Just do it. I hear this allllllll of the time in the photography industry— “Do what you like and like what you do. Major on your strengths; outsource the rest.” Well, maybe. But perhaps not. Just because something is hard, just because it’s tedious, just because it’s not my favorite thing to do, that doesn’t mean I should find someone else to do it for me. I think we’re far too hasty to buy into the lie that because we’re self-employed, we should be able to have whatever work experience we want. We have these idealized, unrealistic visions of working only a few hours a day, and only doing the things that we like to do, and still being financially successful, relationally involved, and emotionally stable. But the truth is that work is hard— because sin exists. It’s a normal part of the human experience that won’t change until Heaven. This isn’t said to depress anyone, or to cultivate a fatalistic mindset. When properly understood, this truth gives me the freedom to keep working, because working reflects God, not because it’s easy. It also allows me to break free of unreasonable expectations that may hinder my productivity.
- Productivity looks different. When I properly understand my role as a worker and keep a good perspective on what success looks like, I’m free from that heavy weight of failure that I’m tempted to feel when I look at an incomplete to-do list. This also helps me decide how to prioritize my time, and eliminates the need to compare myself to other photographers. Their “success list” may look different than my “success list,” so the way they order their days, invest in relationships, and choose to grow their business will probably look different than mine. And that’s okay!!!
- My motivations change. When I remember that work reflects God ,the Worker, my work goes from drudgery to delight. It is a joy to practice diligence. Measures of success inspire praise to God, instead of pride in self. I freely love my clients, not because it will get me more business, but because I have been loved by God, and love for people is the natural overflow. The hard parts of work are recognized as a natural part of life lived in a sinful world, instead of resented as something that I should’ve have to bear— and it inspires a greater longing for Heaven.
Whoa… long post!!! If you made it this far, I give you a sincere “thank you!!!!” I hope it was worth your time, and serves to encourage you in your work!