We’ve made huge strides in the past several years on bringing the topic of work to church. But I’ve noticed an ongoing tension. It’s a tension between what we say about work on Sunday and what we do (or don’t do).

On the one hand, talk of “faith & work” and cultural engagement have been popping up across the evangelical landscape. From Lecrae waxing eloquent on the sacred/secular divide at Liberty University to the forthcoming publication of a Faith and Work Study Bible, it’s becoming blessedly normal to embrace the importance of work for Christian cultural engagement.

But on the other hand, painfully few churches actually do anything on a regular basis to equip their own people for works of service in their daily work. Most church services and weekday programs have gone untouched. This leaves many folks sitting in the pews feeling a bit like Van Gogh’s Starry Night – a city full of light, but a church that has gone dark.

This is really perplexing considering the sheer scope of programming some churches can offer.  Ministries for every life stage are common: kids, students, 20s and 30s, college & career, young marrieds, men, women, singles, and so on. Add in short-term missions, volunteering on Sunday, and church-sponsored basketball leagues, and we’ve hit nearly every interest area. Or have we?

More than once many of us have asked, “What about the other 45 hours of the week?” Nurse, school teacher, app developer, accountant, home-maker, small business owner, barista, engineer, city council member. If work is where culture is made, what would it look like in the practical day-to-day structures of Sunday services and weekly programming for church leaders to equip the diverse Body of Christ for witness and service in and through our work?

In addition to Work “Rhythms” for the Local Church, here are 10 practical steps pastors can take toward becoming a culturally-engaged church. 

On Sunday Morning

1. Host a commissioning service once a year for laity celebrating their work. 

There are several ways to do this. LeTourneau University has an easy to follow format, including prayers and benedictions for the people of God who serve Christ across various sectors and professions.

At DIFW we encourage churches to do something even more simple. As a part of the church partnership program, we create short videos of men and women serving Christ in their work. From there, churches take that video of somebody in their own congregation, play it in a service, interview her about her daily work, and then pray for the whole congregation as they serve Christ in their daily work.

2. Pray for people in their work; consider doing so by season. 

Sometimes these prayers will be formal, like this affirmation of our labor found in Book of Common Prayer, Bishop Slattery’s Prayer for the Work Day, Moses in Psalm 90 (“Establish the work of our hands, O Lord!”), a Prayer for All Christian’s in Their Vocation (by Steve Garber) or a even personally written Prayer for Work.

Other times pastors may want to pray for people in different professions according to season. For example, pray for teachers in August as they go back to school; business leaders, managers, and those in retail in November or December around busy shopping season; farmers as they harvest the crops in the early fall; accountants in March and April; and chefs, servers, and restaurant managers on Mother’s Day – America’s favorite day to go out to eat. Just put these seasons on your annual church calendar, and remember to cover the saints in prayer during these key times of the year

3. Select songs that affirm the value of God’s creation. 

Far too many of our worship songs seem to be only about “me and God” or my own personal heart or feelings. Unfortunately as we sing “When the things of this earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace…” it leads us to a view of culture that effectively ignores work and our cultural engagement because it doesn’t “matter” compared to individual salvation and the next life. (Ironically, in my experience, when I became a Christian the things of this earth grew strangely bright and exciting in the light of his glory and grace!)

Instead, consider songs that affirm love for God’s world – both in nature and in human society. Everything from “You make beautiful things, from the dust, out of us,” to “The universe declares your majesty” to “All thy works with joy surround thee, heaven and earth reflect thy rays” affirm the original goodness of God’s creation. I also like Isaac Watts’ riff on Psalm 23: “Oh may thy house be mine abode, and all my work be praise.”

The point isn’t in ignoring a personal relationship with Jesus. This is the foundation of a life of faith! But we can push against the individualistic and privatized faith of our current age by affirming how God works among us, in our world, and is drawing all of his creation (from mountains to machines to the work of mechanics) to himself.

4. Hang work-affirming art in the physical space of your church. 

From painting to photography, most evangelical churches could use a dash of heart-expanding beauty in the foyer. (For that matter, so could most businesses!) For example, The American Craftsman Project is both utterly beautiful and affirming of the manual labor of small businessmen across the US.

You’ll need to decide which types of work you would like to feature based on the professions represented in your own congregation. Churches in New York could highlight finance or drama; in Boston the academy; Texas, the energy industry; and in Denver a huge mural of REI employees and ski lift operators!

Doing this is a lot more simple that you think. Hire a photographer or local artist and find out what the Body of Christ does every week – the great, the sad, the beautiful and the broken. Bring this art back to the actual walls of your church building, and let your congregation’s social and vocational imaginations blossom.

5. Use the word “ministry” to refer to the priestly service of  all Christians. 

Too many  well-meaning church leaders share stories of men and women who left the business world to go into “ministry” – quietly suggesting that only paid church workers are in “ministry.” But the word ministry in the New Testament is also translated “service,” such as in Ephesians 4:12. Here, it’s the particular job of pastors, evangelists, apostles and prophets to “equip the saints for works of ministry/service” in all walks of life – not only those in 501(c)3 nonprofits with an explicitly faith-based mission.

My church, Colorado Community Church, does this well. Their task as pastoral leadership is to “disciple every member to be a missionary.” Since obviously not every member is a missionary overseas, that means every member is called to be a missionary – that is a servant and a witness – in all of life, including family, recreation, and work.

Having said this, there’s no need to ignore differences between the work of pastors and, say, landscapers or lawyers. It is a noble thing to desire to be an overseer (1 Tim. 3:1). And we should encourage more young people to choose to become pastors, not less. Yet we can do this as we affirm that the work of all the saints can be a genuine act of neighbor love.

(Pastors: here’s a quick summary of the different sectors of the American workforce. It can be helpful reminder of where “ministry” is happening on any given week.)

6. Do a sermon once per year on theology of work or vocation; use workplace illustrations in every sermon. 

A regular commitment to preaching on work or vocation goes a long way. And in the past few years, the number of quality sermon ideas are out there have multiplied: Tim Keller on work; Work as Worship by JR Vassar; Five sermons by John Piper; a collection of sermons put together by the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture; a collection of my own sermons on work.

Depending on your preaching schedule and rotation, it may make more sense to preach once per year on the topic, or, for example, do a series of three sermons every three years. The key is to make preaching and teaching about work a regular habit. Our work and cultural engagement is too important a topic to do a single sermon or series and then be “done” with the topic. (Work isn’t ever “done” for any of us.)

I’ve also seen many pastors do an incredible job of integrating illustrations about work into every sermon. Tom Nelson at Christ Community Church in Kansas City does this well; some pastors have a preaching checklist they go through each week which includes illustrations about work. Often this doesn’t mean changing doctrine, it simply means applying it in a way that is understandable to lay people who spend a significant portion of every week at work.

Again, this is not as hard as it sounds. Preaching on the image of God? Illustrate how teachers or cabinet makers reflect the imago dei when they create new lessons or kitchens. Grace? Illustrate how the manager took the fall for his employee’s mistake. Justice? Speak about the work of International Justice Mission or the unnoticed work of law clerks who labor to provide the information needed to undergird the justice system. The cross?  Illustrate how easy it is to find our identity in our work or success, and how Christ calls us to die to ourselves that we might live for others.

You get the idea. Let your imagine move the truths of Christian doctrine in the daily fabric of our lives.

During the Week

7. Visit the workplaces of people in your congregation. 

This is really simple. Here are two ways you could do this:

1. Have lunch with your congregants at their workplaces. Go to the workplace of, say, Peter who works at EvoSnap, an online payment processor. Have lunch and ask him about his work and the latest opportunities and challenges in credit card processing. Get a tour of his workplace and get to know both what he does and some of his co-workers. End it by requesting to pray for him. Pray 1 Peter 4:10 over him and his work: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” Watch at the amazement of your own people at the great love their pastor has for them!

2. Have a church staff meeting at the workplace of one of your elders or deacons. Not only will this be a welcome break from the weekly routine, but seeing the world of finance, education, or manufacturing will open the eyes of your staff to the lived reality of your church’s own leaders. When you see first-hand both the opportunities and challenges of living out the gospel in post-Christian America, conversations about “being missional” change naturally.

8. Organize a retreat on vocation or a “community vocation dinner.”

Nearly everybody is saying to themselves two things about their job: “What is my calling?” and “It can’t be this!” It’s not just for young people. Boomers ask it just as much after they retire and the thrill of golf and margaritas everyday has lost its thrill. Provide space during a weekend retreat to pray, ask hard questions in community. Read,  laugh and explore foundational themes of discipleship and calling. Experiences like this can be hugely effective in helping laity hear God’s voice for their work.  Andrew Arndt at Bloom Church is organizing just such a retreat in a couple weeks. Chris Ditzenberger has done these retreats at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal.

The ever-brilliant Steve Garber has long suggested vocare dinners: gatherings of believers in similar fields – like business, education, healthcare or politics – to discuss a life “implicated” by the love of God. At DIFW, we organize vocation groups – monthly meetings of men and women in similar fields who want to understand their work in light of the Christian faith and find ways to creatively serve others with the skills and talents God has entrusted to them.

Either way, make time to set the table for the Spirit to speak to us. Word, food, and community go a long way to opening minds and hearts to the Call of God.

9. Host a class or small group on work, calling or culture.

There are all sorts of resources out there for you. Check out this list of vocation resources for the local church for a (biased!) perspective on the best books, video curriculums, small group curriculums, and websites that speak to work, calling and culture. Some of the best resources for small groups are, in my view, the ReFrame Course, For the Life of the World, Every Good Endeavor, Work Matters, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, and the Public Faith Curriculum.

Again, I recommend one per year.  I would disagree with Jack Black who, in School of Rock, exclaimed, “One great show can change the world!” I love Jack Black – but he’s wrong here! Change happens  through developing the right small habits over time. (For proof, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.)  It is through daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly habits that shape people to serve others.

10. Find opportunities for your congregation to donate their vocational skills to local nonprofits or neighborhood outreach projects. 

Amy Sherman’s four pathways of vocational stewardship should be printed on a big poster and pasted on the door out of the church each Sunday. She encourages Christians to (1) bloom where they’re planted in their jobs, (2) donate vocational talent to local nonprofits, (3) start social businesses and (4) adopt a block.

If pastors do the previous nine steps to becoming a culturally engaged church, “bloom where you’re planted” will happen naturally. In addition, churches may to follow Sherman and John Stott’s advice in Christian Mission in the Modern World to create “study and action groups”: groups that learn about a particular challenge such as joblessness or teenage pregnancy and then commit to serving the community in tangible ways. Since Sherman’s book is loaded with examples of this, I’ll simply recommend picking up her book Kingdom Calling. But encourage your congregation to use the skills God has given them to benefit local charities serving the poor, marginalized, left out or forgotten. The inbreaking of God’s shalom into our communities is a sure sign your church has left long-faced religion far behind and have become a culturally-engaged church.

Summary: 10 Steps Toward Becoming a Culturally-Engaged Church

On Sunday Morning

1. Host a commissioning service once a year for laity celebrating their work.

2. Pray for people in their work; consider doing so by season.

3. Select songs that affirm the value of God’s creation.

4. Hang work-affirming art in the physical space of your church.

5. Use the word “ministry” to refer to the priestly service of  all Christians.

6. Do a sermon once per year on theology of work or vocation; use workplace illustrations in every sermon.

During the Week

7. Visit the workplaces of people in your congregation.

8. Organize a retreat on vocation or a “community vocation dinner.”

9. Host a class or small group on work, calling or culture.

10. Find opportunities for your congregation to donate their vocational skills to local nonprofits or neighborhood outreach projects.

Note: This article originally appeared here on the Denver Institute for Faith & Work blog.

 

Jeff Haanen

Jeff Haanen

Jeff is the Executive Director at Denver Institute for Faith & Work.
Jeff Haanen
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