At Work & Theology 101

Do Churches Today Understand Faith and Work?

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Have you ever heard someone say, “Did you hear about Jim Smith? He quit his job at the bank to go into full-time Christian service.”

I would guess many of us have actually said something very similar. In the church today, we still believe some jobs are more spiritual than others. And when it comes to understanding the integration of faith and work, in many ways, the church is still in the Dark Ages.

In her book, Church on Sunday, Work on Monday, Laura L. Nash states that many Christian businesspeople experience a “radical disconnection between Sunday services and Monday morning activities, describing a sense of living in two worlds that never touch each other.”

Nash suggests that these disconnected businesspeople receive little or no help from their pastors and clergy in connecting their faith and work. In addition, she discovered a negative view in the church toward business in general. She found,

…a seismic difference in their worldview about the meaning of capitalism and profit. For the clergy, profit was a clear sign of “me-first” self-interest, materialism and therefore not Christian. To the businessperson, profit was a result of actions that were partially others-oriented combined with a legitimate pursuit of self-interest, such as serving a customer, creating jobs, or donating part of the proceeds to charity.

The disconnect between business and clergy probably explains the experience of William Diehl, a former Bethlehem Steel executive, as told in The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective by pastor and business professor R. Paul Stevens. Diehl shared:

In the almost thirty years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others. My church has never once offered to improve those skills, which could make me a better minister, nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support in what I was doing. There has never been an inquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate my faith to my coworkers. I have never been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career. In short, I must conclude that my church doesn’t have the least interest whether or how I minister in my daily work.

Diehl is left with the same frustration that nags at many Christian businesspeople today. As Christian ethics professor Scott Rae suggests, they feel they are in a support position for others who are “in the ministry,” and though they play an important role, they are not really where the action is for God’s kingdom.

The integration of faith and work can be misunderstood not only by the church members who sit in the pews but by those who stand behind the pulpit. Vincent Bacote of Wheaton College writes that the church needs to view discipleship as encompassing all of life, including our work:

Christian disciples are people who pursue all of life with and under the Lordship of Christ. The fact of Christ’s Lordship does not equate to churches micromanaging the business affairs of congregants, but it should mean that churches are helping businesspeople have an increasingly greater vision for how their “business life” is an expression of the rich life of discipleship.

Yet this concept is noticeably missing from many of today’s churches.

The good news is that there is a lot that churches can do to explicitly teach people in the pews that their work matters to God. Art Lindsley writes that pastors need to even watch what they communicate implicitly in their worship services and activities. He offers five recommendations for how to implicitly communicate the importance of all work:

  1. Watch your language. Be sure that you avoid terms like “higher calling” for ministry roles.
  2. Pray for people in professions. This can be done on Labor Day weekend and throughout the year.
  3. Interview workers up front about how their faith is being expressed through their work.
  4. Commission people for ministry in their work just as you do for those going into the mission field.
  5. Emphasize that people have a ministry at work through the work itself, not just when they lead Bible studies.

With the growth of content in seminaries on faith and work and parachurch organizations like IFWE addressing these issues, some progress is being made. Join us in prayer that the church would recover the biblical meaning of work for the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom.

Editor’s note: Want to learn more? Check out IFWE’s Top Ten List of Books on Faith and Work—recently updated! 

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