Today’s evangelical Church has largely failed to address the subjects of faith, work, and calling. There is a tendency to focus on issues pertaining to salvation, evangelism, or basic personal discipleship (Bible reading, prayer, fellowship, etc.) but to ignore what most people do forty, sixty, or eighty hours a week.
When I read the following quote from William Diehl’s book, Christianity and Real Life, it jumped off the page at me:
I am now a sales manager for a major steel company. In the almost thirty years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any time of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others. My church has never once offered to improve those skills which could have made me a better lay 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 co-workers. I never have 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 really doesn’t have the least interest in whether or how I minister in my daily work.
When I first read this quote many years ago, I didn’t know any churches that were attempting to address this deficiency. This issue still remains even today. Gabe Lyons offers this story in an interview with The Gospel Coalition:
Andy Crouch tells a story about a lady in Boston who taught Sunday school at her church for 30 years. She was also responsible for cleaning up the whole Boston Harbor, which was a nightmare for the city. But the first time she was brought up in front of her church was to talk about how she had taught Sunday school for 30 years. They never mentioned that she had been responsible for helping the entire city by leading this huge project.
There isn’t anything wrong with recognizing someone’s faithful service to the church. However, we’re much more likely to recognize that instead of someone’s faithfulness to their vocation outside the church.
Fortunately there are some churches and organizations that are beginning to wake up to this need. There is certainly much that can be done to preach and teach on topics of faith and work. But there is much that can be done to implicitly address these topics as well.
G.K. Chesterton said that “Education is implication.” We often remember not what is explicitly said, but what is implied. Here are five things pastors can do to communicate implicitly the importance of work and vocation:
Watch your language
One top Christian leader referred to his work of training pastors as equipping people for a “higher calling.” When someone objected, “We don’t believe that,” he apologetically admitted that the pastoral calling was not intrinsically higher than that of a doctor, lawyer, government worker, carpenter, music teacher, etc. It’s easy to fall back into this kind of hierarchical thinking (pastoral ministry being higher than other work) even if we ought to know better.
Pray for people in professions
Make it a regular part of pastoral prayer (or “Prayers of the People”) to pray not only for those who are sick, but for doctors, homemakers, business executives, construction workers, etc., that they might do excellent work that gives glory to God.
For instance, call three lawyers to come forward and interview them about how they see their faith being expressed in their work. Then pray for them and any other lawyers in the congregation. You could do this with different professions – say, once a month, or on another regular cycle.
Commission people for ministry in their work
Periodically call all the practitioners in a particular vocation to come up, have the elders lay hands on them, and commission them just as you would do for someone entering the pastorate or going as a missionary overseas.
Stress that you can have a ministry at work
In Romans 13:4, Paul twice calls government workers “ministers.” They are ministers not just when they evangelize or lead Bible studies at work but also when they practice their calling in government. The same could be said for any other valid profession. Emphasize that on Sunday we are the body of Christ gathered, and on Monday we are the body scattered to work in the world bearing witness in what we say and do.
These are just suggestions of ways pastors and churches can regularly communicate implicitly that they value the connection between faith and work as well as the validity of various callings. There are some churches already implementing some of these ideas. If more churches did this, it would go a long way toward strengthening people in our congregations who work in secular callings.
How else can the church affirm callings? Leave your comments here.