There is a memorable scene in the original Star Wars film that shows a ship jumping into hyperspace. There is a flash of light, a burst of acceleration, and it is suddenly in a different place a long distance away.
The evangelical church needs this burst of light—this thrust forward—in how it views cultural transformation. For too long, the emphasis has been on personal salvation to the neglect of the larger implications of the gospel.
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.
There isn’t anything wrong with recognizing someone’s faithful service to the church. However, we’re much more likely to recognize service to the church instead of someone’s faithfulness to their vocation outside the church.
Fortunately, since the publication of Diehl’s book, the faith and work movement has made progress. In a number of segments of the church, people are recovering this broader vision of the gospel that applies to all of life. Preaching and teaching has increasingly incorporated faith and work topics, but the effort must go beyond that.
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 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 so-called “secular” callings.
Just imagine the impact as Christians break out of their individualistic mindset regarding God’s redemptive plan and understand their roles in restoring creation, unleashing their creativity as image-bearers of the Creator through their work.