At Work & Public Square & Theology 101

New Research Shows More Pastors Are Preaching about Faith and Work. How Are People in the Pews Being Impacted by This Change?

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Conventional wisdom says that pastors aren’t preaching about faith and work enough, if at all.

A new survey says this conventional wisdom is changing.

Research recently published by the Center for Faith and Work at LeTourneau University reports that more pastors are beginning to preach about the biblical view of work.

The Center reports that,

New research by the Barna Group for the Center for Faith and Work at LeTourneau University shows a substantial uptick in the number of pastors who say they preach on the topic of work. However, most church-goers still doubt the significance of their work to God.

According to the survey:

  • In 2011, “26 percent of pastors said their sermons addressed faith and work.”
  • In 2014, “36 percent of senior Protestant pastors say they preached a sermon on what the Bible says about God’s view of work within the past month,” with an additional 36 percent preaching on faith and work in the last six months.
  • The number of pastors who say they preached about the biblical view of work in the past year? 86 percent.

This is an exciting development. But there’s still a greater opportunity to drive home the message of faith and work.

Bill Peel, executive director of the Center for Faith and Work, commented on these statistics, saying,

These findings indicate a significant surge in the attention pastors are giving to the importance of faith and work – an encouraging trend indeed! However, there’s still a gap between what parishioners are hearing about the importance of their work to God, and what they are seeing.

To underscore Peel’s point, the article shares the story of Jim Mullins, a pastor in Tempe, Arizona, and one of Mullins’s parishioners, an engineer who contemplated quitting his job to become either a pastor or a missionary.

Recounting his story for The Gospel Coalition, Mullins mentions the realization he had regarding what it will take to help people in the pews believe their work matters to God:

I realized that the issue wasn’t with what he [the engineer] heard, but with what he saw. He frequently heard teaching about the importance of vocation and all-of-life discipleship, but he never saw anyone’s work – apart from pastoral, missionary, and non-profit work – publicly celebrated.

According to the Barna/Center for Faith and Work study, this engineer isn’t alone in his experience:

  • 70 percent of American churchgoers don’t “see how their work serves God’s purposes.”
  • 78 percent “see their work as less important than the work of a pastor or priest.”

In order to help churchgoers see the importance of their work to God, Art Lindsley has suggested commissioning workers in various industries during church services. Peel suggests the same thing, concluding,

Clearly, increased preaching and teaching about faith and work is a positive and praiseworthy step, but more is needed… A powerful next step is to schedule time in worship services to publicly celebrate all kinds of work that advances God’s creation.

According to the survey, the number of churches publicly commissioning workers is 18 percent.

In addition to publicly celebrating work, Art Lindsley has written before about other ways pastors can affirm faith, work, and vocation in their congregations.

Interview Workers

This is another public way to honor and affirm everyday work. Lindsley suggests inviting two or three people in a given profession to come forward and share about how their faith impacts their work in that industry.

Pray for People in Professions

Lindsley writes, “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.”

Watch Your Language

Lindsley shares a story to illustrate this point. “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.”

Stress That You Can Have a Ministry at Work

Scripture helps illuminate this suggestion. Lindsley points to the Apostle Paul, saying,

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.

These last two points cover what pastors can say to affirm faith, work, and vocation in their churches.

In addition to commissioning churchgoers, interviewing them, and publicly praying for them, what else can be done to help people see that their work matters to God?

We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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