I delivered a lecture to first-year seminary students on the topic of preparing their present and future parishioners to serve their overall community. Somewhere along the way, I touched on the hypothesis that many of our church attendees seem to exist as spectators without a ministry goal, only expecting to be perpetually fed a stream of theological content on a weekly basis. As I continued to share how my staff (at a previous non-profit) daily ministered to our employees through several means, one student asked, “So how does the church fit in?” The question is legitimate but problematic.
Resources & Efficiency at Work
The Lord created the human race and fashioned our bodies and the earth to push forward through the efficient use of resources. Although the Lord did curse the ground, labor itself is not a curse because Adam had a job even before his initial insubordination (Gen. 2:15). What became difficult is how we acquire the supplies we need from the soil (Gen. 3:17-19). Generating goods efficiently and intelligently is still a divine task, something we were designed to do, though some do it more successfully than others.
When applying management techniques at various workplaces, I often find that people are not functioning at the level that would generate or sustain beneficial processes. Consequently, collective output suffers and systems come to nothing, which may embolden competitors to outperform. In a free market economy, organizations that fail to acquire or reinforce their human capital will eventually be brought to trial and judged by the consumers at large.
The church is no exception.
The Gospel in the Church
An institution that seeks to make inroads into the lives of people and penetrate society with God’s grace must prepare its members to function effectively irrespective of milieu (Eph. 4:9-16). In an age of religious pluralism, the doors are wide open for believers to share the hope that is in them, and believers should be fully prepared to articulate their faith even in the workplace (1 Pet. 3:15, Acts 17:23).
Imagine the impact if every Christian attended church with the goal of becoming a useful minister of the Gospel in his or her capacity? Even the Greek word ekklesia, which translates to “church” in the New Testament, literally means “to call out.” While the term did not always express religious connotations, there was always a purpose for an assembly.
The established leaders of the local church are the “respiratory system” of the body of Christ. They can deliver a fresh supply of God’s Word (oxygen) to the body tissues (its members) and remove (through discipleship) the “carbon dioxide” that inhibits spiritual growth in people’s lives (2 Tim. 3:16-17). A well-functioning body makes use of all its assets by understanding the crucial performance of every part. Though the heart pumps some one hundred thousand times per day, it would be futile if the 60,000 miles of arteries, veins, and capillaries refuse to carry food, water, and oxygen throughout the rest of our frame.
The Gospel in Our Work and Life
The honest Christian mechanic, the doctor who prays with his patients before surgery, and the believing sanitation worker who goes the extra mile to collect refuse for the handicapped resident, can have a tremendous impact if taught how to plant the seed of the Gospel through ordinary occupation. The habit of inviting non-believers to church perhaps serves as an indictment that our modern methods of evangelism and discipleship are deficient and less fruitful than they should be.
Empowering believers to utilize their profession as a method for the advancement of the gospel is a practice that is biblical, historical, and efficient. This tactic may produce active participants in kingdom business as opposed to passive listeners. Has Christendom restricted sacred service to professional missionaries and institutional clerics? What about the organic ministry of all the rest of God’s people? Who is responsible for manufacturing the pew, the pulpit, and the red carpet we enjoy walking on?
The apostle Paul did not take full advantage of the customary practice of funding his ministry off the backs of others because he didn’t desire for his ministry to exist as a financial burden (1 Thess. 2:9-13). He had the freedom and knowledge to convert raw materials (probably certain wools or goat hair) into more economical uses (tent-making) not only to finance his ministry but also to provide a benefit to those he encountered.
Vincent Van Gogh, generally known for his paintings, is less known as an ostracized Christian missionary who influenced people with his art and his biblical teaching and preaching, especially to coal miners. Some believers are now recognizing that preaching the gospel with their industrial gift is not an occupational hazard. Only the Lord Himself knows how many people were affected by Henry Parsons Crowell and his commitment to the Gospel through the creation of the Quaker Oats company. Millions were fed his oatmeal and numerous Christian initiatives were funded from his profits.
As gas prices continue to soar, John D. Rockefeller Sr., if he were alive today, would probably have the ability to drive down fuel prices due to his exceptional domestic production of oil. Not only was Rockefeller a dedicated Christian, but he was also a generous philanthropist.
Work Unto The Lord
When God’s people return to the old-fashioned practice of working as unto the Lord (Col. 3:23-24) by including our occupations as a component of ministry, we could be just as successful in reducing hunger, producing jobs, and generating spiritual posterity. The righteous that procure wealth through sincere business will find joy in extending generosity for the cause of Christ. Our actual service (labor) geared towards others puts us in a position to be an asset as opposed to a financial burden to those we are trying to reach.