At least in America, evangelical churches have largely neglected the subjects of faith, work, and calling. We tend to focus on salvation, evangelism, or basic personal discipleship (Bible reading, prayer, fellowship) but ignore what most people do 40, 60, or 80 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 30 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 remains even today in many quarters. Gabe Lyons offers this anecdote in an interview with TGC:
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 those types of service rather than someone’s faithfulness to their vocation outside the church. Fortunately some churches and organizations are beginning to wake up to this need through their public teaching. But there is much that can be done to implicitly address these topics as well. G. K. Chesterton said, “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:
1. 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 is not intrinsically higher than that of a doctor, lawyer, government worker, carpenter, music teacher, and so on. 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.
2. Pray for people in professions.
Make it a regular part of pastoral prayer to pray not only for those who are sick, but also for doctors, homemakers, business executives, construction workers, and so on, that they might do excellent work that gives glory to God.
3. Interview workers.
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.
4. 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.
5. 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 by 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. If more churches did this, it would go a long way toward strengthening people in our congregations who work outside the church.