Worship is more than singing songs and saying prayers. It’s more than tithing and taking communion. Indeed, John Piper says, “Romans 12:1-2 portrays all of life as worship,” and Don Carson defines worship as “the proper response” of human beings to God, ascribing all honor and worth to him, “precisely because he is worthy, and delightfully so.”
Worship, therefore, is a posture of the heart that we carry with us throughout the week—even to work. Carson continues:
Christians work not only as God’s creatures in God’s creation, but as redeemed men and women offering their time, their energy, their work, their whole lives, to God—loving him with heart and mind and strength, understanding that whatever we do, we are to do to the glory of God.
For churches, the question is not just, What is worship?, but also, What kinds of worship should we experience and model when we gather together? Shying away from offering any particular rules, Carson casts a high vision for corporate worship: “Work for a massive display of the glory of God and character and attributes of God.”
That display is not massive, but miniscule, when we limit it to include only work that contributes to our worship services. If we only have church activities in mind when we sing, “Come and see what God has done” (Ps. 66:5), then we miss out on that “massive display” of God’s glory, character, and attributes.
Is there a place in corporate worship for a display of God’s glory through other types of work—business, education, service, administration, and so on? Can church services equip Christians, as the scattered church, to worship in their work throughout the week?
Below are five ideas for giving a big vision of God’s glory when the gathered church meets for worship. Each idea has a “low touch” option, which requires no additional programming, and a “high touch” option for churches wanting to go deeper.
1. Preach about work from the pulpit.
Low Touch: Pastors can weave work-related illustrations into their sermons. As Greg Forster notes, “[Jesus contextualized] his teaching to the marketplace. Out of 52 parables, 45 are set in the marketplace: fields, sheepfolds, vineyards, kitchens, palaces, courts, fisheries, and more.” He knew that his listeners spent a significant amount of time at work, and he wanted to connect with them.
Preaching on how we can bear God’s creative image? Talk about how carpenters can reflect his creative work when they build high-quality cabinets that serve their clients’ needs. Preaching on how pride destroys relationships? Talk about how lawyers might be tempted to view their partners as competitors and their clients as transaction costs. Preaching on how to apply the doctrine of adoption to our hearts? Talk about how teachers can root their identity in being co-heirs with Christ—even when their paychecks are modest and their students are unruly.
High Touch: Pastors can also preach sermons, or even sermon series, on a theology of vocation and work. Many of our own Council members at The Gospel Coalition do this regularly—Tom Nelson, John Piper, John Yeats, Tim Keller, and more—even as they keep the gospel central to their preaching and teaching.
2. Pray publicly for practitioners.
Low Touch: Worship services already include prayers, so why not focus some of them on work? After all, we ask God to help us love and serve our neighbors and, as Lester DeKoster writes, “Work is the form in which we make ourselves useful to others.” Pastors can find simple prayers for work in easily accessible places, like Psalm 90 (“Establish the work of our hands, O Lord!”) and the Book of Common Prayer (For Commerce and Industry).
High Touch: Pastors can also pray for people in different professions by season. For example, in God at Work, David Miller suggests praying for certified public accountants around April 15 and for salespeople and those working on commission at the end of the month and at the end of the year when quotas are due. Lord, give wisdom to accountants, as they help others to steward their resources justly. Give assurance to those working on commission, that you will provide their every need. We can pray for teachers in August, coaches during playoffs, and farmers at harvest time.
3. Sing songs that celebrate work.
Low Touch: Songs that marvel at God’s creation implicitly celebrate work because work is one way we “subdue creation” (Gen. 1:28). “This Is My Father’s World,” for example, highlights God’s handiwork and common grace, as we sing, “He shines in all that’s fair.” (As a corollary, we ought to be careful about lyrics that downplay such a holistic view of God’s work, too. “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” for example, says that “the things of earth will grow strangely dim” in the light of his glory and grace. But John Piper and Joe Rigney have rightly turned that reasoning on its head. See “The Things of Earth Will Grow Strangely Bright” and The Things of Earth.)
High Touch: Modern hymn writers Keith and Kristyn Getty explicitly address work in their song “Before You Kneel (A Worker’s Prayer).” It is a wonderful example that can teach us how to pray for our everyday work: “Before you, I kneel, my Master and Maker, to offer the work of my hands. . . . Before you, I kneel and ask for your goodness to cover the work of my hands, for patience and peace to shape all my labor.” (Other hymns: “Take My Life and Let It Be” or “Forth in Thy Name, O Lord.”)
4. Share testimonies about faith and work.
Low Touch: Churches often highlight testimonies about God’s redemptive work. Why not do workplace testimonies, too? At my church, for example, we have annual testimonies from people whose hearts have been shaped by the ministry of the Center for Faith & Work. The context of these stories is the workplace, but the focus is always on God and what he has done. (See this example.)
High Touch: Redemption Tempe in Arizona does “All of Life Interviews” on Sundays. In front of the entire congregation, a pastor asks a congregant about his or her work for five minutes. Each week, they ask the same four questions as a way of teaching the congregants that they, too, can be image-bearers of God in their own work.
5. Commission congregants in their vocations.
Low Touch: Many pastors end services with a benediction. Why not use this time to send congregants out from “the gathered church” to “the scattered church”? Now, raise your heads for the benediction. Go out from this place as ambassadors of Christ to love your neighbors and fulfill the Great Commission. Go into your places of work with excellence and hope, as you rest in the assurance of God’s unfailing love and grace. Risk, build, create, explore, sing, and love, as those who have been loved by God. Amen.
High Tough: Redeemer Presbyterian Church recently did a formal commissioning during the service. The Rev. David Kim, executive director of the Center for Faith & Work, said,
In a world filled with brokenness, confusion, darkness, mourning and loneliness, God has called his people to bring the healing light of the gospel into every sector of our city through every profession, institution, and calling. There is no inch of this city where his gospel cannot redeem.
As a congregation, we then read a series of calls and responses that were printed in the bulletin—repenting of our sin of overlooking our great calling, surrendering ourselves to serve God, and praying for his power to serve our city in our respective vocations.
The goal of these five ideas is not to provide options for making one big gesture of honoring work in worship services, but to incorporate work into the regular rhythms of the church. When Christians begin to see that their work matters because God uses it to care for the world that he loves, they will begin to see that their work can be worship—that is, that their work can be a “massive display of the glory of God.”