In 1989, my wife Liz and I moved to Kansas City to start Christ Community Church. Ten years later, I stood before my congregation and confessed my failure.
It was not a failure of moral indiscretion or financial impropriety—it was a failure of pastoral malpractice. Because of my own lack of theological reflection, I had failed my congregation. Not intentionally—I was committed to the Bible, to preaching the gospel, and to relying on the work of the Spirit.
My failure was this: I spent the majority of my time equipping our church for what they do the minority of their time.
I worked hard to equip our members to be godly people and to serve the church well. This is important, but I failed to equip them for what they are doing in most of their life. As I studied the Scriptures, I began to see that my understanding of the gospel was inadequate. For the gospel does not just speak into explicitly Christian activity on a Sunday—it speaks into all of life. The gospel applies to all of our lives—especially our workplaces—and I had failed to see it.
Are you a little disappointed by my confession? Perhaps you clicked on this article expecting something a little juicier—another pastor gone over to the dark side. But a confession for failing to integrate work and faith—isn’t that a bit lame?
Well, no it’s not. Neglecting this area is serious indeed.
Beware of Mental Dualism
I wanted to share my confession with you since I suspect that, for many of us, it’s a confession we should be making ourselves. We mentally put “walking with God” and “working at my job or in my home” in different boxes.
This is to be guilty of what is called “dualism.” We split life into two separate areas that are seemingly unrelated; two areas that don’t talk to each other; one spiritual and the other physical; one sacred and the other secular.
This way of thinking is incredibly common. But it’s not biblical.
Such dualism leads to one of two errors. First, it suggests only “gospel ministry” is important. We start to think the only way to please Christ through our work is to be engaged in something that directly promotes the gospel. So if I’m a writer or an actor, I have to write or perform only things that explicitly mention Jesus. If I’m a teacher, I must only teach religious subjects, or only work in a Christian school. The only work of real significance, the thinking goes, is to be a missionary, a pastor, or—at a push—a doctor.
Second, it means we think of ourselves as Christians only—or at least mainly—when involved in church activity. Jesus shapes our lives in our churches and our homes, but he doesn’t shape the way we view work and do it. We don’t stop to evaluate the values and assumptions of our work in light of who we are as Christians. We don’t ponder what it means to be a Christian and work in business or art, as a homemaker or an educator, in construction or social care.
Wear His Yoke
Jesus offers something much better than dualism. He invites us to whole-life discipleship. Consider his words:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matt. 11:28–30).
In Jesus’s day, a yoke was a common device that linked oxen as they plowed the fields. A farmer would put two oxen in the yoke, side by side. He would put the mature, experienced ox on one side, and the younger, inexperienced ox on the other.
Jesus invites all of us to enter his yoke, to follow his lead, to learn from him just as an apprentice learns from a master craftsman. Jesus invites us to view and live in this world as he viewed and lived in it. Once we have been yoked to Jesus, we view our work in a new light.
When Christians grasp the impact of the gospel on their vocation, it infuses their daily occupation with new joy and significance—and it helps them endure difficult seasons.
Jesus’s invitation is wonderful. But pastors—have your church members heard it? Could it be that you’re guilty of teaching dualism from your pulpit—even implicitly or unintentionally? Will you instead hold out our Savior’s wonderful offer of whole-life discipleship? You won’t regret it.
Editors’ note: This is an adapted excerpt from Gospel Shaped Work, a new curriculum co-published by The Gospel Coalition and The Good Book Company. It’s part of the five-track Gospel Shaped Church curriculum, which is based on TGC’s ministry distinctives.