Tom Nelson once preached a sermon series from a cubicle. I don’t mean he preached it in an office building. He set up a cubicle on the platform at the front of his church and preached a whole series on how to follow God in the workplace while sitting in it. The message sent by that cubicle was, “I’m a worker, just like you. This pulpit is my workplace. And my job is to equip you for godliness in your workplace!”
If you’re a pastor, every week congregants visit you in your workplace and watch you do your job. Part of your job is to prepare them to take what they learn from you in your workplace and carry it back to their own workplaces. Wherever they do their work—on the job or in the home—they need your support to persevere in honesty, diligence, self-control, and generosity, in the midst of terrible brokenness.
One of the most important things you can do for them is return the favor. They visit you in your workplace regularly. Why not visit them in theirs?
Jesus Visited Workplaces
Theologian R. Paul Stevens reports in his book Work Matters that 122 out of 132 public appearances of Jesus were in the marketplace. And think about what Jesus was doing his whole life before he started his public ministry. For more than 15 years, he was working in an ordinary job, doing exactly the same kind of work his sheep do.
Jesus got to know the workplace by experience. That’s important because it allowed him to contextualize his teaching to the workplace. Out of 52 parables, 45 are set in the marketplace: fields, sheepfolds, vineyards, kitchens, palaces, courts, fisheries, and more.
Jesus wanted people to understand how his teaching related to their ordinary, everyday experiences in their work. He couldn’t have done that if he hadn’t educated himself in that context. All those “silent years” were not wasted and empty. They were a time of preparation. And what did he do to prepare? Study the Word, of course—but he also made a lot of tables and wagons.
Shaping Workplace Perceptions
That’s why, when I talk to pastors about connecting the gospel to working life, I mention the value of visiting workplaces. Pastors are constantly visiting people in homes, hospitals, prisons—almost anywhere except the places where we actually spend most of our waking hours. To be sure, those other kinds of visits are important. But on a typical day I spend six waking hours at home and nine in my workplace—and I’m one of the relatively fortunate people in that regard.
Rest assured, your perceptions of the workplace have been shaped by depictions of it in popular culture. To what extent are those depictions accurate, and to what extent are they distorting your understanding of your congregants’ daily lives? And the world of the workplace is constantly changing, especially these days. Are your perceptions of the workplace outdated?
Expectations of Workplace Visits
Obviously you won’t become an expert in the work your people do. That’s not the point. It’s not your job to tell everyone in detail how to do all their different jobs. The point is to become conversant enough with the workplace context to apply your teaching and pastoral care to it.
Maybe you don’t know where to start. After all, you can’t visit every workplace in your congregation. Don’t let that fact paralyze you. As the saying goes, you can’t steer the car while it’s parked. Why not start with one or two of your elders, and then branch out? Over time you can be intentional about visiting workers in diverse kinds of jobs, economic sectors, levels of authority, and so on.
Maybe you don’t know what to ask or say during such a visit. That point is itself a perfect place to start. “There’s so much I don’t know about your world,” you might begin. “I don’t know where to start. What would you most want me to know?” Then you can ask them to tell you about their experiences of achievement, discouragement, ethical uncertainty, and so on. Most churchgoers are eager to share their “real world” with their pastors and won’t need much prompting.
And of course your schedule’s packed. Being a pastor is a full-time job! But a lunch hour visit is more than enough to be fruitful. You probably get a bunch of spiritual fruit out of home and hospital visits that don't even last that long.
Ephesians 4:12 says God gave us pastors “to equip the saints for the work of ministry.” The Greek word for “ministry” does not refer only to the work done by pastors and other religious professionals. It simply means “service.” It applies to all the work we all do in all our various callings as we serve God by serving our neighbors.
When congregants visit you in your arena of service each week, are you equipping them for the work of ministry in their arenas of service? Why not return the favor and find out?