Our Sunday school class recently had a series on the workplace. In an opening lesson, as a man in a video spoke of how secular jobs were just as kingdom-significant as those labeled “Christian ministry,” I could feel my angst rising. Conscious of my frustration, I opted not to speak when we broke into smaller discussion groups.
That was a great plan until the woman beside me poked me and said, “Surely you have some thoughts on all this?” Everyone nodded.
With a pained smile, I cleared my throat. “I’m honestly thinking that nearly everyone in this room—from the doctors and lawyers to the lady who cleans houses for a living—knows their work matters to God. What I really want to know is, does my work matter to the church?”
Where Has God Called You to Serve?
The mandate to “finish well” with a not-so-subtle hint that we—the “older generation”—should do more to serve in the church has left many feeling a bit defensive. Some of us still work full-time—and not by choice or simply to maintain a higher lifestyle. We have a full and overflowing ministry at work, a place God has us serve.
As I’ve grown older and become my family’s primary breadwinner, I’ve found earning a living with limited energy has negatively affected my ability to serve in the church as I’d like. I’ve also endured a well-intended conversation with a friend who cautioned me “not to make my work an idol.” But after holding the hand of a brand-new widow, praying with her by her husband’s hospital bed, I have to believe my job as a nurse is my calling. I’m serving the church just as much when I wear a stethoscope around my neck as when I volunteer to serve in the nursery.
And I’m not alone. A number of fellow church members also work at my hospital. Is that a grand coincidence, or might it be God’s design? If one-third of your congregation worked at a nearby factory, would it be a leap to say God is at work, using your flock to accomplish his purposes in that place? Is there a way to incorporate that factory into the church’s vision? If so, it would seem like a win-win for everyone.
The Church Can Serve the Workplace
A few years ago, my physical-therapist friend learned one of her patients faced eviction due to his recent illness and subsequent job loss. When she called our deacons for advice, they paid her patient’s back rent and helped him negotiate a deferred payment while he recovered. Her patient was floored that our church would help someone who wasn’t a member. Several conversations about the gospel followed, not only with her patient but also her coworkers. Our church became one of her greatest allies in her ministry at work.
My husband’s job had him out the door at 6 a.m., and he didn’t return home until 8 p.m. I resented his long hours and the life it literally drained out of him. (He passed away at 54.) But at his funeral, scores of colleagues filled the sanctuary and overflow rooms to pay their respects. Their tears, testimonies, and letters told me Jim was shepherding his employees and pointing them to Christ amid daunting obstacles.
The Workplace Can Be Overlooked
He, like me, faced misunderstanding at church. I don’t recall anyone asking him, “How’s the job going? What could we do to strengthen your ministry there?” They didn’t understand his lack of enthusiasm for “additional opportunities to serve.” He was exhausted most days.
And he wasn’t an isolated case. “Workplace believers seldom feel served by their churches in their jobs and careers on issues of faith and biblical ethics,” observes Pete Hammond of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship.
I know there has to be balance. The church needs volunteers for its specific purposes or it cannot function. Still, I believe looking strategically at where your flock spends most of their time during the week could translate into greater opportunities to advance the gospel.
“I believe one of the next great moves of God,” Billy Graham once said, “is going to be through the believers in the workplace.” If that is the case, will the church be part of it? And if your church prayer meetings are empty, why not ask a few people to gather at work during lunch to fast and pray? If workplace Christians did this once a month, what might God do with those prayers? Might there be opportunities to ask Christians from other churches to join you? Have we been asking what we can do to promote unity among believers? What if word got out, and coworkers asked for you to pray for them? Would sharing the gospel be next?
Years ago, the insights of Christian novelist Dorothy Sayers predicted much of the sin and corruption we now see in the workplace:
In nothing has the church so lost her hold on reality as in her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as a result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world’s intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion. But is it astonishing? How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of life? The church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes on him is to make good tables.
What if the church came alongside the factory worker or teacher at a secular school and said, “What can we do to help you offer your company a better product or help your students achieve better grades? In other words, how can we—the local church—help you make Christ’s blessings known far as the curse is found?”