In this episode of TGC Q&A—our second in a six-week series on faith and work—Matt Rusten discusses four ways pastors can encourage congregants in their work life.
He discusses how pastors and congregants can connect over work (:47)
- In the corporate worship gathering (2:31)
- In pastoral practices (3:58)
- In discipleship and spiritual formation (5:01)
- In outreach or mission (6:12)
Explore more from TGC on the topic of Faith and Work.
How can pastors and congregants connect better over work?
There are several ways that pastors and congregants can connect better over the topic of their work. Maybe just a quick vision casting or why… I think about my dad, a faithful churchgoer for 30 years, 40 years, 50 years, more than that, and the high school superintendent.
He gave, he tithed regularly. He showed up to all the functions. He was a good member of his small church. But I wonder if… I don’t think ever in 30 or 40 years as a high school superintendent did he ever hear once from his pastor that, “Ken, your work matters. God has you on a mission. He’s called you to influence the folks on the staff, the students that you nurture. You represent Christ in that place. You carry his aroma when you go to school tomorrow.”
I don’t know what the words would be, but I think that’s really sad, that in a small church the shepherd over my dad never once addressed the topic of his work. I think the big vision behind this is what does it look like to shepherd our people well? We’re all trying to be faithful.
But it’s this acknowledgment that where most people spend most of their time trying to follow Jesus, trying to obey everything that he said, is in the context of their work, probably doing things that seem very mundane. Many people really don’t have an idea about how Jesus pertains to that.
It’s not complicated, but I think there are some really easy ways for churches and pastors to speak into the lives of the people in their congregations.
We talk about… I’m with Made to Flourish, executive director at Made to Flourish, an organization, and we talk about four areas of church life that are really quick handles to think about.
Number one is the corporate worship gathering, that gathered community. Usually, that’s on a Sunday morning. What are the prayers that you offer for different kinds of work? Do you only commission missionaries? Do you only commission pastors going off to seminary?
What does it look like to commission teachers? What does it look like to commission marketers, nurses, et cetera, so just the prayers that are offered? A benediction is a really easy way to send your congregation, “Go in the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Wherever you are tomorrow, Monday morning, God is with you and may you represent him in that place.” Something that connects in just a really simple, tangible way in the corporate worship gathering.
We also encourage through sermons. There’s new research that was done that many congregants don’t hear issues related to their work even though pastors think they’re talking about it on a regular basis, so there’s this disconnect.
What does it look like to take a text of scripture, whether you’re talking about the gospel or mercy or grace or repentance, that one of the lenses that you’re thinking about is how is that stay-at-home parent going to relate this when they’re taking care of kids?
How is this nurse going to think about that? How is this salesman at the car place that’s working with quotas and things to get by the end of the month, how will they think about this issue? Of course that’s a skill that all preachers… We’re all trying to figure out how to do that well. So think about the corporate worship gathering. So that’s one.
Number two, pastoral practices. What about everything outside of the corporate worship gathering? We really encourage our pastors to take on a posture of curiosity in learning. One of the most tangible practices that you can weave into your schedule is workplace visits.
Some of you do this… Many of you do this naturally. Of course we do hospital visitation, but maybe it’s one person a month. Maybe it’s one person a quarter. Maybe it’s one person a week. You try to get out of your office into their church. Of course with the rise of cities and the growth of churches this is more complex, right? Because we can spend a lot of time in our office.
Kind of a history of the church, a lot of times people were in smaller communities. They were among their people during the week. They had a firm understanding of what their people did. But sometimes we find ourselves isolated actually to what it is that people face on a regular basis.
I encourage pastors to just go and meet people on their turf. Ask questions. What are your challenges? What are your joys? Where is it difficult to represent Christ? How do you see God moving in this place? How can I encourage you? How can I pray for you? Those type of things. So that’s the second category, pastoral practices.
The third is discipleship and spiritual formation. Different churches use different language around that. It could be certain classes you teach, or small groups, or studies or things like that, but more likely how does the language of people’s work context fit into what you’re already doing?
So just a really simple thing to do, most churches have some sort of small group ministry. I encourage small groups at some point in their calendar year that they’re meeting to take maybe a three month period and for each person in the group just one by one each week to give like the five-minute story of their work and just talk about it, and for group members to pray for them, that they would represent Christ in those places, that God would empower them, et cetera, et cetera, that God would support them with this awful thing that they’re going through.
I’ve done that in a number of small groups that I’ve been a part of and the stories that I always hear, “Gosh, I’ve never thought about that, and I’ve never once had someone pray for me. I’m a salesperson. I didn’t know that had anything to do with the kingdom of God.” Those are the types of comments. So that’s one really simple step that you could do as you think about spiritual formation and discipleship. I know we all do that differently in our churches, but if you have a small group ministry that’s a good way to do it.
Then finally in discipleship… Or, excuse me, in outreach or mission. As you look out into the community, it could be globally, but also what are your local strategies and how does work factor into that?
I know for a lot of churches the practice is evangelism. They maybe do different outreaches. Oftentimes there are income assistance programs. They might do soup kitchen in the summer, or they might do backpacks for kids in the fall, or turkeys at Thanksgiving, or toys at Christmas. Those can be good for building goodwill, but there are income assistance programs.
What does it look like to empower people in your congregation to use their skills to help people find work, or to partner with a local ministry perhaps, maybe it’s not even a church, but a local organization that’s helping people find work?
Also, we’ve got 60,000 baby boomers who are retiring every single day, and they’re likely in our churches. What does it look like for them to remain engaged, not only serving on the parking team, but a lot of times they bring a lot of business skills, a lot of just job skills. How can they use those skills in God’s work in the kingdom of God and what he’s doing in a community?
So those four areas are ways that we’re helping churches think about, and there could a hundred different examples. But we’d love to hear stories certainly, and let’s help one another, because really at the end of the day this is a Matthew 28 vision, right? We’re called to help people follow Jesus and obey everything he commanded, and as pastors, we’re trying to help them figure that out in where they spend the majority of their time, which is at work on the week, whether that’s paid or unpaid.