Churches, Affirm the Importance of Work and Mission

Tim Brister —  March 27, 2008 — 6 Comments

Tomorrow, I am going to conclude this series on missional work with a working paradigm for missional work, but before I do, I wanted to share an excerpt from the pen of John Stott on the need for churches to affirm the importance of work among God’s people and offer a few thoughts in response. John Stott writes:

“Many people say that they have never heard a sermon on work, even though they may have been a member of their church for many years. Yet the congregations of our churches are composed of people who are workers, either in paid employment or in some other context. Many of their deepest challenges emotionally, ethically, and spiritually will be faced in the context of work. It is essential, then, that churches show that work is important by bringing it into the teaching of the church and by praying for those in the church as workers, and not simply as family members or for what they are doing in the church.

[. . .] Laypeople need to know that their daily work is important to God. Indeed, it is essential to furthering God’s purposes for the world. They are not in a waiting room designed for those who are not doing ‘Christian work’, nor are they in some second league because they do not preach every weekend. What they do they are called to do ‘as unto the Lord’, because it is service for him. Every church needs to know what its members do, whether paid or not, because they are the church and they need to be supported in all that God has called them to do and be.”

- John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), 230-31.

I think Stott makes an excellent point. How much emphasis are our churches placing on work? If you think about it, Christians will likely spend more time in their workplace throughout the week than any other area of life (40+ hours). Are our churches seeking to help Christians redeem that significant time each week by developing a Christian worldview and theology of work that is distinctively gospel-centered?

I ask this because, of all the efforts I have seen churches make regarding work (such as bulletin boards and employment opportunities), they has not been a connection made between work and mission. In other words, they help people find jobs to make a living without reference to a kingdom ethic or gospel emphasis. Don’t get me wrong: making a living is vitally important, and we need to be doing everything we can to help people find jobs and live productive lives. Yet, can we say that is all that churches should be doing when it comes to work?

Here’s the reality: there are thousands of electricians, bankers, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, engineers, servers, and on and on who need Jesus. And who are the best people to reach them? Preachers? “Vocational ministers”? No. The best people to reach them are electricians, bankers, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, engineers, and servers who work alongside them on a daily basis with 40 hours of exposure and intimate access to their lives on a weekly (or daily) basis. What are churches doing, then, to train laypeople in those missional contexts to work with a gospel-centered focus and drive? In other words, what are we doing to develop and bridge the theology of work with theology of mission?

Evangelism in years past has been compartmentalized to Sunday School or one night a week where churches go out on “outreach.” It is like we do evangelism as a slice of our week and lives while the overwhelming bulk of who we are and what we do, the gospel is off-limits. On the other hand, the church mobilized in the workplace will have relationships cultivated with unbelievers where the gospel can operate in the natural overflow of our lives, not something we must get psyched up to do for a couple of hours during the week. If you have 200 members who work full-time in their workplace, then each week there is 8000 hours worth of missional work available. Consider that! Are we, as churches, faithful stewards of such precious time and opportunity?

We talk a lot about frontier missions when it comes to the Great Commission. The frontier and front lines often are painted in terms of unreached people groups where there has been no engagement or Christian witness, and rightfully so. But in the North American context, I do not think it is too much to say that the front lines of evangelism is in the workplace. More time, more exposure to unbelievers, and more opportunities are given to us in this setting than anywhere else, and I believe that if we are going to take the Great Commission seriously in our context, we must mobilize our people to change their world with sweat on their brow and tears in their eyes, with callouses on their hands and brokenness in their hearts, with faithfulness to the work and faithfulness to the mission given to us by Him who said, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

May God help us affirm the importance of work and mission, and may the two become one.

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  • http://www.sojournmusic.com Bobby Gilles

    Great thoughts, and very convicting. Like you say, work is the place where most of us spend the majority of our waking hours, and yet, so often we divorce it from our “spiritual” time. It’s simply what we do and where we go to earn money — I forget to look at it as a mission field or a place where God’s glory can be displayed through the lives of those He as redeemed.

  • http://minormutterings.blogspot.com Jerry

    Timmy,

    Great post.

    In the Stott quote, is the following sentence missing a verb?

    Every church needs to know what its members, whether paid or not, because they are the church and they need to be supported in all that God has called them to do and be.โ€

    Should it be:

    Every church needs to know what its membersdo, whether paid or not, because they are the church and they need to be supported in all that God has called them to do and be.โ€

    BTW, I am up early due to the fact that I am going to be working today with ~750 folks who are going to use their vocational gifts and talents to perform “not-so-extreme-makeovers” for over 50 of the poorest families in this city. I won’t post a clickable link, since that often sends the message to your spam box, but you can check out http://www.notsoextreme.org/abq/ for more information. This has been totally a “God thing” as we have seen answered prayer and the hand of His providence.

  • http://minormutterings.blogspot.com Jerry

    You learn something new everyday. If you don’t put the URL in tags, then your blog software automatically configures it for clicking, and avoids the spam filter!

  • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

    Thanks Bobby. In the decade or so I have been in ministry, I have spent almost half working full-time on staff with a church and half working in a secular workplace. When I came to Louisville, I was convinced that I was not to serve on staff with a church but work in a place where there were as many unbelievers as possible. The advantages have been numerous, not the least of which is learning myself, overcoming challenges, facing discouragement, and growing in grace. I feel like I would have little to no credibility to challenge Christians to consider their work “gospel ministry” if it wasn’t the pursuit of my own life.

    Work in general may be hard or easy at times, but gospel ministry is a work that is never easy. This greater work is one that reminds us that life is war, and the workplace is a battleground where the enemy would love to keep us out of “active service” (2 Tim. 2:3).

  • http://timmybrister.wordpress.com/ Timmy Brister

    Jerry,

    Thanks for catching that man! I used to have an editor who would go over my posts, but he got him a girlfriend and no long has time for me or the blog (ahem, Brad Hughes). Then he tells me that he is going to run for US Congress again. We’ll see if I have time to campaign for him. I mean, blogging and US Congress–what’s more important? ;)

    Thanks for the hat tip and link for what you guys are doing. That sounds awesome. I will check it out.

  • Bryant King

    Timmy,

    I am really finding your views encouraging and helpful.

    Thank you,

    Bryant King