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.