Taken from Supporting Christians At Work, LICC Mark Greene 2001
“We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations.” Towards the Conversion of England, 1945
I am convinced by this.
The workplace is where many of our people are.
It’s where people who don’t know Jesus are.
It’s where Christians can work to transform society.
It’s obviously not the only place where Christians can make a difference today. Christians can make a difference in schools, in retirement clubs, in shopping centres, in football clubs, in neighbourhoods… Christians can make a difference wherever God has placed them. The point is not to elevate the workplace above all other contexts, but simply to apply the same logic to the workplace as to other places – God has placed His people there. And He wants to use them there. And they need our help there.
Work is not a side issue for a special interest group; it’s an issue for the whole church. After all, the vast majority of Christians work – some paid, some not – at home, in the ‘secular’ workplace, at school or university. The church should be concerned about the workplace because our people are there. And those in our church who don’t do traditional forms of work should be concerned about it because many of their brothers and sisters in Christ do. And need their support. Just as the ‘workers’ need to support the retired, the married support the single, and the single support the married.
This guide is intended to help you help your people make the most of their time at work – for themselves, for the sake of their co-workers, for the health and vitality of the local church, for the growth of God’s kingdom, to the glory of God.
Most pastors couldn’t possibly work any harder. But can we make our people more effective where they are most of the time? As the management guru, Richard Farson, put it, “… the real strength of a leader is the ability to elicit the strength of the group.” This guide is focused on resourcing you to help the workers. Inevitably, it repeats one or two concepts from ‘Thank God it’s Monday,’ my earlier book addressed to workers. Overall, however, it is intended to complement, not repeat, the print and video materials that have been produced.
The good news
You’ve got something the working people in your church want. They don’t think you’ve got it. But they will recognise it when you give it to them. They want support in their increasingly work stressed lives. They want to find meaning and purpose in their work. And they’d like to feel that God is using them day by day.
Most ministers and leaders can deliver this.
We’ve been trained in Bible study – we can find out what the Bible says about issues. We’ve been trained in communication – we can get the message across. But we probably haven’t been trained, unless we’re relatively new ministers, to see the importance of work to our people spiritually, or to recognise the importance of the workplace in mission, or to know how to help our people minister at work.
“How can I be more like the image of Jesus at work? That’s my daily prayer. That I could become more like a mirror image and less like a bit of murky aluminium.” Ashley Potter
The bad news – off the agenda
What the workers are saying now:
“I spend an hour a week teaching Sunday school and they haul me up to the front of the church to pray for me. The rest of the week I’m a full-time teacher and the church has never prayed for me. That says it all.”
Sometimes it’s not what we do that’s the issue; it’s what we don’t do.
Indeed, national research across the denominations makes disturbing reading. The workers say that church communities do not support them to any significant degree at all in their work. Not in the preaching, not in the teaching, not in the worship, not in the pastoral care.
Indeed, they go further. 47% say that the teaching and preaching they receive is irrelevant to their daily lives. And it is least relevant where people spend most of their time – work and home. When asked how helpful preaching and teaching was to various areas of their lives, respondents said that it was quite helpful in ‘personal spiritual issues’ but less helpful for issues related to church life, less helpful still for issues related to home life, and not very helpful at all for issues relating to work life:
Helpfulness rating by life area (0 to 4 scale)
In fact, 50% of the Christians I have polled have never ever heard a sermon on work. Never. Not one. 75% have never been taught a biblical view of work or vocation. These are startling statistics. Contemporary Christians are simply not being equipped for life where they spend two-thirds of their waking time.
If we really believe that the word of God equips the person of God for every good work, then why is it so many Christians believe that their job is not as holy as their minister’s, that the quality of their work is of secondary interest to God, that the workplace is no context for ministry or evangelism, and that working in the home is a third rate choice?
There is a danger that we will view church members exclusively in terms of how they can contribute to the church in the neighbourhood, rather than how they might also contribute to the growth of the kingdom of Christ, wherever He has placed them. Do we run the risk of letting our desire to build a strong local church distract us from asking how God might want to use our people outside our local context? And might not a local church in fact grow stronger if our people were being used outside our locality?
The problem is clear, but its depth might be surprising. After all, none of us believe that our teaching is irrelevant. As Steve Chalke said: “Irrelevance is unconscious; it creeps up on us unawares.” Furthermore, most ministers today have worked in the marketplace, so surely we’re alert to its challenges and opportunities? Theoretically, that’s the case, but most ministers who’ve done other jobs didn’t necessarily see those jobs as a context for ministry. And nor did the churches they were in. Supporting workers was not part of the ministry model anyone inherited. In addition, as we shall see, the conditions of contemporary work have been changing so quickly that people who left the marketplace three or four years ago to go into ministerial training might well be out of touch with today’s increasingly demanding environment.
Britain’s workplaces are filled with all kinds of people, with all kinds of problems – illness, fear of redundancy, adultery, grief, confusion, purposelessness, promiscuity, ethical conundrums, criminal negligence, racism, dirty tricks and so on. Oh, that we would encourage our people to see their colleagues the way we see our people – with compassion, understanding, and a heartfelt desire to see them free and fulfilled in Christ. And what a difference that would make to so many people – to be released into confident ministry where they are.
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for people, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
Why the workplace matters to the local church
“If we could really get hold of this workplace material, it would radically transform our church.”
Revd Gary Rowlandson explains: “You see at the moment people come to me on a Sunday and they’re saying, ‘Feed me up, fill me up, bandage me up – get me ready for another week out there.’ And in a way it’s a constant drain. But if they really saw their work and workplace as a context for ministry then they’d be coming back to the church feeding us and filling us with all the stories of what God has been doing out there… The whole church would be being refuelled, not drained.”
Gary’s point is reminiscent of what Jesus says to the disciples after he has ministered to the woman at the well. Jesus is tired, hungry and thirsty and he sends the disciples off to buy food. The Samaritan woman arrives, going about her daily work, and Jesus has a chance to minister. Her life is transformed. When the disciples return they find him looking refreshed. He hasn’t eaten anything and, as far as we know, he hasn’t drunk anything, but the chance to minister re-energises him: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (John 4:34).
That’s what can happen when your people begin to come back to church telling the stories of what God has been doing – they’re excited, re-energised, and the faith level of the whole church rises. It’s an important perspective.Where is the church really the church? Where is the work of the church being done? How are the people of God to be encouraged? The reality is that if the church’s work is the work done by the people of God, then it can be done anywhere where the people of God are. And when the people of God have the opportunity to tell others about what God has been doing, it is encouraging to both teller and told.
The great mission field
There are lots of methods of evangelism taking place in today’s church – door to door, singing outside Tesco, sketchboarding, inviting friends to Seeker services, developing relationships with our neighbours, Alpha and so on. All good things.However, these primarily neighbourhood-oriented strategies are not as effective as they would be if they were working in concert with effective work, school, college-based ministry.
In reality, the one place where many people are not actively encouraged and equipped to make a difference is the place where they spend fifty, sixty, seventy percent of their waking hours. The one place where Christian and non-Christian have to meet. The one place where the playing field is even,where Christian and non-Christian are subject to the same corporate culture, the same pressures,may have the same boss… the one place where the non-Christian can actually see the difference that Christ can make to a life – not for a couple of hours over dinner but for twenty, thirty, forty, fifty hours a week over a couple of years. The workplace.
The national Church has done its research. It has concluded that the number of people who even know the basics about the claims of Jesus is growing fewer and fewer – so few in fact that last Easter The Sun ran three double page spreads to explain the festival to its readership. The Church has concluded that we need to build bridges to the unchurched, to go to the fringe and beyond, that we must learn to speak their language. But the response has been to send us out on the highways and byways, to neighbours who are often only marginally interested, to knock on doors, to talk to people who, on the whole, we don’t know very well. Church-based evangelism is often a cold contact farm.
Meanwhile, back in the workplace, the average Christian has already built bridges to ‘the fringe and beyond’, has already developed relationships, and already speaks their co-workers’ language. Warm contacts. And, on average, over a hundred of them. Certainly, church attendance has fallen over the last decade. We’re down to 7.5% on a Sunday. Still, that is one in thirteen of the adult population. It’s surely still enough people to change Britain. But are we encouraging people to go out and fish in pools and puddles when they are sitting on a lake full of fish? Often, the people who know Christians well don’t live next door; they work at the next desk. But how many churches are equipping their people to minister in the workplace? A growing number, but still just a few.
Why a focus on workplace might affect male attendance
A greater recognition of the importance of work may well have a radical impact on the attractiveness of the Church to men. Many pastors have an opportunity to relate to some of the women in their area. Even today, fewer women work outside the home than men, and they tend to work fewer hours. So the church may often fulfil a vital social role by providing mothers with young children an oasis in the form of ‘mums and toddlers’ groups. But today,with men often working at a significant geographic distance from the church, there’s little opportunity to connect to them, to build relationships with them. That’s how a focus on work can help. Men need to know that the Gospel is relevant to their working lives, and that God cares about their work. That’s why visiting men at work can make such a powerful difference to the relationship between pastor and men.
Why a focus on workplace might affect female attendance
The battle between caring earth mother/home-maker and career woman remains unresolved. Interestingly, contemporary feminists now find themselves lining up against each other on either side of the debate. Whichever path is chosen, for whatever reasons, women who work – home or away – need the support of the church as they seek God’s will for them and their families. Such support is vital in a culture where guilt or lack of self-esteem seem to be the common by-products of whichever path is chosen.
Why workplace ministry is vital to youthwork
There’s a chorus we used to sing in my church “Be bold, be strong, for the Lord your God is with you. I am not afraid… no, no, no…”We always sang it in the first twenty minutes when the young people were still in the church. Probably because if we waited until they’d left, the adults wouldn’t be able to do the actions or shout “no, no, no” nearly so enthusiastically. I loved the song, but I became increasingly uncomfortable about singing it, because I increasingly felt like a hypocrite. There we were exhorting our kids to be ‘bold’ for Jesus when, in their social context, just to mention that you go to church was about as fashionable as standing on a train platform wearing a blue anorak, writing down numbers and whistling Barry Manilow tunes. There I was exhorting them to make this stand for Christ. But was I making such a stand? Had I taken a risk with a neighbour? Were others taking risks with their co workers?
Our young people need to see how adults who care for them make a stand for Jesus in the 9 to 5. And they, like we, need to be trained to see that their studies, not just their leisure time, matter to God. Just as adults need a biblical perspective on the work they do, so our young people need a biblical perspective on the work they do. They need a biblical view of maths and biology and literature and geography and history. Otherwise they will grow up with a mind that divides their 9 to 5 from their 5 to 9. Christianity will become a leisure-time pursuit. Their Christian thinking will be limited to considering personal behaviour and their leisure activities. So we will discuss Harry Potter with them but not, for example, the often anti-Christian English texts they pore over for their GCSEs. They deserve more than that. If adults don’t regard their work as part of God’s jurisdiction, it’s unlikely their children will either.