At some point, maybe even during a break in the rhythm of corporate worship, most everyone in your congregation has probably asked themselves the question, How does the work I do during the other six days of my life matter to my faith? That question is an important one for Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith and Work, located just a stone’s throw from Times Square in Midtown Manhattan.
Scott Calgaro, the center’s director, oversees the ministry in a hub of world commerce where workism, stress and competition run rampant. “People are always aware of the fact that there are a dozen to 100 people waiting in line to take their spot,” Calgaro says. This environment can be dehumanizing, so the center strives to make work human again.
Their main vehicle is the Gotham Fellowship, a nine-month cohort program designed to help equip and mobilize people in various sectors to understand the gospel implications of their work. The fellowship meets each week for two hours to go through spiritual formation practices and reading, with applied projects sprinkled throughout the year. Many of the participants are working up to 80 hours a week with similar types of people, so the fellowship is their only opportunity to interact with other Christians in their line of work and learn from people in other vocations.
“Part of the beauty is seeing over the years how processing the learning and praying for one another and getting to know someone outside their own experience helps humanize the other and yourself,” Calgaro says.
The capstone is a cultural renewal project that gives participants a chance to look at their industry or workplace and see an area of brokenness they can address in their community, which they can then take to their employer or use to start a new event.
WORK FOR WORK’S SAKE
We live in a culture that sees work from a pragmatic point of view: We work to live, and hopefully live with an ever-increasing level of material wealth, prestige and comfort. For many, work is even their identity. But for Christians, work has a much deeper purpose. Dorothy Sayers, in her aptly titled essay Why Work? writes, “Work is not, primarily, a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do.” She continues, “It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God.”
“Work is more than just money to do the vision; work itself is part of the mission.”
Seen through this lens, work of every sort—from finance to public education—is designed to mirror God’s creativity by living out various facets of his character. It is meant to be an act of worship—a creature living out their purpose to the glory of God.
“Christians are called to create,” Calgaro says. “God is an innovator, the Creator, and gives us gifts and resources and discernment for how to use them.”
One way Redeemer approaches this is by providing opportunities for people to actually create new things: opening common spaces for the arts, commissioning artworks, facilitating meetings for dance groups and actors to work together. Sometimes the artists are believers, sometimes not, but the church is engaging everyone walking through the doors through the arts.
This past fall, Redeemer’s W83 Ministry Center, where their West Side campus meets, hosted a photo portrait gallery by local artist Rachel Martin titled “Noble Work.” The gallery highlighted people in working class jobs to acknowledge the ways they keep America running. It’s part of Redeemer’s efforts to represent the diversity of God’s people and help break down the sacred and secular, white-collar and blue-collar divides. It’s also a way to celebrate the dignity of all work, without feeling the need to directly connect it to the funding and programs of the church.
“In many ways, work has been seen for the past few decades from an instrumentalist perspective: People who work hard and are successful at work can contribute financially to the church. But you need the person in the work,” Calgaro says. “Work is more than just money to do the vision; work itself is part of the mission.”
WORK AS MISSION
What is the church sent into the world to do? This question is frequently on the mind of Jeff Haanen, founder, CEO and executive director of the Denver
Institute for Faith and Work. The Denver Institute runs a similar program to Redeemer’s, with the exception that it is targeted to early career professionals and emerging leaders. The 5280 Fellowship—a clever wink to its location in the Mile High City—is focused on spiritual formation, professional development and civic engagement. The program is geared to people who are asking bigger questions of what it means to be a Christian in society today.
Drawing upon an idea from John Stott’s book Christian Mission in the Modern World, Haanen believes Christian vocation is the major way we serve others. “If we are actually interested in everybody being on mission, we have to think about the context of their daily lives. Families, communities and workplaces are the context of people’s daily lives. So work is a context in which we want the fullness of the gospel to be lived out.”
“If we are actually interested in everybody being on mission, we have to think about the context of their daily lives.”
One of the ways we live it out is simply by pursuing excellence in whatever vocation we’ve been called to by God. “In our increasingly divided days, living out your faith and being a good witness just by being a faithful person affords you the opportunity to speak into people’s lives,” Calgaro says.
He gives the example of a woman from Redeemer who works in the financial sector. Year after year, she would take her year-end bonus and donate it to an orphanage in Haiti. She frequently traveled there to visit. She never made a big deal out of it; she just did it as a faithful response to God’s gifts and grace. Over time, it opened up opportunities for co-workers to join her in her outreach efforts and ask questions about her faith. In this way her faithfulness has grown beyond her.
“Living out your faith and being a good witness just by being a faithful person affords you the opportunity to speak into people’s lives.”
“Work can be a demonstration of the gospel,” Haanen says. “In the complexity of the modern world, I think it’s a fun challenge to think about the ways that Christians can represent Jesus to an unbelieving world.”
EQUIPPING THE SAINTS
For some time, an unspoken divide has existed in the minds of everyday Christians between work that is considered sacred and work that is considered secular.
“God cares for people, but he also cares about their actual work,” Calgaro says. “The church has separated everyday, ordinary work as being less than.”
“Work can be a demonstration of the gospel.”
Often, there’s a disconnect as people struggle to see how the work they’re doing on Monday morning is just as important for the kingdom as their volunteering on Sunday morning. “God cares a lot about the small, faithful act,” Haanen says. “We need to prize the small, faithful act.”
How can that disconnect be addressed? Here are some ways that your church can equip your members to think creatively about how their particular callings can further the vision of the church.
1. Watch Your Language.
The language we use from the pulpit or stage can reinforce the stereotype that “ministry” is somehow more important than “secular work.” or that higher-paying jobs are more valuable than lesser-paying jobs.
“Christians believe that every Christian has a ministry. Not thinking about the unique ministries of all people is unhelpful,” Haanen says. “Being conscious of the language we use is important.”
This is one reason Haanen prefers the language of whole-life ministry to marketplace ministry, because marketplace ministry seems to place an unhealthy emphasis on white-collar jobs.
He also encourages churches to interview someone from their congregation on a Sunday morning and ask, “Where will you be on mission tomorrow at this time?” It gets people thinking, I’m just as much a church person tomorrow as I am today. What does the shape of the gospel look like in the context of my daily life?
2. Tell Stories.
Conversations about faith and work often start with a theology of work in Genesis, but stories from your congregation often can be more effective in fleshing out what it means to live our lives on mission.
“I’m all for the broader biblical narrative,” Haanen says, “but what tends to stick is a really beautiful story of someone moving into retirement and living the retirement lifestyle, then all of a sudden feeling called to become a hospice volunteer.”
He emphasizes that the person doesn’t have to be a superhero. In fact, it’s better if they are not, because then your average churchgoer doesn’t feel like they can measure up. Haanen says, “Just find people who are being faithful to the gospel, faithful to Christ in the context of their lives, and put some real flesh on that with stories.”
3. Pray Publically for Particular Vocations.
Praying on a monthly basis in your corporate worship gatherings for a certain sector can raise the visibility of and validate the everyday work that people in your congregation are doing.
Haanen gives the example of Park Church in Denver. During tax season they’ll pray for accountants, in August they’ll pray for public school teachers, in December they’ll pray for people who are working in retail or customer service, etc. “The prayers of God’s people are a regular part of their ministry, and they just bake it in because they think it’s important to what they’re doing.”
“There’s something about people feeling seen and known that causes them to respond,” Calgaro says. “Knowing that God cares about your work, and not just some things, is profound.”
4. Visit Workplaces.
Pastors who visit their congregants’ workplaces get powerful insights into where their people are on mission, their challenges and their unique strengths. It can help shape the kinds of songs sung, sermons preached and service opportunities offered at church. It also informs the entire way a church approaches its worship time.
“One of the requirements of our program is that each person visits a prayer partner’s workplace,” Calgaro says. “It’s one more way for people to have a new imagination and think about how God is present in our workplaces.”
These visits also can help a pastor better understand their congregation and contextualize their sermons for people’s daily struggles. “Pastors do not need to be experts at everything, but they need to be conversant as much as possible with their people’s lives,” Haanen says.
5. Do Asset Mapping.
Chances are, the talents and gifts needed to help your church thrive are already present in your congregation. So, it’s a good idea to periodically survey your members to get a sense of what those talents and gifts are. Watermark Church in Dallas regularly categorizes who is doing what during the week. When the church wanted to do an outreach clinic to a refugee community, they knew exactly where to find the people who had talents in healthcare.
“It’s an opportunity in a volunteer context for God’s people to use their skills to do a church project that actually becomes very missional and very closely tied to the life of the church,” Haanen says. “Its not just that the finance guy should sit on the church financial board, but he may also be the perfect person to do budgeting seminars in low-income communities.”
6. Build an Intervocational Community.
Praying for each other and serving together can be powerful ways to break down barriers. “We encourage service projects through our affiliates, serving side by side with somebody not like you,” Calgaro says. “It gets different kinds of people to do life together.”
Mentoring has been another powerful benefit of the Center for Faith and Work’s programing. “For someone coming into or out of college or grad school, it’s a tough world. They need cross-generational relationships even more,” Calgaro says. “Having someone who is 10 to 20 years ahead, and being able to hear about their experiences and join in their celebration and lament together in the complexities of work is important.”
EVERYONE. EVERYWHERE. ALL THE TIME.
Haanen encourages church leaders to ask themselves, How many people are we influencing in our city? “If you think about the relationships that people in your congregation have in their communities and workplaces, you start to double, triple, sometimes quadruple the amount of influence your church has when every member is a missionary.”
In light of this, churches should be aware that kingdom ministry is happening outside the typical channels of volunteer work and church events. They should provide space in their calendars and regular encouragement for churchgoers to take advantage of the outreach opportunities in their daily lives. “I’m fine with more church programs, but we have to be cognizant of removing people from missional opportunities,” Haanen says. “Where are we pulling people out, and when are we sending them back in?”
“I’m fine with more church programs, but we have to be cognizant of removing people from missional opportunities.”
When Christians begin to understand that the gospel encompasses all of life, from the checkout line to the office, their work becomes another expression of who they are in Christ.
“We want people to embrace the gospel in all areas of life,” Haanen says. “Then, when you get this missionary mentality, you talk to your neighbors about coming to church with you, you start to share this thing that is the logic for your work and your daily life in a real natural way that becomes evangelistic.”
In light of this, all work is meaningful.
For more on this discussion, visit outreachmagazine.com/faith-and-work.
• Christian Mission in the Modern World (IVP)—Written by John Stott and newly updated and expanded by Christopher J. H. Wright, this book provides a biblically based approach to mission that addresses both spiritual and physical needs.
• Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (Penguin)— Timothy Keller, with Katherine Leary Alsdorf, shows readers that biblical wisdom is immensely relevant to questions about work today.
• Imagine Church: Releasing Whole Life Disciples (IVP UK) —Written by Neil Hudson, director of church relationships at The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, this title shows how churches can equip disciples to live out their faith in the realities of daily life.
• Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (IVP)— Amy Sherman, director of the Sagamore Institute’s Center on Faith in Communities, explores how, through our faith-formed calling, we announce the kingdom of God to our everyday world.
• Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good (IVP)—This title by Steven Garber, professor of marketplace theology and leadership at Regent College in Vancouver, helps readers discover the virtue of vocation.
• Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work (Crossway)—Tom Nelson, senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Kansas City and president of Made to Flourish, outlines God’s purposes for work to help us make the most of our vocation while joining God in his work in the world.