On any given Sunday, the vast majority of people sitting in the pews will be spending the majority of their week working: whether in paid work, study, volunteering in the community, and/or caring roles.
On a Sunday, how can churches better equip people for the variety of workplaces they will be in on Monday?
In my second book, Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work, I suggest there are seven things that churches can do:
1. Ensure your sermons have application for people’s work. Sometimes it is a long time since the preacher did ordinary work, but there are some simple things to do, such as becoming more familiar with the workplace by visiting them, or by reading business websites. Another simple idea is to workshop your sermon with a mixed group from the congregation to examine what the Bible passage or topic means within their context.
2. Ensure your planning of the service acknowledges the contexts people will find themselves in on Monday. This can be done through careful choice of songs and hymns, prayers, benediction. The sending out can be particularly powerful. One time I was at a church where at the end of the service, the pastor invited everyone to face the nearest exit from the church. On the service sheet we read together a benediction, encouraging us to be Jesus’ eyes, hands and feet wherever he placed us that week, and seeking to glorify him in everything we thought and did. It helped us refocus from inside the church, to working with God outside of church, in whatever context he has placed us.
3. Interviews with workers. There is nothing more powerful in terms of affirmation and shaping behaviour for a church than to interview people during a service about the different work they do during the week, and how they seek to honour God through that work. I was preaching at a church where they invited up a woman who kept saying she didn’t deserve to be up front. She described a beautiful ministry of caring, including looking after her grandchildren, and cooking meals for those in need, and being available for those struggling in the wider community. As a congregation member, I was encouraged and motivated by her example.
4. Visiting the workplace. While interviews encourage the whole church, visiting the workplace has a powerful impact on individuals. Visiting has a number of benefits: it validates the work of the individual, it increases the confidence of pastors in addressing faith–work issues, it provides opportunity to gather sermon illustrations, it is good preparation for interviews, and it helps pastors to work out training needs for congregation members.
5. Providing training for workplace Christians. Recently a friend of mine was invited by his workplace to explain at a staff meeting the meaning of Easter. It was part of a move by that organisation to celebrate the major holidays of all religions. My friend realised that he needed help to develop a Gospel explanation that was contextualised for his workplace. Useful topics to provide training in include: a biblical foundation for work, spiritual disciplines for workplace formation, work and cultural renewal, gospel in a work context and tackling ethical issues.
6. Mentoring workers. I know that my journey in integrating my faith into all my working has been a lifetime project. I also know that many young workers are keen to learn from my experience. I currently mentor more than 24 young women. Churches are places where mentoring could take place more effectively: there is a range of occupations and a range of generations. When Jesus commanded us to make disciples, he was encouraging us to share our lives with others to shape faith expression in every area. We just need to provide some training and invite people to take part in the program.
7. Chaplaincy for the workplace. I am increasingly hearing of church staff taking on chaplaincy roles in a variety of workplaces: schools, emergency services, prisons and sports groups. This is a significant way of serving the community and bring compassionate truth and a ministry of presence to difficult places. There is also the possibility of helping congregation members to see themselves as informal chaplains in the workplace: looking for opportunities to care, encourage, counsel, walk alongside and advocating against injustice in the workplace.
There is so much churches can do to teach, prepare and empower their congregations to be better ambassadors for Christ in the various places where God has placed the church scattered.
Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to use your work to worship God, and Workship 2: How to flourish at work. She is also Project Leader with Seed, and lecturer with Mary Andrews College. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, as well as helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations.