Beliefnet
Mark D. Roberts

In the series: God at Work: A Review of the Book by David Miller
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Yesterday I began a review of God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement, by David W. Miller. I explained that Miller’s book is an historical analysis of the Faith at Work (FAW) movement, which began with the social gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The second wave of FAW started after World War II and lasted into the 1980s. It majored in the ministry of the laity in the world, but ultimately petered out for a variety of reasons, including the redirecting of lay efforts from the world to the church. Today I’ll continue where I left off yesterday.
Miller identifies the third wave of FAW as “The Faith at Work Era (c. 1985-Present)” (pp. 63-78). This wave had, and continues to have, a particular focus on personal integration. As Miller comments,

People in the workplace of all levels and types no longer seem willing to leave their soul with the car in the parking lot. . . . Christian businesspeople and other professionals find common agreement that living a bifurcated life, where faith and work are compartmentalized, is neither true to the Gospel nor a healthy way to work. (p. 74)

At this point in the book Miller sets forth a way to understand FAW efforts in terms of four different emphases: ethics, evangelism, experience, and enrichment (pp. 76-78). Ministries with an ethical emphasis deal primarily with questions of right and wrong, including issues of justice, in the workplace. Evangelical ministries see the workplace primarily as a context for evangelism. Experiential efforts focus on meaning and purpose, with work as a context for experiencing God finding deeper purpose in life. Enrichment has to do with “spiritual disciplines, therapeutic healing, and transformation. For instance, many express renewed interest in spiritual nurturing and growth” (p. 77). I find Miller’s “Four E’s” helpful, though the distinction between Experience and Enrichment is sometimes elusive.
Chapter 5 of God at Work is, for me, the most discouraging chapter of the book. It is entitled “Response of the Church and the Theological Academy to FAW” (pp. 79-103). Miller shows how the church and the seminaries have, for the most part, ignored FAW. For example, for a while certain denominations and individual churches took on FAW concerns, but budget cuts and institutional pressures led to greater focus on internal matters and less attention to equipping lay ministers for their work in the world. Individual churches followed suit. One of the saddest quotations in God at Work comes from Bill Diehl, a one-time executive with Bethlehem Steel and one of the leaders of wave three in FAW. Diehl writes:

In the almost 30 years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there by any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry others. My church has never offered to improve those skills which could make me a better minister, nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support in what I was doing. There has never been an inquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate the faith to my co-workers. I have never been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career [as a sales manager]. In short, I must conclude that my church really doesn’t have the least interest in whether or how I ministry in my daily work. (p. 82)

As you might expect, Diehl’s indictment of his church led me to consider our efforts at Irvine Presbyterian Church during the sixteen years when I was the Senior Pastor there. I think we did some thing right. My preaching regularly mentioned the workplace as a context for living out faith. Sometimes I addressed issues that were of particular relevance to working people (such as my sermon series on truth that was the basis for my book, Dare to Be True). In worship we regularly prayed for people in certain vocations. As a pastor I often met with people to talk and pray about challenges at work. And I know that workplace issues were often the focus of small group discussion and prayer. During my weekly prayer meetings with my elders, for example, we prayed for work-related concerns almost every week. This alone would add up to more than a thousand work-focused prayers during my pastoral tenure. (Photo: Bill Diehl’s book, The Monday Connection.)
But, as I read Diehl’s statement, I am also convicted about some of what I did not do as pastor, and ways I did not lead my church into a wholistic, biblical understand and practice of lay ministry in the workplace. For example, as I mentioned above, we prayed regularly for people in certain vocations: government officials, soldiers, teachers and administrators, police officers, fire fighters, and medical doctors. But, to my knowledge, we never prayed specifically for bankers, lawyers, gardeners, accountants, contractors, etc. etc. etc. This oversight might have suggested that we saw certain kinds of work as ministry, primarily service-related jobs, whereas other kinds were not real ministry. I never believed this or preached it. But I might have inadvertently implied it by what I did not say in prayer.
As I think back on my pastoral ministry at Irvine Pres, I wish I had found more ways to use people’s stories of living out their faith in the workplace. We had some lay witnesses on this theme, but too few. And I sprinkled such stories in my sermons, but not as often as I should have. Though I was not a pastor who devalued lay ministry in the world, and though I tried to encourage it, in retrospect I could have done this more effectively. But I did feel the strong pressure to focus on areas of institutional concern.
I do think that sometimes the FAW movement narrows the understanding of work too much. In the introduction to God at Work, Miller writes, “for the purposes of this inquiry, the term work means that activity that is undertaken in a paid job, occupation, position, function, or profession and the place in which one performs that work” (p. 6). I understand and affirm this definition “for the purposes of” Miller’s inquiry. He had to limit his attention somehow. But if one think of work from a biblical perspective, then it includes more than that for which I draw a salary. Work is anything I should stop doing on the Sabbath. My work is everything I do in the world that is in some way productive. It includes my mowing the lawn, driving my kids all over town, listening to my wife, heating up leftover in the microwave, and coaching the neighborhood soccer team.
When you think of work in these terms, the church often does a better job addressing it than Miller’s critique would suggest. But I agree with his criticism of the church in its failure, by and large, to address workplace issues and to equip people for ministry in the workplace. My guess is that preachers speak about family issues, for example, more than twenty times as often as they speak about matters of business ethics.
Though Miller criticizes the church (and the theological academy) for failing to seize the gauntlet of FAW, his book ends with a challenging yet hopeful look at “The Future of the Faith at Work Movement.” I’ll address this future in my next post.

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