In the series: God at Work: A Review of the Book by David Miller
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So far I have put up the following recommendations for lay people who want to help their churches be more supportive of their effort to live out their faith at work:
Recommendation #1: Invest in Christian fellowship and help your fellowship to deal with issues of faith at work.
Recommendation #2: Talk it up.
Recommendation #3: Gather people with common concerns and vision.
Recommendation #4: Help members of your church become familiar with faith at work resources.
Today I’ll add one more.
Recommendation #5: Ask your pastor for help.
David Miller, in God at Work, explains that most pastors aren’t especially helpful when it comes to faith at work efforts. There are many reasons for this, including: ignorance, insecurity, theological misgivings about business, lack of personal experience, etc. Of course there are also some pastors who are so invested in building their own church that they aren’t eager to have their people ministering outside of church.
I believe, however, that the vast majority of pastors truly want to help their people grow in their Christian discipleship as they live in the world, including the world of work. I expect that 90% of pastors would respond favorably to a request from a church member for help in this area. Of course the kinds of pastoral responses would vary widely. But something positive would come from a conversation in which a person says, “Pastor, I really need your help with this.”
Please notice carefully what I am saying . . . and not saying. If you’re a lay person in a church with a pastor who hasn’t done much with faith at work issues, I am NOT encouraging you to complain and criticize. Unfortunately, that’s the approach some folks take with their pastors, and it’s not helpful. Ask me for help with something and I’m glad to oblige. Come at me with criticism and I’m apt to hide behind my defenses. Pastors are human, after all. In fact, in my experience, pastors are often more sensitive than the average person, and are therefore quite vulnerable to criticism. So, if you approach your pastor, why not try something like this (in a nutshell):
Pastor, I’ve recently been learning a lot about my calling to serve Christ in my workplace. This is new for me, and I’m excited about it. But there is so much I don’t know. I need both support and guidance. I’m wondering if you could help. Now I know you have a lot on your plate already. I’m not necessarily asking you to do more things. But I thought I’d come to you for some ideas and direction. Also, I want you to know what I’ve discovered and how exciting it is for me.
As someone who served as a pastor for over 23 years, I can tell you that I’d have loved to get this sort of request when I was in parish ministry.
Now, let me add that a wise pastor will not just offer help, but also will ask you to get involved in the solution. If you had come to me with this sort of request, I can imagine that I’d ask you to help organize a class or a workshop. Maybe I’d invite you to do a lay witness in church or to write an article for the church newsletter. This wouldn’t be a result simply of my busyness and not wanting to take on more things. It would flow from my commitment to lay ministry, both in church and in the world. (Photo: The chancel of St. Mark Presbyterian Church in Boerne, Texas, where I worship each week when I’m in town. I now have a pastor named John Watson. Technically, I’m still an ordained Presbyterian pastor. But in ordinary life I’m rather like any other lay person in the church.)
When you talk with your pastor, you might even offer to do something proactive like organizing a class or whatever. When a member of my church came to me, not only with ideas, but with an offer to help, I was more than happy to team up with this person. Sometimes I’d send him or her to another church leader. But I often got involved myself, at least for a while.
If your pastor wants to help but isn’t sure what to do, you might suggest some of the resources I mentioned in my last post. Send your pastor to the website of R. Paul Stevens or to The High Calling of Our Daily Work.org. (In fact, to share a little secret, the leaders of The High Calling and I are working on a pastor’s page, that would have lots of resources for pastors. This is still on the drawing board, but I expect we’ll do it down the road a piece.)
As I look back on my ministry at Irvine Presbyterian, I feel good about much of what I did in support of lay ministry in the workplace. I could have done a short preaching series on faith at work, though I think it was effective to integrate faith at work illustrations into my ordinary preaching. I do wish we had done more in worship to highlight and celebrate workplace ministry. In a comment on one of my recent blog posts, Kyler says this:
In J.P. Moreland’s “Love Your God with All Your Mind”, he tells of a congregation that, week after week, had people of various professions come forward to be, not quite ordained, but “commissioned” for service–the businesspeople, the scientists, the artists, and so on. The service envisioned in Moreland’s particular example was primarily to be performed within the church (the scientists might be the congregation’s “go-to” people for insight on the creation/evolution/intelligent design debate, for example), but it is at least a start. There’s nothing preventing any congregation taking this model of commissioning “regular” members and applying it to service to the Kingdom of God performed outside of the church.
In retrospect, I wish we had done this sort of commissioning in worship. Perhaps some of my blog-reading pastors will do it and let me know how it goes.