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Church is Work, and Work is Church

May 10, 17
JMorgan
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Part 5 of 5

In this last post in our current series on decentralizing church, let’s discuss bringing church beyond just where we live, but also to where we work.  Expanding the footprint of your church means training up disciples and planting outposts in every street, neighborhood, condo building and apartment complex – as well as every job site – in your community.  Most Americans spend far more time at work than at home.  Many of us are with coworkers more than we are with family or friends.  The time we invest in church or volunteering pale by comparison.

In fact, church has been confined and redefined as a place we go on Sundays or an event to invite our non-believing friends.  Christians have largely abdicated their personal responsibility to take the Gospel OUT – instead most simply ask people to come IN to hear it from the “professionals”.

The starting point for decentralizing church is to revert to seeing “church” as people, not a place, and to reclaim our duty to practice prayer, care, share lifestyles wherever we live, play and work.

Who Do We Really Work For?

Christians are the “called-out ones” – the embodiment of “church”.  In a corporate sense, churchgoers are “insiders”, integral parts of the organization – much more like employees than customers (who are always “outside” the company).  Employees have responsibilities; customers have options.  All believers work FOR Jesus and His Church – because they are His Church.  They are not casual participants IN church or “customers” OF church (to attract and retain).

Jesus referred to Christians as workers several times in scriptures.  For example:

“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’” (Matthew 9:37-38)

“Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.  Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts – no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.” (Matthew 10:8-10)

Why did the Lord put you in your current position?  Maybe it’s not only to make money.  Maybe it’s not just to increase shareholder value.  Maybe it’s not for a sense of accomplishment and worth.  Maybe much of the work God has given you to do at your job is to reach out to coworkers who don’t know Jesus.  When Christians get a job offer and feel the Lord wants them to accept it, there’s a dual purpose – to work with excellence using the talents and gifts God has given them, and to seek out those at the company they’re supposed to lead toward Christ.  It’s God’s plan that if we do the first (work with excellence) — being “fruitful and multiplying”, performing every menial task “as if working for the Lord” – then we’ll have more opportunities for the second.

Christian Employees Have Two Jobs

Many Christians struggle with doing jobs they don’t see as ministry.  My last consulting project before leaving the business world was with a credit card company whose objective was to convince people to accumulate as much credit card debt as possible – not exactly a Christ-like, fulfilling career.  Yet there, like everywhere else I worked, I saw myself as the corporate chaplain for my company, client and coworkers.

There’s no need to separate the sacred and secular.  Should I live my personal life apart from my Christian walk?  No, both should live in perfect harmony.  Otherwise, I’d have a split personality.  I love my son so I talk about him.  I love golf so I talk about it.  I love Jesus more than all of them, so why wouldn’t I talk about Him?

When asked to give my testimony to groups of business leaders, I’m cautioned by event organizers to avoid influencing the audience to follow my lead and leave their jobs to go into charity work, instead helping them understand that their jobs are ministry.   In other words, wherever you’re employed you have two jobs:

  • the one you were hired for and the one you were (re)born for
  • the first pays in cash we quickly spend; the second in eternal currency we can never squander
  • as we already discussed, as church “insiders” we’re more like employees of church than its customers, so we’re on the job both for Jesus and for the company at our workplace
  • ironically, fellow employees who are not believers are “insiders” of the company but “outsiders” from church – so they become the primary “customers” that believers (“insiders” of church) should be pursuing

Or maybe we just have one job with a ministry addendum in every Christian’s job description.  In either sense, “called out ones” should assemble and live out the Great Commission at their place of employment – otherwise, they’re shirking those biblical responsibilities to BE the church where they spend most of their waking time.

Living out our calling at our workplaces turns work into church – and makes church our work.  The office becomes our mission field.  Still, too many Christians are careful to keep their faith to themselves at work, fearing that simply speaking their first boss’ name (Jesus) could put their second job at risk.

How to Become a Better “Employee”

If few Christians are doing well at being the personification of church at work, boldly living out prayer/care/share, then they’re underperforming in their occupation as Christ-followers.  Members are Jesus’ workers yet they aren’t worthy of promotions or pay raises when they refuse to call on “customers” – coworkers who have no relationship with our CEO.

Church leaders are the corporate trainers for Christian employees, preparing them to be effective evangelists in their workplaces.  Pastors should be evaluating how well its members are performing at that job – serving as lights in workplaces so often filled with the darkness of greed, backstabbing and apathy.  Yet today intensive discipleship has given way to small group meetings and churchgoers now evaluate the performance of pastors rather than the other way around.

Instead of viewing churchgoers, even mature believers, as those with a responsibility to obey the Great Commission, too many church leaders just hope they’ll show up next Sunday.  It never occurs to them that church members were essentially employees who could be “hired” or “fired”.   In Romans 16 (vs. 3, 9, 21) Paul refers to those he “hired” as trusted co-workers.  In Matthew 18 (vs. 15-17), Jesus gives instructions for “firing” church members who persist in sin.

Seeing members as “employees” charged with doing the work of the church at their respective workplaces would encourage leaders to recruit, challenge, disciple and evaluate.  Employees of a company must be trained effectively to sell and market to customers or the business goes under.  Is your church adequately equipping members to serve as effective ministers in their places of business?  If not, it’s encouraging a pastor/event/building-centric definition of “church” rather than a decentralized view where believers understand it’s their role to bring church into their office buildings on Monday morning.

It’s Your Turn

Like me, have you found that being vocal about your faith in the workplace, while generally frowned upon, makes you the person coworkers come to when they’re going through health struggles, marital problems, or other personal issues?

Check out these valuable resources:

Worklife.org

Institute for Faith, Work and Economics

Theology of Work Project

Made to Flourish

Christian Employers Alliance

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