When people struggle with faith and work

struggle-smMy introduction to an integrated and vibrant view of faith and work came over five years ago. Like many Evangelicals, I grew up in a context where the value of work outside evangelism and the income to support the work of the church just wasn’t discussed. As my mind and heart received the message of an integrated life of discipleship that included the intrinsic value of work and the importance of economics, I felt like a new world had opened in front of me.

I enthusiastically immersed myself in the study of all things faith and work. I began to imagine how this would shape my activity as a pastor and had the privilege of learning from other pastors who were already taking action in their churches. I began to hear stories of the people who were overjoyed when their pastor affirmed their work. In fact, this message was so pervasive I got the impression that opening people’s eyes to a more holistic and integrated life would result in thunderous applause from the people I pastored. That impression was misguided.

I began preaching on faith and work. We started doing vocation interviews on a regular basis in our worship gatherings. We launched a “vocation team” to explore how we would integrate vocational stewardship through the whole life of our church. We jumped into the integration of faith and work in the context of our church with both feet.

The response was not what I expected.

Instead of lines of people waiting to thank me for affirming the value of their work after our worship gathering ended, people struggled with this new focus. There were a few people who were excited by what we were doing, but most seemed to really struggle with it. I was discouraged because I had heard so many stories of the joy and freedom people experienced as their work was affirmed. I assumed I was doing it wrong. But as I pursued conversation and kept my ears open, I heard two things that accounted for much of the response.

First, people thought I was dismissing the “main thing” for the sake of an ancillary issue. Like me, many of the people in our church had been raised to believe the gospel was that people are sinful, Jesus dies for their sins, and they are forgiven and secure eternity with God when they believe. Period. When I started talking about the renewal of all things, the redemptive value of our current activity, and the implications of our new life in Christ, they heard me devaluing the importance of Christ’s death and our forgiveness. I believe wholeheartedly in the importance of this aspect of the gospel, but talking about other gospel implications made them wonder. They bristled as they perceived their pastor moving away from the gospel.

Second, many people have lived with a compartmentalized life so long that they naturally reacted against the idea that faith is meant to be integrated into all of life. They could wrap their minds around the idea they should read their Bibles, come to worship gatherings, and participate in service projects. When I challenged them to see their work, homes, neighborhoods, and every other place in their lives as spheres of kingdom life, I was dismantling the framework that worked for them.

It’s fun to tell the uplifting stories of people who are freed and empowered when we tell them their work matters. I’m thankful to have an increasing number of those stories. I think it’s also important to tell the stories of the struggle. We need to understand that we are asking people to give up paradigms of faith that have “worked” for them, sometimes for decades. This is no easy task. And understanding this allows us to walk in relationship with people toward something better–toward a fuller vision of the implications of gospel. I hope every person in our church has a moment where they feel the freedom and goodness of having their work affirmed. I also know I’m called to walk with them through a process that leads there.

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