Recently, while enjoying a day away from the office, I was catching up on Madam Secretary. Madam Secretary is a television show that presents the day-to-day life of Dr. Elizabeth McCord, who serves as the Secretary of State. The show does a good job of presenting the entirety of her life, including work and family.
One scene from this episode provided a particularly good opportunity to reflect on an important aspect of faith and work. Toward the end of the episode, the Secretary’s staff was wrapping up and reflecting on a very busy and difficult week. The Secretary of State noted her staff was feeling ‘down’ and in need of a “pick me up” speech. In the midst of the speech, McCord realized her staff was struggling with purpose. They desired to bring change, hope, and flourishing to the world, however they struggled with a disconnection between their work and the ends they desired. They perceived their work as mundane and lacking in importance.
An executive assistant had trouble connecting his preparation of binders providing information to the Secretary of State with the goals he desired. He felt that he “just” made binders all day. In reality, the seeming mundane task this individual did had enormous value.
It is necessary for all of us to take time and make connections between these tasks and the larger goal that these tasks are helping to realize. I believe this is one of the important responsibilities we have as leaders in this movement. Greg Forster of the Oikonomia Network has commented that the privatizing of faith results in a secularized culture. We likely encounter people on a daily basis who have goals they hope their work is accomplishing. Oftentimes, these same people perceive their work as meaningless because they do not see the connection between the work they’re doing and those broader goals. It is our job to help them connect their work to their world. As faith and work movement leaders, this connection is easy for us to see, but being leaders in our spheres of influence means helping others make it as well.
David Gill has written some practical advice on how to do this well and in a meaningful way through visiting parishoners at work:
Most of our peoples’ Christian discipleship is carried out in a workplace. Visiting our people there is good for us as pastors. We can see up close and personal what our people are up against. We can capture some of their excitement and see better their challenges. Our preaching, teaching, and pastoral care will be sharpened up and more relevant. This is an incredible, essential part of our pastoral continuing education. I say do a workplace visit “once a month” but I really think “once a week” is more like it. Believe me, pastor: you will really enjoy this and it will not make your life crazier to start putting these weekly visits on your calendar.
I also found some resources from Kent Duncan, the pastor of Jefferson Assembly of God, a largely blue-collar congregation in Meriden, KS. Duncan’s D.Min. dissertation from Assemblies of God Theological Seminary is on faith, and work for the blue collar worker and provides three recommendations on faith and work integration for those working with blue collar workers. These recommendations have broader reach.
First, according to Duncan, the “church body must look for ways to weave the subject of work more thoroughly into the fabric of the life of the church.” Mark Greene, executive director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, has stated, “If the model of the Christian life we have consists of church-focused activities, then 98 percent of Christians who are not employed by churches are not envisioned or equipped to follow Jesus with 95 percent of their lives. What a tragic waste!” If the church can more explicitly discuss the subject of work, this will communicate its value and importance to every member of the congregation regardless of vocation.
Second, Duncan states, the church “must find ways to more consistently celebrate the ordinary labor of her blue-collar congregants.” Jefferson Assembly of God annually recognizes the work of local teachers, administrators and school district staff, along with local fire fighters, law enforcement, and other emergency personnel.
“The labor of construction workers, nurses’ aides, pressmen, cake decorators, and plumbers matters to Christ just as much as any other calling and should be celebrated as such by a church devoted to a biblical understanding of work.”
Finally, Duncan admonishes the church to “pursue a better understanding of the Christian doctrine of vocation among its congregants:”
It does appear that many of the workers involved in this project engaged in the jobs they have not out of any awareness of God’s call or divine direction, but for reasons of convenience (“the job was available”), vocational heritage (“it’s what my father did”), or compensation (“I wanted a good retirement plan”). While any of those reasons may have their place, how much healthier it is for individual, community, and Kingdom alike if a person has an understanding of God’s call and gifting for his or her work. While this observation might be especially significant in serving young people just entering the workforce, it holds merit across the entire spectrum of working-age congregants.
Churches and church organizations must elevate this biblical message in ways that celebrate not only the businessperson and entrepreneur, but also the entire spectrum of human labor. As a rule, churches ignore work in ways that only reinforce the sacred-secular divide. In those contexts where work receives consideration, however, few appear to celebrate the auto mechanic, hotel maid, or short-order cook. By contrast, the Scriptures hold all legitimate work as eternally purposeful in Christ. The church must find ways to do the same consistently.
After all, as Paul reminds us:
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. –I Corinthians 3:5-9