By Alistair Mackenzie (see our interview with Alistair here)
There were a number of specifically faith-related responses that surfaced frequently in my survey work, including:
- All Christians equal, but some more equal. Regularly I heard comments that amounted to something about all Christians being equal, but those involved in “full-time Christian service” being somehow more equal. Most people feel that there is still a hierarchy of significance in terms of ministry, with missionaries and pastors at the top, then other “full-time” Christian workers, then part-time pastoral staff, then other volunteer workers in church activities, then those who are solely involved in full-time “secular” work. This “full-time Christian service” and “secular work” talk is still very common. And although a lot of people didn’t think that it should be like this in theory, most thought that it is still this way in practice. Even in their own minds.
- No sermons about work: Most people could not remember ever hearing a sermon on work.
- No teaching about work: Most had never heard any teaching about where work fits into God’s purposes.
- No songs about work: Only a couple of people could identify any church songs that refer to work. How important are the songs we sing in shaping our theology? Certainly it would seem that a good argument could be made suggesting that it is often more the words of the songs that we sing that we keep on rehearsing in our heads during the week than the words of the sermons we hear.
- No prayers about work: Most could not remember any prayers being prayed specifically about work, except with reference to evangelism. Some Anglicans and Catholics thought there might be some reference to daily work in the intercessory portion of their liturgy, but couldn’t remember the details.
- No small group discussions about work: Only rarely did work come up as a topic in small group discussions, Pastors generally think that small groups are where people talk about faith and work concerns. But people told me this is not so. My conclusion is that whatever is put on the agenda in the congregational setting also shapes the agenda in other settings associated with church, unless this discussion is deliberately driven by group leaders with a different perspective.
- No books or courses: Most had never read a book or attended any course that talked about faith and work issues.
- Church leaders not interested in work: Church leaders seldom express much interest in people’s work and most people have never been visited by church leaders at work. Most business people think that church leaders have a negative view of business because they only use negative examples of business ethics and exploitation in their preaching.
- No marketplace models: Most people couldn’t think of any particular Christian marketplace models except some sportspeople and pop stars and one or two politicians (mostly William Wilberforce).
- Resignation: Most people have now grown accustomed (or “resigned” as some said) to the fact that church is not likely to address their work realities. At the same time most said they would appreciate it if it happened. (Although to be honest, a few others also said that they came to church to get away from the world of work and didn’t want these issues intruding into church.) Some others said that, although they were still believers, they had given up on church now because it failed to address real-life issues for them.
- Work pressures: Most felt that work pressures were impacting on their involvement at home and in church.
- The problem other Christians present: In response to the question, “What is the most difficult thing that you experience as Christian at work?” I was surprised how many times I was told “It is the other Christians I work with!” This included both the super-spiritual behavior and utterances of excessively zealous believers who take their faith very seriously, but not their work, and the sub-Christian behavior of those who have publicly identified themselves as believers. The poor ethics of some so-called “Christian” firms was cited as a major source of embarrassment in some industries.
Overall, I concluded that many Christians do feel disappointed that the church does not often address issues that relate to the events that most of their lives are invested in. But mostly this is a vague discomfort that has never been clearly articulated by them, nor for them by others yet in a way that they have been able to say a clear “Yes” to. Mostly they are still looking for help to name the nature of that discomfort and identify the issues that it stems from.
But I did notice how many people started to get hooked into our conversation as it progressed and became more animated as they realized I was serious about exploring the wider implications of faith for their work. And mostly they were keen to go further exploring the issues than just my interview allowed.
Alistair Mackenzie is a Teaching Fellow at Laidlaw College – Christchurch, New Zealand and has also worked part-time with the Theology of Work Project. He is the author of Where’s God on Monday?, SoulPurpose: Making a Difference in Life and Work and Just Decisions: Christians Ethics Go to Work, and the founding director of Faith at Work (NZ).