God at Work: A Review of the Book by David Miller

God at Work:

A Review of the Book by David Miller
with Recommendations for Lay People in Churches


Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you acknowledge the source of this material: http://www.patheos.com/community/markdroberts/. For all other uses, please contact me at mark@markdroberts.com. Thank you.

A Review of God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement by David W. Miller

In a Nutshell:

God at Work by David Miller is an accurate, insightful analysis of the Faith at Work Movement in the last century. In includes, not only a careful history and sociological analysis of the movement, but also a look forward at the opportunities and challenges for those concerned with the relationship between faith and the workplace. I highly recommend this book to clergy and laity alike, especially to those who care about the ministry of God’s people in the world today. My only modest criticism of God at Work has to do with the implied ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), which, ironically, seems to assume a more institutional view of church rather than a more biblical view in which the Spirit-filled people of God, including both clergy and laity, are the church.

About the Author

Dr. David W. Miller is the Executive Director of the Yale Center for Faith & Culture, an institute of Yale Divinity School, where he also serves as assistant professor of business ethics. Miller’s background is diverse. After graduating from Bucknell University in 1979, he went to work for IBM. Then he moved to England, where he served in senior positions in business and finance. (You can find a PDF of his resume here; or a prosaic bio here.)

In 1995, Miller attended Princeton Theological Seminary, earning an M.Div. in 1998. He stayed on at Princeton Seminary, earning a Ph.D. in Social Ethics in 2003. His dissertation, The Faith at Work Movement: Its Growth, Dynamics, and Future, was the basis for his book, God at Work.

As you can see, David Miller brings together that which is rarely combined in one person: extensive business experience; theological education; church involvement (Miller is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA), and academic expertise.

About the Book

God at Work is based upon Miller’s Ph.D. dissertation. Upon hearing this, you might be inclined to regard God at Work as an overly academic and mostly unreadable tome. Though it is often true that published dissertations make for difficult reading, this is not the case for God at Work. This book makes for engaging reading. Much of the academic material has been put into 63 pages of footnotes and bibliography. The text of the book runs for only 153 pages.

The bulk of these pages focuses on the so-called “Faith at Work” movement, which Miller abbreviates as FAW. This movement emphasized the ministry of the laity, rather than clergy, and saw this ministry as happening in the world as well as the church. I had always thought of FAW as a post-World-War-II phenomena. But Miller shows that the roots of FAW grow deep into the social gospel movement that began in the late 19th century and continued into the middle of the 20th century.

The “first wave” of FAW, as Miller calls it, included themes that are still popular today. Among them would be “the popularization of Jesus” is such books as Charles Sheldon’s classic, In His Steps: What Would Jesus Do? The last few years have seen a resurgence of Sheldon’s emphasis on Jesus, especially in the emblematic abbreviation, WWJD?, which one can find on t-shirts, hats, and bumper stickers.

Miller identifies the “second wave” of FAW as “The Ministry of the Laity Era (c. 1946-1985)” (pp. 39-61). Miller identifies several early leaders of this era, including J.H. Oldman, Hendrik Kraemer, and Hans-Ruedi-Weber. They saw church renewal and impact as centered in the ministry of non-ordained people in the world.

I was especially interested in Miller’s mention of two people as leaders of the second FAW wave. One is Elton Trueblood, who argued that “The world is one, secular and sacred, and . . . the chief way to serve the Lord is in our daily work.” (p. 48). Trueblood was the first speaker at Laity Lodge, where I now work. The other is Howard E. Butt, Jr., the founder of Laity Lodge. According to Miller, Butt combined “questions of personal salvation with social and economic justice in the workplace” (p. 55). His “promotion of lay ministry and ecumenism during wave two was, in light of his theologically evangelical roots, nothing short of ground breaking” (p. 55).

The second wave of the FAW movement ran out of gas, observes Miller, for a variety of reasons. In part, this happened when people began to see lay ministry “merely as a means to increase lay participation in the interior life of the gathered church, as opposed to equipping laity for the challenges of life in the scattered church” (p. 56). Miller adds that “clergy and church professionals often redirected the movement’s energy and purpose, redefining lay ministry as more active involvement in church committees and the internal life of the gathered church” (p. 59).

As a member of the clergy and as a former church professional, I’ll offer a mea culpa in response to this charge. It is terribly easy for those of us who are responsible for building and maintaining the church to value lay ministry only insofar as it contributes to this mission. But, in my experience, it’s not just clergy and church professionals who make this mistake. Church-focused lay ministers do it as well.

I’ll never forget a nominating committee meeting in my first year as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church. We were considering possible candidates for Deacon when somebody mentioned a man named Greg. Greg was rightly perceived to have great potential as a Deacon. But there was a problem. Greg was on the school board, in addition to running his own business and being a committed husband and father. His school board involvement took so much time that Greg couldn’t be a Deacon in the church. When this fact was brought up in the committee, a group of lay people, except for me, many were critical of Greg’s priorities. They devalued his work on the school board since it took away from his availability for church work. I was shocked. It seemed to me that Greg’s ministry on the school board was every bit as worthwhile as what he might be able to do in the church. In fact, I had recently met with Greg and talked about his school board involvement. He was there in service to Christ as well as to the community. Yet his peers, his fellow lay ministers, lacked Greg’s perspective and sense of broader calling, to my chagrin. In time, after lots of preaching, most folks in Irvine Presbyterian Church came to see ministry in the world as neither more or less valuable than ministry in the church. And, ironically, Greg sensed a different call in his life, and ended up serving as a Deacon in the church, a fine one, I might add.

Tomorrow I’ll continue my review of God at Work.

A Review of God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement by David W. Miller (Section 2)

Yesterday I began a review of God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement, by David W. Miller. I explained that Miller’s book is an historical analysis of the Faith at Work (FAW) movement, which began with the social gospel movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The second wave of FAW started after World War II and lasted into the 1980s. It majored in the ministry of the laity in the world, but ultimately petered out for a variety of reasons, including the redirecting of lay efforts from the world to the church. Today I’ll continue where I left off yesterday.

Miller identifies the third wave of FAW as “The Faith at Work Era (c. 1985-Present)” (pp. 63-78). This wave had, and continues to have, a particular focus on personal integration. As Miller comments,

People in the workplace of all levels and types no longer seem willing to leave their soul with the car in the parking lot. . . . Christian businesspeople and other professionals find common agreement that living a bifurcated life, where faith and work are compartmentalized, is neither true to the Gospel nor a healthy way to work. (p. 74)

At this point in the book Miller sets forth a way to understand FAW efforts in terms of four different emphases: ethics, evangelism, experience, and enrichment (pp. 76-78). Ministries with an ethical emphasis deal primarily with questions of right and wrong, including issues of justice, in the workplace. Evangelical ministries see the workplace primarily as a context for evangelism. Experiential efforts focus on meaning and purpose, with work as a context for experiencing God finding deeper purpose in life. Enrichment has to do with “spiritual disciplines, therapeutic healing, and transformation. For instance, many express renewed interest in spiritual nurturing and growth” (p. 77). I find Miller’s “Four E’s” helpful, though the distinction between Experience and Enrichment is sometimes elusive.

Chapter 5 of God at Work is, for me, the most discouraging chapter of the book. It is entitled “Response of the Church and the Theological Academy to FAW” (pp. 79-103). Miller shows how the church and the seminaries have, for the most part, ignored FAW. For example, for a while certain denominations and individual churches took on FAW concerns, but budget cuts and institutional pressures led to greater focus on internal matters and less attention to equipping lay ministers for their work in the world. Individual churches followed suit. One of the saddest quotations in God at Work comes from Bill Diehl, a one-time executive with Bethlehem Steel and one of the leaders of wave three in FAW. Diehl writes in The Monday Connection:

In the almost 30 years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there by any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry others. My church has never offered to improve those skills which could make me a better minister, nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support in what I was doing. There has never been an inquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate the faith to my co-workers. I have never been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career [as a sales manager]. In short, I must conclude that my church really doesn’t have the least interest in whether or how I ministry in my daily work. (p. 82)

As you might expect, Diehl’s indictment of his church led me to consider our efforts at Irvine Presbyterian Church during the sixteen years when I was the Senior Pastor there. I think we did some thing right. My preaching regularly mentioned the workplace as a context for living out faith. Sometimes I addressed issues that were of particular relevance to working people (such as my sermon series on truth that was the basis for my book, Dare to Be True). In worship we regularly prayed for people in certain vocations. As a pastor I often met with people to talk and pray about challenges at work. And I know that workplace issues were often the focus of small group discussion and prayer. During my weekly prayer meetings with my elders, for example, we prayed for work-related concerns almost every week. This alone would add up to more than a thousand work-focused prayers during my pastoral tenure.

But, as I read Diehl’s statement, I am also convicted about some of what I did not do as pastor, and ways I did not lead my church into a wholistic, biblical understand and practice of lay ministry in the workplace. For example, as I mentioned above, we prayed regularly for people in certain vocations: government officials, soldiers, teachers and administrators, police officers, fire fighters, and medical doctors. But, to my knowledge, we never prayed specifically for bankers, lawyers, gardeners, accountants, contractors, etc. etc. etc. This oversight might have suggested that we saw certain kinds of work as ministry, primarily service-related jobs, whereas other kinds were not real ministry. I never believed this or preached it. But I might have inadvertently implied it by what I did not say in prayer.

As I think back on my pastoral ministry at Irvine Pres, I wish I had found more ways to use people’s stories of living out their faith in the workplace. We had some lay witnesses on this theme, but too few. And I sprinkled such stories in my sermons, but not as often as I should have. Though I was not a pastor who devalued lay ministry in the world, and though I tried to encourage it, in retrospect I could have done this more effectively. But I did feel the strong pressure to focus on areas of institutional concern.

I do think that sometimes the FAW movement narrows the understanding of work too much. In the introduction to God at Work, Miller writes, “for the purposes of this inquiry, the term work means that activity that is undertaken in a paid job, occupation, position, function, or profession and the place in which one performs that work” (p. 6). I understand and affirm this definition “for the purposes of” Miller’s inquiry. He had to limit his attention somehow. But if one think of work from a biblical perspective, then it includes more than that for which I draw a salary. Work is anything I should stop doing on the Sabbath. My work is everything I do in the world that is in some way productive. It includes my mowing the lawn, driving my kids all over town, listening to my wife, heating up leftover in the microwave, and coaching the neighborhood soccer team.

When you think of work in these terms, the church often does a better job addressing it than Miller’s critique would suggest. But I agree with his criticism of the church in its failure, by and large, to address workplace issues and to equip people for ministry in the workplace. My guess is that preachers speak about family issues, for example, more than twenty times as often as they speak about matters of business ethics.

Though Miller criticizes the church (and the theological academy) for failing to seize the gauntlet of FAW, his book ends with a challenging yet hopeful look at “The Future of the Faith at Work Movement.” I’ll address this future in my next post.

A Review of God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement by David W. Miller (Section 3)

So far in this series I’ve examined some of the main ideas in God at Work by David Miller. In my last post I focused on Miller’s criticism of the church’s failure to help working people see their workplace as a context of ministry. In this post I want to explore Miller’s recommendations for the church and the theological academy.

These recommendations are found in Chapter 8 of God at Work: “The Future of the Faith at Work Movement.” Miller believes that change needs to happen if FAW is to thrive, with the end of church and social transformation. His proposals begin this way:

A logical starting place for change is the place where clergy are trained. Seminaries and divinity schools should recognize anew the theological, practical, and pastoral importance of the workplace with a view toward training pastors to minister more intentionally and effectively to their parishioners in the business world and other workplaces. (p. 144)

This will be especially challenging, Miller notes, for seminary professors who, especially in mainline seminaries and divinity schools, almost always assume that capitalism is necessarily evil. One practical suggestion Miller makes is for seminaries and denominations to “expand the conception of clinical pastoral education (CPE) and field education programs from the traditional realms of hospitals, prisons, and psychiatric wards to include internships in local businesses and workplaces” (p. 144). This is a phenomenal idea, in my opinion. But I can only imagine the responses of many who have vested interest in the status quo of CPE and internships, and who couldn’t imagine pastoral training happening in the context of what they would think of as godless capitalism.

Though Miller has more suggestions for theological academies, he offers several challenges for churches and clergy as well:

Pastors and churches that wish to respond seriously to the Sunday-Monday gap will need to develop new strategies of equipping laity for a ministry of integration that connects the Christian faith to the workplace in meaningful and constructive ways. (p. 146).

Miller believes that the church has strong potential to make a difference in this regard. But it requires more than just the addition of a special class or sermon series. According to Miller, “this attitude needs to be evident in all dimensions of ministry” (p. 146).

Clergy bear a significant burden in Miller’s envisioned future of FAW. He recommends, for example:

Clergy who wish to equip their people to integrate faith and work effectively will first need to develop a ministry of presence and listening in the work sphere. Clergy should go to their parishioners’ places of work for short visits as regularly and naturally as they make hospital and home visits. (p. 146).

I agree with Miller on this score. In fact, I expect that I spent more time with people in their places of work than I did in the hospital, partly because I had other pastors who did the lion’s share of hospital visitation. I loved to see where my church members worked. One highlight of my ministry at Irvine Presbyterian Church was visiting a church member who happened to be our congressman in his place of work. But, throughout the years, I visited schools, law firms, accountants offices, building sites, and dozens of other kinds of workplaces. (When I was an associate pastor in Hollywood, I once visited the workplace of a Hollywood set designer, and got to stand on the stage while they were filming part of the Brady Bunch Christmas Special. Think of that!)

A Review of God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement by David W. Miller (Section 4)

Yesterday I began examining David Miller’s recommendations for clergy in his fine book, God at Work.

Here is Miller’s second recommendation for clergy:

Clergy who wish to equip their people to integrate faith and work will also need to develop a ministry of public preaching and prayer that intentionally and constructively addresses all dimensions of the Four E’s of ethics, evangelism, experience, and enrichment. Sermons and pastoral prayers play a vital theological role as part of a ministry of integration to those in the business world, helping people to discover their vocational identity, resist splitting the sacred from the secular, navigate difficult ethical questions, and gain comfort for personal needs and hurts. (p. 147)

Again, I agree with Miller, though I wouldn’t put it quite that way. It’s not so much that clergy need to “develop a ministry” as that they need to include within their ministry of preaching and prayer the issues that Miller raises. We’re not talking about starting new ministries here so much as about adapting and expanding existing ministries. If preachers and prayers began to think about the implications of their content for the workplace, then they’d find it natural to preach and pray about faith in this context.

Miller suggests three other ministries that clergy need to develop:

a ministry of teaching that includes all dimensions of the Four E’s (p. 147);

a ministry of spiritual integration that ensures that laity are trained to utilize personal prayer and devotional study in their daily lives (p. 148);

a ministry of gatherings for businesspeople to help address the Four E’s (p. 148).

Again, I agree with the substance of Miller’s suggestions. I’d only quibble about the language. Clergy don’t so much need to develop new ministries as they do to expand and enrich their existing ministries.

In fact, most pastors I know are deeply committed to helping their people live out their faith in the world. If they would only follow the first of Miller’s suggestions by visiting people in their workplaces and by listening to people talk about their work, then most pastors would more or less automatically begin to incorporate FAW emphases in their existing ministries.

I actually believe that lay people could do a great deal to advance this agenda. If they want to have their pastors equip them for their ministries in the workplace, then they need to say so. Part of what helped me to do this very thing was when people in my congregation would meet with me to share their challenges at work. I couldn’t help but become aware of this cutting edge of their discipleship. And, therefore, it wasn’t hard for me to incorporate such concerns in my preaching and praying. Of course I realize some pastors are not responsive to the needs of their people, and others might be threatened by workplace ministry because they feel inadequate to address it. But I think the strong majority of pastors would work hard to speak to the needs of their people. (Photo: The lay people of Irvine Presbyterian Church on my last Sunday.)

It may be, however, that many (most?) working people wouldn’t think to ask their pastors for help because they tend not to integrate their faith with their work. Hence we might find ourselves in a no-win cycle, in which pastors don’t help lay people to realize that their faith should be expressed in their workplaces and lay people don’t ask pastors for help because they don’t think to do it. Mutual inattention encourages more mutual inattention.

Yet there is plenty of hope, I think, in that it doesn’t take a majority of a congregation to influence a pastor, or a year’s worth of preaching on FAW for a pastor to influence a congregation. Even one or two lay people who are willing to share their challenges and concerns with a pastor can make a tangible difference. And if a pastor begins on a fairly regular basis to speak of workplace discipleship, this can also make a tangible difference.

What’s the one major thing I would do differently if I were a pastor again? Actually, it wouldn’t be in the areas of preaching and prayer. Rather, I’d make a stronger effort to encourage lay people to tell their own stories: in worship services, in classes, in church publications, etc. The power of a lay witness cannot be understated here. If a teacher shares with others how he tries to live out his faith in the classroom, if a lawyer shares her struggles and victories with others, and so on throughout the professions, this would have a huge impact on the church, clergy and laity alike.

A Review of God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement by David W. Miller (Section 5)

Yesterday I suggested that David Miller’s recommendations for clergy are basically fine, though I think lay people have more power to influence clergy, and therefore churches, than Miller seems to think. This leads to perhaps my only modest unhappiness with God at Work, a book I have found to be, overall, most helpful and worth reading. I highly recommend God at Work to all readers, both clergy and lay.

Nevertheless, it almost seems at times as if David Miller has bought into the idea that “the church = the clergy.” It is most telling that his excellent chapter on recommendations for the church contains five, explicit, strong recommendations for clergy, and zero explicit, strong recommendations for laity. Though I fervently agree with Miller that the church has a great opportunity to make a difference in FAW, and though I fervently agree that pastors can and should contribute to this difference, I also believe that, in the end, the church is not the clergy, but the people of God, the laos, of which the laity (non-clergy) are the vast majority. Pastors can be hard-headed and hard-hearted. But if lay people want to have more integrated lives, if they want to be equipped for workplace ministry, if they want to live out their faith at work, then they ultimately have the power to make this happen, in spite of what pastors might do to the contrary. At least they do in Protestant churches.

I do not mean to pit the clergy against the laity, however. On the contrary, as I’ve said above, I believe most clergy sincerely want to help their people live out their faith in all sectors of life. If pastors aren’t dealing with issues of workplace discipleship, it’s because they haven’t realized how much it matters.

I can easily imagine a scenario in which a lay person makes an appointment with a pastor in order to share some challenges at work. In the conversation, the lay person says, “Pastor, I really need some help with this. Have you every thought about dealing with this sort of thing in your sermons? Or could you do a Wednesday evening class on business ethics? It would be wonderful if you did.”

Sure, some pastors would get defensive. But many would say, “You know, that’s a helpful suggestion. What specific things might I preach about?”

And, yes, other pastors would feel insecure, realizing that they don’t know how to talk meaningfully about workplace issues. The healthy ones might say, “You know, that’s a fine suggestion. But, honestly, I’m not sure how I’d go about it. Would you be willing to help me? Perhaps we could do some research and reading and get back together in a couple of weeks to share what we learned.”

Of course a pastor who truly believed in lay ministry might go a step further and say, “I’m willing to incorporate more work related material into my sermons. But, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure I have the expertise or even the time to teach a class on business ethics. Would you be willing to help organize such a class? You don’t have to teach it. But maybe you could gather some others together to help. And you could figure out some speakers we could invite? Since you’re every bit as much a minister as I am, would you be willing to take this on?”

Okay, I’ll admit this imaginary conversation sounds a bit canned. But I have participated in many conversations just like it. No rose colored glases here. Just lots of experience as a pastor listening to my people.

David Miller concludes God at Work in this way:

The church and the theological academy have a choice: they can sit on the sidelines, ignore the [FAW] movement, and let it pass them by, or they can learn from it, engage it, and help shape the theology and practice of faith at work. The church and the theological academy . . . have the chance here to participate in the FAW dialogue, help set the agenda, address the Four E’s, and thereby influence societal structures by affecting and even transforming individual lives, corporations, and the broader marketplace. The church and the academy can offer theological resources and practical tools to equip those whose calling is to serve in and through the marketplace. For the church to do anything less is to abandon millions of Christians for five-sevenths of their week, and to abdicate responsibility for and influence over this important sphere of society. Indeed, active participation in the transformation of individual employees, their workplaces, and the overall marketplace may be one of the most powerful means to help feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger (p. 153).

To this I would add an enthusiastic “Amen!”, though with one exception. I see in this paragraph hints of the kind of problem I referenced earlier. Consider, for example, the sentence that reads: “For the church to do anything less is to abandon millions of Christians . . . .” Stop! This sentence seems to imply that the church is something other than millions of Christians. In fact, the church is these same millions of Christians. Yes, of course the church is an institution. And, yes, of course it has its many gatekeepers (usually but not always the clergy). But, theologically speaking, the church is not the buildings and the bosses. The church is the people of God, the body of Christ. Thus if the church does anything less than Miller recommends – recommendations with which I heartily agree – then it’s not that the church is failing millions of people, but rather that the millions of people who make up the church are failing themselves. Ultimately, of course, they are failing God and his kingdom. (Photo: The High Calling website is meant to encourage ordinary Christians to live out the high calling of their daily work. Most of the writers on the site, by the way, are lay Christians, as are all of those who work on it regularly, expect for me.)

To use theological language for my critique of God at Work, I’m concerned that Miller’s ecclesiology, his doctrine of the church, is formed too much by the institutional status quo and too little by biblical teaching. If we really believe that the people of God are the church, that the members really are the body of Christ, that the Spirit is given not just to the clergy, but to all believers, then the way forward might look quite a bit different. It would be filled with hope for workplace discipleship, whether or not clergy found the wherewithal to lead the movement. I believe that lay people have vastly more power than they realize, not because they currently experience this power, and not because they never feel frustrated by clerical resistance, but because, in the end, they are the laity. They are the laos, the people of God. They are the church, filled with the very Spirit of God. And it is God, above all, who seeks for his people to live out their faith at work.

God at Work: An Appendix for the Laity (Section 1)

I’ve just wrapped up a five-part review of David Miller’s fine book, God at Work. In this strongly positive review, I offered only one substantial criticism: namely, that Miller’s recommendations for the church are oriented too much for clergy. In fact, he offers no specific recommendations for the laity, those who constitute more than 99% of the church. Without giving clergy a free pass for failing to offer greater support for people in their workplace ministry, it seems to me that if lay people wanted their church to help them in this matter, they could do many things to advance their cause.

I plan to offer a possible appendix to God at Work. In this appendix I’ll include some recommendations for lay people who would like the church to support them in their workplace calling. But before I offer my recommendations, I’d like to hear from you, my readers. Either by adding a comment to this blog entry, or by sending me an email, please give me your answers to the question:

What can lay people do to help their churches support them as they seek to live out their faith at work?

I look forward to your input. Stay tuned . . . .

God at Work: An Appendix for the Laity (Section 2)

Okay, so here’s the scenario:

You’re a member of a church, part of the laity (non-ordained folk). You have come to believe that, even though you’re not ordained into “the ministry,” you have in fact been called into the ministry of Christ. Your context for ministry isn’t primarily the church, though you do serve in your church in a variety of settings. Rather, you understand that you are to be a ministry of Christ in the world, in your daily life, and, in particular, in your workplace. Thus you seek to live out your

You’d like to receive support, encouragement, and perhaps even training from your church for your ministry. But this isn’t happening. You don’t hear sermons that relate Scripture to the workplace. Prayers don’t ask God to bless and use people at work. There aren’t classes or fellowship groups dedicated to workplace ministry. That which you believe to be central to your Christian discipleship isn’t explicitly discouraged by your church. It simply isn’t mentioned.

Somehow this doesn’t seem right to you. Shouldn’t your church support you as you seek to serve the Lord at work? Shouldn’t you receive encouragement, even teaching about this crucial area of discipleship?

Since you’re not the pastor of the church, you can’t stand up next Sunday morning and start preaching on the importance of faith at work. If you did, you’d probably be escorted out by the ushers. But you’d like to do something to help your church be more supportive of your own efforts to minister at work. Moreover, you have a sense that many others in your church would appreciate and benefit from attention to faith at work issues. So what can you do? What steps can you take to help your church address these crucial issues, both for your own sake and for the sake of others?

Before I suggest some answers to this question, I want to thank those who have shared their ideas with me through commenting on my last post or through their emails. These contributions, both short and long, have been thoughtful and helpful.

Furthermore, I would want to affirm “your” sense that the church should be with you in your effort to live out your faith at work. Sometimes, when your church isn’t offering much support, it might be tempting to leave the church behind. In fact, as David Miller shows in God at Work, much of the faith at work movement has happened outside of the church. Michael Lindsay, in his recent book Faith in the Halls of Power makes a similar observation. Now I have no objection to so-called parachurch ministries. In fact, I now work for one. But sometimes ministries that are supposed to be alongside the church (as “parachurch” means) end up leaving the church behind, to the detriment of all. If the world is going to be impacted by a faith at work movement, the church will be a necessary and central player in this movement.

So then, back to the central question:

What can lay people do to help their churches help them live out their faith at work?

Recommendation #1: Invest in Christian fellowship and help your fellowship to deal with issues of faith at work.

I received input from a number of my blog readers, both in comments and in emails. Just about every person said something about the importance of Christian fellowship. Joseph Timothy Cook said: “Fellowship with others working in the same or similar arenas . . . . Get together and talk with your church friends.” RJS wrote, simply, “Reorient to view church as community rather than resource.” (Note: I will use the names as they appear in comments. Email names will remain confidential.)

It’s easy to see the church as an institution that is dependent on and even limited by the pastor. But, biblically speaking, the church is a body of members, each of which is essential and each of which contributes to the life of the whole body. Dependence on any one member is excluded by the mutual interdependence of the body.

Practically speaking, this means that as individual church members invest in Christian community, as they begin to live as members, not of a club, but rather of an interdependent organism, then they can encourage, support, challenge, and teach each other, without relying on their pastor(s) to do the job.

Getting more specific, Joseph Timothy Cook explains:

Fellowship with others working in the same or similar arenas…and specifically and intentionally talking about challenges to your faith in the workplace. I’m now retired, but during many years practicing law, I received great blessings from other Christian lawyers while discussing our challenges. And, I hope, I’ve been able to help others in a similar way.

I realize that many lay people have felt unsupported by their churches in their effort to live out their faith at work. But I have to wonder home many of these people were, for example, invested in committed small groups. It’s hard to imagine that a member of such a group wouldn’t find lots of support for living out their faith at work, unless, of course, they themselves never brought up the subject.

So, if you’re a lay person in a church and you desire support for your faith at work discipleship, get connected with other believers who share a similar desire. Talk with people in your line of work. Bring up the subject of work in your small group. Pray for others as they seek to live out their faith in the workplace. And ask for prayer as well. You may not be able to change the culture of your whole church, but you can begin to make a real difference in the lives of a few people, including yourself.

Tomorrow I’ll suggest some further recommendations.

God at Work: An Appendix for the Laity (Section 3)

Yesterday I put up my first suggestion for how lay people might help their churches be more supportive of their efforts to live out their faith in the workplace. That first suggestion was:

Recommendation #1: Invest in Christian fellowship and help your fellowship to deal with issues of faith at work.

Today I’ll add to it.

Recommendation #2: Talk it up.

If you’re a lay person in a church and want your church to do more to support you and others in workplace discipleship, then talk about it. Whether in organized classes and small groups, or in informal conversation at a retreat or on the church patio, talk about your vision and challenges. It could be as simple as saying, “Hey, I’m really learning that my work can be a context for ministry. Do you have any ideas about that?” You might be surprised what you hear. But even if the person you’re talking with has never thought about this before, chances are you’ll find yourself in a valuable conversation. God may very well use you to give others a new vision for faith at work discipleship.

The kind of talking it up I referring to here doesn’t take permission or time or money or anything complicated. It’s the sort of thing you could begin to do next Sunday. Now it’s possible, of course, that informal conversation will lead to something more planned and programmatic. Great! But if not, you’ll be helping to raise the consciousness of your fellow saints and, I’d expect, getting some of the support you desire. Remember, the church isn’t the program or the preacher; it’s the people. As much as faith at work should impact both program and preacher, the church can do a lot to support workplace ministry without either.

In my experience, the notion of faith at work can be an exciting and empowering one for lay people. If you start talking about it, chances are others will pick up the conversation. You might be the small stone that leads to waves of renewal throughout your church.

Recommendation #3: Gather people with common concerns and vision.

This recommendation is an outworking of the Recommendation #1: Invest in Christian fellowship and help your fellowship to deal with issues of faith at work. One way to do this is to gather together people like yourself, people who seek to live out their faith at work.

Suppose, for example, that you implement recommendation #2 and start talking up lay ministry in the world. It wouldn’t surprise me if, before long, you found a number of people who shared your passion. You might propose a regular gathering for study, conversation, and prayer. Or you might get together with a couple other people to sponsor an adult education class at church. One person wrote to me with his experience at his church:

There were many ways [my church] equipped me for ministry at work. One of the most powerful was not directly from [the church itself], but [the church] nevertheless facilitated it. . . . So my specific answer to your question would be “even if your church does not directly offer this kind of training (which [my church] does), there are opportunities through mission partnerships to provide access and support to ministries that specialize in equipping disciples for workplace ministry.”

Recommendation #4: Help members of your church become familiar with faith at work resources.

If your church has a bookstore, suggest some faith at work books. Or donate a few to the church library. You might write a short piece for your church newsletter, pointing to resources you’ve found to be helpful. Etc. etc. etc.

There are many, many resources available. One was suggested in a comment on this blog series, by the author, no less. Greg Heylin has written a book called Work and Spirituality: Finding the Balance. I have not read this book, but I have ordered it. You can find a helpful overview with excerpts from this website. It looks very solid. And it will be interesting to see things from an Irish Catholic perspective.

Of books I’ve read, I would heartily recommend The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective by R. Paul Stevens. This book is written for a lay audience (thank goodness!) but it has quite a bit of biblical content. Paul Stevens is one of the real leaders in the faith at work movement. For several years he had one of the most interesting chairs at Regent College: the David J. Brown Family Professor of Marketplace Theology and Leadership. If you’re not familiar with Paul Stevens, be sure to check out his excellent website.

Finally, let me mention once again the website associated with my ministry at Laity Lodge. The High Calling of Our Daily Work.org is filled with practical wisdom, stories, and Bible studies to encourage people to live out their faith in the workplace. My Daily Reflection on this site regularly connects Scripture and work in a prayerful way.

Also, there is a High Calling blog network featuring blogs from Christians in various professional categories. Lots of great material here. And, if you’re so inclined, you can start your own “faith at work” blog through the High Calling blog network.

Tomorrow I’ll put up one more recommendation.

God at Work: An Appendix for the Laity (Section 4)

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 am a member, with 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.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X