Ever feel like a lot of conversation about faith and work is about people with good jobs and rewarding lives? So did pastor Trevor Lee:
How do you approach faith, work, and economics with those who have little or no consistent work?
As I move deeper into the conversation around faith, work, and economics, I’ve noticed that most of the illustrations and stories I hear are about people with good jobs—even if these are jobs people don’t particularly enjoy. I spent the last four years pastoring a church where a large percentage of the congregation bounced around between temporary jobs, at best.
Lee talks about his experience with one particular parishioner:
Phil…had a real faith. He made some choices we would see as sinful, but he believed deeply in God’s love for him, and he did have a desire to live as a disciple of Jesus. Yet his feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, along with his addictions, kept him from moving further in that direction. As I thought through the deep theological and sociological threads of faith, work, and economics, I wondered, how does this apply to Phil?
Over time, I struggled less with how this applied in general, and more with how to specifically convince Phil of its application. I saw discipline and desire in his willingness to do a thankless job for a few dollars. I knew that he found some small measure of fulfillment in working for the money he made rather than begging for it. He was making a positive contribution to our city and neighborhood by bringing useful materials to be recycled, rather than having them sit in a landfill.
Here are four lessons Lee learned from that experience:
1) Identify and point out the good things that already exist in a person.
With the poor, our focus is often on all the problems and the lack of work. Where diligence, initiative, commitment, or other positive qualities exist—call those out.
2) Very simply, show how their work benefits others.
For any person willing to work—no matter how small the amount—there is a personal and societal benefit to it. People in these types of positions, perhaps more than any others, need to hear that message repeatedly and simply.
3) Use men and women who do not have consistent jobs as examples.
Even if you are in a context with few poor people, it is likely there are people who are unemployed, retired, or in some other way do not have consistent work for pay. In our preaching and teaching, we have the opportunity to encourage people in these situations and move people’s imaginations to the value of work beyond a paycheck.
4) Provide opportunities for people to work in ways that benefit your church.
We began creating meaningful opportunities for people to serve in the context of the church and made sure they knew how they were benefitting others.
Check out Lee’s post for more on his church, and some ways you might put these into practice in the ministry of your own church whether as a pastor or layperson. Do you have other suggestions? Comment below.