“Who are you,” not just “What do you do?”

7163543554_3541d1d92bThe “Come & See” conference this week in Washington, DC was not just a place to glimpse the networks of interesting people and vocations connected to leader Steve Garber – it was also a place to hear how a newly vibrant focus on work and vocation is already permeating churches nationwide.

From two members of the pastoral staff at an Anglican church in the DC suburbs, we saw a picture that looks something like this (and the following is pretty close to their words):

A favorite chapter of mine in Barbara Brown Taylor’s The Preaching Life talks about how faith is an act of the imagination, a decision to see the world in a certain way. So a key pastoral job is to help people develop that imagination – to see the world differently. How do we do that? Or try?

First, that new imagination must help people understand their identity in Christ. People idolize their work. “What do you do?” is the first small-talk question in the DC area, as in so many places. We want people to think very well about what and how they do what they do. But to do that well they need first to know, “Who am I” – they need to see themselves deeply as loved children of God in relationship with Christ. If you start with that, then you can go to questions about work and vocation.

Worship a huge piece of forming that kind of imagination. I remember when a woman in the congregation was baking the communion bread for the week: mixing, kneading the dough with help from some of our kids. One 5-year-old suddenly said something directly from the liturgy; then she paused and said: “I don’t know how I know that, but I do.” Her mind had been structured by coming to the table and leaving to go out in the world, week by week. Worship shapes who we are. The program stuff comes after and out of that. My heart is to shape people at that level.

And we also heard from the perspective of a congregant:

When we are new to the church and/or to Christ, we come in, and we start to absorb teaching. That’s great. But I have this whole block of 40-70 hrs lived quite separately, apart from the gathered church, and I have no idea how that matches up. So I feel isolated when in church. This huge effort aside from church – the complex, important decisions I am making at work . . . and have no one to talk with me about that. It wouldn’t cross my mind to talk with pastors.

So to come into worship community that perceives this “outside-the-church-building” truth about you, and gets that your work matters to God not as a place to go and necessarily preach, but the place to do the work that God’s created and equipped you to do well – that can help you exhale. In a church like that, I can find someone to talk with – in an affinity group, etc. Here I can talk with others about the outrageous things going on in my work. It removes me from isolation and help me see how God is with me day to day – not just on Sunday or in my devotional time – I begin to actually feel his presence and guidance in my daily decisions. And I see that that big weekly chunk of time spent at work is integral to what God is doing in the world.

Encouraging words from a church that is seeing this new area of ministry open up in wonderful ways. “Come and see,” indeed.

Image: “Share your light” by Prayitno.

About Chris Armstrong

Dr. Chris Armstrong is a professor of church history, author of Patron Saints for Postmoderns (IVP, 2009) and Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis (Baker Academic, forthcoming), and founding director of the new Institute for Faith and Vocation at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. Chris believes the reason Protestant evangelicals find ourselves urgently needing to have a conversation about "integrating faith and work" is that we have divorced our faith from our material and social lives.


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