Seven Ways Church Leaders Can Help People Live Missionally Through Their Vocations

Seven Ways Church Leaders Can Help People Live Missionally Through Their Vocations March 10, 2014

In 2012 and 2013, I helped to lead a “Vocation Infusion Learning Community” composed of church leaders from 15 congregations nationwide. Our shared vision was to explore how better to equip parishioners for the robust integration of faith and work. Some of the lessons we learned are described below.

1. Preaching and Teaching

Leaders can help to cast vision for how the congregants’ daily work connects to God’s work. This can be accomplished through preaching and teaching about the various ways God is at work in our world, and it can be done in all sorts of other ways. A sermon series is always a good start, but pastors who see lasting effects are those who shift their sermon illustrations and applications from church-centric ones to also including stories and implications to the world of work for their congregants.

2. Small Groups

It can also happen through vocationally affiliated small groups that gather to discuss questions like these:

  • How does our work in this vocational sphere participate in God’s ongoing sustaining of His creation?
  • How does our work participate in God’s gracious work of restraining evil and corruption in the world?
  • How does our work participate in God’s work to renew and redeem all things?

3. Be Careful With Your Words

It’s critical for church leaders to become what pastor Tom Nelson (author of Work Matters) calls “language police.” Although our orthodox theology may eschew the notion of a sacred/secular hierarchy of work, statements like, “Did you hear that John left his job at the law firm and went into ministry with Young Life?” betray that, deep down, we’re uncertain whether work in a law firm is ministry in its own right.

4. Make Sunday About Monday

Practices such as publicly commissioning missionaries and Sunday School teachers—but not business entrepreneurs and public school teachers—can also send mixed signals to congregants. Pastors in our Learning Community began doing some things differently: praying during Sunday services for individuals in different occupations; celebrating congregants who’d created new jobs; visiting parishioners at their workplaces and incorporating newly learned workplace illustrations into their sermons.  These practices sent a message that marketplace lay people were not “second class” citizens in the Kingdom, but ministers and missionaries in their own fields of endeavor.

5. Help People Utilize Their Vocational Power

Helping congregants understand the various dimensions of their vocational power is also important. The people in the pews possess knowledge, networks, skills, platforms, positions, expertise, and influence. These all need to be thoughtfully stewarded. All are gifts from God’s providence. Just as we carefully steward the financial resources He grants us, so, too should we steward our vocational power.

Church leaders can help members inventory their vocational power by expanding traditional teaching on spiritual gifts to include these additional gifts. Moreover, church leaders can create pathways for service within and outside the church that specifically draw upon members’ vocational talents. Doctors and nurses shouldn’t be the only ones who get to go on short-term missions deploying their unique skills. What about trips of IT professionals, artists, businesspeople, teachers, or engineers who likewise contribute to some Gospel ministry abroad or at home by deploying their particular gifts and expertise?

6. Move Beyond the Traditional Three Es” of Faith-Work Integration

Church leaders can work toward highlighting more than the traditional three Es (evangelism, ethics, and excellence) of faith-work integration. Vocational stewardship certainly embraces these three. But these focus on the kinds of workers we are more than the work itself. And the work itself matters as well. Work has intrinsic value. Work is the main way many people tangibly fulfill the command of Jesus to love their neighbors.

7. Connect People’s Work to Their Participation in the Kingdom of God

Through their daily work, and within their vocational sectors, congregants have opportunities to advance foretastes of the Kingdom of God (e.g., wholeness, peace, justice, and beauty). Some of our participating church leaders commissioned members to tell the stories of how they have done this—as architects, school administrators, attorneys, business owners. These personal testimonies and videos brought rich inspiration to their flocks and have even nurtured exciting new initiatives like a neighborhood-based legal aid clinic, a prayer ministry within a large healthcare facility, a church-based mentoring program connecting mature professionals with college students studying in the same field, and a project to nurture new social enterprises.

Given sufficient creativity, intentionality, and prayer, church leaders can help their congregants to live missionally, in and through their daily vocations.

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Image by Marty Hadding. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.

amy sherman


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