A recent Barna Group study found that while 86% of pastors reported preaching sermons that addressed work in the past year, over 70% of Christians still cannot envision how the work they do serves God.
The gap could be an indicator of what we already know: it takes more than a sermon (or even sermons) to equip people to serve God in their everyday work.—One reason for this is that sermons alone may not address specific job-related questions and applications. For example, how can lawyers develop a vision for their role in establishing justice “on earth as it is in heaven” in a broken world? Or how do social media professionals approach the tension between the biblical value of relationships and the shallow communication that occurs online?— So what are churches doing to help people grasp God in the nitty-gritty of their work?
One approach that churches are taking is to develop vocation-specific resources for their congregations. We interviewed Travis Vaughn, Director of Cultural Renewal at Perimeter Church in Georgia. Perimeter combines a sermon series about work, small groups, networking opportunities and vocation-specific forums. Travis’s description of their efforts reflects the wisdom that tells us that sermons alone are not enough–that people need multiple entry points to access faith for their work. They also demonstrate the entrepreneurial spirit necessary to try new things, understanding that the process will bring new learning and growth.
Theology of Work Project (TOW): Can you describe the vocation-specific panels your church has been having?
Travis: Sure. One of the things we want to do at Perimeter is equip people for ministry in their vocations, in different “channels of cultural influence.” At Perimeter, these include business, government, healthcare, media, education, legal/judicial work, the arts and entertainment. Of course, these aren’t the only “channels” or sectors, and others have spoken about these domains before, but this at least gives us a framework from which to build on. The forums focused on three: business, healthcare, and education.
TOW: Why did these start? What was the need?
Travis: For the past couple of years, we’ve asked our members to indicate the channel where their work seems to fit. This year, 47% of those who responded to the survey indicated business, 21% said education, and 19% said healthcare. These three “channels of cultural influence” are where the majority of our people swim.
Another precursor to the forums was a five-week message series we did in 2013 titled, “What Do You Work For: Your Place in a Larger Story.” The series focused on our calling to work. Our teaching team did a great job walking work through the biblical storyline of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. Response to the series was extremely positive. We even piloted some smaller groups that met during the series to talk about their work, where their vocations fit within God’s creational design for work, and what some of the challenges and struggles were accompanying their work.
Upon evaluating what we needed to do next, there was general consensus that we needed more equipping in this arena. The forums would become at least one thing we would experiment with in our desire to better equip and network people within the Perimeter family.
TOW: What have been the fruits of it?
Travis: I think the general feeling among many who attended was “when do we do this sort of thing again?” This was confirmed in our evaluations. We had a significant number of attendees indicate a desire to connect with groups that met over the summer discussing their work and Every Good Endeavor, by Tim Keller and Katherine Alsdorf (Katherine kicked off our forum on the Gospel and Business as our main speaker, and she participated in the panel discussion).
Additionally, we think we made a few new friends and even had forum attendees offer to help with this emerging ministry. I believe the forums have also helped pave the way for some new and not-quite-new initiatives we’ll experiment with beginning this fall.
TOW: What have been the challenges?
Travis: Thankfully, we’ve had a team of people — the majority being non-staff and volunteers — committed to this ministry over the past year, and that has been a huge help.
At the same time, there is much to be done. We have limited time and resources. I think the biggest challenges will be seen over the coming years. How will this emphasis on faith and work be sustained? Is this just another “new” ministry idea that will fade over time? Will our community be different, as people seek to live out the implications of the gospel in and through their vocations? How do we best equip our people? These are questions we are trying to address, and this will take time.
TOW: What have you learned as a pastor from having these events?
Travis: Events can be helpful, but I don’t think they should be an end to themselves. They should point to something else. They can help catalyze a conversation, but they don’t have to be THE conversation. To the degree that these events help create more space for a bigger goal of helping people to live integral lives as Christians in our various vocational callings, then I think the forums (and events like these forums) can be helpful.
Faith and work integration, or maybe “vocational stewardship” (I think that may be a better way of thinking about this conversation) is a subject that people want to know more about. I have a ton to learn in this ministry. I don’t even think I’m asking the right questions, yet. Maybe that is the biggest learning I’ve had over the past year or two…wow, I have so, so much to learn.
Click to view highlights from the Perimeter forums on business, healthcare and education—featuring Sajan George, founder of Matchbook Learning, and Katherine Alsdorf, co-author of Every Good Endeavor and Theology of Work Project board member.
Other TOW articles of interest for pastors:
- Seven Obstacles Pastors Face When Helping Congregations Integrate Faith and Work
- Practical, Creative Ideas for Pastors on Sunday Morning: Integrating Faith and Work