Equipping followers of Christ to engage in their everyday work as the work of God, so workplaces are invigorated, communities flourish and culture is renewed to the honor and glory of the Lord.

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Primary Location For Spiritual Formation

“I’m prepared to contend that the primary location for spiritual formation is the workplace.”

This remarkable statement is by Eugene Peterson, in his recent book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. Peterson is the author of The Message (the Bible in present-day English), who served as a Presbyterian pastor for several years.

I’m curious to know when Eugene Peterson developed this contention that the workplace is “the primary location for spiritual formation.” If he held this conviction while he was a pastor, his church must have been very unusual.

Not many churches have a budget line item directed toward spiritual formation in the workplace. Not many churches have programs that specifically help people integrate their faith with their work. Marriage? Yes. Parenting? Yes. Foreign missions? Yes. Evangelism? Yes. Music? Yes. Community service? Sometimes. Workplace? No.

In 2005, I interviewed twenty senior pastors in the greater Seattle area, asking them about their own church-related beliefs and practices regarding faith in the workplace. 20 out of 20 indicated they believed the local church should play a role in influencing the Monday-through-Friday workplace. A strong majority felt the church should be training, equipping, encouraging, instructing and/or supporting its members in this endeavor.

But when I asked what their level of satisfaction was with how their own churches were doing in this regard, the average response was 4.58 on a level of 1-10 (10 being the highest).

Twelve pastors (60%) gave themselves a 5 or lower. Six pastors (30%) gave themselves a 3 or lower. 80% of the responses were 6 or lower.

About 75% of the pastors felt that having classes at church that focused on how to specifically apply Christianity to practical matters in the workplace would be a positive thing to do. However, only one pastor indicated that such classes had ever been taught in his church.

When I mentioned the idea of publicly commissioning professionals and trades-people during Sunday morning services for the service of Christ in the workplace during the week, most pastors liked the idea. But hardly any had done so.

A couple of pastors indicated they had Sunday service prayer for teachers, police officers and firefighters. Apparently, accountants and car mechanics are off the radar.

My intention is not to be critical here. Churches have enough criticism directed toward them. But why is there such a disconnect between Sunday and Monday?

Any thoughts?

If you haven't viewed the video of the month yet, take a moment to hear Paul Stevens' thoughts on the role of the church in equipping saints for workplace service: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4jLkPzdkuc

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  1. Christian,

    I believe the difficulty lies in failing to understand the kingdom of God, of which the workplace is a vital part. Teaching the kingdom - the righteous rule of Jesus Chrsit extended over the whole earth and including all areas of life - very naturally includes vocation. The principles of the kingdom apply to all jurisdicitons; family, civil government, church, education, the arts, science and certainly the workplace. Until the church proclaims the kingdom as more than saving souls but the rule of king Jesus over every area of life, faith in the workplace will simply be an add-on to a truncated gospel. Seeing the forest is necessary before we can see the individual trees.


  2. Robert,

    I fully agree with you. The "Gospel" has been reduced to the "Gospel of Personal Salvation."

    Actually, Jesus preached the "Gospel of the Kingdom." Huge difference.

    Thanks for your comment!

  3. Great idea Christian -- Commissioning professionals publicly. We send off church planters on a regular basis at Alathia, but not professionals. That gives a clear (and wrong) message that the pastors are the missionaries. I wrote down the following action steps for myself
    1. Conduct a survey to see what jobs are represented in the congregation.
    2. Ask people in the different fields to brainstorm ideas on how to adorn the Gospel in their workplace.
    3. Present a sermon on how that might be done using examples from the specific field.
    4. Ask for prayer requests from that field and praying for them on a Sunday morning.
    5. Invite them to report back.

  4. Pastor Paul,

    I really like your action steps! Let us know how it turns out.

    A friend of mine, Larry Peabody, author of a really great book, called, "Serving Christ in the Workplace," just recently developed what he calls a "MRI" survey for use by churches. (MRI = "Ministry Resource Inquiry")

    The "MRI Survey" is handled via the Internet, and is inteneded to help local churches to take an inventory of what jobs are represented in the body, and to get a feel for the "reach" of influence that is already present within the congregation.

    The survey can be "customized," also.

    Contact Larry for more information through his website at www.calledintowork.com.

    Blessings on you and your work!

  5. In the name of freedom of speech, some would impose vulgarity upon the innocent while Christians seem to be silent or even accepting. I have wondered why Christians are not bolder in proclaiming a redemptive message on a day other than Sunday or a setting other than church. Why are we less inclined to claim freedom of speech with our colleagues at work? Sanctification--the process of being transformed from a blind sinner into a godly person--is a process of ever expanding impact in the life of one individual who then becomes a conduit of redemption to others and to society. I like what you are proposing. It is time for Christians to demonstrate resolve in the workplace as well as the public arena. Not with a mean spirit or a demanding personality, but to engage others with the essence of our Christian message because people need the Lord and a sanctified society is a healthier society.

  6. Ron Henry shared
    I would raise the question, would you like to play the game of cricket if you didn't understand the rules? Would you like to participate in a game that you had no skills or abilities? The points shared previously are on point, but those of us sharing must understand that a 'pastor' is an occupation, not a calling/vocation. Teaching is a calling/vocation. We have many 'pastors' in leadership roles expecting them to provide leadership into a foreign world where they have received no training nor education on rules of the game. Where are the business leaders mentoring to the pastors, walking with them into the workplace, encouraging, educating and supporting? So many times the issues start with the ones asking the questions. Yes, Mr. Peterson nows gets it, but awareness (the blinders have been removed) is one thing, execution is another.

  7. Ron,

    As I read your comment I was reminded of an excellent book written not long ago by Kent Humphreys, called, "Shepherding Horses."

    It is a short, straightforward piece with wonderful insights and suggestions for pastors on how to relate to business people within their congregations.