Author: Gordon Preece, Al Miyashita, Willy Kotiuga
Category: Workplace Ministry
The creation story displays the truth about human work through character of God the creative worker. Humans, made in God’s image, are co-workers, junior partners or sub-creators with God. We are commissioned to rule God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-28); to use its abundance responsibly for our needs, to serve and care for the earth within limits, not eating from the Tree of Knowledge (Genesis 2:15, 16). Work is not evil, a product of the Fall, but part of God’s good creation and part of the purpose of our human existence. It is not the whole, for God rested on the seventh day and so should we. Work takes many forms: the work of the home; subsistence farming; serving the family, village or community; paid employment, and even the efforts of those without employment. God’s calling can include honest work in any place or form and such work is ministry - serving God and society. The Bible focuses extensively on the world of work. God audits the arenas of public and private work (Ephesians 6:5-9), and will ultimately redeem the fruit of human work, purged of all sin and evil, for the glory of the new creation (Isaiah 65:17-25, Revelation 21:24-26).
In the light of the strong biblical affirmation of ordinary work as ministry how does the church measure up? Not very well, despite some promising new initiatives. The crisis in the church is not merely a failure to disciple Christians for the workplace but an overall lack of commitment to whole-life disciple-making in general. Jesus did not come to redeem our leisure time, but all of our time, including the place where most of most people’s time is spent, at work.
Work done with the biblical ethical and redemptive understanding outlined above “will make the teaching about God our Saviour attractive” (Titus 2:10). Therefore we call for a radical change of mission strategy, from seeking to recruit church members to use some of their leisure time to support the ministry and mission of paid professionals (whether local or cross-cultural), to equipping the whole people of God for fruitful mission in the whole of their life, including their daily work – whatever and wherever that may be.
We therefore call on all pastors and church leaders to recognise that their church members do not exist in order to support their ministry, but that they (pastors and teachers) are called and given to the church in order to support the people in their ministry – “to equip the saints for works of service (ministry)”  - in every part of their lives in the world and the church.
We also call on all lay people to accept and affirm their own daily ministry and mission wherever God has called them to work, and to find ways to encourage pastors and church leaders to fulfil their calling in equipping them for it.
“One of the greatest hindrances to the Christian’s internal peace is the common habit of dividing our lives into two areas – the sacred and the secular. But this state of affairs is wholly unnecessary. We have gotten ourselves on the horns of a dilemma, but the dilemma is not real. It is a creature of misunderstanding. The sacred – secular antithesis has no foundation in the New Testament.” A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
This misunderstanding has its roots with early Greek scholars like Plato who introduced dualism, a notion that life can be divided into spiritual and physical realms. This dualism found its way into the church and has stymied the advance of the gospel into the workplace. It has caused unhealthy behavior and thinking that a worker and secular work is less important, even a waste of time. This must stop as there are no biblical references to support.
After all “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10), and we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvellous light;” (1 Peter 2:9) and everything we “do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). This said then what kind of Christian will we be in the workplace?
Ed Silvoso, author of Anointed for Business, says there are four types of Christians. The first type is a “survivor” who has no impact for Christ in their workplace. The second type lives by Christian principles. The third type lives by the power of the Holy Spirit, seeking God for direction in work and is led by God in decisions. The fourth type transforms the workplace for Christ. We need more type 3’s and 4’s in the workplace, and this requires a paradigm shift in preaching and teaching that provides practical application to work issues that come up.
Christian believers have the skills to change the world and for the most part, we are passionate about our love for God either overtly or discretely. We are spread throughout all segments of the workplace. How we view work influences the way we act at work. Do we see work as a necessary evil and banished from heaven or originally and intrinsically part of God’s good creation (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15) and redeemed for the new creation (Isaiah 65)? Or do we perceive the ways in which we can influence people through the work we do? All of us who serve, in whatever role, can bring ‘the aroma of Christ’ to the way we engage with colleagues, competitors, clients and customers. In the workplace there are many potential harvesters, but only a small percentage are actually engaged in proclaiming hope to a world looking for hope. We are all called to rub in salt and shine light wherever our sphere of influence extends.
Paul used his skills as a tentmaker to support his missionary endeavour, but also as a means of reaching an audience who did not engage in public discussion on faith-related matters. Paul’s tentmaking inspired a generation to use their professional skills as an entry point to cultures that were closed to ‘formal’ missionary work. These ‘tentmaking’ professionals have worked hard as civil servants, engineers, teachers, and in many other professions.
There is huge potential for church growth in the next generation in the form of those who hunger for meaningful relationships in the workplace. Increasingly, multi-ethnic work environments in the West offer opportunity to enter into the lives of people from all nations. Two things need to happen if the church–work divide is to be bridged: rethinking the role of the church in supporting our workplace emissaries, and rethinking the role of work in motivating emissaries.
The future is full of possibilities for reaching billions of workers around the world. Let’s endeavour to energize, train and equip church members to practise their faith, at whatever level they serve, and to make an impact for the gospel – on the assembly line or at the head of a corporation. Let’s explore ways to help workers develop leadership skills, as Christians, confident that all biblical wisdom is practical wisdom.
May God open our eyes and break down the barriers we have created so that we can prepare the workplace for a faith journey.
Several Christian leaders have been asked to continue the conversation by responding to this lead article. Read their responses and share your own thoughts:
Submitting to Jesus - DG Elmore
The Sacred-Secular Divide and Why We Gather - Larry Peabody
Lose My Job But Not My Witness - Philip Cheriyan
Gordon Preece, Al Miyashita & Willy Kotiuga are part of the Lausanne Workplace Network