The church and workplace ministry

I never knew what a loss adjuster was until my after-church conversation with Max. I asked what he did for a living and was mystified by the idea of being ‘a loss adjuster’.  But it made sense as he explained it. A loss adjuster is an independent assessor of the loss incurred by an insured business after, say, a fire has occurred. Insurance covers the business for physical losses and for loss of income while out of action. But calculating depreciation on factories and plant and the actual looses involved in the time before the business re-opens is a complex matter and it is easy for insurance companies and their clients to differ. A loss adjuster takes into account all sorts of factors including seasons and sale patterns, alternative sources, the condition of the factory and so on.

But what was really difficult, as Max explained it, was the ethical dilemma created by the tension that can emerge between trying to do what is right not only by the business owner and the insurer but, sometimes, the police (a loss adjuster gets very deep into the state of the business and may find a motive for a fire that is not accidental) and one’s own employer (the company that wants a quick or good result which will bring in more business).

As it was an after-church conversation I asked, ‘Have you ever been helped in this by what the church does or teaches?’ while expecting to know the answer.  ‘No, not really’ was the answer. Though he generously went on to say that some of the basic teaching about honesty and integrity was important. But there was no expectation that anyone in the church would have any real understanding of what went on in his life from Monday to Friday.

No, I haven’t heard many sermons that deal with the ethical complexities of loss adjustment either. Most of the sermons and the examples and illustrations I hear relate much more to personal or family related matters. And, I have to confess, in my time as pastor of two congregations I think I can confidently say that I never addressed the issues associated with loss adjustment myself!  Yes, I fully understand the practical difficulties preachers face in relating their teaching to the world of work. But unless the church finds more and better ways of helping people relate faith to work and business then we will perpetuate a dangerous division of sacred and secular worlds. Instead we need to be finding ways to make the gospel relevant to the whole world.

The gap between Sunday and Monday has to be addressed.  Many Christians feel that their work  lives are marginalised from their church life when, in fact, going into the workplace ought to be a calling and an act of mission.  Our work is a vocation, a calling from God in which we ought to commend God to the world through our integrity, industry, honesty and quality of work.  The workplace is where many Christians spend one third of their waking hours. What does it mean for their understanding of faith if work concerns are not a part of worship, a topic of reflection from the pulpit, a focus of attention in study groups or a subject of prayer or a part of pastoral care?   Why do we commission Sunday school teachers, pastors and youth leaders but not builders, plumbers, businessmen and state school teachers? Do only the former group have a commission? Are only some Christians called to serve God?

One problem is that pastors may find it hard to preach on work because they’ve never done it. Or at least not for some years. After all, everyone knows that pastors are like God: six days invisible and one day incomprehensible!  No, no I’m just joking!  My real view is that pastors have (seriously) one of the hardest jobs imaginable in the sense that ‘the job description’ is unfulfillable – because often everyone in the congregation (and the community) has a different set of expectations, and the real objectives like ‘spiritual growth’ and ‘communicating the gospel’ are virtually un-measurable! So its no wonder that they are often pressured to find some other, more tangible and measurable goals! Pastors are so tied up in church programs and the myriad tasks that need to be done within the church that the pressure of the workplace easily get left behind.  And the fact that their experience with secular work most likely finished some years before contributes to a sense of alienation from the rapidly changing world of work

The danger is of the church becoming a ghetto with Christians gathering together away from the effects of the rest of the world.  Gathering together as church is very important but we need to recover a notion of ‘the scattered church’, of the people of God as the people of God when they are engaged in other activities outside the four walls of the church building.

We can consider Christians as being called by God in three ways. The first call is the universal call to the whole of humanity to live and share in community, working harmoniously and creatively in the world that God has given us.  As Genesis says, ‘So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”’   (Genesis 1:26-28).  Work is an important part of humanity’s role, we must affirm it and help people see that God is vitally interested in what they do, why they do it and the way they do it.

The second call is the call to be transformed by Christ, baptised and commissioned to Christlike character and service. This is connected with the great commission.  It means making disciples of all, and teaching them to obey ‘everything’ that Jesus commanded.  (Matt. 28:19-20)   This is distinct from the first calling but is not separate from it.  We can and should minister Christ in and through our places of work.

The third call is the specific calling each person has to particular ministry, work, family and social roles and tasks.  As the apostle Paul said, ‘Let each of you live the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you.’ (1 Corinthians 7:17)  To reinforce in our people a sense of this calling by God, churches could commission people to their work.  It would be great to have services for different groups: business, retail, trades, medical, and education, and not forgetting the unemployed and careers of the children, the disabled and the retired.  It would raise questions about the nature of the ministry that people have and the ways that others can be served through it.

Let’s bring more of the world into church and more of our faith into the world of work.

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