No! says our guest editor Mark Greene. Through our workplaces, Christians have the opportunity to change our nation.
‘My name is Mark Greene and I used to work in advertising, so you can trust every word I say.’
That’s how I often introduce myself when I speak on work, but my testimony is this:
‘I used to work in advertising and I saw God do wondrous things. I saw him answer prayer. I saw him miraculously heal my boss’ secretary. I saw him draw people to himself. I saw him impact the work itself. I saw him protect me and guide me. I saw him mould my character, teach me about service and humility, mature me through spectacular character failure, career disappointment and success, disciple me – right there in the headquarters of the fourth largest ad agency in the world. Madison Avenue wasn’t just a context for mission, it was a context for growing in maturity. So is every workplace. So is every place.’
The point is not that I used to work in advertising so you can trust every word I say. The point is that that God worked in advertising and you can trust every word he says – whatever your work, paid or unpaid, wherever you do it. But it’s bigger than work. God can and does work in and through people in all kinds of daily contexts. One woman suffers from a degenerative disease and was wondering how to minister to people who don’t know Jesus since she’s become increasingly housebound. She prayed, and she now ministers to the Tesco drivers who deliver her weekly groceries. God told one retired man to pick up litter in his local nature reserve which has led to all kinds of opportunities to witness. There are many other disciples of Jesus who have realised that mission is not just pursued in church-based activities or in formal community outreach, but in their ordinary daily contexts and encounters. God can and does work through his people, wherever they are.
The key challenge for churches is to create communities that support each other in our mission – both the things we do together in our church and community in our leisure time, and the things we do when we are out in the world. We are all daily participants in God’s mission, so let’s commit ourselves to discipling one another. Let’s get to find out about each other’s daily lives:
• Where are you?
• What do you do?
• Who is with you?
• What is God doing, and wanting to do, in and through you?
• How can we, the Body of Christ, support you?
Work: The Great Mission Field
The workplace is a key arena for mission and discipleship. It is the context where God has placed many of his people in daily, purposeful and prolonged contact with millions of workers (and those they serve) who don’t know Jesus. It is a huge opportunity.
Sadly, however, over the last century, the Church has put very little time, energy, theological reflection, leadership training, prayer, or money behind this. It’s not that some of the Church’s key thinkers haven’t seen the issue. As early as 1945, the Church of England’s seminal document Towards the Conversion of England concluded: ‘England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities for evangelism daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations.’
Lesslie Newbigin put it this way: ‘The primary action of the Church in the world is the action of its members in their daily work.’
Despite that, no denomination or major stream anywhere in the world has integrated these perspectives into the way their local churches disciple their people or envision and equip them for mission. Ultimately, of course, this is a theological issue. Either Jesus died to reconcile all things to himself, or just some things; either we are new creations in Christ 24/7, or we are new creations in Christ some of the time; either the people of God are sent into all the world to make disciples, or into just some bits of it… At root, the Church’s attitude to work reveals its beliefs about God.
It is also a spiritual battle. With very high stakes. Right now, 98% of God’s people (those not in church-paid work) are not being envisioned and equipped for mission in 95% of their waking lives. This battle will not be won by argument alone but, as Tozer emphasised, writing in 1948, by ‘a great deal of reverent prayer’.
There have been a few initiatives, yes, and a modest flow of books and resources. But what we need is not a few sermons on work or the founding of a monthly workers’ breakfast, but a radical church-wide decision to recognise that we all have a duty to consistently support our brothers and sisters at work and elsewhere. To do this will take some profound, if simple, changes in the way we relate to one another.
Such a change is vital for all God’s people. The gospel is good news for work; good news for the actual work we do, for our fellowworkers, for the institutions we serve and the nation we are called to disciple.
Yes, the contemporary UK workplace is tougher, faster, more pressured, more beset by anxiety, more unstable than it was ten years ago. Yes, many Christians don’t feel very confident about ‘sharing their faith’. There is fear in many hearts; a sense, as Professor Trevor Cooling’s Transforming Lives research among teachers showed, that in the workplace our faith is not ‘an asset to be celebrated but a problem to be managed’. Nevertheless, every workplace is a mission field and every one is a foreign country. Some are warm and open to gospel values and some are cold and closed, but God is Lord of all of them.
Furthermore, Christians not only have a role to play through godly work and humble prayer, we have biblical wisdom to offer for every sphere of work, every workplace and every worker. Indeed, our national experience of work and our nation’s economy are poorer for the lack of it. Just as we can be confident that the gospel addresses the big economic and organisational issues, so we can be confident that it addresses our personal challenges.
1. Be Confident: Work is central to God’s missional purposes
The call to follow Christ is not just a call to personal salvation and membership of the people of God. It is a call to participate in his kingdom purposes in the world. Human work is the instrument God uses to get things done he wants done: the planet cared for, people educated, housed, the mind expanded through study, the heart lifted through the manufacture and playing of musical instruments…the poor fed, the sick healed…Our charitable giving helps the poor, but creating a decent job helps them more. Building good hospitals and schools is vital, but you can only afford them if you have first created the wealth to fund them.
2. Be Confident: You can serve God through your daily work
‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart’ begins Colossians 3:23. And the Lord God would hardly ask us to do something with ‘all your heart’ if it weren’t significant to him, even if it often doesn’t feel very significant to us. Why is the so-called ‘ordinary’ significant to God? Because everything we do has an impact on his world and on the people created in his image. Because God thought of you before the creation of the world, knit you together in your mother’s womb and has had his eye on you ever since and he is interested in what you do. Just as he was interested to see what Adam would name the animals, so he is interested how you use your talents, your power, your resources, your opportunities.
3. Be Confident: There are many ways to be fruitful at work
Sadly, many Church communities give Christians the impression that the only thing that really counts for God at work is evangelism. But saved souls are not the only fruit.
‘Take your faith to work’ is popularly understood to mean, ‘Look for an opportunity to verbally proclaim your own belief in Christ.’ But it ought to mean something more like: ‘Go to work knowing that God is your Father, that you have been chosen, saved, sent, empowered by the Holy Spirit for good works where you are, supported by the people of God, trusting that God can work in and through your colleagues, and in and through you, to bring about his good purposes in time.’ Take that to work.
4. Be Confident: You are Christ’s son or daughter
Whether you are a company cleaner or a company director you are first and foremost a child of the king of the universe. Rest in that assurance. God doesn’t send his children to work alone. Yes, we work in a fallen world – there is pressure, futility, injustice, exploitation – but God is with us. Look to him. He is interested in it all.
5. Be Confident: Salvation is by grace not by works or performance
Many workplaces are dominated by increasing pressure on performance targets and short-term measures. In this context, there is a huge pressure to start believing that our essential worth is bound up with what we do, that we gain significance from success – salvation by works. In sharp contrast, the gospel message is that we are already significant, valuable and loved because we are created in the image of God and offered life by the sacrifice of his son. And it is that love-drenched significance that liberates us to take risks, to fail, to succeed. Grace abounds, grace liberates.
6. Be Confident: Work is a context to grow as a disciple of Jesus
God is committed to our sanctification, to helping us grow more like Jesus. So it is more than likely that he will use our work to teach us selfless love, obedience and reliance on him, to teach us to pray and to hear his voice, to help us grow in the fruit of the Spirit, and to exercise the gifts of the Spirit.
God with us in our work. God working through our work. God among our co-workers, in our workplaces, working out his good purposes in time and eternity to his glory. We may not see a bumper harvest now but, as Peter puts it in 1 Peter 2:12, ‘Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’ And he is coming to visit us, to complete his work. And ours.
Mark Greene is executive director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. licc.org.uk