When the Sermon Goes to Work
Life on the job is too important to give it light treatment.
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Does selling insurance, running a Laundromat, driving a cab, or delivering mail matter to God? Judging by our preaching, the answer is "not much." In one survey 90 percent of Christians said they had never heard a sermon that applied biblical theology to work. Yet Christians may spend between 40 and 75 percent of their lives in work-related tasks. Unfortunately, they have reason to suspect that, as far as God is concerned, their work-life is a vast wasteland.
Several years ago I had breakfast with a group of businessmen who were Christians. Perhaps because I was there, they began talking about their pastors. They respected their ministers and appreciated their dedication, but they also felt their pastors were out of touch with them. Their preachers had visited them or members of their families when they were in the hospital, and a couple of the ministers had visited two of the men in their homes. Two others reported that their preachers had played golf with them. Yet, none of the clergymen had ever spent a day with them at work or even visited them at their place of employment. As one of the men put it, "I enter his world once or twice a week, but he doesn't bother much about mine."
If ministers do preach about the workplace, they may speak of it solely as a platform for evangelism. The idea here is that the dock worker or the tailor should find significance in their labor by sharing the gospel with fellow-workers.
Some Christians have bought into this attitude. "I earn my living as an accountant," they say, "but my real work is telling people about Jesus Christ." Is it? Does God care nothing about how the books are kept?
Would it be out of line for pastors to ordain men and women to the work of the ministry in the marketplace? Would it be sacrilegious to send them out not simply as evangelists but as witnesses who honor Jesus Christ by the way they do their jobs?
Whom do we honor? When someone leaves the workplace to go to the mission field, have they always made a more godly choice? Or suppose a pastor leaves the church to run the jewelry store. Is it possible that he hasn't really left the ministry at all?
Read again the passages in the New Testament directed to slaves. Paul affirms them. They are doing the will of God; they are serving their Master, Jesus, and they will receive their reward from him for what they do in their work. Don't those passages alone challenge our silence about labor?
The line of penetration should be from the pulpit to the pew to the pavement. We need to break down the wall between the sacred and the secular. We must help those who are Christ followers to "Remember the workday to keep it holy."
Haddon Robinson is Harold John Ockenga Distinguished Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.