Who's Sitting in Your Pew?

This is really written to the world’s pastors… you’re welcome to listen in as we sip our coke.

So, pastor, have you thought lately of who’s really sitting in your pew? As you know, most of your adult church members live Monday to Friday in the workplace. As the old rock music song ‘Takin Care of Business’, by Bachman Turner Overdrive belted out: “You get up every morning from your alarm clock’s warning, take the 8:15 into the city. There’s a whistle up above and people pushin’, and people shovin’…”

Your members live in this world that is often fraught with pushing and shoving and swearing and off-color jokes and more, and they often feel like it’s not a place they can raise the banner of faith. As a matter of fact, a recent Barna Research study showed that only 26% of Christian workers see how the work they are doing serves God or a higher purpose.

Our author friends have been writing about faith-work integration for folks in your pews who are company owners, leaders and workers since the 1980’s. Fresh new books are coming out regularly. Many of the books have the same basic message. Something like, “Hey Business Person! Your work is a holy calling!” and they remind us to “be like Jesus in the marketplace.” The thing is, some of the business leaders sitting in your pew would love to feel like they’re in ministry, but they don’t. They feel like second-class citizens who imagine someday they will finally be in a “real ministry” . . . in a soup kitchen or crisis pregnancy center or in a foreign land, and then finally God will smile on their life.

I know, I was one of them, way back in 1990. I was one of those deacons who prayed Sunday night for the visiting missionary and then hopped a Sunday night plane to business in another city, hoping I too would be a missionary someday. So, your business leaders and workers that sit in your pews keep going on mission trips where “real ministry” happens. Unfortunately, the mission trip seems more spiritual to the man or woman sitting in your pew than it does if they balance the books or write a new marketing plan or hire a new team member or invent a new product or care for a patient or teach a toddler new skills.

Dorothy Sayers, one of the first women to graduate from Oxford and possibly one of the most influential Christian thinkers of the twentieth century, wrote some powerful things that help workers and leaders live out their faith at work. Let’s read:

The Church's approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.[1]

Have you told the folks sitting in your pews to ‘make good tables’ and to love their neighbor while they’re at work? They’re dying to know how their work matters and they trust you to tell them what God says about it. They’ve been under the impression that their work is something they do just to make money. The problem is, that premise does not live out well. Logically, it would mean that after God kicked Adam and Eve out of the garden, he set them up to do meaningless drudgery for 70% of their life. THIS ISN’T TRUE! The truth is that meaning can only be found in God’s purposes for work. God’s hand is not absent from accounting, teaching, cleaning, wood carving, leading, painting, owning a business or piloting an airplane. In Psalm 90:17, the Psalmist asks God to “establish the work of his hands“. Jesus talked about not hiding our talent and being a faithful steward for His Kingdom. Jesus knew that the people hearing his voice had to go back to work when he was done talking, and he wanted them to know that work matters. The workplace is where the world is Monday to Friday. It’s where we as Christ followers must show up to redeem a world craving hope, love and meaning. We must turn the Sunday stuff into Monday stuff.

What can you as a pastor do to truly see and engage a business leader and champion them in their calling outside your church? I get the pleasure of talking with hundreds of Christian CEOs in our network as the CEO of Convene. You can start your learning journey at our website.  We meet monthly to try to “turn the Sunday stuff into Monday stuff.” If I could bring along one of our leaders and we met in your study as you worked on your next sermon, here’s what we’d likely suggest as to crafting your talk with the worker or leader in mind.

  1. Teach your members they are in ministry, each day from sun up to sun down

  2. Go visit your members at their work if it’s appropriate. They’d be honored and likely would even buy you lunch! If you can’t visit, call them and pray for them as ministers of the gospel living out their faith at work.

  3. Add to your reading list a few books on faith and work such as Giving it all Away by David Green or Every Good Endeavor by Pastor Tim Keller. Better yet, why not get a gift for your business leaders such as the Maxwell Leadership Bible, or grab the practical daily devotional for all of us who work called 10X For Christ by Carlos Rosales. They’ll feel so understood by you!

  4. Send an email to all your members who serve in the workplace asking how you could pray for them.

  5. Send a video learning link on faith at work. They’ll know you’re thinking about them.

One more thing. My friends and I are assembling a group of thinkers who understand the faith-work space deeply. We’re all gathering in San Diego, CA to talk about how we can show up with God’s love in the workplace. The learning event is this fall. We’d love to welcome you to learn with us. Details can be found here. Email us if you are a pastor or would like to invite your pastor to the conference at a 30% discount. We’ll be waiting to greet you.

[1] Dorothy Sayers, Creed or Chaos