What most often comes to mind when we think about Church Multiplication is church planting or some new vision or strategy. This article isn’t about any of that. What this article IS about could radically multiply the effect your church has on its local community. It could enable your church transformative access to the heart of your community, to the places of power and influence where the major decisions are made. It could give your church direct access to hundreds even thousands of Canadians from all walks of life. What would it take to achieve all of this? All it takes is an adjustment of priorities and a serious commitment to equipping Christian presence in the place we find ourselves every day… at work.
Our life at work is an oft forgotten area for the people in our congregations. Rarely have we had a class or small group about work. Rarely have we been at a retreat to explain it. Rarely if ever do we even hear a sermon about it. And yet work is unrivalled in terms of time, commitment and energy in the lives of most Canadians. What would happen to our church if our congregation woke up to the kingdom effect that their working lives could have on the broader world? What if we armed our congregation with the knowledge that their work matters to God, that the way they work matters to God, that their work could constitute the frontlines of God’s mission to our world? Well quite simply there is no church multiplication strategy in existence that could match the power of Christians, acting like Jesus, at work.
What follows here are a few ideas to help, if one were so inclined, to take the cork off this hidden Church growth resource buried in all of our churches.
Work as the primary spiritual arena.
There is an old joke that goes “How can you tell when a used car salesman is lying? When his lips are moving!” That little joke is an insight into the current state of the working world. The inability to tell the truth, to properly represent the facts, is a widespread problem not only in the world of used cars but in business in general. In fact most experts consider lying to be the spark that caused the fire in the global economy. Mortgage applicants lied about how much they made and the value of their assets. They accepted a debt they couldn’t pay. Mortgage providers rewrote the rules and ignored the truth. They gave money to people they knew couldn’t pay. Traders bought and traded the mortgages to world markets. They put pressure on mortgage providers to stretch the rules to find more mortgages. All parties, from Main Street to Wall Street, suppressed what they knew was wrong and sent the world careening off a cliff.
Now more than ever we need to see work, not the church, as THE primary spiritual arena in which to practice the Christian life. Work can be a proving ground for faith. Work can test the depths of our character. Work can be where the spiritual rubber hits the road. Work can be where we experience the true joy of worshipping God by unreservedly serving others. Ultimately, through who we are at work and the way that we work, God can bring about His shalom: the complete peace of God in security, contentment, sound health, prosperity, friendship, peace of mind and heart.
So, in what ways does all of this happen? Well this tends to happen in two ways: in what we resist, and in what we nurture and grow. God can bless a workplace when we resist and defend others against evil. Christians at work can actively resist evil by avoiding temptations like cutting corners, trying to get something for nothing, concealing the truth, gossiping, indulging laziness, or remaining silent when we see something unjust or unsafe. God can bless a workplace when we nurture and grow godly attitudes and spiritual fruit. Our bosses, co-workers, and customers count on us to conduct our working lives with integrity, honesty, sincerity, and in good faith. At work we can develop proficiency in love, patience, kindness, self-control and approximately 100 million other similar spiritual fruit and gifts. Our God-shaped lives can and do have a positive and sustaining effect on the places we work.
So why doesn’t all of this positive and sustaining stuff happen very often? Well because we treat our lives outside the church as being “secular” or separate from our “sacred” or spiritual lives at church. This way of thinking is often called “Functional Atheism” because it removes the possibility and power of God from all areas of life outside the church. A Functional Atheist does not need God’s help, power or presence in 90% of their day to day life. God’s help, power and presence are confined to a single hour on Sunday morning. Church Multiplication can begin by simply erasing those lines and seeing all of life as “sacred” and spiritual.
Work as creative.
Another way to release the kingdom effect of your church in the workplace is to reacquaint them with the creative aspects found in all work. The Bible says that we were created in God’s image. One way to plainly see the remnants of that image is in human creativity. God is creator. He is creative. He created the world out of nothing. Without Him nothing was made. We express that same impulse, that same God image whenever we create. Whether it is creating a work of art or a fitting for an industrial pipe – to create is to participate in the divine. This can be harder to see in some jobs more than others. However the fact still remains that to create is divine. When our creating is coupled with a love and concern for the world we become even more like God. After all he created the world out of a deep love for the people that inhabit the world. He created for our enjoyment. He created for our pleasure. He created so that we could join Him in saying “This is Good!”
It then follows that whenever human beings create with their hands, create through their ideas, or create through their words they are reflecting God’s image. When we, as Christians, do this out of a love and concern for the world — God can bring about shalom. The things that we create at work can make the world safer, better fed, happier, more beautiful, or even more productive (just to name a few). We can take great pride in even the most boring jobs or seemingly insignificant jobs when we recognize that we are co-labourers with God. God can knit together a better world out of the things that we make.
Work as sustained presence.
Work takes up unparalleled amounts of time: A depressing thought for some; a unique opportunity for anyone with the eyes to see it. Outside of sleeping work is the place that occupies most of our adult lives. Because of this, work puts us into constant, almost daily, contact with the people God loves. God can, once again, do amazing things through us if we take our duty to be salt and light at work seriously. Sustained contact with people creates an environment where it is almost unavoidable to become enmeshed in the lives others. Work mixes our lives with the lives of the people in our local community, people often outside the reach of our church. Work provides us with a constant opportunity, as the Bible says, to rejoice with those who rejoice (births, life milestones, personal victories, etc…), and mourn with those who mourn (the loss of a loved one, disappointment over a promotion, break up of relationships, etc…). Being salt and light at work can mean being a support, an encouragement and a help to the people around us as they walk through life. Through us, Canadians can experience the sustained and sustaining presence of Christ; when we are present with them through thick and thin and when we actively take their concerns to God.
As the effects of the global economic crisis begin to be felt in all areas of society God is calling us to live Christian lives at the heart of that crisis. He is calling his church to be ready. Ready and willing to serve and help. Ready to go the extra mile. Ready to give the shirt off our back. Ready to clothe the naked. Ready to feed the hungry. Ready to visit the lonely and imprisoned. This call will not necessarily send us boldly out to some far flung place – it could send us to where we already are: in the board rooms, class rooms, wheat fields, garage floors and factory floors.
While I certainly believe in church planting and in churches having healthy conversations about where they are headed – neither can match the kingdom potential of Christians at work. Why? Because most church growth strategies are designed to attract people out from the world and into the church. That forces us to compete for the world’s attention – our Strawberry Socials up against Prime Time TV. What I am suggesting is the opposite: attract Christians out of the church and into the world they know – the world of work.
Rev. Jared Siebert is the Director of Growth Ministries with The Free Methodist Church in Canada.