Where is your church on Monday?
No, I don’t mean the building at the corner of First and Main. I’m talking about the church—the people, the Body of Christ. Weekdays, much of your church scatters to work in hardware stores, classrooms, government agencies, sales offices, repair shops, and so on.
In your church, how many working people regularly show up on Sunday? You can easily make a rough estimate. For example, in the U.S., around 63 percent of those 16 and older serve in the labor force. So if your church has 100 people in that age range, nearly two-thirds may spend most prime-time hours in the work world.
What might these fellow believers be going through on the job? The American Institute of Stress (AIS) says, “Numerous studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades.” Rising quotas. Too few workers. Coercion from demanding bosses. Toxic fellow employees. Killer overtime schedules. All these and more help explain why Gallup has found that 70 percent of American workers are either not engaged or disengaged on the job.
Created (and Re-Created) to Work
Does the church—do its people—have any responsibility here? Let’s see how the New Testament speaks to this issue. For starters, consider what it says about why God made us into new creations in Christ: “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10).
No, we are not saved by good works. We are saved by faith--for good works. This Greek word translated as “works” is not a stained-glass, churchy word. It includes the everyday get-your-hands-dirty work of weekdays. Paul used the verb form of the same word when said, “We work hard with our own hands” (I Cor. 4:12). It’s the word he used to say that former thief should “work, doing something with his own hands” (Eph. 4:28). It’s the word he used to tell the Thessalonian believers, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands” (I Thess. 4:11).
Put all this together. Why did God form us in Christ? Not only to join him in heaven someday but also to do good work on earth here and now. Not only good church work but also good work that will help his creation and our fellow creatures thrive. Good work that will demonstrate the difference it makes when we work as new creations in Christ. The labor of each Christian puts God’s own artisanship on display (we are his "workmanship"). So the way we do our work matters greatly.
Mending Wounds from Workplace Stress
Now relate this to shared church. As AIS says “job stress is far and away the major source of stress.” Are Christians exempt from this kind of workplace hassle and tension? Hardly. Just as the post-sin lives of Adam and Eve involved thorns, thistles, sweat, and pain (Gen. 3), we still work in a fallen world. In such a setting, our work depletes and frays us. So Christians in the labor force regularly need three kinds of repair work the New Testament calls on all of us to do for each other. When disheartened, they need to be encouraged. When exhausted, they need to be strengthened. And when knocked down, they need to be built up.
I’ve regularly observed traditional church services for three-quarters of a century. And from what I’ve seen, platform performances typically leave little if any time or space for one-anothering. More than half the people present likely spend their weekdays working among people who will not—and cannot—encourage, strengthen, or build them up. But even on Sundays, among fellow Christ-followers, the damage they’ve sustained in the work world is rarely attended to.
Shared Church Frees Up One-Anothering
That’s why shared church, which opens doors for New Testament one-anothering, is so important. Working Christians need to hear encouraging accounts from other working believers who are experiencing God’s sustaining presence on the job. In my book, Curing Sunday Spectatoritis, I include this quotation by Alan and Eleanor Kreider from their book, Worship and Mission after Christendom:
“If we receive no reports from the front in our congregations, we are in trouble. Without testimonies we experience a drought, a nutritional deficit for healthy Christian living. And the dominant cultural narratives take over. God seems powerless and inactive. And Christians who do see evidence of the missional activities of God in our time may only whisper about it in the church’s hallways or discuss it during the week in house groups or on the telephone—but not in worship services.”
Of course, those who spend their weekdays in the workplace are not the only ones who need to be strengthened, encouraged, and built up. So do single moms. Those battling cancer. Spouses who are struggling in their marriage relationships. And believers coping with many other situations. All of us need to hear from each other stories of how God is at work in our scattered-church lives. Those on the front lines who have seen God deliver can best refresh others who are struggling in similar arenas.
Without using the term "shared church," the author of Hebrews wrote about our need for it. The instructions are just as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds [literally, 'works']. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:24-25). That Day is even nearer now than when the author penned those words. This makes moving toward shared church an urgent concern.