Worldview, Workplace, and Faith Formation

It’s no secret that many young Christians are leaving the church. Can a pint-sized worldview help explain why? And does the absence of reports from the scattered church contribute to a stunted worldview?

“A Failure of Faith Formation”

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The Colson Center’s Breakpoint Daily recently carried an article by John Stonestreet: “A Failure of Faith Formation: What We Learn from Public Disavowals of Christianity.” Stonestreet opened that piece by noting what Marty Sampson—Hillsong singer and songwriter—had posted about giving up on his Christian faith.

Stonestreet writes: “Sampson’s claims, I’m sad to say, are not uncommon among young evangelicals. And let me just say this as directly and bluntly as I can: they reveal a failure on the part of the church to take the difficult but essential task of faith formation seriously enough. . . . In his book, The Fabric of Faithfulness, Steve Garber wrote that the reason so many young Christians lose their faith is that their worldview isn’t ‘big enough’ for the world.”

Sound Worldview: Essential to Mature Faith

The word “worldview” defines itself; it’s how we view the world. Is the cosmos merely a product of time and chance, or did God create it? Who are we? Why are we on planet earth? Do our years here have any purpose? If so, what is it? And so on. Each of us sees and interprets everything through the lens of our worldview.

So if, as Stonestreet says, young Christ-followers hold an undersized worldview, it can lead them to abandon the faith they grew up with. A faulty worldview, Stonestreet says, comes about when churches don’t “take the difficult but essential task of faith formation seriously enough.”

His reference to faith formation reminded me of a sentence from Eugene Peterson’s Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: “I’m prepared to contend that the primary location for spiritual formation is the workplace.”

The workplace? Seriously? Can a job in the nitty-gritty work world function not only as “a” but as “the” main place where Christ-followers mature spiritually? Doesn’t the formation of faith and spiritual growth occur in more favorable settings—church gatherings, prayer meetings, Bible studies, and the like? What makes the workplace such an effective “location for spiritual formation”? Ever since the thorns and thistles of Genesis 3, the joy of working has been mixed with pain. And, as C. S. Lewis puts it in The Problem of Pain, “Pain . . . plants the flag of truth within the fortress of the rebel soul.”

A Firsthand Example

A pivotal story from my own workplace experience may help to clarify. In mid-1964, as a 24-year-old, I took a job in the information office of the Washington State Department of Highways. Before long, my role included serving as the editor of the official state highways magazine.  Young and bursting with ideas, I saw story possibilities everywhere. But whenever I went enthusiastically into my boss’s office to propose that I write up this or that in an article, he shot it down. Time after time after time.

I began to feel useless. And restless. After a whole year of this, I began working on a plan to bail out of my state job and to find one more to my liking. But deep inside, I sensed God’s Spirit directing me to stay put. Finally, my internal conflict built to the point that I went into my little office at home, shut the door, and went face down onto the floor before the Lord. In that acute moment, I gave everything over to him: wife, children, house, car, job—and the reins of my own life.

Looking back, I still see that stress-filled workplace as one of the main tools God used to carry out his work of spiritual formation in me. Yes, I knew key Bible passages, had heard countless sermons, and could sing “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” galore. All vital. But through that workplace trouble, my faith was put to the acid test. And just as a diamond forms under intense heat and pressure, my faith solidified through those soul-crushing circumstances on the job. (I continued working for the state another 10 years.)

Workplace Faith-Formation in the Bible

Bible people, too, experienced spiritual formation through painful workplace trials. Take David, for example. One of his first work assignments took him into the fields to care for and protect the family’s flock of sheep. Later, his father sent him to check on his brothers who were fighting in an Israelite-Philistine war. When he arrived, David found the Israelite army and king Saul completely flummoxed by the Philistine giant, Goliath, who stood nine-plus feet tall.

After hearing Goliath bellow out his usual threat, David stood before Saul and offered to go himself against the giant. Saul looked at this young son of Jesse and said, “You are only a boy.” To which David replied: "Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine" (I Sam. 17:34-37).

Where had David’s faith formed to the point where he trusted in God’s ability to deliver him? In his workplace. But he is not the only Bible character whose work shaped his faith. Think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—those Jews with government jobs in pagan Babylon whose boss ordered them to bow down to his own golden image. Talk about pressure! But imagine the spiritual formation that surely took place in them after God delivered them from the flames of a superheated furnace.

Or think of Nehemiah, whose job involved sampling the king’s wine to make certain no one had poisoned it. How his faith must have grown after he, standing before his boss and praying silently, saw God provide—far more than he could have imagined—for rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem. Again, think of Joseph and the pain he endured in his work as a household manager and as prison trustee.  But much later he named his second son Ephraim, because, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering” (Gen. 41:52). An expanded worldview. A faith more fully formed. In the workplace.

The Blindfold of the Sacred-Secular Divide

Sadly, though, our church traditions have short-changed the worldviews of far too many Christians. So much so that we find it nearly impossible to see any spiritual-formation value in those places most people work. The completely unbiblical division between what we consider “sacred” and what we call “secular” has obscured the faith-forming power of daily work. Does such myopic vision prevent us from hearing in our Sunday meetings what God has been doing weekdays in the workplace?

Shared Church Includes:

  1. Recognizing that those from the scattered church, as well as the pastor, have significant things to share—words God can use in forming us spiritually.

  2. Making space in gathered church meetings for spiritual-formation stories from the scattered church, including its workplaces.

  3. Helping our young people expand their worldview by hearing reports from the whole church, gathered and scattered.  

 

 

On the Absence of Sunday Work-Talk

VIDEO SUMMARY of The Global Workplace Forum held from 25-29 June 2019 in Manila, Philippines brought together participants from around the world to consider how best Lausanne's vision for kingdom impact in every sphere of society could be fulfilled.

I just spent a week in Manila, Philippines, with 850 Christians from 109 countries. If you’d been there, you might have thought you were in a church meeting. A praise band played. We sang from words projected on a screen. Speakers delivered messages. Prayers were offered. Yet those Manila gatherings included something church meetings typically avoid. We zeroed in on what most Christians do on Mondays. We talked about . . . work.

Each of us went to Manila to take part in the 2019 Lausanne Global Workplace Forum. Back in the 1970s, Billy Graham and John Stott launched the Lausanne Committee for Global Evangelization. Graham said: “"I believe one of the next great moves of God is going to be through believers in the workplace."

From those roots has grown the Global Workplace Forum. All week long there in Manila we explored our daily work and its role in God’s Kingdom agenda—the subject we seldom hear about in church.

A Question Full of Questions

Most people in the typical church congregation scatter on Monday into those places where they work: shops, homes, offices, fields, factories. Over a lifetime, each will spend around 90,000 hours working. Why, then, on Sunday, do we rarely hear God’s heart on what they invest their lives in during those other six days?

For years, I’ve puzzled over the answer to that. My search has left me asking even more questions:

  • Do we keep work and worship in separate boxes because of the Fourth Commandment—the one about working six days but avoiding work on the seventh? Does it seem to us that work-talk would somehow soil our rest-day, Sunday?

  • Do we keep work and worship apart because we know “works-righteousness” can never put us right with God? Has our right understanding of faith-not-works given the word “work” a black eye? Do we mistakenly leap to a worship-versus-work conclusion?

  • In short, have our perceptions of Old and New Testament truths led us to suspect God has little regard for our work/works? And, if so, have such misgivings largely kept work off the Sunday radar?

Are Work and Worship at Odds?

But wait, someone might object, “Weekdays are for work, Sundays are for worship. After all, in their meetings New Testament Christians heard teaching about Jesus, the Gospel, sin, salvation, and so on—not about work.”

Really?

Let’s fact-check that one. Letters to first-century churches were read to the whole congregation. Did those letters contain teaching on the daily work of those present? Well—truth be told—they did. Let’s comb through some examples of what New Testament Christians heard in their church meetings about their regular employment;

Demonstrate the Gospel in the way you treat your employers:

  • Respect their authority (Eph. 6:5).

  • Don’t goof around or slack off when they aren’t watching (Col. 3:22).

  • Don’t bad-mouth them. Put up with it if they treat you unfairly (Tit. 2:9).

Go to work with motives worthy of the Gospel:

  • Earn what you need through honest work (Eph. 4:28).

  • Avoid being a leech; work to support yourself (I Thess. 4:12).

  • Work to earn not just to meet your own needs but also to have enough to share with others (Eph. 4:28).

Let the light of Christ shine through the way you work:

  • Be fully engaged—bring not just your body to work but mind and heart as well (Col. 3:23).

  • Do your work so well others will find the gospel attractive (Titus 2:10).

  • Trust God to reward you for what you accomplish on the job (Eph. 6:8).

If you’re the boss:

  • Never manipulate employees with threats or intimidation (Eph. 6:9).

  • Don’t play favorites by being lenient with some and tough on others (Eph. 6:9).

  • Do right by your employees, treating them fairly (Col. 4:1).

Clearly, the New Testament supports bringing issues from workdays into Sunday gatherings. Imagine yourself sitting in one of those early-church meetings. Someone who is able reads the letter out loud to everyone. As you hear this or that point made by the letter-writer, something strikes you about the situation in your own workplace. This is, after all, a participatory, shared-church meeting (see I Cor. 14). So you chime in with your own comment before the reader moves on to the next sentence. Or if what you have heard raises a question, you ask it, and a discussion follows in which several others join in.

When Work-Talk Goes Missing

What has the absence of work-talk in today’s church meetings cost God’s Kingdom agenda? I’ll mention just three unfortunate results:

Disabling Traditions Grow Unchecked. First, this Sunday silence about work has let false traditions about our daily work multiply like weeds. Because I teach what the Bible says about work, I hear students give voice to many of these hurtful ideas. For example, some struggle under the idea that work came from God’s curse (Gen. 3). No way! God gave work to humanity in Gen. 2 as one of his good gifts. God is a Worker. That’s why we, made in his image, are workers. By working, we mirror our Maker!

Another example: many Christians have grown up thinking some work is “sacred” (that of pastors and missionaries) and other work is “secular” (what engineers, accountants, pilots, hairdressers, and plumbers do). This life-zapping notion has zero biblical support, but it still persists among believers. A companion idea holds that God calls people into those “sacred” roles but not into “secular” pursuits like law, government work, software development, or farming.

The Discipleship Deficit Continues. Second, not talking about work in church meetings has left the world with a shortage of Christ-reflecting disciples. Many Christians get up and go to work simply to pay the bills, give to the church, support missions—and save for retirement. Some have been led to believe they are there just to evangelize coworkers. That often leads to forced, ready-or-not “witnessing” among fellow employees—or to a guilt-ridden silence when sensitive Christians recoil from such tactics as pushy.

A blogger from Down Under says, “. . . the evangelical church in Australia at least, has an extremely thin theology of work. It is ill-prepared to counsel its own people on the meaning of work, the ways to navigate the space of work, and how to do anything other than use their work as a means of evangelism and earning money for ministry.” Not just in Australia.

Far too many believers have no clear idea of God’s many other reasons for sending them into the world’s workplaces:

  • Offering him their work as an act of worship.

  • Responsibly caring for his good creation—planet, plants, animals, and people.

  • Finding, encouraging, and praying for fellow Christ-followers among coworkers, customers, clients, vendors, students, patients, and so on.

  • Experiencing workplace stresses as gifts of God that produce spiritual maturity. (In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, Eugene Peterson wrote, “I’m prepared to contend that the primary location for spiritual formation is the workplace.”)

  • And, yes, to represent King Jesus there and to pay the bills as well.

Jesus’ Sending Gets Short-Circuited. Jesus sends his followers into the world. Employment places them by the millions in that very world—the world of work. Employers and governments—rather than churches or mission boards—actually pick up the tab for workers being in the very places to which Jesus sends them. And yet, far too many Christians in so-called “secular” jobs see their work as a burden to escape rather than as a gift to transform into a vehicle for carrying out the purposes of Christ and his Kingdom. If Christians are to have the biblical vision of their daily work, where else—other than in their local churches—will they be nurtured and sustained in such vision?

In Manila, one of the women speakers challenged us with this question: “When was the last time you and your home group or your church prayer group really wrestled with challenges of the workplace?”

How would you answer her?

Caring for Creation Calls for Shared Church

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While hosting a webinar last week, I didn’t expect fresh insight into our need for shared church. But there it was—even though the online session focused on creation care.

What led to my role in this event? In June—because I teach the theology of work for the Bakke Graduate University—I plan to attend the Lausanne Global Workplace Forum (GWF) in Manila. Leading up to that gathering, ministry leaders have written some 30 “advance papers” on workplace-related subjects ranging from Arts in the Workplace to Women in Evangelism. To help participants prepare for the Manila conference, GWF is addressing many of these subjects in webinars called “Virtual Cafés.”

The Webinar on Creation Care

When asked to host one of these online discussions, I chose the session on creation care. Our main speaker, David Bookless, serves in the UK with A Rocha (Portuguese for “The Rock”), a group devoted to responsible stewardship of God’s earth. Ed Brown, the other speaker, serves as the Lausanne catalyst for creation care. Others joining our online session included Christians from Shanghai, West Africa, New Zealand, Brazil, and the U.S.

How did our conversation about creation care point to the need for shared church? As I listened to the speakers and guests, it hit me: I could not remember hearing anything in decades of church meetings about our tending the earth and its creatures. Nor could I recall, in my own 21 years of sermons, presenting even one message on that subject.

Why Have We Ignored Creation Care?

The church people I’ve spoken to all agree—we hear little or nothing on Sundays about our responsibility for the planet. Why? I suspect we can explain the silence from at least three angles.

  • First, we have reacted against a politicized and often God-evading environmentalism. The Lausanne advance paper, “Creation Care and the Workplace,” opens with these words: “When you hear the phrase ‘Creation Care and the Workplace,’ what comes to mind? Perhaps memos about turning off computers and office lights? Perhaps constraints on travel, resource-use, and waste? Perhaps a feeling that the ‘green police’ are the enemies of productivity and profit? It’s quite likely that there is a negative association: a sense that ‘creation care’ and ‘the workplace’ are somehow in opposition to each other.”

  • Second, countless Christians have been taught to think that God is going to toss this earth away—burn it to a crisp and start all over with a completely new earth. If true, then why spend any time or effort on a doomed planet? That would be like installing new kitchen cabinets in a house about to be bulldozed to make room for a city park.

  • Third, we still suffer from a centuries-old dualism—the unbiblical “sacred-secular divide.” In “My Pilgrimage in Theology,” N. T. Wright describes the change he underwent as he worked on his Colossians commentary: “Until then I had been basically, a dualist. The gospel belonged in one sphere, the world of creation and politics in another.” Dualism leads us to read verses like Colossians 3:2, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things,” as if God frowns on our thinking about clean air, over-fishing, or conservation . But this interpretation ignores the context, which deals with sins—sexual immorality, greed, filthy talk, lying, and the like.

The Need for Participatory Church Meetings

One of our webinar guests has served as Chief Fisheries Manager in New Zealand. He told us: “I have felt that I’m working with God. But I am not sure that many have seen it like that.” Ed Brown added, “Christians who are scientists—especially those working in environmental fields—are some of the loneliest people I know.” Brown has heard Christians working in these areas say, “No one in my church understands me. They think I’m working for the devil.”

David Bookless has heard similar concerns: “Sadly there are many Christians who have been called by God into this area of creation care but have felt almost pushed to the margins by their churches. And in some cases, they have stopped attending.”

A young Brazilian woman, a geologist in an oil company, said: “Somehow I could not connect my faith with my vocation. I had never thought about creation care. It is not common in Brazil to talk about it in church. It would be great if we could share this vision with others in our church.”

As I listened, I thought: The congregations I’ve been a part of over the years have included many whose daily work involved direct care of the earth, its animals, and its plants. Christians in forest management. Those in departments of ecology. Farmers. Gardeners. Landscapers. Cattle ranchers. Loggers and tree trimmers. Oyster growers. And so on.

Suppose Christians doing such work were given opportunities to share about it in their church meetings. They could ask questions, offer experience-based insights, and explain what God has revealed to them about creation care. In other words, the wealth of understanding already deposited in members of Christ’s body, can strengthen the church in its role of caring for God’s earth.

God’s Earth is Groaning

Both Old and New Testaments make it clear that "The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it" (Ps. 24:1; I Cor. 10:26). And yet God’s earth is hurting: “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Rom. 8:22). Why? Because we humans, the property mangers God put in charge of his real estate, have done such a poor job of carrying out his First Commission, caring for the planet.

Isaiah saw this long ago. “The earth turns gaunt and gray, the world silent and sad, sky and land lifeless, colorless. Earth is polluted by its very own people, who have broken its laws, disrupted its order, violated the sacred and eternal covenant. Therefore a curse, like a cancer, ravages the earth. Its people pay the price of their sacrilege” (Is. 24:4-6, MSG).

As it groans, the earth is waiting and hoping for its property managers to do their job. Paul says the “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).

In the Meantime, What Can We Do?

How can your church, through congregational participation, address caring for creation? Bookless said some churches hold an annual “Creation Fair Sunday.” During that time, they ask any whose work involves responsibility for the creation to come to the front for blessing and commissioning. Some churches invite local conservation, wildlife, environmental, or natural history groups to participate in the fair—even offering to pray for their work.

In the UK, Bookless told us, some churches have a slot called, “This Time Tomorrow.” In a five-or-ten-minute interview, someone tells what they will be doing this time tomorrow. This can cover the whole range of workplaces, he said, not just creation care.

Little did I know, when I agreed to host the webinar, that a subject like creation care would point to yet another reason for participatory church meetings!

To download the Lausanne Global Workplace Forum advance paper, “Creation Care,” click here.

Watch Your Language: Part Three

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When I was young, we kids had a ready-made comeback when hit with a nasty put-down: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” In the title of her new book, Joyce Schneider puts a fresh twist on that old saying: Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones: But Words Can Kill My Spirit.

A Pair of Spirit-Killing Words: Secular Work

In response to a short blog on so-called secular work, one reader wrote: “I personally struggle with this right now as a Christian, because I have a hard time seeing anything good about detailing and driving cars for a living or of what importance it has to me or to others I'm involved in. I keep seeing myself as a failure with a bachelor’s degree when I think about work right now.” Words from a spirit deeply wounded.

And no wonder. Secular work carries the implied meaning of being second-rate compared with ministry (see previous blog) or full-time Christian service. To define secular, dictionaries use words like “worldly rather than spiritual.” “Not having any connection with religion.” “Earthly.” “Profane.” “Irreligious.” The Oxford Living Dictionaries dubs secular as “Denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis. Contrasted with sacred.”

This Language Lives On

I’d like to think we Christians have gotten beyond talking of secular work. But the words are very much alive and well among us. From a blog: “I strongly felt, however, the call to something greater than just secular work.” Or, “One of the most troubled periods of my life came when I left the ministry of Youth for Christ and went into secular work.” And, “At times I was tempted to give up the ministry and go into secular work.”

Yes, sticks and stones bruise. But for those in non-church jobs who are serious about following Jesus, the secular-work dart poisons. It can make it seem as if those 80- to 100-thousand lifetime hours invested in the workplace add up to a spiritual zero. Yet Scripture never describes any work as secular. Why? The reasons reach all the way to God’s own activities and purposes.

God’s Work Becomes Our Work

In his activity, God has revealed himself in his work as Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Restorer. It follows, then, that his purposes extend into all of these. By making us in his likeness, God gave us dignity by delegating to us much of his work on his planet. We workers, made in the image of the Worker, have the great honor of reflecting him in our daily work.

Garbage Collection. Our garbage-pickup driver comes every Tuesday. His job, according to the world’s value system, lies near the bottom of the occupational pecking order. That kind of work seems to have “no religious or spiritual basis.” Yet God himself engages in the cleanup business. His wind and rain cleanse the air. His sunlight disinfects. Garbage collectors are doing God’s work when they remove the debris from our homes and neighborhoods, waste that would kill us if left to putrefy. When garbage crews went on a two-day strike in Phnom Penh, 5,000 tons of rubbish piled up in the streets. It took 5 days and the intervention of military police to clear away the trash and end the stench.

Food Service. Are waitresses and waiters doing secular work? After all, in their jobs they serve merely physical (not spiritual) food to hungry, earthly bodies. But wait. God sent ravens to feed Elijah’s earthly body. He provided manna to sustain the bodies of the Israelites in the desert. Jesus fed thousands. “I do not want to send them away hungry,” he said, “or they may collapse on the way” (Mt. 15:32). So next time someone on a wait staff places that steak on your table, thank God that she or he is carrying out one of God’s purposes on earth. How can that be merely secular work?

Government Work. Surely working for an anything-but-godly government qualifies as secular work, right? Not so fast. God governs. “Dominion,” says David, “belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations” (Ps. 22:28). Joseph worked as prime minister of the pagan government in Egypt. Yet, he told his brothers it was to that very place that “God sent me” (Gen. 45:5). As a young man, Daniel went to work for the ungodly Babylonian government—and served God in that work for perhaps 70 years. Because they are carrying out God’s purposes, government authorities, says Paul, “are God’s servants" (Rom. 13:6). So is it right to call what they do secular work? Does it really have no spiritual basis?

Gathered-Church Work. Those who do what often gets called ministry or spiritual work are also carrying out God’s purposes. God rescues. He “redeems your life from the pit” (Ps. 103:4). “Our God is a God who saves” (Ps. 68:20). So those, too, who serve God and others by proclaiming and explaining the Good News are doing what God himself has been doing all along.

Church or Kingdom Perspective?

In light of who God is and what he does—and our being made in his likeness—what, then, keeps feeding this unbiblical concept of secular work? Could it be that we have allowed our practice of “church” to dwarf the far larger biblical theme of God’s Kingdom? As already quoted, “God rules over the nations.” When Jesus began teaching, he did not say the Church had arrived. Instead, his good news was that the Kingdom of God had come near. In The Other Six Days, R. Paul Stevens says, “Kingdom ministry has been almost totally eclipsed by church ministry.”

As King, with all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus cares about the well-being of both his original Creation and his New Creation. He sends people to work in both arenas to carry out his Kingdom purposes. The Church—in both its gathered and scattered modes—is here to announce and to demonstrate the presence of the King and his Kingdom.

To a church-program mindset, managing a bank, sweeping floors, or designing a building may seem irrelevant except as a means for evangelizing or making money to support “the ministry.” Which makes it so telling how the Collins English Dictionary defines secular: “not within the control of the Church.”

Kingdom work--carrying out  our Father's business--takes the labor of both the gathered and the scattered church. Making a higher-lower distinction between so-called secular and sacred work disables shared church.

School Interview Points to Need for Shared Church

In Mark Greene's "Sacred Secular Divide" video, a public school teacher describes the lack of prayer support for her work.

A few days ago—in the interest of shared church—I interviewed the principal and assistant principal of a local elementary school. The edited, five-minute video will be shown during the main congregational meetings of our church. I asked the principal and her assistant:

  • How does your administrative work in a public school carry on God’s purposes for life on earth?
  • What unique opportunities does your work provide for you as a Christian?
  • What challenges do you face in these roles?
  • What opportunities exist for retired people to serve as volunteers in your school?
  • How can our church pray for you and for your school?

Public School as a Calling

As I listened to the responses of these two school officials, the enthusiasm of both for their work poured out. They do what they do, day in and day out, because they know God has sent them to serve him and others in this context. For example:

  • “This work is the mission that I’ve been put on this planet to do.”
  • “We are on the front lines fighting for kids every single day.”
  • “Pretty much every kid in the country is funneled through public education, and that’s a huge opportunity.”

The assistant told about his earlier transition from working in a Christian school to serving in a public school. During the hiring interview, the prospective new boss wondered whether he understood what he would encounter in the public school environment: “You know,” he said, “there are kids here who do drugs and have sex. Are you really sure you want to be here?” To which the interviewee replied: “Yeah—I think that’s really why I want to be here.”

A Felt Need for Prayer

The interview also made it clear that these two want the prayer-backing of other Christ-followers. But others cannot pray if unaware of needs. This makes practicing shared church all that much more vital. When I asked how the church could pray for them, they responded with more requests than I was able to fit into a five-minute video. A few examples:

  • “Knowing that many children will return to homes with major dysfunctions, we both ‘take kids home’ every day.”
  • “Pray for the kids. Some of their stories are really normal and some of their stories are heartbreaking.”
  • “Pray for the staff. There’s a point where compassion fatigue enters. Sometimes kids show that they’re hurting and struggling by lashing out at the people who care about them the most. That happens—a lot.”
  • “It’s a challenge to balance work and family life every day.”
  • “We look at each other pretty much daily and say, ‘I don’t know what else to try.’”

UK Teacher Tells of Missing Prayer Support

Too often those called to work in public schools lack the prayer underpinning they need from fellow believers. In his YouTube video, “Sacred-Secular Divide,” UK-based Mark Greene includes a clip from a teacher who tells how she experienced this lack of prayer support:

“I teach Sunday School once a week for 45 minutes, and my church asks me to come up front so they can pray for me. For the rest of the week, I’m a full-time teacher, and yet as far as I can remember, no one has ever offered to pray for the work I do in school.   It’s as if they want to support half my profession and not the other half. It’s difficult, because no one would say that teaching Sunday School is more important than the work I do the rest of the week. But that feels like the message that I get. And if you look at it this way, I’ve got 45 minutes once a week with children who are generally open to the gospel with parents who are supportive of the faith—or 45 hours a week with kids who have very little knowledge of Christianity and parents who are either as ignorant or hostile to the faith.”

Where Christians Cross Paths with Non-Christians

In our neighborhoods and workplaces—in this case a school—the paths of Christians intersect most often and most relationally with those who do not know Christ. Only in a shared-church context can a congregation become aware of the opportunities and challenges their fellow believers face in their scattered-church roles.

The two school officials I interviewed lead a team of teachers and staff of 120 who are responsible for the safety of 765 children. They create the environment in which these children learn to read, write, do basic math, and live in community. The principal and her assistant also deal with hundreds of parents. Clearly, the opportunity to shine the light of Christ and live out his love is enormous.

Lesslie Newbigin, in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society, wrote: “It is in the ordinary business of the world that the sacrifices of love and obedience are to be offered to God. It is in the context of secular affairs that the mighty power released into the world through the work of Christ is to be manifested. . . . It is, of course, also true that individual Christians will be weakened in their efforts to live out the gospel in secular engagements if what they are doing does not have the support of the church as a whole.”

Regularly gathering in "audience mode" works against whole-church support. Only in shared-church mode can we get to know what others do during the other six days of the week. Only in shared church can we learn how to pray for the scattered church.