Yesterday America celebrated Labor Day, the holiday reserved as a tribute to American workers. This is a good time to discuss ways pastors and vocational ministry leaders can encourage working men and women in their congregations. This is an oft-neglected, but essential part of ministry, because most Christians who attend church on Sunday don't draw a paycheck from a Christian organization. They have to get up on Monday morning and perform in the so-called "secular" workforce. Those of us privileged to do so-called Christian work for a living don't always understand the pressures of the American workforce. So here are five ways pastors can encourage the laity:
1) Read Work Matters by Tom Nelson. Every pastor should read this book, which gives a thorough theology of the oft-neglected doctrine of vocation. Pastors should be able to articulate this in their preaching and counseling. Most Christians don't understand that the actual work they do in the workplace matters to God. Their role as a plumber or bank teller or lawyer isn't simply a means to tithe money or be a witness. God is intimately invested in the quality of work produced by our hands. Good work bring glory to the Creator. Reading Work Matters can help you form a theology of work which will in turn help you encourage the men and women in your church to think biblically about their God-given callings.
2) Repent of dividing clergy and laity. All of us in professional pastoral ministry, at some times, have elevated the so-called full-time positions of pastor/teacher/youth pastor/worship leader above the supposed lesser callings like carpenter, fast-food worker or CEO. But Scripture makes no such distinctions. Sure, spiritual leaders bear a sober responsibility, but their work is no more noble than that of the faithful lay person who performs his work to the glory of God. In fact, those who work in secular vocations are arguably on the mission field longer than pastors, because they interface with more unchurched. They are in situations that force them to practice godliness in workplaces largely hostile to Christian values. Rather than treating them like second-class citizens, we should honor the faithfulness of Christian laity by equipping them for their mission, affirming their callings, and encouraging them to faithfulness.
3) Start Connecting Sunday to Monday. We need to infuse our sermons with more illustration and application to Monday. We need to remind the administrator who dreads facing that Monday budget meeting that he is not there simply to collect a paycheck. He is there as God's representative in his workplace, as a light in the darkness, as a molder and shaper of those in his employ. We need to encourage the stay-at-home mom that her long days of changing diapers, grocery shopping and administering teething drops has a purpose beyond survival. We need to identify with the struggles of those who go in to work every day and are often beaten down by surly bosses, unethical coworkers, and tough working conditions.
4) Reward Faithfulness In the Workplace. I'm not quite sure how to do this, but somehow we need to acknowledge those who work their jobs with integrity and faithfulness. We often reward and celebrate achievements that happen at church--and we should--but what if we publicly acknowledged the teacher who celebrates 30 years in the classroom or the employee who has a faithful attendance record at work or the police officer who is rewarded for community service?
5) Get to Know the Struggles of the Working Man or Woman. The best way I've found to help encourage the working man or woman in my church is to simply find out more about what their days are like. Ask questions about their jobs, probe a bit and see what struggles they face everyday, what issues can you pray for? I've found people really enjoy when I ask them specific questions about their vocations--how they got to where they are, what they enjoy about it, how their businesses work, etc. This also helps me pray better as well. And it makes me grateful for the job I do as pastor. I often tell people, "I'm not sure I could do your job. It sounds way harder than mine." Knowing the day-to-day struggles of the people you serve helps you appreciate their contribution, not only to your church, but to the community.
Daniel Darling is the Vice President for Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention (ERLC). You can find more from Dan at his website DanielDarling.com.