Blog - Supporting Believers

The Church-Work Estrangement

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Estranged. That’s a word we normally use for family relationships gone wrong. But it also describes the gap between the work world and far too many churches. I served more than 20 years in so-called "secular” work and more than 20 years as a church pastor. I love both church and workplace. But like a child with estranged parents, I feel the pain of the separation.

More than 80 years ago J. H. Oldham felt that same pain. "Even as early as 1937, Oldham realized that the church stood ‘before a great historic task—the task of restoring the lost unity between worship and work,’” says David W. Miller in his book, God at Work. In 1950 Oldham, a Scottish missionary to India, wrote Work in Modern Society. His insights in this 62-page booklet are needed as much today as back then.

". . . there must be a re-uniting,” he said, "of Christian faith with actual life as it has to be lived by those in secular occupations.” Why? Because ". . . it is the lay members of the Church who are the spearhead of Christian action.”

Oldham’s book begins by examining what work has become in contemporary culture. Then he explores how the Bible pictures our relationship with God, with each other, and with the earth. In a final section, "Consequences,” he describes our need to change our practices if we are going to overcome the church-workplace estrangement.

Another writer of Oldham’s era, British playwright and poet Dorothy Sayers, in her essay, "Why Work?” asked: "How can anyone remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life?”

To paraphrase: "How can a young person, looking ahead to a career in the work world, stay interested in a faith that seems estranged from that world?”

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