Blog - Supporting Believers

Meshing Sunday and Monday: Sermons

Saturday, October 09, 2010

This week the U.S. Labor Department reported that the unemployment rate has stagnated at 9.6 percent. Despite small gains in the private sector, we lost 95,000 jobs last month. Especially hard-hit: public schools. The news triggered countless stories in the media. How many sermons will refer to it?

As employers lighten their payrolls, believers without incomes find themselves in circumstances calling them to a deeper experience of trusting God. Those who remain on payrolls must often carry a heavier load and work more hours. That, of course, affects marriages, family life, and many other areas.

As Sunday rolls around, I wonder how many messages will speak into the work world of believers deeply affected by the economy. In the website, "Preaching,” Katie Miller writes, "Most people never have heard a sermon on the value of the workplace.” R. Paul Stevens, in his book, Doing God's Business, writes: "I often ask my students when was the last time they heard a sermon on work. Usually only one or two out of a class of thirty have heard something in the last year or two.”

Sermons can play an important role in meshing Sunday and Monday. Am I suggesting that pastors make pronouncements on the complex details of occupations they know little or nothing about? No. Instead, I'm asking that we include the theology of work in Sunday sermons. The other day, I used the phrase, "theology of work,” in conversation with a Christian. "Huh?” he said. He had no clue what I meant.

Theology. This two-part word comes from a term meaning God and from one meaning word or saying. So the theology of work focuses on what God says about work. What has God said in his Word about work? He has certainly not ignored the subject. In the NIV version of the Bible, the three terms, work, labor, and toil, appear about 500 times. Some of those speak of God's work. Others speak of ours.

Because God speaks so often about work in Scripture, work belongs in sermons as well. And because believers spend such a large part of their waking hours working, sermons ought to connect what God says about work with how we see and do our work. That connection will do much to mesh Sunday and Monday.

If Christians seldom if ever hear sermons about their work, then a great number of unspoken questions in the minds and hearts of those in the work world go unanswered. For example, "Why work?” Without teaching on what God has said on this important subject, Christians may simply absorb the world's reasons for working by osmosis. I recently presented a sermon with the title, "Why Get Up and Go to Work?” After the message, a woman who appeared to be in her 60s told me, "I wish I'd heard these things years ago!”

Other unspoken questions may include: Does God approve of earnings and profit? Or is it better to "live by faith”? Should I quit my "secular” job and find work in "full-time Christian service”? Isn't work really God's punishment for sin—something just to be endured? Is it right for a Christian to have ambitions in the work world? How do I stay aware of God's presence in a boring job? How do I maintain a godly attitude at work when the non-Christians around me do not? How can I balance my attention to work, family, and church? How far can I go in witnessing at work?

If you're a believer with a job, get with your pastor and speak out your unspoken questions about how your faith and your work intersect. If you're a pastor, ask open-ended questions: As a believer, what is most/least fulfilling in your daily work? What do you see as the meaning of your work? Does your work have any eternal significance? Scripture brims over with material that can easily develop into work-oriented messages. I preached a sermon series on Daniel that eventually led me to write a 12-chapter book on his years as a Babylonian bureaucrat. Paul's words to slaves are full of sermon seeds.

Dream with me! Imagine what could happen if church services all around the world regularly included sermons on the theology of work. As believers by the millions went off to work each week, they could go there wholeheartedly, confident that God had purposely placed them there as lights in a dark world. Think of the young people who, having grown up knowing the theology of work, could make it their goal to illuminate business and government at all levels.

If you could hear a sermon on work this Sunday, what question would you like for it to address?

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