I was once at an empowering laity for ministry seminar at a large church. The leader shared that she teaches lay people that their jobs are their work but their volunteering through the ministry of the church is their calling. I thought to myself, “That doesn’t really sound right. You mean that God intends forty to sixty hours of your life each week are intended just to pay the bills and whatever few hours a lay person spends volunteering for the church is their ministry?” This plays into a common mindset among American Christians, that work is morally inferior to “doing good.” Also, many of the people we preach to on Sundays feel that their work is something to be endured, survived, and hurried through until they’re off for the weekend. In some circles, work is even thought to be a result of the Fall.
How can we help people view their work as a gift from God that taps into their deepest aspirations, talents, and strengths and that fulfills God’s calling on their lives, not only to excel but to see their workplace as their primary mission field?
I developed a sermon series to address these issues and others that arise in the workplace titled “Office Hours: Ministry in the Marketplace.”
Office Hours: Eternal Hours
Text: Genesis 2:5-15
The first sermon includes an introduction to the theme of the whole series: that God invented work as part of his original plan for creation. We partner with God with exercising dominion over the creation, ministering his order and nurturing the creation to its full fruitfulness. Yes, the Fall happened, and with it, all of human life became flawed. However, part of following Jesus and participating in the New Creation his resurrection promises involves experiencing redemption in every part of our lives. The “Eternal Hours” message communicates the realities that work is good. What I do at work has eternal consequences as I join God in what he is blessing, and I can learn to be a blessing through my workplace.
Office Hours: Good Hours
Text: Matthew 5:13-16
I first remember eating country ham when I was four years old and a hog farmer gave my family some ham and biscuits for our trip home when my dad was in seminary. Country ham is delicious. It’s a real treat in today’s world, but in the not too distant past salt was an important preservative for food that enabled us to sustain life. Jesus calls us to be the salt of the earth. We need to influence life wherever we find ourselves. Most people find themselves at work for a significant percentage of their waking hours. Jesus wants us to influence our workplace by exhibiting a strong work ethic and a positive attitude. We can become thermostats that set the temperature of our workplace so that work is fulfilling, encouraging, and life-promoting.
Office Hours: Investing Hours
Text: Acts 18:1-4
Unless you work on a church staff or para-church ministry staff, chances are some, if not many, of your co-workers are not committed followers of Jesus. Paul, as a tentmaker, spent significant time doing what we might call “secular” work, but he didn’t see his work that way. He had learned a trade and he understood the goodness of supporting himself and his missionary enterprise through hard work. He also realized that he could take the time at his work to invest in the lives of others. While he plied his trade, he constantly looked for opportunities to disciple persons and help them discover a life-changing relationship with Jesus. Like Paul, most of the people in our pews, spend a great deal of their time making a living. While so doing, God has a plan for them to be an influence for Christ in the lives of those persons with whom they interact on a daily basis.
Office Hours: Off Hours
Text: Genesis 2:1-3
Though some in our churches think of their work as a burden and can’t wait until 5:00 p.m. Friday, others will be workaholics who derive ultimate meaning for their lives from their work. Neither extreme is healthy. In this message, we’ll take on the workaholics.
The first full day of human existence was spent keeping the Sabbath, resting. The Jewish day begins, not with dawn, but with dusk. Rest precedes work. Fruitful work arises out of fruitful rest. Most Americans get this backwards. We work until we’re worn out then we collapse and rest. While God created work and it’s good, our lives are not meant to be spent working non-stop. In order for work to be productive, it must arise out of a place of centeredness and meaning and, ultimately, out of a relationship with God who gives life meaning. No one on their death-bed believes he or she should have spent more time at the office. We are created first for relationship, then out of that relationship flows our work and responsibility. Much of the material for this message comes from Mike Breen’s book Building a Discipling Culture.
Office Hours: Strong Hours
Text: Ephesians 2:10
Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10 that we are God’s poēma, his “handiwork.” This amazing word can also be translated as “masterpiece.” It describes the intricate and creative work of an artisan, not the mass production one would find in a typical factory. Each person is unique and there are works that God plans for us to do using our uniqueness. Our work can be an expression of the unique character strengths that God built into each one of us. For years, managers sent workers to trainings in order to shore up their weaknesses. The problem with this is that weakness can rarely be translated into strength. However, if a person is encouraged to develop their talents, real growth and progress can be made, increasing their contribution. At work, we need to volunteer the best part of ourselves, this masterpiece part that God created. When we spend more time in our areas of strength, we make a larger impact, we feel better about ourselves and our work, and we honor the God who created us.
Office Hours: After Hours
Text: 1 Timothy 5:1-10
We live in a youth-driven culture. Young people have energy, time, and disposable income, making them very attractive to the media; especially the entertainment industry which spends billions promoting products to youth while also promoting the idea that younger is better than older. We worship youth and denigrate old age, yet the Bible is full of instructions to respect the elderly and honor those who have lived long lives. What do we do with grey hair? Cover it up. Color it. Deny it.
Older adulthood is a time of great potential for contribution–not just by writing checks, but by allowing life’s experiences to be a blessing to others. Retirement often means retiring from ministry as well. How many pastors have heard, “Oh, I served in that ministry when my kids were young, it’s someone else’s turn?” But God’s Word doesn’t seem to recognize the concept of retirement. Instead, we’re encouraged to selflessly serve others, share our wisdom, and never stop growing.