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    church steeple with a crack running through it

    Reconnecting Worship and Work

    How can we close the gap between Sunday morning and Monday morning, and make church relevant for workers?

    By Matthew Kaemingk

    February 21, 2022
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    • Patricia

      Here is the defining problem-the institution of the western church sees people as THEIR workers and only the work they do that is defined within the church walls is important. The only thing they care about from the week is the tithe check. Pastors dint even know what we do monday thru friday. I am not sure they even care.

    • Amy Richards

      Just perfect. Wow! Thank you.

    They feel it in their bones. Most Christian workers living in the modern West experience a deep chasm between their Sunday worship and their Monday work. Their daily labors in the world and their Sunday liturgies in the sanctuary feel as if they are a million miles apart.

    Most pastors and worship leaders sincerely hope that Sunday morning worship meaningfully connects with Monday morning work. But are their hopes realized? Walking into the sanctuary, many workers feel as if they’re visiting another country, a “sacred” world quite detached from a world of work that they call “secular.”

    Some workers have resigned themselves to this growing chasm between work and worship. Some even appreciate it. They’re grateful for a Sunday escape from work, a chance to forget the weekly pressures and pains of their careers – even if just for a moment. In the sanctuary they’ve found a spiritual haven, an oasis far from the cares of troublesome bosses, deadlines, and reports.

    Other workers are deeply bothered by the divorce between their worship and work: they’re haunted by a gnawing sense that the sanctuary is increasingly irrelevant to their daily lives in the world – incapable of speaking to the vocational struggles, questions, and issues they face in the workplace. The chasm eats at them. They long for things to connect.

    Some workers make valiant attempts to forget about their work during Sunday worship. They do their level best to be thoroughly “spiritual” in the sanctuary, to check their workplace cares at the door. With no place to process their “work stuff” with God, the stresses and strains of their careers pile up in their souls. The spiritual plaque of workplace anxieties is something they must “deal with” alone. Perhaps a worship leader once told them to “focus on God” during worship and to put the worldly affairs of the week “out of their minds.” Whatever the case, these workers imagine that a “sacred” sanctuary is no place to process the “secular” stress of worldly work.

    church with a crack running through it

    Photograph by Brina Blum (modified)

    The next conclusion follows rather quickly: if sacred worship is not really interested in my secular work, perhaps the church (and God) is not really interested in workers either. Without the church, workers try to “handle” the stresses of work themselves – through exercise or alcohol, vacations or yoga, medication or television. When it comes to the pressures of their career, Christian workers are on their own.

    The divorce between Sunday’s liturgies and Monday’s labor is a pervasive and devastating fact of Christian life in the modern West. There is no need for a laundry list of surveys, stories, or statistics. Those of us who live and work in this culture know that this divorce is real. We are living our lives in pieces. Disconnected from one another, both work and worship begin to die.

    The question before the church is urgent. How might this deep divorce between work and worship be reconciled?

    Worship: The Gathering and Scattering of Workers

    A healthy heart pumps and pulsates. With tremendous power the heart draws blood in and sends it out. Everything depends upon the heart’s ability to both gather and scatter blood with meaningful force and a consistent rhythm. Without this constant systolic and diastolic movement, this rhythm of in and out, a person’s blood will quickly become static and stale; it will decay and ultimately die. The very life of the body is found in the gathering and scattering power of the heart.

    The theologian J. J. von Allmen argues that sanctuary worship is meant to be the life-giving heartbeat of the Christian’s work in the world. Like a heartbeat, worship has a systolic and a diastolic power. It gathers people in from all over the city and it scatters people out to their various callings and careers. Push and pull. In and out. Healthy worship moves people.1

    Healthy worship has no interest whatsoever in holding people safely and securely inside the sanctuary. It is concerned with the people’s constant movementbetween divine adoration and divine action. Both activities – adoration and action – are sacred. And while distinct from one another, they are meant to be deeply interconnected.

    In its diastolic power, worship gathers workers in from the world so that they might offer their work, their callings, and their very lives and bodies to God in an act of adoration. Moreover, worship gathers workers so that God might offer his work, word, and life to them at the table of Christ.

    In its systolic power, worship does the opposite. It propels workers back out into the city. Worship sends workers, transformed by the work and word of Christ, into the world to be salt and light wherever they have been called. Sending worship actively blesses and commissions workers, so that they might go forth. It gives them a divine charge and scatters them (with a profound systolic force) into their various workplaces so that they can extend their Sunday worship into their Monday work. Sunday does not mark the end of worship but is the launching pad for a whole week of worship. As Clayton Schmit argues, “The sending forth of gathered worshipers is the pivotal moment when worship turns from adoration to action. … In the sending, worship redirects its focus from the liturgy of assembly to become the living liturgy of discipleship.2

    Now, it is one thing to say that we must connect our work and worship. It is quite another to actually do it. Practically speaking, how can churches begin to enact and embody a deeper level of connection between their Sunday liturgies and their members’ Monday labors? Both pastors and workers have some serious work to do.

    Worship That Gathers Workers

    The first problem we must deal with is that many Christians are not bringing their work with them into worship. On Sunday morning they are doing their level best to forget about work and focus on “spiritual things.” This, they imagine, is what it means to be a good Christian on Sunday. The opposite is actually true. God demands that we bring our work – the good and the bad, the beautiful and the broken – to the altar of worship.

    Nicholas Wolterstorff extends von Allmen’s heartbeat metaphor even further.3 He argues that good worship not only gathers souls, it gathers stories as well. When the sanctuary doors open, worshippers should enter carrying stories from all over the city: stories from a week of service, work, study, and play – stories that they need to share with God in worship. Wolterstorff argues that faithfully designed worship will welcome three types of stories from our week in the world: stories of thanksgiving and praise, stories of sin and rebellion, and stories of heartbreak and lament.

    Worshippers need to articulate these three stories to God with great regularity. Wolterstorff calls these the “trumpets, ashes, and tears” of Christian worship. Through the trumpets workers proclaim their praises and thanksgivings from their work throughout the week. Through trumpets people can blast out all of the ways God has blessed them. Through the ashes of confession, workers can honestly recall and confess their weekly stories of rebellion and sin in the workplace. They can be prompted to carefully examine their careers and bring their vocational brokenness and failures to God in an act of repentance. Through the tears of lament, workers are given time and space to openly share their workplace stories of disappointment, confusion, and even anger with God. Perhaps God feels silent, non-responsive, or distant in the face of workplace hardship. Like the psalmist, workers are invited to shed tears of lament in the sanctuary. Offering space for tears can help workers communicate their vocational troubles to God. The sanctuary must be a place where workers can honestly bring their thanksgivings, confessions, and laments before the God of their work.

    The divorce between Sunday’s liturgies and Monday’s labor is a pervasive and devastating fact of Christian life in the modern West.

    In our book Work and Worship, Cory B. Willson and I add two elements to Wolterstorff’s three – we call them workplace “petitions” and “fruits.” First, petitions. Workers need to regularly petition God to move with power in their workplace. As members of the priesthood of all believers, workers need to make a “priestly intercession” before God on behalf of their workplace. They must ask God with a sense of urgency to move on behalf of their coworkers, their clients, their customers, and their entire industry. We all have a responsibility to intercede for divine action on behalf of our workplace. Gathered worship is one place where believers can practice this ministry of intercession.

    The fifth and final element workers need to carry with them into worship is fruit. Scripture repeatedly calls workers to carry the fruits of their labor to God’s table in an act of praise and thanksgiving. The Bible clearly instructs workers never to come before the Lord empty-handed (Deut. 16:16), for in bringing the fruits of our labor we are trained to relate to our work and its spoils in ways that honor God.

    Some workers will come to worship with bright and shining faces ready to offer their trumpets of praise and first fruits of a job well done. Some workers will come to worship weary and broken, with nothing but ashes, petitions, and tears to offer. Workers need to bring these diverse work stories into the presence and work of Christ. If they do not bring their whole selves and their whole week before the Lord, they hold something back from the transformative work of Christ’s word and work in them. Worship must gather the working lives of the people into the presence of the even greater work of God.

    Worship That Scatters Workers

    Corporate worship must also actively scatter workers back into the world. It must bless and compel them to extend their worship into the world of work. Just as a healthy heart pumps freshly oxygenated blood throughout the body, the church’s ability to propel workers into the city with the grace and mercy of Christ is critical to its health and mission.

    My mother was a nurse. For thirty years she cared for mothers and babies at some of the most vulnerable moments in their lives. During those same thirty years she attended worship and regularly prayed to commission missionaries, pastors, and service teams to do “the work of God in the world.” In all those thirty years, my mother and her fellow nurses were never called forward. No one ever asked them to give a testimony of God’s mission in the hospital. No one ever laid hands on them. No one ever commissioned these nurses for a lifelong vocation of mercy, healing, and humble service.

    This commissioning of workers is rooted in Adam and Eve’s original commission to priestly work in tending God’s garden temple. All sons of Adam and daughters of Eve are called by God to guard and keep this world through creative, sustaining, and redemptive work. As such, all sons of Adam and daughters of Eve are called to be priests; they are called to offer holy worship to God through their work in the world.

    Therefore, it is both right and good that pastors and worship leaders commission believers toward their priestly work in the world. Through a commissioning, workers can be reminded that God has equipped and called them to serve as a holy priesthood in and through their daily work. Standing together in the sanctuary, these workers are taking vocational vows that bind their lives and labor to God’s patterns of life and labor. They do not carry the weight of these vocational vows alone. The church community surrounds and stands with them. The Holy Spirit and the communion of saints sends these priestly workers out into the world, not as free agents out for personal gain, but as gracious and generous members of a larger priesthood at work in the world.

    Finally, worship that shapes and scatters workers will close with a blessing and a charge. The blessing boldly reminds workers of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power before, beside, and within their working lives. The charge, on the other hand, reminds workers of the vocational implications of the blessing. God is with you – now act that way. Workers leave the sanctuary with a responsibility to work in ways that are responsive to God’s work in the world.4

    In the book of Numbers, Israelite farmers, herders, and merchants are blessed with the following words “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24–26). The Psalms invoke this blessing, but instructively, go on to add this charge: “… that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among the nations” (Ps. 67:2). The Aaronic blessing is joined to the Abrahamic charge, “I will bless you … so that you will be a blessing” (Gen 12:2). Blessing and charge go hand in hand as people disperse to continue their worship through their work. The benediction reminds workers that they are not called to a moment of worship but to a whole life of worship.

    Jean has developed a rather creative practice for herself during the benediction. She spends her week working with stroke patients as a speech therapist. Her work is rewarding but also demanding and stressful. As her pastor gives the final blessing Jean closes her eyes and pictures the faces of her patients. As the pastor declares, “May the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be upon us and through us with all those to whom he sends us, now and forever. Amen.” In stillness, Jean hears God respond, “Go out and serve these people on my behalf.”5 Departing the sanctuary, her worship in the world begins – “the liturgy after the liturgy.”

    We work and worship in a broken world with broken hearts. There is no magic fix to the chasm between our work and worship. These are but steps toward a more holistic life in which our work and worship might become fully integrated and everything we do serves and honors God. Improving our Sunday morning will never solve the problem if our weekday work is antithetical to the way of Jesus. And considering the forces arrayed against a worshipful stance in a toxic workplace, it may be that gathering once a week isn’t enough. The first Christians, after all, gathered daily (Acts 2:46). But a Sunday morning service that acknowledges, honors, and engages our work in the world, that welcomes the trumpets, ashes, and tears of workers and sends them out with a sense of mission and purpose, might be a good place to start.

    Footnotes

    1. J. J. Von Allmen, Worship: Its Theology and Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), 55–56.
    2. Clayton J. Schmit, Sent and Gathered: A Worship Manual for the Missional Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2009), 255.
    3. See Nicholas Wolterstorff, Hearing the Call: Liturgy, Justice, Church, and World (Grand Rapics, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans, 2011), chapter 1.
    4. Constance Cherry, The Worship Architect (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 115.
    5. Cory B. Willson, “Shaping the Lenses on Everyday Work: A Neo-Calvinist Understanding of the Poetics of Work and Vocational Discipleship,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, 2016), 243-4.
    Contributed By MatthewKaemingk

    Matthew Kaemingk is the Richard John Mouw Chair of Faith and Public Life at Fuller Theological Seminary. His research focuses on public theology, marketplace theology, Islam, and political ethics. He is the author, with Cory B. Willson, of Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy.

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