Can We Trust the Gospels?

Recent Posts

Past Posts Archived by Date

Search this site


Search this site


« Sunday Inspiration from The High Calling | Home | God at Work: An Appendix for the Laity (Section 1) »

A Review of God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement by David W. Miller (Section 5)

By Mark D. Roberts | Monday, January 21, 2008

In the series: God at Work: A Review of the Book by David Miller
Permalink for this post
/ Permalink for this series

Yesterday I suggested that David Miller’s recommendations for clergy are basically fine, though I think lay people have more power to influence clergy, and therefore churches, than Miller seems to think. This leads to perhaps my only significant unhappiness with God at Work, a book I have found to be, overall, most helpful and worth reading. I highly recommend God at Work to all readers, both clergy and lay.

Nevertheless, it almost seems at times as if David Miller has bought into the idea that “the church = the clergy.” It is most telling that his excellent chapter on recommendations for the church contains five, explicit, strong recommendations for clergy, and zero explicit, strong recommendations for laity. Though I fervently agree with Miller that the church has a great opportunity to make a difference in FAW, and though I fervently agree that pastors can and should contribute to this difference, I also believe that, in the end, the church is not the clergy, but the people of God, the laos, of which the laity (non-clergy) are the vast majority. Pastors can be hard-headed and hard-hearted. But if lay people want to have more integrated lives, if they want to be equipped for workplace ministry, if they want to live out their faith at work, then they ultimately have the power to make this happen, in spite of what pastors might do to the contrary. At least they do in Protestant churches.

I do not mean to pit the clergy against the laity, however. On the contrary, as I’ve said above, I believe most clergy sincerely want to help their people live out their faith in all sectors of life. If pastors aren’t dealing with issues of workplace discipleship, it’s because they haven’t realized how much it matters.

I can easily imagine a scenario in which a lay person makes an appointment with a pastor in order to share some challenges at work. In the conversation, the lay person says, “Pastor, I really need some help with this. Have you every thought about dealing with this sort of thing in your sermons? Or could you do a Wednesday evening class on business ethics? It would be wonderful if you did.”

Sure, some pastors would get defensive. But many would say, “You know, that’s a helpful suggestion. What specific things might I preach about?”

And, yes, other pastors would feel insecure, realizing that they don’t know how to talk meaningfully about workplace issues. The healthy ones might say, “You know, that’s a fine suggestion. But, honestly, I’m not sure how I’d go about it. Would you be willing to help me? Perhaps we could do some research and reading and get back together in a couple of weeks to share what we learned.”

Of course a pastor who truly believed in lay ministry might go a step further and say, “I’m willing to incorporate more work related material into my sermons. But, to tell you the truth, I’m not sure I have the expertise or even the time to teach a class on business ethics. Would you be willing to help organize such a class? You don’t have to teach it. But maybe you could gather some others together to help. And you could figure out some speakers we could invite? Since you’re every bit as much a minister as I am, would you be willing to take this on?”

Okay, I’ll admit this imaginary conversation sounds a bit canned. But I have participated in many conversations just like it. No rose colored glases here. Just lots of experience as a pastor listening to my people.

David Miller concludes God at Work in this way:

The church and the theological academy have a choice: they can sit on the sidelines, ignore the [FAW] movement, and let it pass them by, or they can learn from it, engage it, and help shape the theology and practice of faith at work. The church and the theological academy . . . have the chance here to participate in the FAW dialogue, help set the agenda, address the Four E’s, and thereby influence societal structures by affecting and even transforming individual lives, corporations, and the broader marketplace. The church and the academy can offer theological resources and practical tools to equip those whose calling is to serve in and through the marketplace. For the church to do anything less is to abandon millions of Christians for five-sevenths of their week, and to abdicate responsibility for and influence over this important sphere of society. Indeed, active participation in the transformation of individual employees, their workplaces, and the overall marketplace may be one of the most powerful means to help feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and welcome the stranger (p. 153).

To this I would add an enthusiastic “Amen!”, though with one exception. I see in this paragraph hints of the kind of problem I referenced earlier. Consider, for example, the sentence that reads: “For the church to do anything less is to abandon millions of Christians . . . .” Stop! This sentence seems to imply that the church is something other than millions of Christians. In fact, the church is these same millions of Christians. Yes, of course the church is an institution. And, yes, of course it has its many gatekeepers (usually but not always the clergy). But, theologically speaking, the church is not the buildings and the bosses. The church is the people of God, the body of Christ. Thus if the church does anything less than Miller recommends – recommendations with which I heartily agree – then it’s not that the church is failing millions of people, but rather that the millions of people who make up the church are failing themselves. Ultimately, of course, they are failing God and his kingdom. (Photo: The High Calling website is meant to encourage ordinary Christians to live out the high calling of their daily work. Most of the writers on the site, by the way, are lay Christians, as are all of those who work on it regularly, expect for me.)

To use theological language for my critique of God at Work, I’m concerned that Miller’s ecclesiology, his doctrine of the church, is formed too much by the institutional status quo and too little by biblical teaching. If we really believe that the people of God are the church, that the members really are the body of Christ, that the Spirit is given not just to the clergy, but to all believers, then the way forward might look quite a bit different. It would be filled with hope for workplace discipleship, whether or not clergy found the wherewithal to lead the movement. I believe that lay people have vastly more power than they realize, not because they currently experience this power, and not because they never feel frustrated by clerical resistance, but because, in the end, they are the laity. They are the laos, the people of God. They are the church, filled with the very Spirit of God. And it is God, above all, who seeks for his people to live out their faith at work.

Topics: God at Work |


Thanks for your willingness to make a comment. Note: I do not moderate comments before they are posted, though they are automatically screened for profanities, spam, etc., and sometimes the screening program holds comments for moderation even though they're not offensive. I encourage open dialogue and serious disagreement, and am always willing to learn from my mistakes. I will not delete comments unless they are extraordinarily rude or irrelevant to the topic at hand. You do need to login in order to make a comment, because this cuts down on spam. You are free to use a nickname if you wish. Finally, I will eventually read all comments, but I don't have the time to respond to them on a consistent basis because I've got a few other demands on my time, like my "day job," my family, sleep, etc.

You must be logged in to post a comment.