Towards a Missional View of the Workplace

Today I'd like to begin by commending to you the Lausanne Advance Paper entitled "People at Work: Preparing to be the Whole Church" by Willy Kotiuga. Kotiuga has provided the Church with a stimulating article that highlights an extraordinarily important topic -- namely, what does it mean to be a follower of Christ in the workplace.  This was a particularly helpful read for me as it forced me to think through the kind

of discipleship that I should be engaged in as a pastor of Christ-followers who are spending 40+ hours each week in a "secular" work environment.  Thus so much of their faith, their imitation of Christ, their spiritual growth, and their participation in God's mission will take place there. I must confess that the bulk of my discipleship is focused on what happens in the home and in the community. Almost none on the workplace. Somewhat subconsciously, I have set those 40 hours to one side -- as something that is essentially in the way of real life. Kotigua has helped me to recognize anew that such is not the case.  The time Christ-followers spend at work is and ought to be of significant value for God's Kingdom and purposes.  I have a responsibility as leader in the Church to equip God's people to engage fully their workplace with the message of Jesus Christ.

Stages of Discipleship for Christ-followers who are in the Workplace:
Perhaps it is too daunting a task to think in terms of transforming believers who are not missionally engaged at their workplaces into those who are.  It is for me anyway.  In particular, I'm thinking about the many Bhutanese-Nepalis that I pastor who work at various factories and warehouses around the Chicago suburbs.  I recognize that these are mostly new believers who work alongside non-believers from their own cultural background as well as other people from many nations.  To simply tell them to become missional at work is just too far a leap.  I want to suggest instead some rather loose "stages" of discipleship.  When I consider this, it seems much more doable.  Allow me to explain:

1. Non-believer -- Of course, we must begin here. This is simply an individual at a workplace who does not follow Jesus Christ.  My discipleship goal with them is share the message of Jesus with them.

2.  Disconnected Disciple -- This, I think, is where I think a lot of Christians are.  Kotiuga speaks a lot about the fact that many followers of Christ do not make the connection in their minds and hearts between their faith in Christ and their work.  He points out that many see work as a "necessary evil" that essentially gets in the way of their Christian life. He points out a "gap" between theology and praxis and a disassociation between church and work. For those at this stage, I must help them to see that their faith is indeed tremendously relevant to their work.  Think of the role of Mordecai in Esther's life to help her realize that her faith in God was deeply relevant to her role as queen.

3. The Disciple of Christ-like Character -- At this 3rd stage, we see followers of Jesus who have become convinced that their faith is relevant to their work.  As a result, these disciples strongly desire to imitate the character of Christ in the workplace.  My responsibility at this point is to help them to grow in areas of personal integrity, showing love and kindness towards others, being respectful towards those in authority, abstaining from inappropriate behavior that co-workers may commonly engage in, maintaining a good attitude about work, and more.  Think of people like Rebekah (Gen. 24), Boaz (Ruth 2), and Uriah (2 Sam. 11) whose faith in God was manifest in acts of kindness, generosity, self-control, and integrity in their work.

4. The Disciple of Excellence -- As one matures in their imitation of Christ's character in the workplace, very naturally, they will find themselves pursuing excellence in their work.  In the spirit of Joseph in Egypt, they will become increasingly convince that their relationship with God should be reflected in the level of care, dedication, and energy that they put towards their job.  My responsibility at this point is to encourage this as Paul did when he exhorted the Colossians, "Whatever you do, work heartily as to the Lord and not to men" (Col. 3:23).  And, like Joseph, the disciple at this stage cares little about the nature of the work (whether slave, prisoner, or governor), but seeks excellence in each task.

5. Missional Disciple -- Ultimately, spiritual growth will lead to mission.  This, of course, is the goal we started out with.  I want to see followers of Christ whom I pastor to become fully engaged as ambassadors of His in their workplaces.  As it was often in Daniel's case, I think often we will see that the disciple who is strive to imitate Christ and pursue excellence at work will experience natural opportunities to share their faith with others.  However, this may not happen often or at all.  I must disciple people at this stage in their maturity to start thinking and behaving missionally at their workplace.  They must begin to (1) pray for co-workers, supervisors, clients, and others; they must find opportunities to (2) worship and read the Scripture at work; (3) they must enter into authentic relationships with those who don't know Christ and be faithful to share their faith in the context of those friendships; (4) they must seek to "plant" the Church in that workplace in some way.  "Planting" the Church at the workplace can be as simple as praying regularly with another Christ-follower.  In other cases starting a weekly Bible study during a lunch break or actually planting a full-fledged church at the workplace may be more appropriate.  The point is to create communities of faith for Christ-followers at that workplace.  It is important for us to move away from the notion that we must invite our co-workers to "come to our church".  Instead, we recognize that God has sent the Church (i.e. me and you) to them in order to be the Church for them.

Okay, I hope that is as helpful to you as it has been to me.  Practically, I'm thinking through these things as a way to evaluate where specific people in my congregation are and how I can help move them on to the next stage of maturity.  Again, don't forget to check out Kotiuga's article.  And, I'd love to read your comments.  In particular, if you can think of a stage in there that I might be overlooking, please share that in the comment section.

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