The KIngdom at Work
The Kingdom at Work
The failure of the church to equip lay people for ministry and mission in the world of work is not new. It reflects a longstanding disregard of professions and labour, which itself springs from a limited theology and soteriology. Examining this theology and enlarging our soteriology may offer some indications of how the failure may be addressed.
Historical evidence of this disregard was provided on a visit to Lichfield Cathedral. Walking round and looking at the memorials, I saw plenty of soldiers, many clergy and some wealthy landowners, together with their wives and children. But only Erasmus Darwin ‘Physician, Philosopher and Poet’, was commemorated for his professions. There were no merchants, manufacturers or millers, no surveyors, scientists or sportspeople, no barristers, builders or bakers.
Any of us who have a preaching ministry can easily find evidence of limited theology. Ask any congregation where they expect to spend eternity, and the response will, almost certainly, be ‘heaven.’ Most church goers base their expectations upon a personal profession of faith, and accepting the grace of God, made available in and through Christ. This is fundamental to my Christian experience, but it can so easily lead to a private and individual faith. The Gospel is so much more than this. Our eternal destiny, the bible tells us, is sharing in the New Earth, the perfect act of God’s new creation. As we grasp this, we see that salvation has a corporate dimension. Our individual faith makes us part of something far bigger – the kingdom – and the realised expression of that kingdom will be a solid reality, rather than an ethereal existence all too easily caricatured as playing harps on clouds.
Tom Wright offers a helpful metaphor. An individualistic view of salvation is comparable to the medieval belief that the sun went round the earth. A revolution of thought occurred with the discovery that the earth actually orbits the sun. We need a similar revolution of thought to grasp that we are not, individually, at the centre of God’s plans.
Two consequences, of direct relevance to the churches’ engagement with the world of work, spring from this. Firstly, if we are destined for a real existence in the New Earth, and if ‘things’, reconciled to God through Christ (Colossians 1: 15 – 20), are part of this, then our work, the things we do and make, the services we provide to people, have an eternal significance which imbues them with worth here and now. Secondly, if our salvation is something corporate, rather than just individual, then the interactions of the workplace have added and deeper significance. The people around us, the people we serve, may be people to whom that kingdom is drawing near and in whom it may already be taking root.
My field of work is chaplaincy, and it has a dominantly pastoral emphasis. Listening at times of crisis is valuable. However, there is wider dimension. It should be an ongoing ministry of affirmation and encouragement, helping people to see that what they are doing is (wherever it is) good in itself. It should help people appreciate their contribution to the group with whom they work, the people they serve and the wider society to which they contribute. Then they will more fully appreciate the service of other people and be encouraged to raise their eyes above individualism.
A chaplain is simply a representative presence in the workplace. All those who have grasped and been grasped by the good news of the kingdom need to share in this ministry of affirmation, encouragement and solidarity with those around them. In so doing, the kingdom at work will move forwards.