That’s all very interesting, but what does it have to do with us?
Or, perhaps, more accurately, little to do with how their people used to earn their living, because the vast majority of people in most of our churches these days are retired. I asked an older gentleman I met in a church what work he had done. “Do you mean, what did I do for the church?” he replied.
“No, what did you do for a living?
“I spent 30 years building forklift trucks,” he answered, and went on to describe the trucks he had worked on, how they were powered and counterbalanced, and the loads they could carry. No one had ever taken an interest in his daily work in church before.
This lack of connection with people’s working lives may be one reason why few working people attend churches. Church members are valued more for what they do for the church than their daily work, and working people are often too busy to fulfil church roles. Preaching focuses on spiritual topics rather than the issues which confront working people. Prayers look for fulfilment in heaven rather than on earth. As Dorothy L Sayers wrote in her 1942 essay “Why Work?”: “How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life?”
The starting point for any Christian engagement with people’s work must be to affirm the value of the work and the people who perform it. Work is part of God’s plan and purpose for humanity: it was established in creation before the fall. Two craftsmen, Bezalel and Oholiab are the first people the Bible records as having spiritual gifts, and there is no reason for us today to limit the exercise of spiritual gifts to the church (See Miroslav Volf’s “Work in the Spirit”).
A better understanding of the nature of work today, with its pressures and possibilities, will help churches equip their remaining working members for their day-to-day discipleship in the area where they have the most contacts and are most open to scrutiny. A conscientious and consistent Christian who does their job competently, relates well to their colleagues and faces difficulties positively will inevitably provoke questions and will have opportunities to give account for hope they have (1 Peter 3: 15).
Numerous evangelistic initiatives have come and gone, failing to halt the general decline in church attendance. If church leaders were to see that their members’ work and everyday lives are very much to do with them, we might well see growth and new life in our churches.