How to bind faith and work together through worship

Sometimes I wonder why we don’t experience more fruit from all the books and events designed to help people understand why faith needs to connect with all the work we do in the world. Maybe the answer is more about different activities and practices, or liturgies, than more content.

Matthew Kaemingk and Cory Willson’s new book, Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy, explores the reconciliation of faith and work in the context of gathered worship. Chris Robertson, director of city networks for Made to Flourish, recently talked Kaemingk and Willson about their book, pastors, and why churches rarely include liturgies around work in their services — and how that can change.

CR: Your book is clear that the Israelites had an inherent theology of work, expressed by the connections between their faith and work work and worship. It seems the modern church has lost many of these connections, as evidenced by the lack of relationship between our daily work and worship patterns. How did this disintegration take place?

The story of how the modern church got into this mess is a long and complicated one. We can limit ourselves to briefly discussing both an external and internal villain for the time being.

Externally, modernity is a powerful force pulling the work and worship of the church apart. Modernity has convinced the church that what happens on Sunday morning is a private, spiritual, and emotional experience. The church has, by and large, accepted this bifurcated way of life. It is largely detached from the material concerns and common sense “reality” of day-to-day work in the world.

Another reason for the modern division is a problem compounded within the local church. The detachment of pastors, worship leaders, and seminary faculty from the concerns of workers and the larger marketplace contributes to the separation. What emerges are pastors who have been trained away from the marketplace and have no vision for how work can be central to the mission of the local church. Very commonly, pastors and worship leaders don’t see or think about the marketplace or workers, so it doesn’t regularly occur to them that the worship should be deeply integrated with the daily work of the people.

CR: I think Christians could have a different view of work if they participated in liturgies such as you describe in chapter nine of the book. Why don’t local churches and their pastoral leadership include elements to receive, name, honor, and bless the work of the congregation during gathered worship?

If you were to ask pastors and worship leaders, “Do you want your Sunday morning worship to be relevant for people’s Monday morning work?” Nearly every single one of them would say “Yes!” Then, many of them would sit quietly and, after a moment, they would say, “Um, how do we do that?” The problem is not a lack of willingness, but rather a lack of awareness and imagination. Our book is meant to offer worship leaders and pastors the resources, principles, and practices they need to begin this journey.

CR: It’s ironic that two theologians suggest the solution to the disintegration of work and worship is not more head knowledge, but different practices. Can you explain your argument and how you came to this conclusion?

This is a nuanced point that is easy to misunderstand within our book. Our book is not an attack on the “theology of work” project. Not at all. Christians absolutely need to develop a theology of faith and work.

The question is how a theology of work comes to inhabit the mind and the bones of a worker. Reading an isolated book or taking a class about a theology of work — on its own — cannot achieve this level of deep habituation and integration. In our research, we found the Israelites primarily bound their faith and work together through the practices of corporate worship.

How does a church move from having a sermon series or class on “faith and work” to having this vision of “faith and work” embedded in their bones? We want pastors and worship leaders to have the vocations of the people of God at the front of their minds when they are planning sermons, writing prayers, selecting songs, blessing, baptizing, and sending the priesthood of all believers. Sunday after Sunday, the worship of a congregation must facilitate a conversation between God the worker and human workers.

Finally, we come from the Reformed tradition which has long held to the doctrine of the “priesthood of all believers.” This dogma holds that the lives and labor of all Christians are holy. The daily labor of the laity is a holy service and an act of worship. We’re proud that our tradition has such a beautiful theology of work. That said, Reformed theology has not made an impact on Reformed worship. Our worship services today feature and center pastors, ministry staff, and professional missionaries and non-profit leaders. The laity have very little role on a Sunday morning and their work is not really mentioned or celebrated. Reformed theology elevates the priesthood of all believers; its liturgy neglects it.

CR: Your presentation of Amos 8 — connecting sin outside the sanctuary with worship inside — convicted me and I could not help but connect it with the modern American church. You state, “If workers hope to remain faithful in corrupt economies, they will need to develop and practice their own ‘counter liturgies’ daily in the workplace.” What are some examples of “counter liturgies?”

This will be the subject covered in our second book, so you will need to stay tuned! But here are two teasers. Marcos works for a company that requires him to rank all the employees he supervises in his department into three categories: the top 20% performers, the middle 70%, and the bottom 10%. The bottom performers are fired—every quarter. As a Christian, Marcos needs to be formed to discern the implicit vision of the human person that undergirds this management liturgy. What kind of humanity is it fostering? What kind of culture does this practice cultivate? And what can be done to subvert or counter it in ways that contribute to the flourishing of employees?

Dana, by contrast, works for a company that seeks to align its company practices with its triple bottom line values of seeking the health and sustainability of people, planet, and profits. The practices she is learning at work about environmental stewardship and working through interpersonal conflict in healthy ways is having an impact on her family and home as well. The marketplace is not simply chalked full of evil, malformation liturgies. There are also practices that can be harnessed and directed towards God’s intention for shalom. Christian discipleship needs to equip workers to discern, engage, and create healthy practices for work.

CR: What is one thing you want pastors and leaders to experience while reading this book to encourage flourishing communities, both inside and outside the local church?

Workers carry a lot of things with them when they enter into worship. They carry vocational concerns and questions, projects and schedules, relationships and dreams, triumphs and tragedies. Your job as a pastor or worship leader is not to solve or resolve all of these things. Your job is to give them the space to bring their daily work to God. They are all priests called to pray and intercede before God. Sitting in the pews is a holy priesthood. Your task is to awaken the priesthood to their holy calling and equip them for a whole week of work and worship before their God in grace and truth.

Topics: Church and Ministry, Corporate Worship, Discipleship, Pastoral Practices

About the Author

Chris Robertson serves as director of city networks for Made to Flourish. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, Chris received his bachelor of science in Bible from Cornerstone University. Most recently Chris served as project manager for Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Chris and his wife, Rebecca, live in Kansas City along with their two children. Chris is passionate about helping leaders understand that every job is part of God's plan to make all things new.