While there is a growing movement of churches around the country working to better educate and equip their congregation members in the area of faith and work, it strikes me as a worship leader that we often overlook one of the most basic opportunities for formation in this area each week – that is, the weekly worship gathering. In this blog post, I invite pastors and worship planners to perform a very basic audit of their weekly worship practices, and see if there may be room for improvement in this key area. To keep things simple, I offer three areas of examination in this audit – practice, pastoral care, posture.
The first area of examination is the area of our weekly worship practices. Consider for a moment how a young child or a visitor would rank the most important kinds of vocations, based on a few weeks of attending your worship service. Would they find it to be the case that your worship service frequently highlights the work of missionaries or local mercy ministries in a “ministry moment” slot in the service, but never does the same for individuals working in other areas? What is the subtle message being communicated when our people see this pattern week after week and year after year? The message is that these kinds of vocations are important to the church and worthy of celebrating and lifting up in prayer. Consider instead the power and the public interest in making a point of also inviting up parishioners in other fields to share an update of how they see God at work in their vocation. I have seen in my own congregation the attentiveness as our people have listened to an attorney or a city official or a hospice physician talk about where they see God’s goodness in their work and where they feel the brokenness of the world. Making a practice of this, even a few times a year, also brings the benefit of helping people in the congregation better know one another’s struggles. The practice of vocational testimony is a great first step toward celebrating the varied vocations represented in the room on a Sunday morning.
The second area for this audit has to do with pastoral care. One of the first things we must remember about our peoples’ sense of calling and vocation is that they are each being told a story all week long about the value of their jobs. For some, the value of their jobs is generally acknowledged and affirmed (teachers, doctors, counselors); however, consider the many individuals in your church whose callings are often disparaged or belittled – salesman often sneered at, full-time caregivers made to feel inferior, bankers made to feel evil, cashiers snapped at or disrespected. As pastors leading worship and leading prayer, we need to take a moment and make sure we are not perpetuating these stereotypes either with positive or negative remarks. When we do pray for people in their vocations, let’s not be guilty of only praying for the folks who are farmers or teachers or firefighters. Let’s also affirm and lift up in prayer those who work in jobs where they do not easily see how God is at work in their field. This leads us to the final area for this audit.
Many pastors or worship leaders who read the previous paragraph may begin to feel a little over their heads in terms of knowing the right words to say or the right things to pray for. “How do I pray for the computer programmers and the customer service representatives?” one might rightly ask. This is why our posture matters. Many of our congregations will greatly benefit when those of us in leadership take the posture of learner and not an expert in these areas. Rather than looking in a prayer book or searching the internet for how to best pray or speak about the work of a social worker, let’s take the posture of learner and consider taking a few moments to make a phone call or write an email to a parishioner and ask how we can pray for them today, and how they would like their work to be prayed for in a worship service setting. We will certainly be surprised to learn of the joys and challenges our people are facing. It may even be the case that we ourselves learn something new about the kingdom of God through the stories and prayer requests of our people.
So, once we’ve performed this simple audit, what’s the next step? Rather than becoming discouraged or frantically making changes this week, it’s good to remember that God in His kindness is bringing our people to worship each Sunday, week after week, and year after year. The important thing is not to get everything right about vocation every single week of the year, but rather to make small steps forward in this area.
Perhaps you might start by circling just six sundays over the next year when you intend to feature to pray for individuals in their vocations and call a few parishioners on the phone. Through these conversations, the vocational testimonies may also begin to emerge for those Sunday mornings. And above all these things, let’s rejoice in the fact that God promises that when even a few of us gather in His name for worship, that the Holy Spirit is at work through our best efforts and even despite them, to grow our people more and more into the callings He has given them. And He will sure be faithful to complete His good work.
Isaac Wardell is a Presbyterian worship leader, teacher, and composer who primarily writes sacred music. He is the director of Bifrost Arts and is currently the Director for Worship Arts at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, VA.