The building, drawn to scale, illustrated details like tall glass walls and a peaked roof. The architect who created the three-dimensional drawing of the new airport terminal building we were working on at the time had taken myriad ideas and made a believable image of what could be built years later for our client. What the architect created was a perspective drawing, a classic yet powerful design tool. Because of the careful work, connecting the individual ideas of several people with his own, he created a rendition of reality.
One object. Different vantage points. And each project stakeholder’s perspective was represented in the presentation. Only then could the team of leaders, designers, and builders make the necessary decisions on size, affordability, schedule, and the like. Perspective was key to effectively communicating the vision. But architecture isn’t the only place where it matters.
This particular Sunday, the pastor began his sermon with illustrations from a life at work — and I could see myself in each story. Always a good expositor, he had found a way to capture the attention of the congregation.
Yet it struck me — just how rare it is for a pastor to portray a theological principle in a way understandable from my perspective, as someone who spends one-third of my life working in the corporate world, not in full-time ministry or in a ministry-related organization. Of course most church leaders are well educated in the Bible and how to teach it. And most of us non-pastors benefit greatly from this training. After all, we need the lens of Scripture to see our daily lives in service to God. But pastors tend to have a blind spot. They read extensively the works of other pastors and theologians who write mostly from the research and writings of other pastors and theologians.
Pastors see the world from the viewpoint of a communicator of biblical knowledge and a minister to the church. Pastors see the world and its spiritual life. But that can mean they have a limited connection to the lives of their parishioners. Sermon applications and illustrations can be heavy on church and family life, and many of us seldom hear a sermon that relates to our time outside of church and family life. Most sermons show a gap in perspective: The speaker simply does not relate to a world he doesn’t see.
In my last 35 years, job relocations led me to church relocations, five of which were churches where I was privileged to serve as an elder. I intentionally befriended each pastor, based on a deep conviction that pastors need advocates, more than board members, committed to making the pastor more “business-minded.” Well-intentioned leaders find their way onto church boards convinced that they must push the pastor to build a “successful” church, as they might build a successful business. And time and time again I heard a pastor argue — plea —that the church is not a business. Some church leaders get it, but many consider this plea to be a copout. My fellow elders had a gap in perspective, too: They seemed to see everything through their business lens.
Here is the problem: Church leaders who dismiss a pastor’s perspective (and a pastor who doesn’t have a parishioner’s perspective) can be damaging to the gospel itself. Dualism sets in: Theology remains in the church building, and congregants show up to work on Monday morning with no idea how to relate the Bible to the workplace. We would all benefit by embracing the perspectives of those we partner with in the church. But the biggest beneficiaries might be the listeners whose pastor sees practical theology from their everyday-work perspective.
The Apostle Paul offers an example. In this illustration of multiple perspectives, in Acts 17, he is in the marketplace in Athens. Philosophers and commercial vendors all mixed there, and Paul was comfortable in both crowds, because he was not only an educated teacher but a commercial tentmaker (Acts 18 pictures Paul making tents in a small business with Priscilla and Aquila as part of his calling), both roles a part of his calling. Paul had perspective of both worlds and was comfortable walking between them. When Paul instructed the Thessalonian church to “work with their hands,” he was credible, and they knew it (1 Thess 4:11). His theology related to his work, and his work helped relate the gospel to the church.
Simple math can count the benefit of a Bible teacher expanding his/her perspective in order to relate to a broader life experience of their listeners: The consideration of one benefits many. With careful consideration of the perspective of others alongside our own, we create a clearer, three-dimensional picture of the gospel in our world.
How can a pastor help parishioners see the gospel at their workplaces? A few ideas:
- Commit to seeing daily work from the perspective of others’ daily work, and challenge them to relate the Bible to their job.
- Discuss daily work with community members. Understand the issues congregants deal with in their companies and communities during the week. Ask how you can help them apply spiritual practices to their tasks, or with their teams, leaders, and associates. Create a habit of checking in on work life as well as spiritual life.
- Go to their workplaces and see what they do. A visit may be more welcome than you imagine.
- Look for specific ways to show your congregation that the gospel goes to work. Preparing a sermon with intention is a start — illustrating and applying biblical information to daily work, letting congregants know their pastor sees the “real” world as they do.
- Pray for your workers. For the student who lives on campus. For someone who starts a new job. Encourage church staff and small group leaders to do the same in their own spheres of influence.
- Don’t underestimate the power of a sermon. And sit beside me in my cubicle for a moment while you prepare the message.