As a result, many workplace leaders are confused about their roles in evangelizing the world. They often feel that their part is insignificant compared to the contributions of "professional ministers," such as pastors and evangelists. They have resigned themselves to a "support" position in helping those who have been trained, equipped and gifted to be on the front lines.
But, what is the ministry God has called all of us as believers to do? What does it mean to be a minister in the workplace? I believe ministry is defined as "participation in the work of God with an eternal motivation." It is not a question of activity or vocation, but of focus.
Ministry must have as its eternal focus either evangelism or discipleship as defined by Jesus in the Great Commission (see Matt. 28:19-20). Ultimately, ministry has as its goal to enlarge and mature the body of Christ, and with the proper tools and training, marketplace leaders hold the key to expanding the influence of the church into the business world.
Let's look at a dozen misperceptions that have sprouted within the church and keep workplace leaders from visualizing their missions as ambassadors for Jesus Christ:
1. We have confused a person's position with his spirituality.
Which is more spiritual: driving a church bus or a truck? Being a church administrator or a vice president of a large firm? Being a minister of music or a schoolteacher? Being a missionary or working in a factory? Being a pastor or a salesperson?
Of course, the answer is neither! Being spiritual is being in the will of God. When I was a teenager, I viewed spirituality as positions on a ladder. On the top rung was a missionary, next was a pastor, next was a Christian worker, and somewhere near the bottom was a businessman.
I was wrong, but I nearly went into pastoral ministry (although that was not where God wanted me) because I wanted my life to count for Christ. I had confused my position with my spirituality. Business leaders in our churches need to know that God has called them to full-time ministry in the workplace.
2. We have confused platform with ministry.
The average person has been led to believe that the most important ministry happens on the platform (teaching, preaching, making music and other visible ministries). In his devotional newsletter, Perspective, Richard C. Halverson, the late pastor and respected chaplain of the U.S. Senate, maintained that the church's greatest impact is between Sundays, when the church is dispersed:
"It is assumed in our culture that the church impacts society primarily as an institution, or a bureaucracy. As a matter of fact--and New Testament teaching, especially--the institutional impact of the church in the world is minimal. Where is the church between Sundays when the buildings are empty except for pastor and staff?"
The church must let business leaders know that their platforms in the workplace are often more influential to a lost world than that of pastors and church leaders.
3. We have confused the amount of time we spend in the church with our level of commitment.
When new Christians become involved in more and more good religious activities, they have less contact with the secular world, except at their jobs. They may even spend less time with their spouses and families.
This time involvement normally increases over a period of three to 10 years, after which they may reach a season of burnout and their commitments may wane. The church then loses some of these young believers to the secular world and others to casual Sunday mediocrity.
The problem is not in the amount of time but in balancing the time and opportunities that God has given us. The church must ensure that leaders understand that they are ministers of God all day, every day. Their performance on the job is just as important to God as a religious activity.
4. We have confused telling with training.
Telling is simply giving a command, such as, "John, I'd like for you to give your testimony at the meeting next Thursday." Teaching goes a step further by explaining how to do the job. "John, you can prepare your testimony by writing it out first. Then practice it to keep it no longer than five minutes. Include 'before,' 'during' and 'after' parts in your salvation story." But training is interactive. "John, let's get together and talk about this. I'll show you how to write it out and practice with you."
Many workplace leaders are tired of being spoon-fed overprocessed spiritual food. They want to learn how to feed themselves. Our institutions have glamorized the communication process with their sophisticated videos, books, magazines and performances. But, workplace leaders in our churches need more hands-on training, not just teaching.
5. We have confused size with significance.
Many of today's workplace leaders are not impressed by the size of our church budgets or facilities because they may deal in the corporate world with much larger budgets or facilities. But they do long to be involved in something significant, because secular success in education, science, business, entertainment and politics is ultimately fleeting--and they know it.
Leaders want their lives to count for something, to leave a legacy. They want to personally be in on the action, not just to "support" the efforts of professionals. As my son, Lance, a pastor of a Generation X church, explains: "Today's young leaders want to give themselves to a real spiritual vision that is bigger than they are. This causes them to rely on God."
6. We have expected them to come to us instead of us going to them.
When Jesus wanted to talk to the religious leaders, He went to the temple. But when He wanted to touch the lives of people who were hurting, He went to where they were. Typically, when Jesus touched lives, He left them where He found them, so that they could impact others for Him. Rarely did He move them out of their circles of influence. We must help leaders understand that ministry can take place in their marketplaces every day.
Real workplace ministry is not taking religion, but rather the fragrance of Christ, to the office. It is not about activities but availability. Your leaders do not necessarily need to preach or pray on the job site but simply be salt and light. As they let Jesus live naturally through them, He will work through them to produce fruit in lives around them (see John 15:5).
7. We have confused our spiritual walk with Sunday church activities.
Tuesday afternoon on the job is just as important to God as Sunday morning in corporate worship. Leaders focus wrongly when they think that they can go and give on Sunday and then choose to do what they like the other six days of the week.
Peter Senge, one of the revolutionary thinkers of our day, says, "I would argue that the mainstream of Christianity throughout the last 1,500 years ... has been for the majority of practitioners, not a practice-oriented religion, but a Sunday religion, a religion of 'do what you want as long as you subscribe to the right things and you show up on Sunday to keep the institution going.'"
Workplace leaders must not segment their lives into the sacred and the secular but realize that every activity is part of one's walk with God. Jim Craddock explained this concept well in the July 1999 Scope Ministries Report:
"Unfortunately, the polarization of the sacred and the secular has caused a great deal of confusion among Christians. We view our church activity, our devotional time, our Bible study as sacred and the rest of our activities as secular. One is viewed as a blessing, the other as a duty."
The end result is that we allow God to rule the sacred, while we rule the secular. Instead, every work duty should be viewed as sacred if done with a Christlike attitude. Every phone call, visit and project is an invitation to join Him to touch another life.
8. We have focused on the institution instead of the individual.
In his book, Leadership That Works, Leith Anderson makes distinctions between yesterday's and today's priorities. He explains the shift from institutional to individual, from church to family, from duty to opportunity, from showing up to significance and from faithfulness to effectiveness.
The leaders in our churches, as individuals, want to have opportunities in which they can use their gifts and be effective and significant. They want to be able to participate in these while not neglecting their families. Have we adjusted to this shift?
9. We have confused reputation with servanthood.
If our leaders ever gain a platform to minister in the workplace, it will be because of their service to others, not their reputations. In the June 5, 2000, issue of Leadership Network Explorer, Leonard Sweet calls this "authenticity by participation, not professional credentials." Sweet goes on to say, "It is the anointing of the Spirit."
Margaret Wheatley notes in the same article: "The key trait of leadership today is having more confidence in other people than you have in yourself. Shine the light on others. Ask them to participate. ... Preaching is not, 'How do I craft a better sermon?' but 'How do I build a better congregation of participants?'"
10. We have focused on escaping secular culture instead of invading it.
Ministry today should be less about "segregation" and more about "penetration." Leonard Sweet addresses this problem: "Dealing with this new world and the church's role in it is not easy, and I know that. For some who look at this new world that's forming with its chaos, confusion and complexity, the only way they can handle it is to just stay out. They huddle in bunkers, create gated churches, create a unique Christian subculture and do search-and-rescue missions."
As leaders, we must be willing to evaluate the pros and cons of Christian schools, radio and television, versus those of public schools, secular radio and mainstream television. Evangelistic success depends on our ability to engage and transform secular culture, not just create a religious counterpart to it.
11. We have focused on external change, not internal change.
Our efforts at change must be directed not merely to the outside, but the inside. We must remind business leaders that God is not calling them to go and impact their world and make better people. God is asking them to bring Jesus Christ with them to a lost secular marketplace and allow Him to make them and others new people--different from before (see Matt. 23:27; Mark 7:21-23; 2 Cor. 5:17).
12. We have focused on individualism instead of teamwork.
All of us, workplace leaders and pastors alike, must realize that the best we can do is join God in what He is doing among the lost who surround us every day. Jesus Himself modeled this relinquishment of individualistic control by building a team of 12 to share His power and carry on His mission.
Helping your leaders embrace a vision for joining God in workplace ministry may very well mean giving them new perspectives (and likely encouraging them to give up some old ones). We must be willing to invest in these men and women, confronting obstacles that stand in the way of them partnering with the church to transform culture.
The Christian perspective of work often leaves God out.
By Rich Marshall
Jesus came "'to seek and to save that which was lost'" (Luke 19:10, NKJV), but people are not the only things that were lost when Adam fell. God's intentions are to restore, not only humanity, but also the joy of work and entrepreneurial pursuit that was relinquished in the Garden of Eden (see Gen. 2:17-19).
However, there is a tendency in the church to act as if work itself is a result of the curse. Recent surveys show that as many as 50 percent of Christians hate their jobs. Many are working only to get enough money to retire, and some are trying to escape their jobs in order to "go into ministry."
God created us to work. Work was a part of His plan for our lives long before Adam and Eve fell into sin. In Genesis 2 we are introduced to work as God intended it--a wonderful combination of the handiwork of God and the cooperation of man.
In the beginning, work was not intended to be hard. Instead, labor was a way for man to be involved with God in His care of the earth. Almighty God--the One for whom nothing is impossible--created the world with a plan for humanity to be involved in His care of creation.
Thus, work is not a result of the curse that came when man sinned; however, the tension, the toil, the heart attack-producing, high blood pressure-increasing stress is a result of the curse that came with sin. That is what Jesus died to release us from.
When Jesus spoke the words in Luke 19:10, He was assuring us that He would take care of everything that was lost. When we introduce people to Jesus and bring them to the place where they can put their trust in Him, we need to tell them not only of the ability of Jesus to forgive sins, but also of His power to bring stress-free work back into their lives.
We need to emphasize the purpose of work: to cooperate with God in His care of the universe. We need to reintroduce the stress-free environment of the Garden of Eden and remind people of God's desire to bless the work of our hands.
Work is certainly a part of God's plan for your life, but not work as it is usually experienced in this world. A failure to introduce people to God's idea of work will leave people in bondage--a bondage that the Lord has paid the price for and that He does not intend for us to live under.
When we begin to see that our work is a calling from God--that there is purpose in it--it will give us an entirely different attitude toward our workplaces.
When I tell people that their work is their ministry, I sometimes get a response like this: "But you don't know how bad it is where I work. The people there are evil, wicked, mean and nasty." And I always respond this way: "That is why you are there."
Seeing our work as ministry does not mean that we preach, play loud music or pass out tracts. It means that we change the corporate culture. In other words, the atmosphere should be different because we bring the presence of God into the workplace environment.
Where there are lies, we tell the truth. Where there is gossip, we bless. Where there is an atmosphere of hatred, we bring love.