Last week I attended the Redeeming Work event put on my Leadership Journal, and I really enjoyed the speakers and conversations. (In case you missed it, you can see tons of thoughts from the day on Twitter, or catch the event as it travels the country.) Nearly 200 leaders gathered from around Chicago to learn what it looks like to view work in a new way—to see our vocations as an integral part of following Christ. We gathered at Ignite Glass Works (a local studio that boasts beautiful spaces and intricate glasswork around the building), ate local food made by passionate people, and discussed the day at independent coffeehouses around the West Loop. The day holistically gathered us into a workspace, talked about vocation, celebrated work done well, and supported local businesses. It was a beautiful picture of how God can redeem our work.
As I've said before, I believe the topic of vocation and seeing our work as part of our discipleship is extremely important for small-group leaders. Why? Because small-group leaders meet weekly with the people of the church to discuss daily life—much of which is taken up by our work. Leaders, we have an amazing opportunity to encourage, equip, and empower the people in our groups to see their work differently—no matter their work.
One of my favorite parts of the event was hearing Amy Sherman speak. Last year when I read her book, Kingdom Calling, I was blown away by her robust theology of redeemed work (You can read an excerpt here and here). As she spoke to the leaders gathered last week, she reminded us that we must help people be disciples in their Monday through Saturday lives—and a big part of that is our work.
When we take this new focus, we'll not only help our group members be a better kind of worker, but also help them think through the actual work they're doing. She gave multiple examples of people who have taken their passion, seen a real need in their communities, and are making decisions about the work they do—paid or unpaid—to make a difference for the kingdom. One person she profiled is a chef who opened a restaurant that serves organic, local food to care for the earth, has an open kitchen so everyone can see how she treats her staff, and offers free "cooking on a budget" classes to underprivileged families. Her faith affects every part of her business. Another person profiled is a builder who purposely sets up homes in communal settings that include lots of public space for gathering, wide sidewalks, and a small-town feel. On top of that, he's made energy efficient heating and cooling systems standard to help care for the earth and keep costs down for families. It's easy to see the impact that we could have for the kingdom if every person in our churches understood that God wants to affect every aspect of our lives—including our work.
Another reason we must address this topic is that we're losing young adults. Numerous speakers during the day pointed to the fact that young adults are leaving the church because the church doesn't seem relevant to their chosen work. They're getting the message that unless you become a pastor or missionary, your work doesn't have significance and is unimportant to God. If we can begin celebrating work and helping people see what God is doing through our everyday work, we'll all have a healthier view, and we may find we're more relevant as a whole—not just to young adults.
In the midst of talking about vocation, it's easy to focus on self-discovery and the quest to find the "right" job, but in reality, that's a luxury that few in the world actually have. One of the attenders asked, "How do I talk about this with the people in my congregation who are working just to make it by? To the single mom who's working two jobs just to pay the bills? To the guy who is flipping burgers just to get a paycheck?" His question was met by knowing glances and a multitude of understanding nods. Most of us are ministering to at least some people who don't have the luxury of identifying the perfect job and pursuing it. Many of us have to work—whatever that work is—simply to pay the bills. And it's difficult to see this kind of work as something that God is redeeming and working through.
The speakers suggested a few things, though. First of all, we have to help people look at their jobs in a new way. What kind of worker are they? What kinds of choices do they have with their work? What kind of influence do they have—even in their position? What opportunities are there to represent God in that work? These are questions that every person can answer—from the stay-at-home parent to the CEO of a Fortune 100 company, and from the artist to the waiter at a local pub. Consider, for instance, the driver of the airport parking shuttle bus. It may seem like tedious work, but it's meaningful. It helps people get where they need to go. It helps keep the airport running smoothly. It helps a bigger system of work and rest and community continue to run. It may be mundane, but it's definitely not meaningless.
The day wrapped up with Phil Vischer, creator of VeggieTales, speaking about serving God even when our dreams and ideas don't pan out. His story flies in the face of the American Dream: work at it and God will bless it. Instead, he learned that even when God does bless something, even when things seem to be going well and God is using us in major ways, all that really matters is our relationship with Christ. As Vischer puts it, paraphrasing C. S. Lewis, those who have wealth, success, flourishing careers, and Christ have nothing more than those who have Christ alone. God will give and take away as he chooses. In the end, we must continue to choose Christ—not for what we can do alongside him, but for the opportunity to be alongside him.
As I consider the wisdom from the Redeeming Work event, there are several takeaways for small groups:
1. Small-group leaders must make talking about work a regular part of our meetings. Spend time checking in about how work is going, the troubles they're facing, the ethical decisions they're making, and more. If our work is important to God and our discipleship, we need to communicate this to our group members by spending time talking about work at meetings.
2. We should regularly pray for our work and the work of our group members—even in our meetings. Help group members understand that God cares about their work.
3. We must include in our definition of work all that we do to contribute—even if it doesn't have a paycheck attached. This kind of language will include stay-at-home parents, retired people doing volunteer work, and those who primarily see their vocation lived out through their volunteer work rather than their careers.
4. We have to help group members understand that, like Aaron Niequist put it last week, "Sunday mornings aren't the main event. Tuesdays in the cubicle are." As we discuss our studies, talk about our lives, and spend time in prayer, we must communicate that our faith should affect our lives every day—not just Sundays, and not just by having us attend more church events. We can choose studies like Make a Difference in Your Community that discuss this.
5. Small-group pastors and directors can help people in similar fields come together—whether through small groups or other gatherings—to encourage and support one another.
6. As we help our group members see work as part of their discipleship, we must also remind them that their worth comes from God alone, not from the work they're doing. We have to remind people that God wants to be with us, not to use us.
Ready to see God work in mighty ways? Equip your group members to live out their vocations and partner with God in their work.
For more information on the Redeeming Work events from Leadership Journal, see their site.