There are several ways to do this. LeTourneau University has an easy to follow format, including prayers and benedictions for the people of God who serve Christ across various sectors and professions.
At DIFW we encourage churches to do something even more simple. As a part of the church partnership program, we create short videos of men and women serving Christ in their work. From there, churches take that video of somebody in their own congregation, play it in a service, interview her about her daily work, and then pray for the whole congregation as they serve Christ in their daily work.
Sometimes these prayers will be formal, like this affirmation of our labor found in Book of Common Prayer, Bishop Slattery’s Prayer for the Work Day, Moses in Psalm 90 (“Establish the work of our hands, O Lord!”), a Prayer for All Christian’s in Their Vocation (by Steve Garber) or a even personally written Prayer for Work.
Other times pastors may want to pray for people in different professions according to season. For example, pray for teachers in August as they go back to school; business leaders, managers, and those in retail in November or December around busy shopping season; farmers as they harvest the crops in the early fall; accountants in March and April; and chefs, servers, and restaurant managers on Mother’s Day - America’s favorite day to go out to eat. Just put these seasons on your annual church calendar, and remember to cover the saints in prayer during these key times of the year
Far too many of our worship songs seem to be only about “me and God” or my own personal heart or feelings. Unfortunately as we sing “When the things of this earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace…” it leads us to a view of culture that effectively ignores work and our cultural engagement because it doesn’t “matter” compared to individual salvation and the next life. (Ironically, in my experience, when I became a Christian the things of this earth grew strangely bright and exciting in the light of his glory and grace!)
Instead, consider songs that affirm love for God’s world - both in nature and in human society. Everything from “You make beautiful things, from the dust, out of us,” to “The universe declares your majesty” to “All thy works with joy surround thee, heaven and earth reflect thy rays” affirm the original goodness of God’s creation. I also like Isaac Watts’ riff on Psalm 23: “Oh may thy house be mine abode, and all my work be praise.”
The point isn’t in ignoring a personal relationship with Jesus. This is the foundation of a life of faith! But we can push against the individualistic and privatized faith of our current age by affirming how God works among us, in our world, and is drawing all of his creation (from mountains to machines to the work of mechanics) to himself.
From painting to photography, most evangelical churches could use a dash of heart-expanding beauty in the foyer. (For that matter, so could most businesses!) For example, The American Craftsman Project is both utterly beautiful and affirming of the manual labor of small businessmen across the US.
You’ll need to decide which types of work you would like to feature based on the professions represented in your own congregation. Churches in New York could highlight finance or drama; in Boston the academy; Texas, the energy industry; and in Denver a huge mural of REI employees and ski lift operators!
Doing this is a lot more simple that you think. Hire a photographer or local artist and find out what the Body of Christ does every week - the great, the sad, the beautiful and the broken. Bring this art back to the actual walls of your church building, and let your congregation’s social and vocational imaginations blossom.
Too many well-meaning church leaders share stories of men and women who left the business world to go into “ministry” - quietly suggesting that only paid church workers are in “ministry.” But the word ministry in the New Testament is also translated “service,” such as in Ephesians 4:12. Here, it’s the particular job of pastors, evangelists, apostles and prophets to “equip the saints for works of ministry/service” in all walks of life - not only those in 501(c)3 nonprofits with an explicitly faith-based mission.
My church, Colorado Community Church, does this well. Their task as pastoral leadership is to “disciple every member to be a missionary.” Since obviously not every member is a missionary overseas, that means every member is called to be a missionary - that is a servant and a witness - in all of life, including family, recreation, and work.
Having said this, there’s no need to ignore differences between the work of pastors and, say, landscapers or lawyers. It is a noble thing to desire to be an overseer (1 Tim. 3:1). And we should encourage more young people to choose to become pastors, not less. Yet we can do this as we affirm that the work of all the saints can be a genuine act of neighbor love.
(Pastors: here’s a quick summary of the different sectors of the American workforce. It can be helpful reminder of where “ministry” is happening on any given week.)
This is really simple. Here are two ways you could do this:
1. Have lunch with your congregants at their workplaces. Go to the workplace of, say, Peter who works at EvoSnap, an online payment processor. Have lunch and ask him about his work and the latest opportunities and challenges in credit card processing. Get a tour of his workplace and get to know both what he does and some of his co-workers. End it by requesting to pray for him. Pray 1 Peter 4:10 over him and his work: “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” Watch at the amazement of your own people at the great love their pastor has for them!
2. Have a church staff meeting at the workplace of one of your elders or deacons. Not only will this be a welcome break from the weekly routine, but seeing the world of finance, education, or manufacturing will open the eyes of your staff to the lived reality of your church’s own leaders. When you see first-hand both the opportunities and challenges of living out the gospel in post-Christian America, conversations about “being missional” change naturally.
Nearly everybody is saying to themselves two things about their job: “What is my calling?” and “It can’t be this!” It’s not just for young people. Boomers ask it just as much after they retire and the thrill of golf and margaritas everyday has lost its thrill. Provide space during a weekend retreat to pray, ask hard questions in community. Read, laugh and explore foundational themes of discipleship and calling. Experiences like this can be hugely effective in helping laity hear God’s voice for their work. Chris Ditzenberger has done these retreats at St. Gabriel’s Episcopal.
The ever-brilliant Steve Garber has long suggested vocare dinners: gatherings of believers in similar fields - like business, education, healthcare or politics - to discuss a life “implicated” by the love of God. At DIFW, we organize vocation groups - monthly meetings of men and women in similar fields who want to understand their work in light of the Christian faith and find ways to creatively serve others with the skills and talents God has entrusted to them.
Either way, make time to set the table for the Spirit to speak to us. Word, food, and community go a long way to opening minds and hearts to the Call of God.
There are all sorts of resources out there for you. Check out this list of vocation resources for the local church for a (biased!) perspective on the best books, video curriculums, small group curriculums, and websites that speak to work, calling and culture. Some of the best resources for small groups are, in my view, the ReFrame Course, For the Life of the World, Every Good Endeavor, Work Matters, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, and the Public Faith Curriculum.
Again, I recommend one per year. I would disagree with Jack Black who, in School of Rock, exclaimed, “One great show can change the world!” I love Jack Black - but he’s wrong here! Change happens through developing the right small habits over time. (For proof, check out The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.) It is through daily, weekly, monthly and even yearly habits that shape people to serve others.
1. Host a commissioning service once a year for laity celebrating their work.
2. Pray for people in their work; consider doing so by season.
3. Select songs that affirm the value of God’s creation.
4. Hang work-affirming art in the physical space of your church.
5. Use the word “ministry” to refer to the priestly service of all Christians.
6. Do a sermon once per year on theology of work or vocation; use workplace illustrations in every sermon.
7. Visit the workplaces of people in your congregation.
8. Organize a retreat on vocation or a “community vocation dinner.”
9. Host a class or small group on work, calling or culture.
10. Find opportunities for your congregation to donate their vocational skills to local nonprofits or neighborhood outreach projects.
Find this helpful? Consider a donation to support the work of Denver Institute for Faith & Work.
Jeff Haanen is a writer and entrepreneur. He founded Denver Institute for Faith & Work, a community of conveners, teachers and learners offering experiences and educational resources on the gospel, work, and community renewal. He is the author of An Uncommon Guide to Retirement: Finding God’s Purpose for the Next Season of Life and an upcoming two-book series on spiritual formation, vocation, and the working class for Intervarsity Press. He lives with his wife and four daughters in Denver and attends Wellspring Church in Englewood, Colorado.