Tag Archives: Jobs

Economic Malady, Church Opportunity

A majority of Americans can't find full-time work. And more than two-thirds of those who are employed full time hate their jobs or consider themselves disengaged from their duties. These are startling numbers, but they represent an opportunity—and an obligation—for the church.

Unemployment and underemployment are widespread. There are 11.8 million unemployed Americans, according to the latest numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The United States experienced 54 straight months with the unemployment rate at 7.5 percent or higher, the longest stretch of unemployment at or above that rate since the BLS started keeping such data.

But those numbers don't paint the full picture. According to the BLS, just 47 percent of adult civilians have full-time jobs. There are more than 8.2 million Americans who want full-time work but can only find part-time jobs, according to the The Wall Street Journal. More than 1 million "discouraged workers" have stopped looking for employment. The American Enterprise Institute reports that a full 30 percent of adult American men are neither working nor seeking work.

Miserable at Work

Given this environment, you might expect those with full-time work to feel fortunate, even ecstatic. Two more studies reveal otherwise. In June, The Los Angeles Times reported on a Gallup survey that found a staggering 70 percent of American workers—roughly 70 million people—are disengaged at work or outright hate their jobs. In addition to the emotional and spiritual toll these numbers represent, Gallup notes that this malaise is a "problem that has significant implications for the economy and the individual performance of American companies."

A new study from the London School of Economics confirms this widespread dissatisfaction in the workplace. When respondents considered a range of activities—such as dancing, dressing, and conducting household chores—work edged out only one option: illness. According to the researchers, "paid work is ranked lower than any of the other 39 activities individuals engage in, with the exception of being sick in bed." A Wall Street Journal headline summed up the findings: "Work Makes People Miserable."

The magnitude of these numbers indicates that Christians and non-Christians alike are struggling with workplace and economic issues. Unfortunately the church often overlooks this problem. Pastor Tom Nelson, author of Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work, writes:

God designed the local church to be a transformed people scattered in their various vocational callings throughout the week. One of the highest stewardships for local church leadership is to encourage and equip apprentices of Jesus for their work. Yet this stewardship rarely gets the attention and commitment it requires.

At a 2013 Oikonomia Network seminary faulty retreat, pastor Dan Scott, author of The Emerging American Church, echoed that sentiment. "American workers are having an increasingly difficult time competing with their Polish, English, Spanish, Russian, Indian, Korean, and Brazilian counterparts in a globalized economy," Scott noted. "The solution is a spiritual one, although at present few of our churches are offering it because too many of them are focused on lesser things."

A dualism that neglects to address the workplace—where most Christians spend the bulk of their waking hours—is at odds with the theology of vocation. As British theologian and author Lesslie Newbigin wrote, "The congregation has to be a place where its members are trained, supported, and nourished in the exercise of their parts of the priestly ministry in the world. The preaching and teaching of the local church has to be such that it enables members to think out the problems that face them in their secular work in light of their Christian faith."

Americans are struggling in the workplace and in the economy. The pandemic nature of these economic maladies cries out for church engagement. Financial challenges, family strife, depression, contentment, effective witnessing, and myriad other areas are affected by these realities. Fortunately, the church is in a unique place to explain Christ's restoration of work, the meaning of suffering, and the hope and peace that result from putting our trust in him.

How Churches Can Help

Here are three things church leaders can do:

1. Teach and affirm a theology that recognizes that:

  • work is an integral part of God's plan from Genesis to Revelation;
  • God uses workplace challenges to shape our character and increase our faith;
  • our labor, no matter how menial, serves others; and
  • Christians' response to work-related circumstances can be a witness—or turnoff—to those around us.

2. Be intentional about understanding the struggles of your congregants.

Nelson, in the short video below, describes his own efforts to ascertain the vocational and economic well-being of those in his pews. Pastors should listen, care, and support, while affirming the intrinsic (not just instrumental) value of work in the context of Christian hope.

3. Assess how effectively your church or parachurch organization is ministering to the unemployed and underemployed within your congregation and community.

Examine whether you are providing encouragement, dignity, and accountability, or merely engaging in what long-time urban ministry leader Bob Lupton describes as "toxic charity." Look for ways to foster entrepreneurship to creatively meet human need, add value, and further the common good. Engage business people in finding solutions to joblessness and poverty.

When the emptiness and futility of worldly approaches are exposed, people are open to new answers. When material security is threatened, people seek new sources of stability and hope. The church has the message and resources necessary to revive the broken spirit and restore the downtrodden. The question is whether the church will discern this opportunity and take action.

Do Truck Drivers Matter to God?

The interview playing over my car radio was standard fare. The host of a Christian program was interviewing a wildly popular contemporary Christian music star---little more than background noise as I drove down the highway. But then the discussion landed on the topic of serving the Lord in ministry. The musician told the listening world how his brother was once a truck driver but gave up trucking in order to serve the Lord as an assistant pastor. This drew hearty affirmation from the host, who was actually laughing at the comparative insignificance of truck driving. The music star then recounted his congratulatory words to his brother: "I always thought you had more in you than being a trucker."

There are 3.2 million truck drivers in the United States.

I turned the interview off and silently drove down the highway, wondering, What are the truck drivers who heard this feeling right now? A superstar Christian just implied that 3.2 million truck drivers are less significant than assistant pastors.

A massive question now hangs in the air---a question loaded with profound implications for the significance of your life and vocation: Are truck drivers---the same drivers who transport our food, clothing, building materials, and church sound systems---less significant to God?

Ultimately, the only true measure of significance is how much something or someone is valued by God. But many people mistakenly believe God only values ministry work, because it deals with eternal souls. In their minds, ministry is the only work that counts for eternity. They assume God places little, if any, lasting value on work that deals with the temporal things of everyday life. The implied ranking of our vocations is obvious. Additionally, when someone who holds that belief isn't careful with his words, it sounds as if he's applying that same ranking to each person's individual value to God. Our superstar probably didn't mean to imply that truck drivers are less significant to God, but that's what many of us heard.

Higher Call?

I've listened to hundreds of similar testimonies in seminars, conferences, and churches across the continent. You've probably heard them, too. Missionaries, pastors, and relief workers stand up and tell us about making the leap from nearly every profession imaginable. They answered the "higher call" to full-time ministry. They cast aside their marketplace jobs in order to do something meaningful---something "for the Lord." Meanwhile, everyone else, the remaining workforce, looks up from a pew and listens to their stories---stories often laced with contempt for the speaker's former, "meaningless" work.

Audiences will sometimes affirm the speaker's decision to leap "from success to significance" by offering up an "Amen!" or "Hallelujah!" They may even give the speaker a stirring round of applause. But what's the truck driver---the one quietly sitting nine pews back, third from the left---feeling at that moment? And the godly accountant, engineer, retail associate, bank manager, and all the other people who will get up early the next morning and bend their backs at jobs just like the one the speaker renounced---what must they all feel at that moment?

They've told me. I've listened to their frustration, their unapplauded stories, and sometimes their despair. You see, I've been that speaker---the one standing on stage, receiving the applause. I'm a former corporate finance guy who became a missionary and then somehow wound up doing some public speaking, too. Whenever I speak, I hang around afterward and talk with individual audience members about their specific questions and concerns. As a result, I've had countless conversations with people looking for an answer to the question of significance. They sit in those pews and wonder, Did I miss my calling in life? Is my life's work meaningless to God? Is ministry the only way to impact eternity? Sometimes they lower their eyes in resignation and guilt---vocational guilt. But that guilt is a lie.

Stunning Truth

The truth is stunning. The truth is that the regular, everyday, earthly work of a Christian's life possesses breathtaking significance bestowed by the touch of God's magnificent glory. God pulls the white-hot ingot of eternity from the forging fire of his sovereignty. Then, like master to apprentice, he entrusts the hammer to our hands (Eccl. 9:10; Col. 3:17, 23; 1 Cor. 10:31; 2 Thess. 3:6-12). He says, "Strike it. Strike it right here. This is your place. This is where I want you to influence eternity. Live the life I gave you to live." And so, in stammering awe, we take up the hammer. We live our lives---our regular, everyday, toilsome lives. The hammer falls. Sparks fly. Eternity bends, and the Master is delighted (Matt. 25:21).

God, the Maker of the universe, destines our everyday lives to make a difference? Yep. Fuel filters, tax returns, laundry, and Southern-style barbecue are important to him? Yep (especially Southern-style barbecue). A life as a gospel-driven engineer, florist, or realtor can be as meaningful to God as the life of a pastor, missionary, or humanitarian relief worker? Absolutely.

There's something massive going on here---God's epic cosmic story---and we're smack in the middle of it. He knows your name and mine. He's given us each a life to live---a regular, everyday life---a particular place for us to shape eternity (Phil. 1:27; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:12; 4:11; 2 Thess. 3:6-12)

You and I look at our ordinary lives and think, "Seriously? That's supposed to be epic?" But the Master delights in it. He forges his masterpiece with it. And when we see what he's done with it, it will blow our minds (1 Cor. 2:9). It will thrill the souls of men, dazzle the angels, delight the heart of God, and glorify his name. Forever.

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This excerpt is adapted from Paul Rude's new book, Significant Work: Discover the Extraordinary Worth of What You Do Every Day (Everyday Significance, 2013).

Check Out the New TGC Job Board

In the course of daily ministry I often talk with young men looking for pastoral placement and associate pastors open to moving into senior positions. Many of these pastors have no denominational affiliation or serve in a large fellowship with enough diversity where they must exercise careful discernment in evaluating churches.

For years, we've fielded requests for The Gospel Coalition to use our website to help these pastors learn about openings in churches where they'll find a good fit. Likewise, our staff often hear from pastors in churches looking to hire someone who shares the values laid out in TGC's confessional statement and theological vision for ministry.

Finally, we have responded by opening a basic job board where you can look for new positions or add one you're trying to fill. Already you'll find three openings to browse.

Please note the disclaimer:

The Gospel Coalition hosts this job board to help churches that fully subscribe to our confessional statement and theological vision for ministry connect with like-minded pastors to fill ministry positions. But we do not offer placement services, and we cannot fully vet the churches that participate or the positions they list.

Indeed, we have no desire or capacity to act in a denominational capacity to facilitate placement beyond using our site to help you make connections. So our new job board acts much like our church directory, which we often hear has helped Christians moving or visiting find gospel-preaching churches.

So if you're about to graduate from seminary, open to a new ministry challenge, or looking to hire a new pastor, we hope you'll bookmark the new job board and return frequently. Join us in praying that God would use this simple tool to build his church by matching pastors and congregations that love no one and nothing more than Jesus Christ.