Churches commission missionaries and honor Sunday school teachers, but they may never recognize members who view their marketplace professions as places of ministry.

By Ken Camp

Stewardship sermons often focus on finances. Even when preachers include stewardship of time and talents, emphasis on their use at church typically trumps application to the workplace or community. Amy Sherman wants church leaders to grasp a wider vision.

“I think most pastors do desire to see their people apply their faith to all areas of life and not compartmentalize it. The problem is that there is much in the life of the church—our language, our music, etc.—that inadvertently can entrench the sacred/secular dichotomy,” said Sherman, author of Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good.

Churches commission missionaries and honor Sunday school teachers, but they may never recognize members who view their marketplace professions as places of ministry, she noted.

In the process, churches communicate the message, “The real work that matters in the kingdom is the spiritual stuff,” she said. “We say, ‘John left his job as an engineer to go into full-time ministry’—as though being an engineer wasn’t ministry.”

Many seminaries fail to give attention to issues of vocation and the integration of faith and work, said Sherman, a senior fellow both at the Sagamore Institute and at Baylor University’s Institute for Study of Religion. And some preachers don’t preach on the workplace because they lack significant work experience apart from church settings.

“Some pastors have little marketplace experience and so have few reference points for illustrations. They may feel intimidated to talk about the workplace or the world of business due to their unfamiliarity,” she said.

When churches and their leaders gain a clear understanding about God’s kingdom that transcends the local congregation, members expand their concept of vocation and stewardship mean, theologian Jim Denison noted.

“If a church embraces and communicates a kingdom vision rather than an institutional mission, her members will see their lives and work as part of God’s larger purpose,” the founder of the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture said.

Part of the problem rests in how churches and their members measure success, he continued.

“Our culture measures us by our performance, possessions and popularity. As a result, churches often measure themselves by their programs, property and people,” said Denison, the Baptist General Convention of Texas theologian-in-residence. “By contrast, God measures us by our obedience to his kingdom assignment.”

When a congregation understands the mission of God’s kingdom reaches beyond the ministries inside the church’s four walls, it may result in a reordering of priorities in terms of what leaders expect from members, Sherman noted.

“There has to be a conviction that the purpose of the church is to be on mission with King Jesus in his work of renewal,” she said. “That work occurs outside as well as inside the church. 

“So, if you embrace this conviction, you will care about external or community ministry. Therefore, you will scale back the responsibilities required of church members for the work of sustaining the institutional church—because you recognize that sustaining the institutional church is not what the purpose of the church is. So, with fewer such commitments, members are freed up for service in the world.

“If we really believe Jesus is calling us to join him in his kingdom work, then we will not be afraid. If we make our priorities what his priorities are, he will supply our needs.”