If you are a churchgoer, you have probably attended a worship service in which all the Sunday school teachers are acknowledged, thanked, and prayed for. A friend of mine told me about a teacher in one church who was offended by this experience. Surprised, my friend asked her why. She replied, "I spend an hour a week teaching Sunday school, and they haul me up to the front to pray for me. The rest of the week I am a full-time teacher, and the church has not prayed for me once."
In general, the church has done a fine job equipping Christians for the "private" areas of their lives: prayer, morality, family life, and so on. However, in general, the church has done a poor job equipping people for the "public" parts of their lives: namely, their work, their vocation. The reality is, most people spend the majority of their time in this latter, "public" area.
The teacher's comment was an important rebuke. When we as the church fail to honor Christians' work in the world as service or mission unto God, we communicate that what a person spends the majority of their time doing in the world is not nearly as important as what they spend a very small amount of time doing within the church.
The bifurcation of public and private has tremendous consequences. It results in compromise: if Christians aren't taught to understand how the gospel shapes their public lives, their lives will inevitably be shaped by a different worldview. It results in marginalization: restricting our faith to the private sphere limits our influence in the places of culture that really matter. And it results in disillusionment: Christians who don't believe there is any real point to their work (other than to make money to give to the church) will become disenchanted and cynical about their jobs.
In response to this concern, a group of us in Richmond, Virginia, are hosting a conference in a few weeks called Common Good RVA. Last April, Christianity Today magazine highlighted our city, showcasing the many ways that Christians here are working for the shalom of Richmond: its peace, prosperity, and comprehensive flourishing. Their coverage inspired many of us to continue to explore ways to join the work of God in the metro region. We believe that one of the main ways we can join this work is through our daily vocations. As a pastor, I'm convinced that if Richmond is to better reflect the kingdom of God, it will not be mainly through the church creating better programs, but through ordinary Christians, in every sphere of work in our city, approaching their vocations as those called to ministry and mission, for the glory of God and for the sake of the common good.
Our hope is that the 200-plus attendees of Common Good RVA will have a very different experience from the disgruntled teacher, and instead will leave blessed and empowered for their spiritual work in the public life of the world. —Corey Widmer, co-pastor, East End Fellowship, Richmond