Work “Rhythms” for the Local Church

by Jeff Haanen

After reading books on vocation, attending “faith and work” conferences, and committing to “cultural renewal,” most pastors will begin to ask, “So what?”

Now that we’ve decided work is crucial for both discipleship and mission, what difference does all of this make in congregational life? How should it influence our Sunday gatherings, prayers, sermons, songs, small groups, readings and pastoral care?

Leaders in the faith and work movement ask similar questions: “Why are there so few models for congregational implementation? And what do we do about it?”

Though Christians in the past decade have latched onto the importance of work, very few churches actually build into their Sunday services and annual calendar the habits and rhythms that affirm the idea that, as Steve Garber has said, “vocation is integral, not incidental, to the mission of God.”

Perplexed myself, I took these questions to our church advisory council and local leaders a few years ago.

I asked: “What do faith and work ‘liturgies’ look like in your congregation (either actual written liturgies or liturgies in the sense of regular habits and rhythms)?” I sent out an email plea for wisdom to this group — urban pastors and suburban pastors, seminary professors, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, non-denominational evangelicals and even Baptists (yes, there are are few of us in the faith and work movement). We gathered experiences, ideas, and practices from the churches of Denver.

Here is some uncut, unedited insight from church leaders in Denver that other pastors can use to plan “work rhythms” into Sunday worship and congregational life. Please comment on this blog post with any good ideas from your church, congregation or experience.

For further discussion and encouragement, all worship leaders, pastors, and ministry leaders are invited to join us for “Bridging Work and Worship,” a conversation with singer-songwriter Sandra McCracken on May 19. Sandra will share about her work as a worship leader and perform selected songs from the new Porter’s Gate: Work Songs album. Guests will explore practical ways to bridge work and worship through practices including prayer, liturgy, vocation-themed songs, and worship experiences.

In the meantime, here are 10 ideas for faith and work liturgies, as shared by Denver-area pastors and leaders.

1. Corporate Prayers

  • Time the annual church calendar such that you include a corporate prayer for various vocations to time with their ‘work calendars’ – e.g. praying for accountants in March/April; educators each Fall, retail workers in December, etc.”
    — Brian Gray, Denver Seminary
  • “[Pray a] benediction prayer sending out those in industries to see their week and work as the work of God.”
    — Jared Mackey, TNL Church
  • “We make use of the prayer and worship resources provided to us by the people of God down through the centuries, like the Book of Common Prayer or some of the ancient Celtic prayers and liturgies… So when, for instance, the Book of Common Prayer leads us to pray ‘Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with your people where they work; make those who carry on the industries and commerce of this land responsive to your will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just return for our labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen,’ something starts happening to us.  We hear a voice from elsewhere, and it jolts us into a new understanding of reality.”
    — Andrew Arndt

2. Commissioning

  • “On a few different occasions, when someone has left our community for a new job opportunity out of state, we’ve taken time and commissioned them. We’ve taken this as an opportunity to reinforce that we’re sending them from our community to another and want to see them go as missionaries in the new task God has brought them.”
    — Stephen Redden, New Denver Church
  • “[We have borrowed] from the Catholic church’s ‘apostolate’ idea: we walked people through a process of discerning what was in their hands, and what God was calling them to do with it, as an expression of the life and ministry of our community.  After working through that discernment process, someone would get up in front of the church (like a missionary traditionally would) and say, ‘Hi.  My name is Susie.  God has given me a talent for painting.  I feel that this year God is calling me to use my talent for painting to do X, Y, and Z in the city of Denver to bring more of his light and healing to it.’  The congregation would then affirm that calling, and Susie would be ‘commissioned’ by the congregation, ‘sent’ as it were, into her life as a glory unto God, for the good of the world.”
    — Andrew Arndt
  • “[During the year] we take a few minutes before the sermon or before the benediction to ‘commission’ those in the work place. I take a few minutes to explain a brief theology of work and pray for students, stay-at-home mothers, or people working in different vocations in our city.”
    — Brian Brown, Park Church

3. Sermon Series

  • “We did a teaching series (ours was 6 weeks) that provides [our congregation] a theology of work.”
    — Jared Mackey, TNL Church
  • “A couple years ago, I did a focused series on the integration of faith and work called ‘[email protected]’. In addition we try to regularly give illustrations in sermons that touch on tensions (e.g. relational, moral, ethical, etc) experienced in work contexts.”
    — Stephen Redden, New Denver Church

4. Illustrations

  • Include preaching illustrations that represents the proportion of time given to those context – so maybe an illustration from, about, or applicable to our work worlds in every other sermon…at least.”
    —Brian Gray, Denver Institute
  • “I literally have a check box reminder on my sermon prep sheet for working one illustration all the way through (the running application) that is vocational in nature. It doesn’t always work (either doesn’t make it in all the way or is pretty clunky), but I am trying to do it each week.” Brian Brown, Park Church
  • “Most of my thoughts [on the integration of faith and work] revolve around sermon applications. These can be illustrations; I always like to apply the gospel to people’s work, because it’s what they do most of the time.”
    — JD Punch, City Church Denver
  • “[We share] narratives of faith and work integration within the service and then post [them] on the church blog.”
    — Jared Mackey, TNL Church

5. Songs

  • “[We are] highly selective in the songs we use for our liturgy each week. Too much popular evangelical piety is highly dualized, individualized, and interiorized.  This has the effect of closing our minds to the sacramental nature of all of life, thwarting our imaginations for the work of God in the world, and thus impeding our participation in that work…[But] songs like ‘This is My Father’s World’ that lay stress on God’s guiding, sustaining presence in all of life are ‘in’ [for our congregation].”
    — Andrew Arnd

6. Discipleship Groups

  • One of the key concepts we focus on in our discipleship groups is the rhythm between work and rest. The focus being helping people move toward meaningful work consistent with who God made them to be and making space to embrace Sabbath daily, weekly, monthly and seasonally in their life. Often discipleship groups also provide ample opportunities for participants to discuss how God has used their work, coworkers, or some circumstance related to work as an instrument of their transformation.”
    — Stephen Redden, New Denver Church
  • “A new thing we are specifically working on this semester is developing discussion questions in our Gospel Communities that relate specifically to applying the sermon text to our working roles. We have a new staff member starting in two weeks who will be (among other things) working on finding more ways to integrate faith and work into every part of our church life and discipleship systems (literally part of his job description).”
    — Brian Brown, Park Church
  • We have a ‘Careers in Transition’ group for folks out of work where many of our elders seek to find them employment, work on their resumes and interview skills, get them on Linked In, etc.”
    — Dave Strunk, Cherry Creek Presbyterian
  • “Two summers ago we did a class called ‘How God Wired You’ with the intent of helping people struggling with a vision for the vocation God has called them to. We do focused groups/classes like this each summer and we’ll likely circle back to a faith/work oriented class again. This is a way to teach concepts or ideas in a focused setting.”
    — Stephen Redden, New Denver Church
  • “Because the sermon is a monologue, [I think] growth toward treating one’s work as stewardship is only marginal in response to sermons. The practices must be completed in the context of dialogue in a Missional Community (home group).”
    — Brandon Washington, The Embassy Church

7. Pastoral Care

  • Stop having meetings at your work (the church building) and go visit people at their work. Ask for the quick tour before you meet for lunch. See their worlds and the faces they interact with. At the end of the meeting, pray a benediction over them and their workplaces.” Brian Gray, Denver Seminary
  • “Visit people in their workplaces.” David Strunk, Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church

8. Retreats

  • “[I once hosted] a retreat for some of my friends. Bill Haley and Steve Garber were kind to fly out to lead the three day retreat – a mixture of discussion, liturgy, film, craft beer, fly fishing, off-roading, and making our own meals. Highly recommended to move the conversation forward.”
    — Chris Ditzenberger, St. Gabriel’s Episcopal Church

9. Corporate Readings and Liturgy

  • “We are starting to [use] the ‘Prayer of Repentance’- taking the Valley of Vision or the Worship Sourcebook as our starting place, and integrating relational elements and vocational ones into these corporate prayers. The challenge with this is that the prayers have to be broad enough to encompass college students, stay-at-home moms and mortgage bankers, but we are trying to be intentional about including elements of our “work” (our idolatries there, our wrongly directed service, or our alienation) into this element… [Also] I speak the benediction each week and try to take up the theme each week and apply it to three areas: a) Our personal experience of the Gospel, b) our relationships (family or otherwise) and c) our vocational roles in the world.”
    — Brian Brown, Park Church

10. Physical Space

  • “Highlight vocation-related art in the church (hallways, narthex, etc).”
    — Dave Strunk, Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church

Join us for "Bridging Work & Worship"

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Jeff Haanen

Jeff Haanen is the Founder of Denver Institute for Faith & Work and the 5280 Fellowship. He contributes to various magazines and publications, including Christianity Today. He has previously served as a school administrator, a pastor and missionary. He holds a B.A. in International Economics and Spanish from Valparaiso University and a Master of Divinity from Denver Seminary. Jeff attends Littleton Christian Church with his wife and four daughters.

Jeff has written for The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, The Gospel Coalition, and Christianity Today.