Whole-life Disciples

By Sue Careless

All Christians, but laypeople especially, struggle with how to connect their Sunday mornings with their Monday mornings. How do we integrate our spiritual life with our worlds of work, home, and play?

For the past 12 years Wycliffe College, a graduate theological school at the University of Toronto, has offered a spring conference called “Refresh!” This year’s conference used the theme “God in My Ambition.” About 80 people attended the conference on May 11-13.

It featured Chris Lake, who served for 10 years in the U.S. Navy as a flight officer on aircraft carriers. For the past 11 years he has worked in business, including at IBM.

Today he is a founder and executive director of the Vere Institute in Boston, which encourages Christians to live as “fruitful whole-life disciples in their daily lives, wherever they find themselves.” Lake spoke on how clergy should enable laypeople to be front-liners for Christ in the world.

Lake told how Anglican theologian John Stott was once asked when he felt called to the ministry. He sought a clarification: “Which ministry?” Stott wanted to emphasize that clergy and laity both had ministries. He believed that all life is a context for worship, mission, and ministry.

Lake estimated that 2 percent of Christians were in paid church, mission, or parachurch work. What of the other 98 percent? Do they not have ministries too?

St. Paul talks of “equipping the saints,” and Lake emphasized that the 2 percent, the clergy, should equip the 98 percent so there may be a full ministry wherever Christians find themselves.

Lake also evaluated ministry by time. Of the approximately 110 waking hours in a week, a lay Christian probably does not spend more than 10 hours in church activities, whether worship, small fellowship groups, or church service projects. Where is God in the other 100 hours? Are they a waste of time?

The “church gathered” for ten hours a week becomes the “church scattered” when Christians are in their homes, workplaces, or at leisure. Lake argued against simply freeing some of those 100 hours to devote to more church work.

Using two diagrams of blue and white dots in a square grid, Lake showed how the church gathered on Sunday morning had all the blue dots (churchgoers) crammed in one corner, unlikely to touch most of the other 90 white dots (non-churchgoers). But things looked decidedly different in the second diagram of the scattered church on Monday morning, out and about in the world making multiple contacts with non-churchgoers.

Lake warned that the blue dots should not lose their color, their distinctive Christianity, and blend into the whiteness of the workplace, or wherever the front-liners found themselves. But nor should they sacrifice their gathered church time to spend all their waking hours outside the church. Christians need the weekly rhythm of being part of both a gathered and a scattered church.

A pastor cannot be out in the biotech world or the service industry or government, but parishioners can be and often are.

Lake team-taught with John Paul, senior pastor of Free Christian Church in Andover, north of Boston — one of the least biblically minded regions in the United States.

Instead of speaking of each other as clergy and layperson, Paul and Lake used the terms equipper and front-liner.

Paul spoke of how he commissioned a group of teenagers who were setting off for a short-term summer mission trip. They were invited to the front of the church during the Sunday service, commended, and prayed for. But what of the teenager who that summer would be working as a lifeguard at the local pool or a caddy on the city golf course? Was their work less worthy? Should it not be seen as a calling as well? “I was reinforcing that divide unintentionally when we only celebrated those doing church work.”

Later, when a social worker visited who was serving in Thailand helping girls and women who had been forced into prostitution, Paul prayed for her and invited other social workers in his congregation to come forward for prayer as well.

Another Sunday, when one parishioner was setting off overseas on a new church project, he invited anyone in his congregation who was facing a new venture to stand for a blessing. This broader affirmation has been well received.

As well as home and hospital visits, priests need to visit parishioners’ workplaces, not to evangelize but to observe.

“We dignify the home when we visit it, we need to dignify the workplace as well,” Paul said. “The posture of the minister in such a workplace visit is to be a listener.”

Lake stressed what he called the 6M approach: making good work, modelling godly character, ministering grace and love, molding culture, being a mouthpiece for truth and justice, and being a messenger of the gospel.

“And being a messenger of the gospel can be as simple as answering Where do you see God working in your life right now? That’s what you share,” Paul said. “It’s a kind of ‘I Spy God’ game.”

He told how one pastor regretted that his congregation was so elderly. He longed for some millennials to fill the pews. Then one senior parishioner told him how she took her adult granddaughter out for Sunday lunch each week and shared his sermon with her.

The frontline of a shut-in can be their personal support workers or the tradespeople who come into their homes. One 94-year-old told Paul, “If someone walks through that door, I share Christ, and will do so as long as I’m alive.”

Lake described what he called a theology of work: “While work must never become an idol, it does matter to God. It was part of his original and eternal plan for humans. The work of brothers and sisters in Christ should be supported wherever they are, whatever they do. The workplace is a context for spiritual growth, for ministry and for evangelism.”

Sue Careless


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