Work as worship, labour as liturgy

The flight was bumpy. We had taken off 90 minutes late, but the jet stream meant that we arrived on time, and the pilots were excited at the speed of the run. I met my host at the airport: Steve Lindsey, head of the Center for Faith+Work in Los Angeles.

It was a long way to go to present at a conference, and there had been an option to Zoom in, but I was keen to be fully present, to hear the rest of the conference and to meet those in the room.

My co-presenter was Matthew Kaemingk, author of the wonderful Work and Worship book, in which he and Cory Wilson trace the integration of work and worship through the Bible and into the early church, then trace the disintegration in more recent times.

As they comment: “The chasm between work and worship has a devastating effect on the health, vibrancy, and effectiveness of both our labour and our liturgy.” On both our work and our worship.

The conference started with some great worship songs that speak into the world of work, from The Porters Gate’s albums Work and Worship for Workers.

Worship at work

Matt and I had been invited to shape the conference, and we had split it into two sections: how do we bring work into our worship in church and how do we bring our worship into our work.

I kicked us off with a 20-minute race through the Bible, pointing out how work is good, working is impacted by sin, work can be redeemed and eventually our work will be restored in the New Creation.

The workplace is a place of worship, but the things being worshiped may de-form us away from God.

Then Matt presented on the way that God cares about how our work affects our worship. He talked about the way that the prophets railed against the disconnect between Sabbath and workday: “According to Isaiah, the integrity of your work directly impacts on the integrity of your worship.”

He then discussed practises in the early church where Christians brought the tangible fruits of their labour to services, as an offering to God, including “articles of clothing, bread, currency, cheese, oil, wine and a variety of crafts.” These offerings were either distributed to the poor, used in ministries or became incorporated in the worship service, thus being transformed into offerings of love, mission and adoration.

Open hands

We had a break for lunch, and I met Shayla, a writer and artist wanting to break into Hollywood who had a beautiful story of God’s blessing and opportunities to do good work.

I was also grabbed by the lovely Kristi, a fan of my podcast, which she listened to between appointments as a social worker. As she said, it helped her reorient her heart to God.

What do we worship at work?

In the afternoon, Matt warned that the workplace is a place of worship, but the things being worshiped may de-form us away from God. We experience rituals that teach us to worship ambition, greed, power and significance.

We paused to allow people to reflect on their workplaces and on the way that elements of corporate culture — repeated patterns, messaging, modelling and values — distract from a God-focus.

Then I finished off with some habits that can re-form us so that we can worship God through our work with holy working, gospel working, prayerful working, incarnational working, Spirit-empowered working and social justice working.

There is a global movement of faithful Christians impacting the world for Christ through their work.

As I returned to Australia, I reflected on the way I had been embraced quickly and warmly by new U.S. friends. There was an openness and a hunger to connect their Sundays to Mondays. I had follow-up meetings to discuss the hustle and grind and the ethical challenges of work.

Once I touched back down in Sydney, I found out an international university based in Los Angeles is wanting to make theology of work a core subject in their new Masters of Global Leadership.

There is a global movement of faithful Christians impacting the world for Christ through their work.

This column will be on a short break. If you have enjoyed this column, please let us know! Click here to read more Faith at Work.

Kara Martin is an Adjunct Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and lectures at Mary Andrews College, is author of the Workship books and Keeping Faith, and co-hosts the Worship on the Way to Work podcast.

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