Oct 2, 2018

From the Archives

Christians at Work, Part 3: The Church’s Role

Christians have long wrestled with what it means to integrate their working lives with their faith. A new Barna report on vocation explores how American Christians experience a sense of purpose and calling in their professional lives. The good news is that most Christians say they feel supported by their church when it comes to their career, claiming their local congregations help them understand how to live out their faith in the workplace.

This encouraging finding is one of the stories in our online series about Christians at Work, Barna’s first report in a multi-year initiative focused on vocation. Thus far, we’ve learned that Christians see sacred value in their professions—even though, during some seasons of life, it’s difficult to connect with their work. Now, we’ll conclude by examining the Church’s role in supporting Christians in their careers.

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Work and Worship: Christians Feel Vocationally Supported by Their Church
The term and concept of vocation has its origins in the Christian Church. Though the connotations and the world in which it is applied have changed significantly in the centuries since, local churches continue to bear the sacred responsibility of preparing Christians for their own vocational commitments and challenging them to see the work of their hands as holy and unique. Thankfully, churches are taking this charge seriously and remain powerful partners in living out one’s calling. Those with practicing faith have a deeper vocational awareness and satisfaction and overall, regular church attenders seem to both receive from and give to their churches often in relation to their God-given gifts.

The majority of churched Christians in this study—meaning those who attend worship services monthly—strongly agrees that their churches help them understand how to live out their faith in the workplace (53% “strongly” agree). Nearly all of these Christians (80%) are at least interested in using their work-related gifts at their churches, including 39 percent who already do so. Regular attendees in turn feel their churches are supportive of them in their career (45% “definitely”), often by providing specific training on vocation (63%). Practicing Christians—distinguished from general monthly attendees by a strong affirmation that faith is very important to them—tend to be even more vocationally nourished by their church.

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However, the full research study also reveals some disparities and deficiencies. The majority of Christian workers, particularly those who aren’t engaged in a church, still fights to discern and act on a calling in their professional lives. Studying responses by gender is like watching a vocational seesaw, with women thriving during singlehood and men thriving during fatherhood. Young adults, though ambitious and idealistic, lack some spiritual inclinations as workers. Older adults, with one foot out the door of the workplace, might need some encouragement to finish strong. Needless to say, much work remains to be done.

Insights from Practitioners
“I think the Church’s role is to foster intimate relationships. Obviously, we need an opportunity to worship. We need a place to hear good teachings and to have the Word illuminated to us. But I think one of the most important aspects is fostering that intimate community with people who can help you with that course correction.”—Heather Grizzle, founding partner of Causeway Strategies

“If you look back, even in the Old Testament, relationships—specifically covenantal, Trinitarian relationships— are the precedent for creativity. It comes before God’s creation of the world. I think that relationships are so crucial to how we figure out where we’re headed next. That happens often in educational settings. It happens among peers. It happens in families. We can have it embedded in the larger mission of the Church.”—Michaela O’Donnell Long, PhD, senior director of Max De Pree Center for Leadership, owner of Long Winter Media

“I believe churches should be mindful of planning small groups around those with varying schedules, ensuring that those who have different workloads are still able to encourage and be encouraged. Being in community and being given opportunities to serve in roles that suit their schedules prevents burnout. It requires those with more flexibility to be intentional about making those who are busier feel included. This type of discipleship will help grow a healthy church. This is something we focus on as a church, and it has been helpful in getting more people in community.”—Sam Whitehawk, bivocational pastor at Grace Fellowship in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.

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Put It to Use: Questions and Actions for Church Leaders

  • Are churches and ministry leaders helping emerging adults become more vocationally minded than career-oriented?
  • Is your church taking vocational discipleship seriously by preparing Christians to faithfully engage with their daily lives and workplaces, as well as shaping those called to a future in ministry themselves?
  • Are leaders in your church mentoring both future ministry leaders and future industry leaders?
  • Does your church offer a designated ministry or program for faith and work?
  • Rather than only drawing people to your church, who are the workers and leaders who already sit in your services and are ready to be sent out? What are you doing to equip them to represent the Kingdom coming near?
  • Could your ministry love your neighbors through vocationally oriented “community service”—practical seminars, meals, supply drives, coffee & prayer gatherings and so on?

Comment on this research and follow our work:
Twitter: @davidkinnaman@barnagroup
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About the Research
A set of quantitative online surveys was conducted February 27–March 12, 2018, and April 18–May 8, 2018, using an online panel. The sample included 1,459 self-identified U.S. Christians who agree somewhat or strongly that their faith is very important in their life today and are employed (full-time, part-time or self-employed, including unpaid work for a family business). The margin of error for this sample is +/-2.3% at the 95% confidence level. Barna researchers set quotas to obtain a minimum readable sample by a variety of demographic factors, and weighted the data by ethnicity, education and gender to reflect their natural presence in the working population (using U.S. Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics data for comparison).

Practicing Christians are self-identified Christians who say their faith is very important in their lives and have attended a worship service within the past month.

Churched respondents have attended a worship service within the past six months.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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