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Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Work and Worship BOOK CLUB

Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy by Matthew Kaemingk and Cory B. Willson

Drawing on years of research, ministry, and leadership experience, in this new book Matthew Kaemingk and Cory B. Willson explain why Sunday morning worship and Monday morning work desperately need to inform and impact one another. Together they engage in a rich biblical, theological, and historical exploration of the deep and life-giving connections between labor and liturgy. In so doing, Kaemingk and Willson offer new ways in which Christian communities can live seamless lives of work and worship.

Here are a few takeaways from the Foreword by Nicholas Wolterstorff

  • The question that concerns them (the authors) is this: How does a theological idea about work actually embed itself deeply in the life of a worker? Put another way, how does an intellectual theology of work become a lived theology of work?
  • After an opening section that the authors call “Foundations,” in which they develop the case for their approach, there is a section of six chapters called “Resources” in which they describe, in considerable detail, how work was integrated with worship in ancient Israel and in the early church.
  • In the final section on “Practices,” the authors consider ways in which the worship of the church today can become what they call “vocationally conversant worship.”

Introduction:

  • There exists a profound separation between work and worship in the lives of many Christians today.
  • By and large, most pastors and worship leaders deeply desire for Sunday morning worship to meaningfully connect with the Monday morning lives of their people. But does it? Our goal is to explore how these separated worlds of labor and liturgy might actually come to be reconciled.
  • We’ve become increasingly convinced that theologies of work need to be practiced, embedded and embodied in communities of worship. Theologies of work will never be sustainable if they remain theoretical.
  • Theologies of work matter, but they need to be sung and prayed.
  • The fabric of faith and work needs to be slowly and intentionally woven back together over a lifetime of prayer and worship.
  • Integration is more a habit to be practiced than an idea to be learned.
  • We had three specific types of readers in mind for this book: workers in the marketplace, worship leaders in the sanctuary, and scholars and students in the academy.
  • This book aims to articulate a vision for worship that is “vocationally conversant.” By “vocationally conversant” we mean forms of worship that engage work and workers in a divine dialogue. Worship that is vocationally conversant facilitates an honest exchange between workers and their God.
  • This book is focused on paid work. It rarely discusses unpaid vocations like parenting, marriage, volunteering, or political activism. This book is primarily focused on reexamining Sunday worship in the sanctuary.
  • Our primary goal is to explore how gathered worship on Sunday can help reconcile the modern divorce between faith and work.

Chapter 1: Worship That Forms Workers

  • Worship gathers workers so that they might offer their working lives to God and so that God might offer his work to them.
  • Worship scatters workers, transformed by the work and Word of the Lord, throughout the city to be salt and light wherever they have been called.
  • Worship scatters workers so that they can extend Sunday worship into Monday work.
  • Worship does not cease come Monday. Disciples continue to worship God in a new way through their daily work.
  • Worship that is vocationally conversant is able to gather workers and their work openly and honestly before God. It gives workers the space and time, and the language and practices, to offer their whole lives and their whole work to God as a living sacrifice of praise, holy and pleasing to God (Rom. 12:1).
  • In worship that is vocationally conversant, both God and workers take turns speaking and listening, offering and receiving, acting and waiting.
  • Through worship, the work of God threatens to invade workers and transform their work. In worship that is vocationally conversant, our work is made open to God’s work.

Chapter 2: Worship That Fails Workers

  • Institutional worship does not commission or send the organic church into the world.
  • Immersed in this world of institutional worship, workers find it increasingly difficult to imagine that their work participates in the mission of God at all.
  • If faith is a private and personal journey, the task of integrating faith and work is going to be a lonely one.
  • A worker who does not practice being an active and responsible priest in the sanctuary will find it difficult to actively assume this role in the workplace.
  • Fueling worship convinces workers that the sanctuary is the only place where Christ can truly be Emmanuel—God with us.
  • Workers who spend extended periods of time in privatized worship can begin to build higher and higher walls separating their private faith from their public work.
  • Those who lead worship rarely consider fully what it means that worshipers are also workers.

Chapter 3: Workers in the Pews

  • Pastors and worship leaders need to cultivate a hungry curiosity about their people’s work. Learning about their careers and callings will improve the sermons they write, the prayers they pray, the benedictions they offer, and the songs they select.
  • It is important for pastors and worship leaders to regularly investigate the joyful and heartbreaking vocations that workers carry into worship.
  • The more that pastors and worship leaders immerse themselves in the working lives of their people, the more responsive and conversant worship can become.
  • Many workers sitting in the pews honestly believe that the cares and concerns of their working lives are not welcome in the sanctuary. They do their level best to suppress thoughts of work while they sit there.
  • In subtle and not-so-subtle ways the people in the pews are trained to check their work at the door.
  • Christian professionals today increasingly know their work matters to God. This is a wonderful development. But they don’t know how their work intersects with their corporate worship.
  • Pastors and worship leaders need to recognize that workplace rituals are forming and deforming their people all week long.
  • Pastors and worship leaders have a responsibility to develop Sunday liturgies that can confront and respond to marketplace malformations.
  • Intimacy with God at work can begin when a worker learns to bring their work to God in worship.
  • Intimacy with God at work is directly connected to how we enter the workplace.
  • The manner in which workers connect with God on Sunday is going to impact their connection with God on Monday.
  • Workers need to participate in Sunday liturgies that awaken them to God’s presence and power in all of life—not simply in the sanctuary.
  • From a theological perspective, pastors and worship leaders do not invite workers into the mission of God. The workers in the pews have been laboring within the missio Dei all week long.
  • The work of the people is integral to the mission of God, not incidental.
  • All Christian workers, in all industries, are invited to participate in the multifaceted mission of God.
  • The workplace is a critical (if not the critical) space in which workers will either learn to follow Christ faithfully or walk away from him.
  • Workers (not pastors) are the primary agents of a church’s mission in the community. Likewise, the workplace (not the church building) is the primary locale of a church’s local mission.
  • The church’s mission is embodied in the diverse work of the people all over the city—and the church’s worship should name and reflect this.
  • All work, when done in faithful service to both God and neighbor, is a priestly act of worship.
  • God does not simply mandate human work; God delights in human work. God accepts it with joy, not as mere obedience but as worship.
  • Gathered worship must play a central role in the preparation and formation of priestly workers. As the Holy Spirit moves through song and sacrament, prayer and benediction, workers can slowly be trained to walk in the ways of the Lord.

Chapter 4: The Old Testament: The Integrity of Work and Worship

  • According to the Old Testament, a holy life is a life of deep integrity—a life in which holy work and holy worship are one.
  • Through a variety of songs and sacrifices, harvest festivals, feasts, and prayers, ancient Israelite workers praised and practiced their way into integrated lives of holy worship and holy work.
  • A “righteous” Israelite lived a life of deep integrity and integration. They walked in the ways of the Lord consistently—in the temple, the home, and the marketplace.
  • Holy workers do not run from the “worldliness” of the marketplace; they see holiness as a way to labor within the marketplace.
  • The songs that you sing in the sanctuary about God’s justice, generosity, and beauty should echo through your works in the marketplace.
  • Worship practices have the formative potential to shape economic behavior.

Chapter 5: The Pentateuch Bringing Work into Worship

  • God liberated Israelite workers in part so that they could offer their work as worship to him.
  • There is an innate human instinct to lift one’s vocational harvest up to God in an act of worship. This ancient and primal desire is still cultivated in the gathered worship of many agricultural churches around the world.
  • In a number of texts God is understood to be hovering over the farmer’s offering, inhaling the aroma of the work itself.
  • The pervasive presence of work and workers in Israel’s “worship feasts” reveals a variety of insights into our own contemporary challenges of faith, work, and worship.
  • The dearth of work-oriented celebrations is having serious emotional, ethical, and theological consequences in contemporary Christian workers.
  • It would not have occurred to Israelite workers to draw clear, hard, or systematic lines of causation between their working and worshiping lives. Their work and their worship would have regularly trespassed the cognitive boundaries that modern Westerners have erected.
  • We find little evidence in the Pentateuch of a systematic, abstract, or theoretical “theology of work.” There is a simple explanation for this perceived oversight: the Pentateuch’s theology of work was already deeply embedded, enacted, and embodied in its practices of worship.

Chapter 6: The Psalms Singing God’s Work Into Ours

  • The Psalms have a unique ability to directly engage the vocational longings of workers—both ancient and contemporary.
  • A worker can’t understand the place or purpose of their work in the world until they learn to sing, pray, and meditate on God’s work in the world.
  • The truth is Western Christians don’t always like the idea of almighty God working intimately at their side. For a variety of reasons, we much prefer the distant god of the deists. We prefer a god who commanded us to work in Genesis 1 and then politely left us alone.
  • The Psalms depict God faithfully at work in the world alongside the worker.
  • God’s work gives meaning to ours.
  • Human work must be responsive to God’s work, and that is why worshipers must continually rehearse God’s works in song.
  • The vivid words and images of the psalms enable workers to articulate and offer their working lives to God in profound and transformative ways.
  • Within today’s faith and work movement much is made of carrying the biblical lessons of Sunday into Monday. The psalms enable the opposite. They give the worker an opportunity to carry their raw emotions of Monday into Sunday.
  • The psalms offer workers a vocabulary for use in honest dialogues with God.
  • The psalms will not romanticize work in a fallen world.
  • These songs will tell the raw truth—sometimes in an all-out rage—that work is not what it is supposed to be.
  • If Exodus assures workers that they can scream out to God about work, Psalms provides workers with the words they are allowed to scream.
  • Both the spirituals and the psalms function as condensed forms of spiritual vitality and resilience that are desperately needed among oppressed workers today.
  • Contemporary forms of worship can sometimes feel like a one-way conversation. Workers sit in the pews and are the passive recipients of sermonic monologues directed at them. The psalms, however, initiate a dynamic conversation, a vocational dialogue between the sanctuary and the streets.
  • The psalmists appear to believe that worship in the sanctuary can enable a worker to more clearly interpret their work—and the marketplace as a whole—in the light of God.
  • Contemporary workers need to regularly and physically withdraw their bodies from the economy of the world. Worship needs to physically gather the bodies of workers into a worship space so that they may stop and examine the economy of the world in the light of the deeper economy of God.
  • The message of Psalm 50 on this point is simple: while God might delight in your workplace offerings, God does not need any of it. Both God and the world will survive just fine without you. For the weary worker, this is profoundly good news. You may rest.

Chapter 7: The Prophets Decrying the Destruction of Work and Worship

  • The prophets offer two straightforward warnings. First, if workers regularly engage in unfaithful worship practices, the integrity of their work will suffer in a variety of ways. Second, if workers regularly engage in unfaithful work practices, the integrity of their worship will suffer as well.
  • According to the prophets, the temple and the marketplace are profoundly interdependent. On the positive side, when the ways of the Lord are honored in both worship and work, flourishing will flow freely back and forth between the temple and the fields. On the negative side, when the ways of the Lord are dishonored, idolatry and injustice will flow freely.
  • Idolatry is not a thing of the past. It is a present and pervasive power in contemporary work and worship.
  • Both markets and temples, worship leaders and workers, are capable of poisoning God’s holy designs for worship and work.
  • Work without integrity leads to worship without integrity.
  • Going through the motions in the sanctuary will not transform our working lives.
  • If workers hope to remain faithful in corrupt economies, they will need to develop and practice their own “counterliturgies” on a daily basis in the workplace.
  • Israel’s worship contributed to unfaithful work and worship in a variety of ways.
  • Although Israel’s future is grim, Hosea closes with words of hope. On the day of the Lord the people will once again be reconciled to a holy marriage of fruitful work and worship.
  • According to Isaiah, the integrity of a person’s work directly impacts the integrity of their worship.
  • Isaiah goes further than the other prophets before him. He declares that the fair treatment of workers is actually a form of holy worship. Promoting justice in the workplace is a holy sacrifice, an act of worship that produces a pleasing aroma.

Chapter 8: The Early Church Worship and Work in Ancient Christianity

  • Early Christian liturgies directly engaged the mundane materials of urban life and labor. Early Christian worship was permeated with a holy form of worldliness.
  • Early Christian worship did not facilitate a worker’s escape from creation or daily work. Instead, the worldliness of worship rooted workers in the earth, in their work, and in their city.
  • Worship that engages our senses and bodies, our tongues and stomachs, and the physical work of our hands can go a long way in helping workers ground their worship and work in the earth—as opposed to the clouds.
  • Work cannot be an afterthought in worship, an ancillary issue, a necessary evil. Work and how workers worship matter deeply to God.
  • What would it look like for contemporary pastors, elders, and small-group leaders to actually know the workers they disciple and the industries they engage?
  • Might contemporary churches reimagine work-oriented street liturgies for their own cities? What profit might be gained from organizing a prayer walk around a new factory or through a city’s struggling commercial district?

Chapter 9: The Early Church Offering Work Becomes Worship in Christ

  • Early Christian farmers and merchants who carried their work into worship could expect their work to serve one of three functions in the global work of Christ: poverty relief, ministry support, and worshipful communion. All three of these functions were considered a part of the church’s “liturgy” in the city.
  • Within the threefold offering, the Christian worker was providing for the poor in their city, strengthening the ministry of their church, and honoring their God in worship: all three of these actions constituted their leitourgia.
  • A Christian merchant’s work and worship were united, integrated, and interwoven through this threefold liturgy.
  • In and through the practice of offering, work and worship became one.
  • The Didache, possibly the earliest document discussing Christian worship, explicitly mentions the role and importance of the first-fruits offering in worship.
  • The lines of liturgical continuity between ancient Israel and the early church are striking (e.g., Deut. 26).
  • Origen, for example, noted that the regular observance of first-fruits offerings was a critical ingredient in helping ancient workers acknowledge and remember the presence of God in their everyday work.
  • Offerings afforded workers the opportunity to celebrate, remember, and practice the gracious economy of God. All three of these elements were critical to their spiritual formation.
  • At the Lord’s Table workers learned that all of their labors combined were radically dependent on a work that far surpassed their own.
  • Workers offer themselves to God in the sanctuary so they might learn to continually offer themselves to God in the streets (Rom. 12:1).
  • Emmanuel did not come to rescue humanity from his creation; he came to reside with, work alongside, and restore humanity to a renewed creation and a renewed work within his world.
  • In order for work to become worship, a greater work must be accomplished; in order for workers to become priests, a higher priest must ordain them.
  • It is only through Christ’s work on the cross that humanity’s work in the world can be transformed into holy sacrifices of worship.
  • Just as Christ took up our humanity and presented it to the Father, now also Christ takes up our work (present in the bread and wine) and lifts it up to God in an act of thanksgiving and praise.
  • In worship, Christ lifts workers up, having redeemed them and their work, and Christ offers them to the Father in an act of worship.
  • Sadly, the ancient practices of first-fruits offerings would slowly die out in the Christian liturgy.

Chapter 10: Work at the Lord’s Table

  • All over the world, in every denomination and in every culture, workers arrive at the table hungry and thirsty for the work of Christ.
  • The following are seven verbs, seven particular actions a worker might engage in at the table. To examine To approach To thank To receive To share To hold To consume.
  • Workers must carefully examine their work and their week before they approach the table.
  • Christ alone can carry a worker to the table. Christ alone can make the worker new. Christ alone can turn our work into worship.
  • The ultimate purpose of our work is not out own flourishing, it’s the flourishing of others. We work so that others might work, worship, and flourish within God’s gracious and just economy.
  • In humbly receiving bread and wine, the worker encounters a perplexing and beautiful paradox at the intersection between faith, work, and worship.
  • Week after week, workers have to practice resting in the gracious economy of God at the table.
  • Holding real bread and real wine in their hands, workers can meditate on the work of Christ in their lives and labor.
  • While the rest of worship has invited the worker to enter into God’s economy, at the table, God’s gracious economy has actually entered into the worker. Christ and the worker are now one.