Friday night, some 200 of us closed the evening with a song that has always moved my soul: “This is My Father’s World.” The music and lyrics connect with something deep inside me. Always have. I love to sing this in the wilderness up north (as long as no one is within earshot!). Last night, on a university campus in Chicago, at the Karam Forum, the connection went deeper. Unexpectedly, the song really penetrated me heart. I am going to try to articulate why.
Perhaps it is this season in my life, but I sense a growing alienation from this world. I find myself in a technocratic, post-Christian age that does not see this as the Father’s world. It is their world, where individualism reigns, freedom amounts to pursuing one’s own good, moral values are up to each person, fake news dominates the airwaves, gaining power and wealth are the ultimate objectives, and God is irrelevant. For many, a song like this one we sang last night sounds distant and archaic, maybe even threatening.
There are a number of reasons for this growing divide, and a major part of it has to do with a particular failure on our part as seminary professors and church pastors. For too long, we have made the assumption that ministry is what we do on Sunday, and secular work is what our congregants do during the week. We have not connected Sunday and Monday. We have not given a benediction that clearly articulates that we are all called and now sent out to flourish and see our work as ministry. We have not reinforced Genesis 1:28, that God has made us to be fruitful in our world, seeing our work—be it managing a warehouse or driving a city bus or raising a child—as sacred.
Maybe an illustration will help. In our church in Holland, we set out to discern a vision and a strategy that would guide the church. We, the church’s leaders, gathered near the North Sea to pray and ponder. At the last minute, I invited a corporate leader in our church, a man who was a project manager overseeing one of the largest construction projects in the world, to come as an outside consultant. He was a terrific help.
We have underscored the importance of Sunday faithfulness, neglecting the significance of Monday fruitfulness.
On our way home, he shared a discovery: for the first time, he realized that God could use his “secular” gifts for the kingdom of God. I affirmed this, but looking back, I did not go far enough. I left out something crucial. I left him short. If I could relive that conversation, I would add something like this—“Your gifts and your corporate training are not secular. They are divinely given so that you might serve the church. Thank you. But it is far more. They are given so that you might serve your corporation. Your responsibility to be a project manager is your ministry, and it has the same validity and value as mine.”
To put it another way—we have not helped our congregants, as we must, to see the value of their work. We have underscored the importance of Sunday faithfulness, neglecting the significance of Monday fruitfulness. All too many have come to assume their work is an unavoidable part of life that pays the bills, when God has created work to give us dignity and purpose and become His means to advance His kingdom. The more we abide in Him, the more we flourish in our work. This is the point of John 15. And our fruit bearing is for the world. We are to use the results of our flourishing to love those God brings our way.
Or, to say it one more way—we have created and reinforced an artificial divide between the sacred and the secular. And in so doing, it is little wonder there is a growing alienation between the body of Christ and the world. There is no more important moment to encourage saints in the workplace to pray over their work—as I pray over mine—than now. Perhaps it will then become clearer to all of those we touch that this is our Father’s world—let us ne’re forget—the Lord is King, let the heavens ring!