“You can’t get prayed-for in this church unless you are a ‘Reverend’ or a missionary” – she said to me, with obvious frustration. Her church was good at praying for people in so-called full-time Christian ministry positions, both at home and around the world, but had clearly missed something important along the way. When I enquired further it turned out that she had a boss who was a big-fan of the new-atheist writers like Dawkins and Hitchens. He had no interest in engaging in any thoughtful conversations about the big questions of life and origins – but had an apparent need to mock and humiliate Christians in the workplace, using his power within the organisation as his platform. The church at that stage seemed disinterested in her struggle, their prayers focused on their pastor and his ministry in the church.
What was going on there?
I suspect that part of the problem was an unspoken understanding that ‘real’ ministry is the preserve of the clergy, and Bible-college graduates. That was coupled with messages from the pulpit that suggested that paid-work should be got out of the way as quickly as possible in order to get on with the real business of church activities. The mindset seemed to be that there is a hierarchy of occupations, with secular work at the bottom, Christian-volunteering next, and paid-Christian work at the top. The inference was that prayer should be focused on those at the top of this hierarchy, because they faced the harshest battles and produced the fruit for the kingdom. The fact that such a view bears almost no relation to anything found in scripture hardly needs to be stated. What perhaps needs to be said is that it had a dreadful effect on the woman who’s story I began with. Her church sent her into a spiritual battle, under heavy bombardment – with no covering fire at all.
When I have mentioned that story in various places around the country, I have been amazed by how many people say that they have had similar experiences. But why has this happened? I don’t think that there has been a conscious rejection of the priesthood of all believers, or a stated denial that God calls people to be dentists, librarians and builders. Rather, my observation is that as a church we have just been slow to realise that the frontlines of the gospel have shifted somewhat.
Those of us who are a little older can nostalgically lookback at times when a significant proportion of the population were connected to the churches. Marriages, funerals, baptisms, Christmas and Easter filled churches with people with no definite faith in Christ. In such circumstances the frontline between the church and world – the point of contact when the word of God pointing to Christ was declared, was situated between pulpit and pew. When the world came to church, we focused all our prayer, training and resources on the preacher who would share the words of life. However, just as the battlefront moved from Normandy to Berlin from D-Day to VE Day; so the gospel battlefront has shifted in our times. Now the world largely does not come into church, the seeds of the gospel must be carried out into the world by painters, nurses, farmers, accountants, plumbers, scientists – and a hundred other occupations. That is going to mean several things such as training all Christians in good communication, not just ministers; it is going to mean praying for our day-jobs as much as we pray for our clergy, and it must mean celebrating Christians serving faithfully in the secular workplace, as much as we have lionised famous preachers.
Frontlines is a series of articles which we will be publishing at Solas as a small contribution to this pressing need in the church. We have interviewed lots of Christian people who are active in sharing their faith in Christ in their day-jobs. Each interview is different, as the life of a builder is quite unlike that of a farmer for example. How they go about sharing their faith is equally different, from businessmen doing lunchtime Bible-studies, to a sports-administrator answering questions about her faith at staff social-gatherings, to a construction consultant praying with and for his colleagues.
However, we want to do four things here. The first is to celebrate the courage and faithfulness of Christians in the frontline. The second is to showcase some of the ways people are sharing the gospel around the country, as some of their ideas might inspire you to try something new in your context. The third is to encourage Christian folks to recognise where the battle-lines are increasingly drawn and to pray for each other as we go into the world as Christ’s ambassadors. Finally we want to mention that part of our work at Solas is training, equipping and encouraging all Christians in sharing Christ, faithfully, wisely and winsomely in our day –so please do speak to us if we can help you here.
Does all this in any way denigrate church leaders? By no means! Recognising the real spiritual battles that Christian people in the workplace face, is not something that is done at the expense of praying for the pastor. Rather – it is something that the church must do as well as that!
So please join us as every couple of weeks we speak to a different Christian, about their work, its joys, challenges and opportunities to be a witness for Jesus. The first one will be Rebecca – a pilot who chats to her co-pilots about Christ 35,000 feet above the Atlantic!