Research by Denise Daniels and Elaine Howard Ecklund has shown that there is a substantial disconnect between preachers and congregants in bridging the world of the Bible with the world of work. In short, pastors think they preach about how the Bible addresses the workplace often, while the people in their churches think they rarely address the subject.
Let’s just imagine the congregants are right, that we preachers rarely discuss workplace concerns in Sunday sermons, and further, that this misses a substantial opportunity to help people follow Jesus more faithfully in a large part of their lives. The good news is that applying the Bible to people’s work lives doesn’t have to be incredibly complicated or forced. But it does require attention to two principles: regularity and specificity.
Regularity speaks to an ongoing commitment to connect a biblical passage or sermon topic to the workplace. Specificity means addressing concrete work contexts, challenges, opportunities, or dilemmas in the sermon. (Side note: Specificity requires preachers to embrace an ongoing commitment to learn about the actual challenges of people’s work lives.)
The simple way to apply this principle is by taking a preaching point, or the main idea of the sermon, and exploring how it applies to a specific worker and work situation. And on and on, week by week, as we preach the Bible, regularly applying it specifically to people’s work, they begin to remember, even anticipate, that the strange world of the Bible is most relevant place to where they spend so much of their time. God’s Word meets us wherever we work.
Text: 1 John 3:1
“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”
Universal truth: You are a child of God
Let’s say you are preaching on 1 John 3:1,
which speaks to how God has lavished his love on us, calling us children of God. The sermon theme might center on remembering your identity as a child of God. This universal truth has many applications for different kinds of workers as they seek to apply it
in the pressure cooker of the workplace.
Workplace application: Salesperson
Somewhere in your congregation, there is a salesperson. As they approach the month’s end, they are working extra hours to meet their sales goal. Their sales numbers are publicly seen alongside their coworkers, and there are months when they are in the lower half of their peers. Since bonuses are tied to sales quotas, they know that having margin to pay bills means needing to finish the month with several more sales.
You might say
“There are times when it feels like your whole worth as a person is tied to your sales numbers. And if things are going well, you feel great, like a successful person. But if it’s a bad month, or a bad quarter, well, you don’t feel too great. No matter what you try, no matter how hard you work, the sales don’t come in as fast as they should, and you start believing that your worth as a person is your sales number. It’s very natural for you to feel that way. But it isn’t true.
“When you are in that place, you must remember, God has been so extravagant with his tender, unstopping love towards you, that He calls you his child. The most kind, gentle, powerful being in the universe, God himself, thinks of you as a loving father who cares for his son. He knows all about your sales goal. And no matter how you are doing, his desire is for you to be grounded in his love for you, which can never change.”
Text: Matthew 11:28
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Universal truth: Jesus offers rest
This sermon might focus on how walking with Jesus, learning from him, and taking on his yoke, leads not only to rest from trying to please God and earn his approval — it also yields a certain quality of life that Jesus himself experienced. Through joy, sadness, grief, and weariness, Jesus’ easy yoke will yield rest for weary souls.
Workplace application: Teacher
There might be a teacher remembering that God gives rest for weary souls as they encounter a chronically chaotic classroom. All the classroom and behavior management methods they have learned aren’t working. The students aren’t responding, learning isn’t happening like it should be, and the teacher is facing pressures from parents and administrators. And they not only carry this weight during the school day, but also when they come home from work. Jesus’ easy yoke can bring rest to the teacher whose work feels chaotic.
You might say
“Being a teacher has never been an easy job. But you might be going through a season that is particularly difficult. A chaotic classroom situation or students that aren’t responding to instruction or correction. You’re tired. You’re worn out. This isn’t what you signed up for.
“I hope you hear this morning that Jesus’ words are for you. It might seem impossible, but he offers you rest. He’s gentle. He’s humble of heart. At various times in his public ministry, he was surrounded by chaos. Walking with him, inviting him in, heeding his counsel and teaching, during the school day and after it is done, is your path to true rest.”