One of the most life-giving gifts that pastors can ever give to a local congregation is wise understanding for how to live life as it is meant to be lived; a life of loving service to God and to our neighbors. Try reading the New Testament epistles that way and discern how the apostles “get the job done” of pastoring people for their actual life in God’s world. For the Christian, there is no “Christian life” and then also one’s actual life. It’s all one life designed to be under the authority of God, wholly pursuing Him in all areas of how we live before others and before God.
The “Way of Jesus” is For My Actual Life In the World
Writing in their newest book, The Way, Vineyard Anaheim pastors Lance Pittluck and Nigel Morris say it well. Consider these quotes from page 1-2:
“… following Jesus is essentially a way of life.”
“Of course, it’s (Christianity) a belief system, and we need that knowledge to function but it goes beyond that. Somewhere along the way it needs to touch down and become part of our everyday existence.”
“Christianity ultimately boils down to the body of knowledge and belief that has been handed down from generation to generation which becomes a way of life. If it doesn’t, it will not feel real or be real. It will be confined to religious activity which we do when we go to church or attend a bible study.”
Youth and young adults especially need to be pastored in wise understanding for how to live life as it is meant to be lived. Of course, it takes more than a few leaders or pastors to do this; but a distinct culture and community to enfold and encourage in this way. The secularizing pressures of Western societies constantly challenge us to disbelieve that Jesus and the Christian tradition have come to offer guidance and power to flourish well. One of the deceptive strategies of Satan is to distract, discourage and debilitate us from living our actual life – not merely our “church life” – under the authority of God. It’s likely that Satan’s greatest “weapon” in this area has been to convince people that they can live and believe one way, “Monday-Saturday,” and then another way on “Sunday.” Not surprisingly, living lives as a fragmented people is truly unfruitful … and seriously tiresome!
Do We Pastor for People’s Abstracted Spiritual Life or for their Actual Work & Presence in the World?
One of the greatest pastoral challenges is to persuade, help envision and encourage people to not settle for living their life with a Sunday-Monday “gap.” Inattentiveness to this “gap” strengthens the plausibility for people to believe that they can meaningfully live with God in a fragmented kind of way. They come to cope with the fact that God, church, faith, discipleship, can be an add-on to an already busy, religious life. As unintentional as it may be, the church can encourage this kind of fragmented way of life by preoccupying people with a call to engage in “activities at the church” instead of training people to learn to live, understand, believe and be the church wherever they are as the people of God, blooming where they are already planted in the world (e.g., through their work, roles and responsibilities to friends, their neighborhoods, etc.).
David Kinnaman, President of the Barna Research Group, has some interesting insights here. In his book, You Lost Me, Kinnaman focuses on 18-29 yr. olds, and specifically 5 million in the U.S. who have, as he says, “dropped out” from their faith, including their belonging in Christian community. Why this disengagement from the church? One of the most significant reasons he found has to do with the inability of the local church to help people reckon with the Sunday-Monday gap, and sometimes even empowering the gap, however unintentional that may be. That is actually “one of the most recurring themes” in his interviews with youth and young adults. Kinnaman reports that this theme
is the idea that [the Christianity they’ve been taught] does not have much, if anything, to say about their chosen profession or field . . . It is a modern tragedy. Despite years of church-based experiences and countless hours of Bible-centered teaching, millions of next generation Christians have no idea that their faith connects to their life’s work (page 78).
Kinnaman further identifies three broad groups with this category of “dropouts,” with the above quote being especially relevant for the third group below, “exiles”:
- nomads (“who walk away from church engagement but still consider themselves Christians”);
- prodigals (who lose their faith and describe themselves as “no longer Christian”); and
- exiles (those “still invested in their Christian faith but feel stuck between culture and the church”).
A few observations. Note how relationally and spiritually costly it is to be inattentive to the Sunday-Monday gap. On the other hand, if you want to grow your church or youth group, enable your gathering community to be an authentic context for training, discovery and encouragement in understanding what it means to be followers of Jesus in the realism of life. Routinely and deliberately paint pictures of how the Kingdom of God – indeed, the very presence and power of God – is active and moving far beyond when the church is gathered but teach how it “touches down,” to use Lance and Nigel’s language, into the very realities of life, of work, of play, of friendships and family, of earthly citizenship, of care for one’s neighbor, of fighting against injustice, of how and what we eat and enjoy, etc.
Ultimately the Sunday-Monday gap cripples real, authentic Christian influence in the world. It’s as if followers of Jesus doubt that Jesus has any real authority in their everyday, ordinary life in the world. For as Virginia Pastor Corey Widmer rightly observes, “It’s the impact of the aggregate of Christians between Sundays that makes the difference in the world.” In many ways, the purpose of “Sunday” is to celebrate and remember. Why? Well, let’s be honest: we are often a forgetful people and so we need weekly, congregational reminders of the majesty of who God is, and of whose we are meant to be in the world. We need to be reminded that Jesus is already at work in the world – our world – by His Spirit. We need to be exhorted to ask ourselves, “Do we envision our life actually ‘with Him,’ collaborating through our everyday life and work, where He is already at work in the world?” In a significant way, “Sunday” is for the sake of “Monday”; God-worshipers renewed and then commissioned as “sent ones” in the world. But from “Monday” we journey as “living sacrifices” (Romans 12) back toward “Sunday.” Truly, the reenacting of these “gathered” and “scattered” trajectories has “divine conspiracy” writ large over it, don’t you think?
I see tremendous opportunity here for all leaders of Vineyard laity, given our values regarding the Kingdom of God, the Spirit’s work of transformation, our view of discipleship, and our earnestness to train people to be socially responsible with helping to care for the needs of the world with Christ’s authority and compassion.
Consider How We Envision & Communicate
But I also think that it is in our interest to consider the following kinds of questions as leaders, seeking to help others see their place and purpose in our Father’s world by how they work or contribute value toward other people’s good.
- Do we teach and model as if the gospel – indeed, the gospel of the Kingdom of God – addresses all of life in its various dimensions (social, cultural, political, economic, etc)? Or, do those that we lead get the impression that the gospel is only really designed to be effectual as “fire insurance” (to keep one out of hell) and about waiting to live eternal life in the next life only? In short, do we have a grand enough view of the power of the gospel to address more than one’s “church life,” but one’s actual, whole life and work in the world?
- Do we teach and model that “the church” is far more than a congregated event wherever Christians gather together? Do we help inform and form our people to see their core identity as primarily followers of Jesus, members of Christ’s church in the world? The church as both a “gathered” and “scattered” people has public and political significance for our life in the world; allegiance to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, whose Kingdom is not “of this world,” is costly fealty in light of the reigning “powers of this age.”
- Do we expand the horizons of people’s imagination to see how the Kingdom of God and the presence of the Spirit are not only real and good for when the church is gathered (e.g., “in worship”) but even more so in people’s ordinary life when “scattered” in the world? How do our people’s images and ideas of the Kingdom and the Spirit shape their view of being in the world where God is already at work in the world?
- Does the community formed by our gathering enable our people to discover and to be encouraged by how God might be calling them to follow Him through their vocations in the world? Or, are our people left on their own to find other sources of understanding for living their actual life?
- Do we have a small or grand view of “leadership development”? That is, is the scope of our vision for leaders mostly to create more church leaders (e. g., for a small group, youth leaders, or church planters) or are we serious about training our people for their leadership as Christ’s followers in their life’s work? Arguably, there’s as much need (if not greater!) for Christian leadership in the world through people’s work and professions compared to replenishing only the next generation of pastors and “ministry leaders.”
What are some further questions to ponder related to the need for the church to address the Sunday-Monday gap? What are some examples of how this can be done and what it can look like in a small group or a local congregation?
- Timothy Keller with Katherine Leary Alsdorf, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work (Dutton, 2012).
- Amy Sherman, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (InterVarsity Press, 2011).
- Bill Heatley, The Gift of Work: Spiritual Disciplines for the Workplace (NavPress, 2008).
- Klaus Issler, Living into the Life of Jesus (InterVarsity Press, 2012).
- R. Paul Stevens, The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work and Ministry in Biblical Perspective (Eerdmans, 2000).
- “Our Great Exchange” and “Effective Stewardship” DVD series. Fruitful content to see how stewardship is for all of life and not just about finances.
- The Sunday-Monday Gap Kills Church’s Growth - July 27, 2013
- Evangelism and God’s Presence - March 12, 2012
- Returning to the Heart of Worship with Andy Park - May 15, 2011
Too many people try to pigeon hole their lives–this is my work life, this is my church life, this is my family life, etc. This is one of the reasons so many people say they have a relationship with God, but care nothing for His bride the church. Pastors must help people to accept that becoming a Christian is more than just a decision for salvation. It involves a change in lifestyle. Thanks for your right on article!
Small Church Tools
Joe! You’re so insightful. Keep up the good work.