We are excited about a vision of “vocational discipleship,” the idea that faith shapes how we engage in the workplace. We are starting to think about setting aside a Sunday to focus on this. What advice do you have?
A special service or a preaching series related to this theme (see p. 2) could be a promising way to begin. To really help this vision take root in the life of a church, attention to key topics like this need to be sustained over time. It’s all about “a long obedience in the same direction.”
Here’s one small but significant way of putting that into practice: Commit to offering one explicit petition in each Sunday’s pastoral or intercessory prayer that focuses on discipleship in the workplace.
To many, it might seem too daunting to develop a fresh or unique prayer every single week on this one theme. But try the following prayer preparation drill or exercise.
Identify an engaged small group in your church—perhaps a morning Bible study group, a Sunday school class, or a youth group. Ask them to list as many kinds of work experiences as they can think of that might warrant special mention in public prayer. For example, they might think of people who:
- work in harm’s way, in places of danger;
- are filled with boredom or despair at work;
- face sexual assault or innuendo at work;
- have responsibility for making decisions that will profoundly affect the lives of other people;
- supervise difficult or disrespectful employees;
- work for a difficult or disrespectful supervisor;
- need to conduct fair and just job reviews;
- work in places filled with conflict and tension;
- have opportunities in their workplace to point others to Jesus;
- are discouraged from discussing matters of faith at work;
- are pressured to act against their conscience;
- are denied fair treatment and just wages;
- are struggling in preparing for retirement;
- can’t find work in the area of their expertise or training; or
- who are just beginning to imagine what kind of work God may be calling them to.
To prompt discussion, give your group this list to start with and ask them to add to the variety of experiences. Even a small group of people with various experiences in the workplace would likely be able to lengthen this list significantly.
This kind of drill or exercise is a kind of “empathy training program,” working out the mental and spiritual muscles that help us pay deep attention to people around us.
Next, each week, try to turn one of these concerns into a two- or three-sentence prayer. For example: “Today we pray for those who work in places of conflict or tension, and for each person with whom they work. Protect them from injustice, and equip them to be instruments of your peace, O God. We pray also for all those who cause destructive conflict the insight and healing they need.”
(I realize that no single written prayer will sound authentic to each reader of Reformed Worship. Adapt this as necessary to fit your context, and practice the skill of thinking through how to pray for each situation.)
Place that short petition inside a balanced pattern for public intercessory prayer. Here is a pattern to start with.
… for the gift of creation
… for the gift of new creation in Christ
… for the gift of the church and its ministries in the world
Praying to God
… for the redemption of all creation
… for those in authority in the nations of the world
… for needs and concerns around the nation and world
… for the church worldwide, and examples of the church in mission
… for the local community and its needs
… for the local congregation and its mission and ministries
… for those with particular needs and callings
Some leaders that pray extemporaneously use a pattern like this to guide them—a bit like an assigned set of chords helps jazz musicians improvise compellingly. Others may use a pattern like this to guide their prayerful act of writing out a text for use in worship. Still others could use an outline like this to guide their development of a “visual prayer” consisting of photographs or artwork that guide the congregation through prayers of thanks and petition.
Now imagine that every week, near the end of this public prayer, in the section titled “for those with particular needs and callings,” your congregation will be challenged not only to pray for specific health concerns or other personal needs, but also for particular situations in which vocational discipleship can be carried out. What a powerful way to learn to pray for individuals in the church their various workplace situations, but also to pray vicariously and empathetically for others! Worshipers may well be prompted to call to mind and pray for any number of people in their extended families or acquaintances. Some worshipers may well be grateful to discover the church praying for a situation in their own lives, even without naming them, in beautiful and redemptive ways.
Over time, the congregation could be asked to help prayer leaders think of situations and contexts that have not been named, including situations beyond the workplace, perhaps focusing on discipleship in leisure, service, or other aspects of human experience throughout the week.
After even a few months of doing this, a church would have a compelling sampling of vocational discipleship prayers to share with members, or even (judiciously) on its website. What a gift to share with young people in the congregation discerning the shape of God’s call on their lives! And what a beautiful way to invite others to join your community—an online demonstration of the kind of 24/7 discipleship God invites us into.