Facilitating Marketplace Ministry in a Blue-Collar Context: Where, Why, and How

Academic Paper / Produced by partner of TOW
Where why how blue collar ministry

The Context

The local church serves as the foundational expression of the body of Christ throughout the world and the fundamental means by which God’s Kingdom advances. Educational institutions, parachurch organizations, and similar entities all fill significant and necessary roles. Still, interaction between a local congregation and its community remains the place where, in large measure, the Kingdom either advances or fails to advance. At the local level, individuals and communities either experience the transformation of Christ or continue their march toward eternity without Him.

My own ministry has been devoted to and centered within the local church. For twenty-five years I have served as pastor to Jefferson Assembly of God, a Kansas congregation of fairly typical Assemblies of God history and character. The church grew from Bible studies in a local home some thirty-seven years ago. The congregation has seen reasonably steady growth since then, but in recent years has plateaued at an average Sunday morning attendance around 230.

Pastor Kent Duncan on Teaching Theology of Work to Blue Collar Workers (Click to listen)

Members of Jefferson Assembly come from four small communities in the area (each less than 1,000 in population) and from the northeast edges of the state’s capital city, Topeka. Significantly for purposes of this study, employment is generally at blue-collar manufacturing jobs and more varied pink-collar jobs,1 including government-related clerical work and education-related employment with the local school district. The church’s participants represent five area school districts. Most adherents generally live in rural or small-town settings within a fifteen-mile radius of the church. The congregation enjoys relatively new facilities that were constructed ten years ago on a two-lane state highway just outside of one of the communities served.

Jefferson Assembly of God is staffed with a full-time senior pastor, full-time youth and children’s pastor, and full-time secretary. Ongoing ministry includes most of the programs a person might expect in an Assemblies of God church, for example, a Sunday worship service, Sunday school, and Royal Rangers, M-pact Girls Clubs, children’s church, and youth meetings. Additionally, seasonal events and targeted outreaches pepper the annual calendar. In many ways, then, Jefferson Assembly of God represents a prototypical Assemblies of God congregation, making my ministry context similar to thousands of others across the nation.

The Problem

Like so many churches, members of Jefferson Assembly of God often express frustration at not being able to serve more fully in the various ministries of the church because of work obligations. Along the same vein, members sometimes convey deep-seated unhappiness with their work environments, work-related relationships, and work demands. Although both reflections hold merit, they also expose a presumption that in a perfect world, there would be less involvement in work and more involvement in the kinds of spiritually significant things that go on at church.

This presumption reveals two false presuppositions: (1) that real ministry only happens at the church facilities, and (2) that employment only pays the bills so people can get on to things that really matter. The Bible reveals something different about significant spiritual activity and about the dignity and value of work.

The Scriptures, for example, hold work in remarkably high regard in and of itself. In Genesis 1, as God’s work of creation unfolds, He deliberately and thoughtfully declares each progressive development “good” (Gen. 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31).2 Upon forming Adam, God immediately gives him significant responsibility and authority. In an environment unmarred by sin, Adam continues the work God began, shaping the world by the work of His hands.

Work remains valuable and virtuous throughout the Old Testament. God blesses the household of Potiphar under Joseph’s competent management and empowers Bezalel with all necessary skills for the construction of the tabernacle. Key elements in the Mosaic Covenant reveal God’s concern for just treatment of the laborer and Proverbs celebrates the prosperity that hard work brings.

Instead of valuing labor, however, many individuals live alienated from it. People dread Monday and celebrate Friday. Even believers often endure jobs they sometimes despise, convinced that no other attitude is possible, much less merited. They have yet to connect the intrinsic dignity of work with the realities of a difficult day at the office or the challenges of working third shift at the plant.

Moreover, unaware of their place in a “royal priesthood” (1 Pet. 2:9), many have fully isolated work from worship, leading secular lives void of sacred meaning apart from the hour or two they might spend at a church activity each week. They fail to recognize that their ministry as a member of the body of Christ extends beyond the walls of the church building to include anyplace and everyplace they go.

The New Testament, however, affirms a cooperative relationship between the believer’s daily tasks and the outworking of God’s eternal plan. The redeemed “are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:10). Paul affirms that even the most demanding labor is ultimately offered not to one’s employer but to Christ. To slaves he writes, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24). Interestingly, what some suggest were nothing more than shop rags for the Apostle Paul became means of grace, “so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them” (Acts 19:12). The saving act of God in Christ redeems all things, including otherwise ordinary and even wearisome toil.

The church must renew her understanding of the workplace as another domain of life where the reign of Christ must be manifested. The believer must embrace an understanding of work as fundamentally good and an opportunity to declare God’s greatness in the power of the Spirit. Followers of Christ must recognize the workplace as a mission field “ripe for harvest” (John 4:35) and themselves as the laborers Christ has chosen and anointed for the task. The members of Jefferson Assembly of God are no different, standing in need of fresh confidence, understanding, and involvement in workplace ministry.

The Purpose

This project sought to infuse members of the work force who attend Jefferson Assembly of God with a deep and motivating sense of the call of God, specifically with regard to their job, their workplace, and their coworkers, through the development and implementation of a short-term local church intervention aided by the analysis of relevant discipleship-measurement data. The intervention gave special emphasis to facilitating each participant’s understanding of his or her sense of vocation as a divinely granted opportunity for Kingdom-advancing ministry in the name of Christ.

Definition of Terms

Blue-collar Worker—a member of the working class generally associated with manual labor. Blue-collar workers may be skilled or unskilled and are usually involved in physically building or maintaining something.

Pink-collar Worker—a member of the working class associated with service sector jobs stereotypically held by women, for example, day care workers, public school teachers, hairdressers, and secretaries.

Workplace—the place in which a person works on either a voluntary or paid basis.

Marketplace—used interchangeably with workplace.

Description of the Project

This project will educated, motivated, commissioned, and encouraged members of Jefferson Assembly of God toward engagement in workplace ministry. The process took place in six phases. First, I completed a biblical-theological review of pertinent work-related Scripture passages, concentrating on the nature of work itself, the role of the Holy Spirit in human labor, and the significance of the believer’s work in light of Christ’s Kingdom. I also conducted a contemporary literature review researching the particulars of blue-collar culture and investigating both historical and contemporary efforts at faith-work integration within the blue-collar context.

Second, I recruited volunteers from Jefferson Assembly of God to complete the Discipleship AssessmentTM from Discipleship Dynamics.3 I combined data from those assessments with Discipleship AssessmentTM data from other churches across the nation for analysis. I examined the sections of available data specifically addressing work-faith integration in pursuit of identifiable differences between white-collar and blue-collar marketplace ministry. Pertinent findings impacted the development of intervention materials.

Third, I developed resource materials addressing the biblical view of work, the opportunity to serve a Kingdom-advancing role even in the workplace, and the authorization to do so through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. These resources consisted of a four-week sermon series, a small-group Bible study, and the development of a mechanism for follow-up and support during the fifth phase of the project.

Fourth, I recruited thirty field intervention participants by targeting individuals who are employed a minimum of thirty-two hours a week in a job not requiring a college degree. These participants completed a pre-assessment using the Discipleship AssessmentTM tool. Then, with the resources developed in phase three, I conducted a four-week intervention at Jefferson Assembly of God, concluding with a distinctive service prayerfully commissioning blue-collar workers to embrace God-given opportunities for ministry in their workplace context.

Fifth, over the following six weeks, those individuals who submitted to commissioning were invited to participate in a follow-up group providing encouragement and feedback in their efforts to embrace marketplace ministry. At the conclusion of the intervention, participants were again asked to complete both interview sessions and the Discipleship AssessmentTM as post-assessment tools.

Sixth, I conducted a quantitative assessment of the intervention by analyzing any significant difference between the pre- and post- Discipleship AssessmentTM scores of intervention participants. Additionally, I conducted a qualitative assessment by means of follow-up interviews conducted in both one-on-one and small-group settings. Based on the results of those assessments, I developed recommendations for Jefferson Assembly of God in particular and for local churches generally.

The role of faith in the lives of blue-collar workers remains a subject largely ignored within the local church. An examination of the biblical connection between work and faith in the context of ordinary labor will provide a solid foundation for the development of resources facilitating workplace ministry in this neglected environment. The implementation of these developmental tools holds potential to effect new insight and changed behavior among America’s blue-collar work force, producing a more holistic practice of discipleship and a more comprehensive advance of Christ’s kingdom.