Ruth and Parables Series

Small Group Study / Produced by partner of TOW

How can a church integrate workplace issues into a normal structure of weekly preaching and small groups? This integrated series can serve as a model. The Ruth & Parables series, piloted by Reservoir Church in Cambridge Massachusetts from September through November 2015, is unique in that it goes beyond the entry-level message that “God cares about your work” to dive deep into complex workplace issues such as stress, immigration, hiring, unemployment, and job satisfaction.

The Ruth and Parables series was developed by Reservoir Church in partnership with the TOW Project and as a result of participation in a Vocation Infusion Learning Community. Senior Pastor Steve Watson titled the series: “Inspired: The Whole of Life with God in the Picture.”

Each week during the Sunday church service the preacher explored a passage in the book of Ruth, and linked his or her work experiences to the passage. Each passage was further illuminated through exploring one of Jesus’ parables, again with special attention to workplace applications. Each of these talks was paired with discussion questions for small groups, so that various groups meeting in homes throughout the week could apply the teachings of the sermon to their own work lives.

For each week in this series we have provided sermon audio, sermon notes, small group discussion questions, and the fill-in sheet which congregants received in their service bulletin.

Week 1: Finding Joy and Wonder, in All our Lives, All the Time

Week 1 introduces the congregation to the series on Ruth and Parables, as well as to the concept of Whole Life Discipleship. Senior Pastor Steve Watson explains the curriculum in this way: “All fall we’ll talk about the whole of our lives - our work, our housing, our networks of relationships, our strategies for securing a happy life and the fulfillment of our dreams. And we’ll ask how it is there can be more in all of that with God in the picture.”

Week 2: Finding God in the Least Expected People

Week 2 covers the topic of investing in other people, especially those people who seem like unlikely candidates for investment.

Week 3: Invite Jesus into Your Every Crunch Time

Week 3 demonstrates how to bring a guest speaker into an integrated sermon and small group series. Val Snekvik, a guest speaker in this series, gave a sermon on her own life experience, using the book of Ruth as a model. The small group discussion questions were prepared afterwards.

Week 4: When Hope Isn’t Foolish

Week 4 demonstrates how a pastor can integrate work stories from members of the congregation into the order of the service. (See this additional resource on how to conduct faith and work interviews in church.) As outlined in this week’s preaching notes, Senior Pastor Steve Watson brings a member of the congregation onto the stage and asks this person 5 questions:

  1. Tell us a bit about yourself (name, how long you’ve been around this church, where you’re from, and another non-work fact about you)
  2. What have you chosen to tell us that you do outside of this community? (a bit about your work, or volunteer passion, or work at home, or process looking for work.)
  3. What is the best thing about this work?
  4. What’s something that’s challenging for you about this?
  5. How can we pray for you?

The congregation, led by the pastor, then prays for the volunteer regarding his or her work. Watson explains the exercise to the congregation this way: “This fall, I’m going to invite someone each week to tell us about their life outside this community. What’s your work or your passion? What do you do with most of your time? There are too many of us for all of us to come here, but each time we do this, we’ll pray for the one person here, and by extension pray for all of us, that we’ll be inspired. That we’ll experience God breathing joy and hope and purpose and life into our whole lives.” This occurs before the normal sermon. You can hear it alluded to in the audio version of the sermon.

Week 5: Becoming an Inspiration: What You Do with What You Know

Week 5 offers some real life examples of people doing work that they feel is for God in the course of their everyday responsibilities. Senior Pastor Steve Watson puts it this way in his message, “There are everyday inspirations all around us. Today I want to ask how it is that every one of us can be an inspiration, or keep being an inspiration. And rather than pointing us toward big causes we don’t know about, I’m going to explore what we do with what we already know.”

Week 6: You Have Something the World Needs

Will Messenger of the TOW Project delivers the sermon for week 6. This sermon covers the biblical basis for the goodness of work, and the implications for how we should invest in others’ work. Messenger explains it this way: “The urge to work is built into us because we are created in the image of God, and God is a worker. It would be a terrible cruelty of God created us with an inner need to work, but nothing meaningful to do.” He develops this message to inform our outward facing relationships, detailing ways that “providing the opportunity to work is better than giving people stuff.”

Week 7: How Abundance Works

The talk for week 7 was given by Dave Schmelzer, former Lead Pastor who is visiting and reporting on his new ministry endeavor in Los Angeles. He discusses what it’s like to go from being a “big fish” career-wise to being “a very small fish in a big pond.” His greater message is to cultivate a feeling of abundance by starting with the tiny resources you have. This is the only sermon in the series that does not mention either Ruth or Parables. This speaks to the challenges of integrating visiting voices into a multi-month curriculum, as well as to the breadth of biblical resources that can be called upon to talk about workplace issues.

Week 8: What’s Your Next Move? Ingenuity, Faith, and Your Current Lot in Life

In week 8 Senior Pastor Steve Watson talks about risk taking and planning for a legacy using illustrations from the third chapter of Ruth.

Week 9: Alive in an Age of Redemption

Week 9 discusses the work of redemption. Senior Pastor Steve Watson uses Boaz’s actions in the book of Ruth to discuss how each individual worker can act as a “redeemer” for those around him or her.

Week 10: Redemption - the Peculiar Calling of Jesus’ Followers

Will Messenger of the TOW Project delivers the sermon for week 10. He offers his own perspective from the business world on what it means to be a redeemer at work.

Week 11: How to Live After ‘Happily Ever After’

For the last week of this series, blogger Leah Archibald speaks about finding fulfillment in work from the point of view of a mother and homemaker. She wraps up the series by restating that God cares deeply about each individual’s work, even if the daily reality of work does not feel inspired.