Foundations: No.80 Spring 2021
Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy
Matthew Kaemingk and Cory B. Willson, Baker Academic, 2020, 304pp, p/b, £15.59 (hive.co.uk)
As I was reading this book the refrain “Mind the Gap”, as a train arrives at the platform of British Railway Stations, came to mind – a warning not to fall between two safe places, The gap between the platform and the train. The gap examined in this book is between work and worship, between labour and liturgy.
There are several responses to the gap. The first is to deny it exists, or if it does, ignore it and leave it as it is. This approach is a dangerous one. The other is to attempt to bridge the gap; railway station managers often do this by using ramps. The other response is to remove the gap – in the case of train and station, this may prove difficult and would demand a whole new design. As regards the gap between work and worship Kaemingk and Willson – both with PhDs from Fuller Theological Seminary – take this last approach. Their desire and the focus of this book is to provide resources to see the gap removed. As with the railway station, this may need a redesign of what worship looks like.
They see value in the ramp approach but recognise it is not the answer. The ramp in the context of work and worship is to develop a theology of work – to provide a list of books for workers to read and pray through, in the hope that they will be able to see God in their work. As helpful and important as this may be, it is not the biblical answer, Kaemingk and Wilson argue. It needs more than an intellectual approach.
The authors write out of a sense of urgency for workers in the workplace, worship leaders in the sanctuary, and scholars and students in the academy.
For many, the gap exists and is ignored. This is illustrated by their experience as children in attending gathered worship meetings. They observe:
We listened to pastors pray for Christian ministries all over the city and all around the world. But never once did we see our parents’ labours in the fields of the Lord recognised or blessed during gathered worship. Never once did they mention our fathers’ construction sites or auto shops. Never once did they mention our mothers’ hospitals or restaurants… The silence of the sanctuary still rings in our ears. It informs and energises this book. (9)
Rather than use ramps to bridge the gap, they write out of a desire to see a transformation so that there is an integration between work and worship. They long to see gathered worship helping rather than hindering workers. To do this they draw valuable insights from the Scriptures. They believe that “Worship that is vocationally conversant will both glorify the work of God and (trans)form the work of the church.” (23)
The largest contributing factor to the gap is, sadly, those who lead worship: “they rarely consider what it means that worshippers are also workers” (34, italics original). However, rather than playing the blame game, the authors provide insights into how church leaders can practice “vocational listening”.
As the authors highlight, the workplace is filled with liturgies and rituals, but these are deforming rather than transforming. There is a need for “counter liturgies” that subvert those in the workplace that damage. The main bulk of the book, chapters 4-9, provide resources to do just that. They not only provide a diagnosis but also provide a remedy as they “explore the connection between Israel’s gathered worship and its scattered work” (63). They provide some excellent examples of how Israel’s gathered worship blessed and transformed “Israel’s practices of work”. As they point out, “Israel’s worlds of worship and work were intentionally designed to intermingle” (63): “Shepherds were not asked to become ‘spiritual’ upon entering the worship service. They entered worship as shepherds carrying sheep” (77).
Part 3 (Chapters 10-12) explores “Practices”. Here they examine how memory, participation and practice play a formative role for workers at the Lord’s Table (Chapter 10). The final two chapters investigate worship that gathers (Chapter 11) and worship that sends (Chapter 12). Chapter 11 provides a brief case study of the design of two worship areas and provide some fascinating insights into how simple designs can function in a gathered worship service. The final chapter provides some excellent practical advice, for example how commissioning rituals could function in being able to “root workers in God’s mission and reinforce their primary calling within God’s kingdom economy” (246).
I suspect that this book will not be an easy read for pastors and church worship leaders as it will challenge the status quo – but it is an important book that is worth grappling with, particularly as discipleship needs to be seen as being broader than what happens on a Sunday morning. But also, because it shows that what does happen on a Sunday morning can shape and affect Monday to Saturday; then that gap between work and worship can be erased.
Independent researcher, Wales; he maintains the neo-Calvinist website www.allofliferedeemed.co.uk