Fruitfulness on the Frontline
Make a difference wherever you are...
This article originally appeared as a chapter of Why Worship, edited by Tim Hughes and Nick Drake, which was the theme book for Spring Harvest 2021.
How does the gathered worship we share in as a church community overflow into the different aspects of our lives throughout the week? What difference does following Jesus and being loved by him make to our ordinary, everyday lives? The truth is that, with Christ, there is no ordinary… every encounter, every task, every situation brims with divine possibility. So how would things change if we realised that our gathered worship has the power to shape us and then send us out into the world to worship all the time and everywhere?
As Romans 12:1-2 tells us, ‘true and proper worship’ is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices. All of our life is an act of worship. It is so much more than being together as a church community or singing and praying. Whether we are looking after our family, working, spending our money, enjoying time with friends, greeting our neighbour, gardening, cleaning the house, completing a business deal, operating on a patient in hospital, teaching children at school; anything and everything we do can be worship if we do it in God’s power and strength, in a way that is true to God’s way and that gives glory to him. Our places of worship are wherever we are on our frontlines throughout the week, the places where we connect with the people amongst whom God places us and where we are able to demonstrate the love and purposes of God to his world. No matter who we’re with and what we’re doing, we can all worship God every moment of every day.
Though when we think about worship what usually springs to mind is sung worship when we meet, the emphasis of what we hear from the Old Testament prophets is on how we live our lives and worship outside gatherings. Israel’s failure to practice justice outside their assemblies makes the worship inside their assemblies’ offensive to God whose heart is for righteousness, justice, kindness, and humility. Scripture teaches that if worshippers fail to practice justice in our everyday lives, then our worship lacks authenticity.
I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
The gathered worship of these people was dynamic, with offerings received, vibrant singing and rich prayers so it must have come as quite a shock to hear this visitor who claimed the Lord hated and despised their festivals and assemblies, and wouldn’t accept their offerings. How would we feel if a prophet stood in one of our Sunday gatherings and told us God said we needed to be quiet because he refused to listen to us? Amos said the music wasn’t the important thing here, instead, ‘let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!’ (Amos 5:24). Likewise, in Isaiah 58 we hear God’s people complaining that he’s not listening to their prayers or noticed that they’ve fasted. Why? Because they then ‘do as they please’ and exploit their workers, arguing and fighting (v3). Instead God says, he wants them to ‘loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free’, to share their food with those who are hungry, to provide shelter to those in need, and to clothe the naked.
Throughout the scriptures we see how important justice is to God; surely, true worship increasingly makes us more like the one we worship? As we focus on God, we gain more of his heart and begin to care more about the things he cares about. And we see through Amos, Isaiah, and many other prophets that relationship with God brings responsibilities as well as blessings. Amos wants the Israelites to see the world through a different lens and reshape their responsibilities so that they understand it is not good enough to avoid evil, but they must also seek good, it’s not enough to worship when they gather, they must worship as they scatter and look after those in need. As a redeemed people, we are meant to live out our redemption in our lives with others. In other words, our worship leads to action.
In 2012 I went to Eastern Africa with a small team from my church; that trip changed my life. From the moment we arrived and were surrounded by noisy, joyful children who couldn’t stop saying thank you that we had come from so far to visit, I knew it would humble me and mark a big shift in my life. There is a real danger in these sort of mission trips that Westerners picture themselves as the ‘saviours’ riding on their chargers into Africa with their money and expertise that will solve all the problems. What these beautiful African people possessed was something that money simply cannot buy: a lifestyle where Jesus is at the centre, where the daily distractions of life do not get in the way of a complete dependence on God’s loving generosity towards his people.
Almost instantaneously I had a sense of God’s voice saying that I needed to watch and listen very carefully. I needed to lose any sense that I was there to teach, rather he was about to teach and train me through these Spirit-filled people what whole-life, whole-self worship was all about. I don’t have time here to tell you how God used that trip to heal me and to show me his incredible love in new ways; how he gave me the chance to love and experience compassion beyond my human capability. But I will say he opened within me a desire for justice that would start to shape a new direction in my life.
On my return from Africa many of my colleagues at work recognised the shift that had taken place in me and my renewed passion for justice was encouraged by those around me. After taking my son on our annual pantomime trip, Luke and I bounced out of the theatre, singing the silly songs, when we almost tripped over a homeless young man. He looked so desperate and our mood quickly changed. We spoke to him for a while and picked up some of his story as an ex-soldier. Luke was really impacted by this encounter and in the weeks that followed prayed about it each day in childlike simplicity, ‘Dear Lord, please show my mummy what to do!’
A short while later I arrived in my office one morning to an e-mail asking for volunteers across the bank to help the homeless of Chester. It was then I got involved in raising funds to support in the rehabilitation and practical help for the sixty-three people who lived on the streets of my local city. The bank supported us with matched funds and in giving us time off to organise team days so that we could play our part in making a difference in our local community. The volunteer team bonded around this and their eyes were opened to different challenges. This early work then led to greater opportunities to invest time with these people who were homeless, providing greater care and beginning discussions that would start to address the root cause of the problems they faced. Once again I was witnessing how when our hearts are open, authentic worship can overflow into action wherever we are, not just when we go overseas but, in the places, where God opens the doors in our everyday lives.
Both gathered and scattered worship are equally vital – our worship in church equips us to glorify God on our frontlines. The transition we experience as we are sent as gathered worshippers into the world is such a pivotal moment when worship turns from adoration towards God, and in the power of the Holy Spirit to one another, into our scattered lives in the world to which we are sent to act for God’s glory.
The red dots in the corner of the left-hand side of the picture represent the percentage of people in the UK who worship in a church once a month or more across all denominations and traditions. The grey dots represent those in our towns, villages or cities who are not engaged with a church.
The square to the right-hand side of the picture represents the same people but from the perspective of where they are for most of the week, scattered throughout towns, villages, cities, and beyond touching all aspects of life including families, friends, and local communities; education, government, sports, healthcare, media, arts, and entertainment; and business and commerce. Our reach as Christians is extensive and our spheres of influence are powerful if intentionally directed in the power of the Holy Spirit to God’s glory. We are in touch with so many ‘grey dots’ as we navigate through life; for many of those people we may be one of the few Christians they ever encounter.
In each week there are 168 hours. If we have a reasonably healthy sleep pattern, we sleep for around 48 hours, leaving 120 hours. For most people, the maximum number of hours they can dedicate to gathered church activity is 10 hours, for example worship on a Sunday, small group activity and possibly committed to some specific area of ministry – that leaves 110. So, what is happening in the 110 hours where we are not worshipping at church? How do we worship God in these places?
Up until 2016, I spent most of my life working in the banking industry. I always felt deeply blessed in my career and was fortunate to work with such wonderful people. For 27 years I directed major change transformation programmes and it was such an exciting vocation. I always felt that I was exactly where God wanted me to be, learning to be a disciple amongst both the ordinary and extraordinary days of my life as I progressed in my career, then became a wife and a mum, juggled my career and my ministry in my local church alongside ministerial training, firstly as a Church of England Reader and then as a Priest… all these joys alongside the more difficult moments of my life as I navigated through suffering and grief.
As I look back over my years as a business leader, I wish that I had really understood then what I know so clearly now. Whilst I knew I was where I was supposed to be and I knew I was a disciple in the places where God placed me, I don’t think I realised the true significance of being a Christian in the workplace until my very last day in banking. As people came to visit me to say their goodbyes, people who were uncertain about faith and some who had no faith shared with me the impact it had on them to work with a Christian. There were some big things about walking beside people and showing wisdom, love, and compassion during the storms of life; moulding culture in a way that shifted the more ruthless natures of the corporate world to a community with good and loving values; and taking some big risks for my teams speaking up for injustice and against malpractice. And there were some smaller, every day, things about just bringing joy and peace in a stressful environment. I just wish I had realised that God was at work in that place as clearly as he was on a Sunday when I was with my church family.
At LICC we talk about the 6Ms of Modelling godly character, Making good work, Ministering grace and love, Moulding culture, being a Mouthpiece for truth and justice, and being a Messenger of the gospel. Each of the 6Ms enhances one another and multiplies fruitfulness on our frontlines when used all together. The 6Ms expand our vision of what it means to be a fruitful Christian in our everyday life.
Modelling godly character is the fruit of the Spirit in action – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When were these qualities particularly required in your life? Or tested? Do people notice something different about your default response to situations? The fruit of the Holy Spirit sums up nine attributes of a person or community living in accordance with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) where the fruit is contrasted with the works of the flesh which immediately precede it in this chapter of Galatians.
Making good work. The work that we do matters in and of itself. The way we do our work is important, whatever the context, whether as a parent, in our studies, in our paid work or volunteering. Our attitude to our work, the way we give our best, the excellence we work for, suggests our attitude to life and the values and beliefs that underpin why we work the way we do. Giving our absolute best is fundamental but what does it mean to make good work with God? Working with a consciousness that we work for the Lord, in the Spirit, to his glory means producing work that is ‘good’ beyond simply human effort. ‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters’ (Colossians 3:23).
Ministering grace and love. Here the attitudes of the heart are brought to bear in specific situations. How do you love someone who is feeling unwell or upset, someone who is particularly difficult? And it is not just the more superficial actions, really loving someone can be hard. How do you minister grace and love in a redundancy situation when you are the person pulling the trigger? Or when a colleague at work is not pulling their weight? Or when someone in your family does something to hurt you? Or a friend lets you down when you really need them? In the way that Christ has forgiven us for our imperfections and sins, so must we find in us the grace to minister love towards others, ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do’ (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Mould culture. If culture is ‘the way we do things round here’, how do we influence the way things are done in our homes, in our church, in our workplace, and amongst our friends? First, we must be aware of the values behind the actions, attitudes, and norms of our frontline places. How could our Christian values lead to different practice, to different outcomes, to renewed cultures in all those places? Remember we can affect culture even if we are not in a position of power or authority, sometimes it requires us to graciously name what is wrong and what needs to change.
Be a Mouthpiece for truth and justice. There will be times when being a Christian in the variety of contexts that represent our frontlines means speaking up against things that are unfair, unhealthy, or untruthful, and speaking for things that are true and just and good. This can be for our own benefit but is perhaps more pertinent when we are speaking up on someone else’s behalf and there is a risk involved in us putting our head above the parapet. ‘Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves’ (Philippians 2:3). We cannot relieve God’s disappointment in our lack of action for justice through singing songs and offering prayers when we gather to worship. We may give thanks for all that is good in life, we may praise God for his goodness and mercy, we may confess what we and others have done wrong, and perhaps we lament for the pain and difficulty we and others are experiencing. Yet if we do not carry with us our Christian responsibility to ensure justice is done, how do we present ourselves before God as we worship? Worship is not for compensating for the injustice that we perpetrate in our gathered or scattered lives, rather it is for presenting our whole life and whole self before God.
Be a Messenger for the Gospel. There are times when people want to hear your story and what values and beliefs underpin your life and you will tell them about Jesus and the difference, he has made to you. We each have a unique story and a testimony that is always developing – especially if we are truly, authentically, and intentionally living out our faith. Have you had an opportunity to share the message of Jesus with somebody recently? Are you prepared? ‘…But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you…’ (1 Peter 3:15). Are you intentional in your relationships and committed to praying for them?
Let me tell you about Ed. Ed wants to be more open about his faith within his workplace, an IT company. Ed describes the culture of where he works as, ‘It’s the kind of place where the only sign that you’re doing a great job is that nobody has shouted at you that day.’ Like many of us might in a place like that, Ed kept his faith quiet and separate. His love for God was deepening, his character was changing and his involvement with church was growing but when Monday morning rolled around, Ed’s own faith was compartmentalised away from the gathered worship he had enjoyed on Sunday. Then one day, Ed decided he would be more open at work about his Christian faith. First ‘a few safe people’, but it wasn’t long before he had talked to ten of his colleagues about Jesus. He didn’t have to force the issue nor did he have to say a lot. So when one colleague asked, ‘What did you get up to over the weekend?’, as well as mentioning family time, jobs done, and films watched, Ed also mentioned that he had led the children’s work at church.
While a few colleagues make jokes about Ed being a Christian, most of them have been surprisingly accepting. His great fears about going public were not confirmed. This brave but simple change of posture has opened a whole new world of opportunities. Lots of his colleagues now confide in him in ways that they never did before. One colleague shared with him how his wife had a very serious health problem, and that he was desperately worried about her. Ed offered to pray, and the colleague accepted and in time, thanks to God, the wife of this colleague got completely better. Your frontline might not be like Ed’s. You might not be like Ed and being more open on your frontline might cause you more problems than it did for him. But when we stop treating our faith like a secret to be kept, and share the light of Christ for all to glimpse God’s beauty and colour within us, you might find yourself being pleasantly surprised when you adopt a posture of openness.
God has always longed for us, his people, to live in complete union with him, to imitate him, through Christ and in the power of the Spirit. We, the church are the body of people who God created in his likeness and redeemed us, and when we come together in worship and praise of him, he listens to all that makes us cry out. Our worship, if it is authentic, will be pleasing to God, and it will energise, inspire, and equip us for his purposes for us in every aspect of our life. In it we will be renewed in the love of Christ, a love that will create in us a compassion beyond our own strength, that will overflow and impact the lives of others in our everyday lives, whatever we do, wherever we are, all of the time.
As we give ourselves fully to Christ in all our life, we will be filled with passionate hearts that not only re-shape the direction of our own lives, but also those whose lives we touch. God opens the doors for us to make a difference in our everyday lives, showing us how to live fruitful lives where we can change the world through the fruits of the Spirit that we possess. Fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As we are unleashed and sent out into our scattered lives praying ‘your kingdom come’, may we continually be reminded that we are called to model God’s character; every work we do no matter how menial, should be to the glory of God; Jesus calls us to minister grace and love in his name; and to re-shape and re-mould culture to one that exemplifies the nature of Christ. We need to remember that justice is God’s cause, a cause we join in with if we are willing to restore the world back to its original purpose. And each of us are called to be ready to proclaim the gospel to anyone who demands from us an accounting for the hope that is in each of us. I wonder where God might be nudging you to make a difference in your everyday life…
Director of Church of England Relations