Is the Gap Between Pulpit & Pew Narrowing? Read about the Latest Research
Dallas TX: New research conducted by the Barna Group for the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University shows a substantial uptick in the number of pastors who say they preach on work. However, most church-goers still doubt the significance of their work to God.
“While American church-goers hear more sermons on work these days, there’s still a gap between what’s preached from the pulpit and what’s grasped by those in the pew,” says Bill Peel, Executive Director.
The research revealed that 70 percent of Christians do not see how their work serves God’s purposes, and 78 percent see their work as less important than the work of a pastor or priest.
Jim Mullins is a pastor who’s been pondering this breakdown of communication between the pulpit and the pew. In an insightful article, Mullins tells how one of his parishioners—a biomedical engineer who developed devices to help doctors detect early-stage cancer—was considering a career change to become a pastor or missionary. He told Mullins, “I don’t want to waste my life. I want to do something that has real significance, where I can glorify God and actually love people.”
Mullins says this faulty perspective was not for lack of hearing sermons on God’s view of work. He writes,
At our church, we preach the lordship of Christ over all aspects of life, offer classes about the theology of work, and repeat our favorite phrase every Sunday: “All of life is all for Jesus.”
After mulling why the message about the broad scope of the gospel and its implications for work wasn’t getting through to the engineer, Mullins had a revelation.
I realized that the issue wasn’t with what he heard, but with what he saw. He frequently heard teaching about the importance of vocation and all-of-life discipleship, but he never saw anyone’s work—apart from pastoral, missionary, and nonprofit work—publicly celebrated.
Pastors are awakening to the importance of helping people integrate faith and work. But it’s going to take more than sermons and classes to inculcate a biblical theology of work. Like the engineer, most of us need not only to hear that our work is important to God, we need to see it honored and celebrated as well.
Over the past four years, Barna Group research commissioned by LeTourneau University’s Center for Faith & Work has uncovered some important trends.
In 2011 our research …
- Nearly all (93 percent) of pastors said that helping people integrate faith into daily work is “very important.”
- Two-thirds (68 percent) of those pastors questioned their understanding of workplace issues.
- Only half (49 percent) of churchgoing, employed Christians “strongly agreed” that their church provided information, guidance, and support to live out faith at work.
- One in four (26 percent) of pastors said their sermons addressed faith at work.
- Fewer than one in ten (8 percent) of pastors said they provided prayer support for workplace issues.
- Only a fraction (3 percent) of pastors reported visiting their members at work.
Fast forward three years and note increases our new research reveals.
In 2014 …
- Over one-third (36 percent) of senior Protestant pastors say they preached a sermon on what the Bible says about God’s view of work within the past month.
- An additional 36 percent say they have preached on work in the past six months.
- In all, 86 percent of pastors have preached a sermon within the last year that focused on what the Bible says about God’s view of work, and specifically on how one’s faith should impact one’s work.
According to Peel, “These findings indicate a significant surge in the attention pastors are giving to the importance of faith and work—an encouraging trend indeed! However, there’s a still a gap between what parishioners are hearing about the importance of their work to God, and they are seeing.”
The new research shows that, apart from pastoral and missionary work, little attention has been paid to publicly celebrating the work most parishioners do between Sundays.
- During the last year, fewer than one in five (18 percent) of churches publicly dedicated or commissioned their members to serve God in the places where they work.
“I believe that this gap between what is preached and what is celebrated continues to cloud how people assess the value of their work to God,” says Peel.
- Over two-thirds (70 percent) of Christians still cannot envision how the work they do serves God.
- Almost four out of five church-goers (78 percent) doubt that the work they do is equal in importance to the work of a pastor or priest.
“Clearly, increased preaching and teaching about faith and work is a positive, praiseworthy step, but much more is needed. Churches must become fully engaged in shaping people spiritually for the workplace. A powerful next step is to schedule time in worship services to publicly celebrate all kinds of work that advance God’s creation,” advises Peel. “This simple action can help people connect God’s truth with their work in life-changing ways.”
Find ideas for conducting a commissioning service by clicking here.
ABOUT THE RESEARCH
The 2014 data about pastors originated through research conducted by Barna Group of Ventura, California. The questions were commissioned by the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University. The PastorPollSM included 602 telephone interviews conducted among a representative sample of senior pastors of Protestant churches from within the continental U.S. The telephone interviews were conducted from June 3 through June 13, 2014. The sampling error for PastorPollSM is +/-4 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level. The cooperation rate in the PastorPollSM was 96%.
The 2014 data about church-goers originated through research conducted by Barna Group of Ventura, California. The questions were commissioned by the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University. The OmniPollSM included 1,036 online surveys conducted among a representative, nationwide sample of adults ages 18 and older. The online interviews were conducted from September 2 through September 10, 2014. The sampling error for OmniPollSM is +/-3.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The participation rate in the Fall 2014 OmniPollSM was 95%.
The 2011 data about pastors originated through research conducted by Barna Group of Ventura, California. The questions were commissioned by the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University. The PastorPollSM included 646 telephone interviews conducted among a representative sample of senior pastors of Protestant and Catholic churches from within the 48 continental United States. The survey was conducted from May 26, 2011 through June 20, 2011. The sampling error for this PastorPollSM is +/-4% at the 95% confidence level.
The 2011 data about church-goers originated through research conducted by Barna Group of Ventura, California. The questions were commissioned by the Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University. The OmniPollSM included 1,007 telephone interviews conducted among a representative sample of adults over the age of 18 within the 48 continental states. The survey was conducted from August 1, 2011 through August 14, 2011. Only those adults who self-identified as Christian or Catholic, who attended church in the past six months, and who were employed full-time or part-time qualified to participate in the module of questions for LeTourneau University. In this study, a total of 350 adults qualified to participate. The sampling error for a sample of this size (n=350) is plus or minus 5.2 percentage points, at the 95% confidence level.
Yes, for the second day in a row I am ripping off Dr Dale Meyer, but for good reason, because it brought up an issue that is important regarding worship. Dr Meyer’s commentary is first and then my slant on the reasons why I preach from the pulpit.
Meyer Minute for November 21
Here’s a question I’m often asked. “Does the Seminary teach students to preach in or out of the pulpit?” This ranks right up there with the other great questions of the universe. Why does God hide Himself from us? Why does God permit suffering? How can Christianity claim to be the only true religion and only way to heaven? Catch my sarcasm?
We have chapel services on campus every weekday. Most chapel sermons are delivered from the pulpit but it’s not unusual for the preacher to stand in the center of the chancel or even down in the aisle. I teach preaching and always get the question, “What about preaching out of the pulpit?” There are, I answer, logistical considerations. For example, if you’re standing in the aisle, can the people on the flanks or in the balcony see you? There are deeper considerations. What is the congregation used to? If they’re used to one way or the other, is this an issue worthy of controversy? Ask the elders, I tell them. But going farther, my sarcasm getting the better of me, why do you ask? I’ve learned that they imagine that standing out of the pulpit somehow means being relevant. I also hear lay people say, “We love our pastor. He preaches out of the pulpit.” Huh? The real issue is what he’s preaching! A compelling sermon from God’s Word will be compelling wherever it’s delivered from. A sermon of theological jargon that doesn’t speak to life will be irrelevant wherever it comes from.
In my mind it comes down to this. To congregation members: Are we so at home with one worship style that we get upset by something different? Aren’t we driven to come to church by this question, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) To students: Don’t make the pulpit the hill you’ll die on, or off. Instead, make God’s Word so applicable to people’s lives that they’ll listen intently wherever you are. In or out? Sounds like a belly-button question, naval gazing. I’m desperate to know more God, wherever the preacher stands.
My thoughts on why I preach a certain way – Pastor Jim Driskell
I certainly get Dr Meyer’s point, well I kind of have to, he’s the one that taught my Homiletics II course, I passed. Fits with my philosophy of life “Semper Gumby”, always flexible. You do have to factor in the situation, the hearers, survey all the considerations. All things being equal, I do prefer the pulpit. It’s not due to some ego need, but I also have to remember what I’m doing there. Richard Foster asked the rather germaine question; “Am I a minister of the people or of Christ.” I’m called “minister” because I represent Jesus to His church, His people. Yea, sometimes you do have to come down and get right in the middle of people. But as I’ve been discussing for awhile, it’s not our “comfort” that it’s about, it’s how we glorify the Lord and pick a part of His earthly ministry and you can see that He was terribly concerned about our “comfort” He was concerned that we are growing, that we are becoming mature in Jesus. How does that apply here? I feel it’s my duty in as many ways as possible to remind people of the Lordship of Jesus. Not that He’s aloof, or separated from us, He’s not, as baptized children who eat Jesus’ Body and drink His blood, we could not be closer or more apart of anyone. But we also let ourselves get way to buddy-buddy with Jesus and we forget what He’s done, continues to do and what He will do. He told us that when He returns He will return in His glory, we know that He rules in glory from heaven. If He chooses to treat us as His friends, and He told us He did, that’s His call and I would certainly welcome it. But as His minister, as one who has been chosen to represent Him and bring Him due honor in front of His people, that’s what my aim is. That when we are in worship together we all know that it’s Jesus who is with us, who is using me to preach. I may not be that great as I conduct worship and I may not be worthy of that tremendous privilege and duty, but I strive to do it to the best of my ability and I want people coming in and thinking about our Great King and I intend to honor Him that way and leave it to Him if He chooses some other way. So Dr Meyer’s point is well taken, if you are in worship, be there for the right reasons. It does none of us any good to get hung up on whether I’m in a pulpit, wandering around, yada, yada. Be focused on what God’s doing, that, hopefully, He is using me to preach His word and I’m doing it well enough and you are getting a message that will lift you and encourage you, know that our great and powerful God is in control and watching over you and to bring Jesus to all you know. In the meantime I will faithfully do what I can to honor Him.