How can pastors help their church members overcome the sacred-secular divide? Intersect Project editor Nathaniel Williams addressed this question and more on the Theologian of the Boss podcast. In their conversation, they discuss the sacred-secular divide, faith and work, favorite books and more.
Listen to the audio above, or read key excerpts below (edited for clarity):
On the sacred-secular divide.
When you’re having the conversation about faith and work, there are several places you can start. One of them is this sacred-secular divide. The idea, if I could say it simply, is that the only things that really matter are the churchy things. So we have our churchy stuff, the things we do on Sunday — we read our Bible, we pray, those kind of things. And then we have the rest of our lives, the secular stuff — our work, art, culture, economics, politics.
So we have divided these two. The sacred things are the churchy stuff. The secular is all the rest…. In our culture this idea leads to a couple of things. One, it leads to compartmentalization, or the privatization of faith. When we don’t see how faith matters to our work, money, work or politics, we tend to view faith as something we put in a box. We dig it out on Sunday when we put on our suit and tie and go to church, but then we put it back in a box and go about our daily lives. And the rest of our lives aren’t affect by our faith.
But Dr. Bruce Ashford, the provost at Southeastern Seminary who is involved in the Intersect Project, put it this way: In scripture, faith and spirituality and the gospel is an issue of the heart. It’s not just something we can compartmentalize. Faith, when it’s an issue of the heart, radiates outward into everything that we do.
So if we rightly understand how faith is an issue of the heart, and it radiates into everything that we do, then that also means it radiates into our work, our pocket books and how we engage politics.
Part of what we want to do with Intersect is to break down the sacred-secular divide…. If the only things that really matter are the churchy stuff, and if your job is not in a churchy atmosphere (you’re not a Bible teacher or pastor), then you spend 40 to 50 hours of your week doing [your work] and not the churchy stuff. So there’s a sense of guilt that the things I’m doing in my life are not as valuable as the pastor does.
When we see that faith really does matter to everything we do, including our work, including what we do in the lumber yard, what we teach kids in kindergarten, or whatever we do, it removes that sense of guilt and gives us a sense of purpose for our lives.
You’re not “just” anything.
When people say, “I am just a ____.” It’s a little word, but there’s a lot of meaning there. There’s a lot of hopelessness behind that word. But really there is no such thing as I am “just a something.” Paul makes an argument, talking about the body of Christ, that all parts are valuable. I think we can see that in our vocations as well. All our vocations are valuable.
For example, during seminary I worked as a janitor at a large church in Raleigh. It was good for me to do this, a very humbling experience. I look at our church facilities differently now because of that time. But I would work and clean toilets all day long. And I would look around and see, in my eyes, exciting ministry happening. But I wasn’t a part of it; I was the one cleaning toilets, or I was the one cleaning the rooms after it, or setting up the rooms beforehand. So I wrestled with a sense of inadequacy. Why am I at this point? Why am I not over there doing the exciting stuff?
But then over the years I’ve come to look back at that time and see that it was ministry. There was no “just” to it. I was not just a janitor. What I was doing was, to use the words of someone else, waging biological warfare. If those bathrooms weren’t clean, then those functions couldn’t happen there. The ministry couldn’t happen there. People would get sick.
That’s just one example, but I think we can see that in all our vocations.
How break down mindset that pastor is somehow better than others?
First off, he’s got to get it himself. You have to understand it. For me, one of the most helpful passages is Ephesians 4:11-12:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
Paul is saying here that the role of the pastor, or the shepherd, or the teacher, or the elder, is to equip others for ministry. To equip them for ministry in the church, yes, but also in their families, their communities, and their workplaces.
So if I get it in my own mind that my work is not superior to others, but there is in a sense a centrality of those of us who minister with the word. A centrality, but not a superiority. My role is to feed the word to others so they can then do the ministry. If we think about ministry that way, as opposed to the guy up high and everyone else down low, it helps us to see our own position. We’re all on the same playing field; we just serve different functions.
On how pastors unintentionally communicate.
Pastors communicate a lot by what they say and they don’t say. For example, I have pastor friends on Facebook, Godly men who serve their flocks with the love of Christ. But the things they talk about are almost exclusively ministry-related stuff. Or the articles they share are almost exclusively things like, “7 Burdens You Didn’t Know Your Pastor Was Facing,” or those kinds of things. (There’s an entire industry out there that gives pastors a pat on the back, if that makes sense.)
Now there’s nothing wrong with that, obviously. But people get the sense that, “Man what he does is so important.” But it’s no different than the stresses other people are facing.
My wife has been a public school teacher, and I know from her experience that the stresses and things I face are in no way more than the stresses and stuff that she faces. They’re just different. If we can communicate that — We’re just like you, we just serve a little bit differently. You have struggles in your workplace. You have struggles in your job. — and if we can validate those experiences, that can go a long ways to helping people see that we’re on the same playing field.