Essential Church Work

Many pastors have experience leading large groups of people through major changes. Some do it exceptionally well. Those who do not often find themselves without a job. One of the things that make our work (and many non-profits) different from your standard business is that we do the bulk of our work with volunteers.

You can fire volunteers as easily as employees, but it is harder to recruit them than it is to hire. You can also fire donors, but it is difficult to replace them as well.

How the World Sees the Church

When the secular world looks at the church and compares it to a business, they see:

Pastors = CEO

Volunteers = Employees

Donors = Customers

This is not a biblical model of church. It is not what Jesus asked us to do. It looks a lot like the temple that Jesus turned the tables over in and chased out the merchants. Jesus did not deem that essential.

In fact, the first disciples were arrested for preaching in that temple. (Acts 4)

How Jesus Built the Church

Jesus invested in people, not places. He made disciples who made disciples. He was the carpenter who did not build buildings, teaching fishermen to leave their nets and fish for people. His ministry was small and mobile and it impacted an entire nation. The ministry of his disciples may have been even smaller and more mobile, and it impacted the world.

I don’t believe that the main factor is size or mobility. I think the determining factor is faithfulness in passing on the message and the mission to disciples – regardless of how long it takes or where they may be located. That is the essential work of the Church.

The pandemic has not stopped, changed, or even paused that work. We are always looking for innovative ways to help us make disciples better and more faithfully. We do not have customers, we have disciples making other disciples – passing along the same message and mission that we received from those who received it from Jesus.

What is “Essential”?

essential (from


absolutely necessary; indispensable: Discipline is essential in an army. pertaining to or constituting the essence of a thing.noting or containing an essence of a plant, drug, etc. being such by its very nature or in the highest sense; natural; spontaneous: essential happiness.


a basic, indispensable, or necessary element; chief point: Concentrate on essentials rather than details.

How have we defined “essential”?

Essential work and essential workers are not labeled because they are more important than other workers in our society. They are labeled so because the functions they serve are less flexible in the ways they perform their jobs.

For example, we need law enforcement and traffic control, even while under shelter-in-place orders. In theory, it might be possible to utilize drones to monitor traffic speeds and activity, and to issue fines based on license plate numbers, assuming everyone is driving their own vehicles. However, that falls apart rather quickly as a strategy. In addition, many of their other duties require in-person work even more.

By contrast, the IT industry has perhaps become even more essential since the pandemic. Yet many of these workers were some of the first to move to working from home. In fact, many of them already worked from home before the pandemic hit. Are they essential? Yes. Is their work essential? Definitely. Are they stuck in a very strict pattern of how they have to do that essential work? No.

Essential work and essential workers are not labeled because they are more important than other workers in our society. They are labeled so because the functions they serve are less flexible in the ways they perform their jobs.

I think it is right to honor our healthcare workers. I think we need to cheer on our teachers who are not counted as essential workers in this time. I think we should celebrate the extra precautions that our grocery and major retail workers are doing to keep us supplied. Let’s look for the others who are helping us stay #HealthyAtHome during this time and celebrate them as well.

I do NOT think this is a time to be in economic competition, racing to see who can get back to bringing in money again… and I especially think the Church has no business being in that business.

Making Disciples is Essential

Either the Church has always been essential, and needs to follow the government regulations set out for all the other essential businesses, or we are not “pandemic essential.” We should be free to make disciples of Jesus Christ in ways that promote the safety of our communities and show love to all the people we are helping follow us as we follow Jesus.

I cannot speak for Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or any other religion that holds a building, a place, or physical objects as a focus of worship. It may be that, for them to express their freedom of religious belief, they need to meet together in a particular building, sing special songs while taking in works of art, and receive teaching on certain days and times. Other faiths may need that, and their houses of worship may need unique categorization by the state.

For us, Jesus is essential. Most of the details of our worship are not.

Our work never stopped. We did not miss Easter. We celebrate our Living Savior’s victory over sin and death every day! Our work is essential, but it is not stuck trying to re-save the same people over and over again week after week. We are making disciples, anywhere and everywhere, and making sure we are discipling them to follow Jesus and not just our own personal ways of life.

As churches in your community make plans to begin in-person worship again, who are they thinking about as they make those plans? Who are they not thinking about?

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