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Ordinary Work, Extraordinary Impact

Dr Dion A. Forster is an Associate Professor in Public Theology and Ethics at the University of Stellenbosch. He has written numerous books and articles on the theology of work.

Whenever I tell someone about the origins of the largest prayer movement in modern history, I cannot help but smile. In the media and in many Christian circles, the story of the Global Day of Prayer begins with a devoted Christian businessman, Graham Power, and the vision God gave him to hire a 50,000-seater rugby stadium in Cape Town – calling tens of thousands of people to a day of public repentance and prayer (based on 2 Chronicles 7:14). Indeed, Graham is central to this story. Without his deep faith and boldness, that event may never have taken place. Yes, it was from that single prayer event on 21 March 2001 in South Africa that the Day of Prayer spread across the world in the next ten years, to become a global event.

However, the story really starts a few years earlier, with one woman. Long before that first prayer gathering, long before Graham gave his life to Christ, God was at work in and through Graham’s assistant, Eleanor. She knew that she did not have to be a pastor of a church, or a CEO of a company, to be part of God’s plan. All that God wanted from her was faith and obedience. God had shown Eleanor that she was to pray specifically for Graham, and to witness to him in a way that he would come to know the saving and transforming power of Jesus. (You can read about Eleanor in chapter 10 of Graham’s book, Transform Your Work Life.)

There are a wide variety of Christian initiatives that seek to intentionally discover God’s will for the world of work, and partner with God in achieving the aims of the Kingdom. Some have an overtly Christian identity – such as prayer or evangelism initiatives and Bible study groups. Others are based on Biblical foundations, but fit into the secular environment – such as initiatives that address issues of ethics, economics, or justice, or aim at broader societal transformation. Many of these initiatives are built around people with influence – senior business leaders, public figures, wealthy investors, or powerful politicians. Of course, they can achieve a great deal of good for the Kingdom! However, if we only focus on influential and powerful women and men, we will miss what God is doing (and wanting to do) in our communities. There are far more employees than CEOs. Surely God has a purpose for ‘ordinary’ people in ‘ordinary’ positions?[1]

Miroslav Volf, the Yale theologian, wrote a wonderful book entitled Work In The Spirit. The central argument is that for the Christian, all work that is done in the power of the Spirit is mission work – it is part of the missio Dei. The word missio means ‘work’, so work in the Spirit is partnering with God. The apostle Paul understood the significance of ‘ordinary workers’ as agents of mission when he wrote to the Christians in Colossae, saying, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23–24 NIV).

So, if you are not called to lead a church or a business, then I want to consider that God may be calling you to be a partner in His mission right where you are. In the Kingdom you don’t need a certain position, or a certain title, or particular training, to be part of the missio Dei. All that you need is a decision – that your primary reason for living and working is to honour Jesus. It takes commitment to love the people among whom you live and work. It is a choice to do every task (even the ones that wear you down) with Christian love, saying, ‘Lord, I am doing this for you. Place me where you will, give me whatever task you need done, and I will do it with love, passion and commitment.’ It takes discernment to see what God is doing (or wanting to do) where you are now.

Imagine that just for one day Jesus were to live your life – He wakes up in your home, prepares for your day, does your job, among the people you work with. How would Jesus live your ordinary day differently from you? How would He deal with the people you meet each day? How would He perform your work to God’s glory? It will take some imagination and courage to cultivate a Christ-like perspective on your colleagues, your daily tasks, and your workplace. But when you discover how to live every moment as Jesus would, it is a loving force that cannot be stopped!

Finally, let me ask pastors, and Christians in positions of influence in the world of work: what can you do to teach, envision and support the ‘ordinary workers’ you have contact with for lives of passionate Christian service?[2] It might just be, that as with Eleanor, God is waiting to perform a great miracle – starting with an assistant before turning to the CEO.



[1] Dion A. Forster and Johann W. Oostenbrink, “Where Is the Church on Monday? Awakening the Church to the Theology and Practice of Ministry and Mission in the Marketplace,” In Die Skriflig 49, no. 3 (2015): 1–8.

[2] Dion A. Forster, “Reflecting on the Nature of Work in Contemporary South Africa: A Public Theological Engagement with Calling and Vocation,” HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies 76, no. 2 (August 20, 2020): 10,

Dr Dion Forster

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