Review: Work and Worship

Work and Worship: Reconnecting Our Labor and Liturgy, Matthew Kaemingk and Cory B. Willson (Foreword by Nicholas Wolterstorff). Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2020.

Summary: Proposes that a theology of work is not enough. In scripture, people were formed in their work through worship rather than simply an intellectual engagement.

Many of us have believed there is a disconnect between Sunday and Monday through Saturday. Our answer has been to develop a Christian theology of work. A variety of books have been published (I posted such a list recently). The assumption has been that if we can get our thinking about work right, then we will follow Christ as disciples in our work. We organize Bible studies, book studies and adult education courses. We have created marketplace ministries. And this has been helpful.

The authors of this book affirm these efforts but believe there is a missing element. It is the connection between worship and work. They observe that how the people of Israel and how followers of Jesus were formed in the ways they worked was through their worship. And they brought their work into their worship through thanksgiving, through offerings, and through prayers for God’s blessing of the work of their hands. Then they brought their worship into their work. Sadly, worship often fails the workers in the pews. It is institutionalized, spiritualized, individualistic, saccharine, passive, privatized, and mainly designed as a fueling stop. The lack of connection of work and worship leads workers to conclude that work doesn’t matter to the mission of God. This is essentially the first part of the book.

The second part of the book shows the way work and worship were integrated in scripture and the life of the early church. The Pentateuch shows the bringing of work into worship, especially in the form of offerings. The Psalms may be seen then as singing God’s work into ours. The prophets denounce the destruction of the connection of work and worship through idolatry and through injustices toward workers while maintaining the façade of worship. Turning to the early church, they consider the very earthy gatherings of early believers in homes in the context of meals in which people brought various fruits of their work to help fellow believers and then in the Lord’s table were nourished by the work of Christ. Likewise, the street processionals of the early church in the early centuries engaged the market place, the economy of their cities in liturgy.

With this background, the authors then consider practices in which work and worship may be integrated in the contemporary liturgical context. They begin with seven actions of workers in the Eucharist or Lord’s table: examine, approach, thank, receive, share, hold, and consume. They then discuss how people are prepared to approach and how worship space may be configured. They suggest five ways of bringing work tangibly into worship: trumpets of praise, ashes of confession, tears of lament, petition for the workplace, and the fruit of their work. They include examples of a variety of prayers for the workplace. Finally, they consider how workers are scattered to their work.

Throughout the text are a variety of sidebars offering examples from various contexts of the topics under discussion. Sometimes, I find sidebars distracting. Not here. These were both relevant and beautifully illustrated the ideas of the text. Some are prayers or songs or stories or practices. I appreciated the pointer to The Porter’s Gate Worship Project and particularly their collection of work songs.

More than this, I appreciate the focus in this book of not simply developing worship for workers, but worship with workers, and affirming how the workers in our pews are also priests of God bringing their work (and other workers) to God and bringing God into their work places. The book helped open my eyes to how we cannot bridge the disconnect between Sunday and Monday through Saturday only through theologies of work. For many, that theology must first be lived out and given voice in our worship. Ora et Labora (pray and work) is not simply the rule of the monastery. It needs to be the rule for us all. This is a wonderful resource to begin to bring our prayers and our work together.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.