Pastor of the playground, or How to join God in the work He’s doing in the world

I was listening to a friend talk about the frustrations of being an elementary school recess duty. In doing her job, she spent most of her time trying to enforce playground rules, which meant she was always mad at kids for breaking them.

Neither she nor the kids were enjoying each other. It was a miserable arrangement. So, I suggested, “How about thinking of yourself as their pastor?”

That’s all it took. It’s amazing how receptive people can be sometimes, how willing to receive advice and to try it out. (I wish I did that more.) She got the idea and stepped right into it.

The change was immediate. Not only did her job become far more enjoyable, she did it better and the kids liked her more. It didn’t make everything perfect, but seeing them and her work among them through pastoral eyes made a subtle but significant change to everything.

There are similar changes each of us can make, moving from maintenance roles into missional roles.

To help the congregation I pastored to make similar changes in their workday lives, every Sunday for a year, I took time during worship to interview someone about what they do. By hearing the same four questions asked every Sunday, each person had the chance to ask themselves the same questions and to hear someone answer them from their context.

The questions are:

What do you do?

How does it join God in what he’s doing in the world?

What difficulties do you encounter in doing it?

How can we support and pray for you as you do it?

And once each interview was over, we would pray for the person, commissioning him or her to that work, promising to support them in this ministry God had given to them.

The hardest part of all this was answering the second question, seeing what they were doing as part of what God is doing in the world.

Not everything we do is ministry, in fact some of the things we do are anti-ministry. But everything we do can be ministry.

Dealing drugs is not ministry. But dealing with drug dealers can be ministry.

Being a pastor of a church is not necessarily ministry. In some cases, it’s merely shopkeeping or much worse. But it certainly has been ministry for many.

Being a teacher is not necessarily ministry. In some cases, teachers can be antagonistic toward kids in their classes as many of us can testify to. But teaching has certainly been ministry for many as loads of us can testify to.

One of the guys in the congregation is a health inspector. So, when I brought him forward for his interview, he wore a t-shirt that said, “Don’t eat poop!” He said that though the goal of his job/ministry is to protect the health of the community, he does it mainly by enforcing hand-washing and sanitation rules in restaurants, keeping servers from contaminating food after using the restroom. But what was great was his ability to see his work as part of the saving work of our Lord. Sure, it’s not soul-saving. But like the exodus and the healing miracles of Jesus, it’s body-saving, life-saving work. As such, it joins God in the work he’s doing in the world.

What makes a job ministry is both what is done and how it is done.

Some ways of making money are inherently destructive and need to be stopped. Conning elderly people out of their savings will always be evil. But there are those who are employed in jobs that could be wonderfully helpful but do them in ways that grab for power and/or personal gain instead of offering humble service. They can continue in their same jobs, but need to make the change that the playground duty made, taking on a pastoral, service-oriented role, taking to heart the words of Jesus: “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do has I have done for you” (John 13:14-15).

This is how we become pastors of the playground, the health inspector’s office, the classroom, the boardroom, the home. This is how we join God in the work he’s doing in the world.