Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy Sherman

Kingdom Calling by Amy L. ShermanKingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good by Amy L. Sherman, Reggie McNeal, Steven Garber. IVP Books. 272 pages. 2011

I read this book for my Calling, Vocation and Work class at Covenant Seminary in the summer of 2013. It was my favorite of the four books we had to read that week. I highlighted a number of passages from the book as I read it and would like to share some of them with you:

  • In other words, kingdom callings play out in all of life, because that’s where life plays out!
  • The vast majority of evangelicals perched atop their career ladders in various social sectors displayed a profoundly anemic vision for what they could accomplish for the kingdom of God. And that made me cry.
  • Keller (Tim) explained that the “righteous” (Hebrew tsaddiqim) are the just, the people who follow God’s heart and ways and who see everything they have as gifts from God to be stewarded for his purposes. Keller wrote, “The righteous in the book of Proverbs are by definition those who are willing to disadvantage themselves for the community while the wicked are those who put their own economic, social, and personal needs ahead of the needs of the community.”
  • First, it means that many churches need to have a more robust, comprehensive view of what they should be aiming at missionally. Second, it means that churches need to take vocation much more seriously.
  • God has lavished all this on us for a reason: that we would use it for the common good, not for individual gain.
  • By vocational stewardship, I mean the intentional and strategic deployment of our vocational power-knowledge, platform, networks, position, influence, skills and reputation-to advance foretastes of God’s kingdom.
  • There are very few churches that have strong, intentional systems for deploying their people’s time and their talent.
  • We must do a better job of inspiring our members about the role they can play in the mission of God and equipping them to live missionally through their vocation.
  • Preeminently, the preview passages reveal that the consummated kingdom is marked by two major, closely related features: justice and shalom. A rejoiced city, therefore, is one where ever-greater tastes of justice and shalom are made real.
  • When the righteous prosper, justice prevails. The tsaddiqim seek to bring into reality three dimensions of justice that mark the consummated kingdom. Rescue, equity and restoration.
  • Rescue. The consummated kingdom is marked by the end of all oppression. In it, the poor, the innocent and the helpless will be rescued from all the grim realities they face at the hands of violent oppressors.
  • The work of rescue is about remedying these sorts of violent injustice. It involves identifying, exposing and transforming situations where there is an abuse of power, typically perpetuated through coercion and deception.
  • Equity. The second dimension of justice we see in the preview passages is equity. Equity is not a simple word to define. It denotes fairness and impartiality. Equity is about ensuring that the poor and weak are not disproportionately burdened by society’s common problems. It is about promoting public policies that do not favor the rich over the poor but treat people equally. It is about avoiding policies that unfairly burden the poor and weak.
  • Restoration. The third dimension of biblical justice we see in the grand story of creation/Fall/redemption/consummation concerns restoration. That is to say, biblical justice is not solely concerned with the punishment of wrongdoing, but with the healing of wrongdoers and their restoration to the community.
  • A rejoiced city is marked by the three dimensions of justice noted above: rescue, equity and restoration. It is also a place where justice’s twin sister, shalom, is evident in increasing measure.
  • Theologian Cornelius Plantinga Jr. defines shalom as “the webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight…. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or cease-fire among enemies. In the Bible shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight.”
  • The consummated kingdom is characterized by shalom in the four fundamental relationships of life: peace with God, peace with self, peace with others and peace with the creation.
  • Intimacy with God. At the center of our joy in the consummated kingdom will be our intimate relationship with God.
  • Beauty. In the new earth, nature’s comeliness will reach its pinnacle; the wilderness itself will burst into blossom, and streams will gush in the desert (Is 35). To complement all this natural beauty, human culture will flourish.
  • Health/wholeness. How wonderful it will be in the age to come when we enjoy freedom from the decay of our bodies.
  • Hope. There is a way in which all the preview passages are about hope. All make promises about what the glorious future life in the new heavens and new earth will be like. They speak to us in the midst of our pain and assure us that none who hope in the Lord will be disappointed.
  • Comfort. God cares about the wounded in spirit.
  • Unity. In the consummated kingdom, we will experience deeper, richer, more satisfying community with other people.
  • Security/lack of violence. One day, God will cause all wars to cease (Ps 46:9). In the new heavens and new earth, swords will be remade into plowshares (Mic 4:3).
  • Economic flourishing. The new heaven and new earth will be a place of economic bounty. All people will have access to the resources needed for their economic well-being.
  • Sustainability. So many of the preview passages speak of the healing of the creation itself as God restores what was once barren.
  • The preview passages we’ve examined here are beautiful, inspiring and hopeful. Missional leaders can use them to cast vision powerfully among their congregants for the work of rejoicing the city through vocational stewardship.
  • On the one hand, some parishioners might wrongly assume that they (or the church) can “just do it.” That is, they may vastly underestimate what it takes to usher in these foretastes of justice and shalom. On the other hand, we must not allow parishioners to believe that, because the full vision of the preview passages won’t by realized until the “age to come,” we don’t need to do anything now.
  • To put it succinctly, we need to remember that the kingdom of God is both now and not yet.
  • A central premise of this book is that the average middle-class (or wealthier) Christian in America has been blessed with much from God-skills, wealth, opportunity, vocational position, education, influence, networks. We are, in short, the prospering. The purpose of all these blessings is simple to state and difficult to live: we are blessed to be a blessing. Our generous heavenly Father desires us to deploy our time, talents and treasure to offer others foretastes of the coming kingdom. Those who do so are called the tsaddiqim, the righteous.
  • In studying the biblical scholarship on this concept, I’ve found that it is helpful to see righteousness as expressing itself in three dimensions or directions: up, in and out.
  • By “up” I mean that “vertical” dimension of righteousness that involves our reverent worship of and humble dependence on God. By “in” I mean the state of our hearts: the internal characteristics of righteousness captured by the phrase “purity in heart” and expressed through personal righteousness (what the wisdom literature calls “clean hands”). By “out” I mean the social dimensions of righteousness, that part of righteousness involving our interactions with our neighbors near and far. This comprehensive expression of righteousness marks the tsaddiqim.
  • The tsaddiqim live Godward. That is, the central orientation of their life is toward God. The tsaddiqim are deeply humble. The Godward orientation of the tsaddiqim also means that they have an eternal perspective.
  • First, this “vertical” righteousness means that we affirm that the purpose of life is glorifying God, not self. That is enormously relevant, practical and countercultural in our workaday world, since at the very core of most modern “career counseling” is devotion to self-fulfillment.
  • Second, a Godward orientation means that in stewarding their vocations, the tsaddiqim do not fall into idolizing their jobs or the organizations they work for. Not idolizing work also means that the tsaddiqim seek discernment about the limits of their loyalties to their employer.
  • Third, this vertical dimension of righteousness means that we seek to do our work in active, functional, daily reliance on the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Relatedly, the tsaddiqim do their work “heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col 3:23 NASB).
  • Finally, because the righteous are fundamentally Godward in their orientation, they view their work in eschatological terms.
  • They are confident in God’s promise to make everything new (Rev 21:5). They trust that in their work they participate in the new creation, even if that very glorious idea is somewhat mysterious to them.
  • The second aspect of righteousness concerns the state of our own hearts. This aspect involves both right personal conduct and, importantly, holy motivations and dispositions.
  • Personal righteousness also involves the zealous pursuit of “putting off” the old self and “putting on” the new self that is spoken of in Colossians 3.
  • The righteous are also deeply grateful people who understand that all they are and all they have comes from God.
  • The internal dimension of righteousness also involves the disposition of our hearts toward compassion and mercy.
  • The Fall has affected both our work itself and the environment in which we do it. Because of the Fall, work has become toilsome and sometimes feels futile. Because of the Fall, both we Christians and our nonbelieving coworkers are sinners.
  • Christians sometimes find themselves confronted by coworkers whose lives are dissipated or bosses who are dishonest. They may face pressure to lie to customers or vendors or shareholders. They may work in an environment where everyone cheats on their expense reports. They may face sexual temptations from handsome coworkers.
  • In any of these cases, the point is that the righteous educate themselves about the conditions of the vulnerable.
  • So far we’ve examined the vertical and internal/personal aspects of righteousness. Also mandatory for the tsaddiqim is what we might call social righteousness. Social righteousness is about how we treat our neighbors near and far.
  • Part of looking out involves considering the needs of those among whom we work. First, we simply have to see them.
  • Looking “out” also involves considering the needs of all the stakeholders in our work, such as vendors, customers, partners, investors or neighbors (people living in the communities where our employing organization’s facilities are). The call to do justice is applicable in all these relationships.
  • Finally, looking out means taking seriously our potential role in encouraging institutional transformation. This begins within our own workplace.
  • The church is supposed to be a collection of the tsaddiqim-people of deep personal piety and intense passion for the kingdom of God.
  • In many of our churches, our gospel is too small. The glorious truths celebrated in this too-narrow gospel do not, in themselves, capture the full, grand, amazing scope of Jesus’ redemptive work. For Jesus came preaching not just this gospel of personal justification but the gospel of the kingdom.
  • One of the ways the too-narrow gospel permeates evangelicalism is through contemporary worship music. The incomplete gospel is not only preached from pulpits but also sung by worship bands.
  • Not only is the me-and-Jesus gospel reinforced in many popular worship songs, it also permeates a good deal of the most popular Christian books. Just as much worship music does little to move us beyond the individualistic, narrow gospel, many “Christian living” books reinforce that me-and-Jesus mindset.
  • With a reductionist understanding of the good news, Sider wrote, too many believers think they can simply accept the gospel and then “go on living the same adulterous, materialistic, racist life” that they lived before.” His 2006 book The Great Omission is based on the claim that, because the narrow gospel prevails in evangelicalism, we gain converts but not followers of Jesus.
  • This too-narrow gospel focuses believers missionally only on the work of “soul winning.” It has little to say about Jesus’ holistic ministry or the comprehensive nature of his work of restoration. It focuses on the problem of personal sin only, thus intimating that sanctification is a matter only of personal morality (rather than that plus social justice). It focuses believers on getting a ticket to heaven, but doesn’t say much about what their life in this world should look like. Put differently, it focuses only on what we’ve been saved from, rather than also telling us what we’ve been saved for.
  • If the too-narrow gospel is the first reason we aren’t the tsaddiqim, the closely related second reason is our inadequate views of heaven.
  • Against the popular view of heaven as an ethereal existence on clouds, the biblical view is that God will remake both heaven and earth and join them together forever.
  • Distorted understandings of heaven and the afterlife have a corrosive effect on Christians’ thinking about how to live this life in our routine, workaday world.
  • This truth has immense significance for our vocational life. What we do in the present-“painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself-will last into God’s future,” Wright says. Such activities are all a part of “what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”
  • The inquiry for this chapter is, Why aren’t more of us acting as the tsaddiqim?
  • With an inadequate theology-a truncated gospel-we don’t have a vision for living in alignment with the purposes of God’s kingdom.
  • Moreover, with a theology that’s all about getting a ticket to heaven for when I die, it’s not surprising that many Christians don’t show much interest in the question of how to live life now, in this world.
  • When our churches teach a salvation that is only from (from sin and death), it’s not hard to understand why so many believers don’t seem to know what salvation is for. And if we preach a gospel that is only, or mainly, about “saving souls,” we shouldn’t be shocked if we end up with congregations that are not very motivated to care for bodies and material needs.
  • Another key reason is that the very positions of prosperity and power that make possible righteous stewardship that can advance justice and shalom also serve as sirens calling us away from kingdom sacrifice.
  • Finally, beyond this issue of troubling temptations, Lindsay’s research identified another problem: the insulation of Christian professionals from people outside their socioeconomic class.
  • The too-narrow gospel we studied in the previous chapter doesn’t provide an adequate theological foundation for nurturing righteous Christ-followers who practice vocational stewardship. What’s needed instead is a strong presentation of Jesus’ gospel of the kingdom.
  • Congregants’ understanding of the gospel affects their views of three arenas crucial to living as the tsaddiqim: sanctification, evangelism and mission. This is why it is crucial that missional leaders preach the “big” gospel of the kingdom.
  • Sanctification. The big gospel helps us understand that sanctification is a matter of conforming not only to the character of Christ, but also to his passions and identity.
  • Moreover, genuine sanctification means that we intentionally identify with the identity of Jesus.
  • Evangelism. How we understand the gospel also shapes our approach to evangelism. Our presentation will include the vital good news of personal justification by faith in Christ’s atoning blood.
  • But we will also talk about the power of Jesus in redeeming all our fundamental relationships (with God, self, others and the earth).
  • Our gospel presentation will rejoice in Jesus’ victory over both the penalty of sin and the corruption of sin.
  • The gospel of the kingdom highlights the fundamental call for the church to join King Jesus on his mission of offering foretastes of justice and shalom. It shapes our understanding of the church’s mission in the world in four additional ways.
  • First, the gospel of the kingdom illuminates our Lord’s top three missional priorities. As articulated in his inaugural address in Luke 4, they are evangelism, compassion and justice. Second, the gospel of the kingdom draws us to holistic ministry, to addressing people’s spiritual and material needs. Third, the gospel of the kingdom shapes mission by encouraging us to think more “cosmically” about evil than does the too-narrow gospel.
  • It proclaims not only the redemption of individual sinners but also the destruction of the devil’s work and the restoring of all things.
  • Finally, the gospel of the kingdom shapes the direction of our mission. The big gospel presented through tools like James Choung’s Four Circles puts the mission of God, the missio Dei, front and center. We see that God is on the move, doing his work of restoring all things.
  • In short, although Christians aren’t hearing much about how to integrate faith and work in the pews, there’s a significant quantity of resources and organizations in the broader Christian community they can turn to.
  • Quadrant one: Ethics. Individuals and organizations in the ethics quadrant have primarily integrated faith at work “through attention to personal virtue, business ethics, and to broader questions of social and economic justice”.
  • Quadrant two: Evangelism. As the label suggests, people of faith in this quadrant are primarily interested in integrating their faith and their work through evangelistic efforts.
  • Quadrant three: Enrichment. The third theme in the FAW (Faith and Work) movement is personal transformation and spiritual nurture.
  • Quadrant four: Experience. This quadrant is composed of those FAW groups that examine questions of “vocation, calling, meaning, and purpose in and through their marketplace professions.”
  • A vital part of vocational stewardship for the common good is a focus by believers on transforming the institutions in which they work.
  • The average Christian professional sitting in the pew hears little from the pulpit or in Sunday school about how her life with God relates to her life at work. Lacking this guidance, some Christians simply “turn off’ their faith at work; they function as “practical atheists” on the job.
  • To inspire their flock about their daily work, congregational leaders need to start with the vital truth that work preceded the Fall. This truth is foundational for faithful vocational stewardship.
  • Work is not a result of humankind’s fall into sin. Work is central in Genesis 1 and 2. There it is-right in the midst of paradise, right in the picture of God’s intentions for how things ought to be.
  • Work is a gift from God. Work is something we were built for, something our loving Creator intends for our good. Work is not evil, nor is it a side effect of human beings are made in the image of God, and God is a worker. Human labor has intrinsic value because in it we “image,” or reflect, our Creator.
  • God’s labors include the following: • Redemptive work (God’s saving and reconciling actions). Humans participate in this kind of work, for example, as evangelists, pastors, counselors and peacemakers.
  • So do writers, artists, producers, songwriters, poets and actors who incorporate redemptive elements in their stories, novels, songs, films, performances and other works.
  • Creative work (God’s fashioning of the physical and human world). God gives humans creativity.
  • People in the arts (sculptors, actors, painters, musicians, poets and so on) display this, as do a wide range of craftspeople such as potters, weavers and seamstresses, as well as interior designers, metalworkers, carpenters, builders, fashion designers, architects, novelists and urban planners (and more).
  • Providential work (God’s provision for and sustaining of humans and the creation). Thus, innumerable individuals-bureaucrats, public utility workers, public policymakers, shopkeepers, career counselors, shipbuilders, farmers, firemen, repairmen, printers, transport workers, IT specialists, entrepreneurs, bankers and brokers, meteorologists, research technicians, civil servants, business school professors, mechanics, engineers, building inspectors, machinists, statisticians, plumbers, welders, janitors-and all who help keep the economic and political order working smoothly-reflect this aspect of God’s labor.
  • Justice work (God’s maintenance of justice). Judges, lawyers, paralegals, government regulators, legal secretaries, city managers, prison wardens and guards, policy researchers and advocates, law professors, diplomats, supervisors, administrators and law enforcement personnel participate in God’s work of maintaining justice.
  • Compassionate work (God’s involvement in comforting, healing, guiding and shepherding). Doctors, nurses, paramedics, psychologists, therapists, social workers, pharmacists, community workers, nonprofit directors, emergency medical technicians, counselors and welfare agents all reflect this aspect of God’s labor.
  • Revelatory work (God’s work to enlighten with truth). Preachers, scien-Lists, educators, journalists, scholars and writers are all involved in this sort of work.
  • Our work lasts. We saw earlier that a further reason why our work truly matters is because it lasts. Work-pleasurable, fruitful, meaningful work-will be an eternal reality.
  • Because we are fallen, we sometimes act as though success at work equates to a successful life. It doesn’t. Sometimes we make an idol of our careers. We need to repent. Sometimes we make decisions about jobs as though the ultimate purpose of work were self-fulfillment. It’s not. Sometimes we judge people’s worth based on their career position or status. We should seek God’s forgiveness. Sometimes we allow work-which is just one dimension of our lives-to crowd out family or worship or relationships or play or Sabbath. We must resist.
  • Christianity insists that our lives-including our work-are all about God and his work, his mission.
  • The diagram below paints a picture of what I call “the vocational sweet spot.” The sweet spot is that place where our gifts and passions intersect with God’s priorities and the world’s needs. To the greatest extent possible, Christians should seek to work there.
  • Platform. Some professions provide workers a voice, an opportunity to get a message out or to shine the spotlight on an issue, cause, person, place or organization.
  • Influence. In 2003, a book called The Influentials by Ed Keller and Jon Berry made the case that the kind of power known as influence-the capacity to cause an effect in indirect or intangible ways-is not synonymous with position.
  • Position is a dimension of vocational power that involves the degree of authority one has within an organization based on seniority or title or reputation.
  • Faithful vocational stewardship is not only about doing, it’s also about being.
  • A close reader of the last few chapters might conclude-correctly-that it’s imperative that people avoid underestimating the talents and vocational power they possess. Now I want to balance that by underscoring how vital it is to avoid overestimating them.
  • Preparing believers for wise vocational stewardship begins with cultivating at least four key character traits: servanthood, responsibility, courage and humility.
  • Servanthood. Congregants who steward power well see their primary identity as servants.
  • Courage. To accept responsibility for acting in a world of injustice and brokenness takes courage. And courage is not something our culture regularly calls us to.
  • Many church leaders are in congregations filled with individuals with significant vocational power. Stewarding that power well requires deep humility-a character trait with which highly successful, competent people sometimes struggle.
  • The second part of this work involves educating congregants in the right manner of deploying power-namely, doing so in a way that accords with how God manages his power.
  • Blooming where you’re planted. The primary and most important avenue for deploying vocational power is in and through one’s present work.
  • Blooming involves reflecting and promoting God’s glory in our current vocation. The tsaddiqim do this by seeking to live out, in the power of the Holy Spirit, the vertical, personal and social dimensions of righteousness in the context of their vocation:
  • Temptations of pathway 1. The temptations in this pathway are two (at least). One might be called pietism; the other, triumphalism.
  • A second temptation in pathway one is triumphalism. This can occur when Christians in their secular workplaces forget the doctrine of common grace-the notion that God has granted degrees of wisdom and insight to nonbelievers and that he can advance his purposes through non-Christian institutions.
  • Pathway 2: Donating. The second pathway of vocational stewardship involves donating our skills to organizations other than our regular employer.
  • Temptations of pathway 2. The main temptations of this pathway involve impatience, arrogance and failure to appreciate work styles or work environments/cultures different from those with which one is most familiar and comfortable.
  • Pathway 3: Inventing. Vocational stewardship along the third pathway is a form of what author Andy Crouch calls “culture making.” Pathway three involves drawing on our vocational power to launch a new social enterprise that seeks to advance the kingdom in a fresh way. It is about creating new or alternative institutions (big or small) that implement innovative ways of addressing social problems.
  • Temptations of pathway 3. The principal temptation of pathway three involves failure to listen or to partner.
  • Investing. Finally, pathway four involves participating in a targeted, intensive initiative by a congregation to serve a particular people group, neighborhood or cause in a way that strategically employs our vocational power.
  • Temptations of pathway 4. The principal temptation to fight on this pathway is the failure to undertake the work in a “ministry with” paradigm as opposed to a “ministry to” paradigm.
  • Three key commitments mark congregational leaders who are effective in encouraging their members to steward their vocations for the common good: affirmation, education and support.
  • Education. In addition to affirming their members’ daily work, church leaders can promote “blooming” by offering adult education opportunities devoted to faith/work integration topics. Support. Some churches have found that gathering members into vocationally based small groups is a good strategy for helping believers deepen their understanding of and commitment to faith/work integration.
  • It’s (Redeemer Presbyterian in NYC), Center for Faith and Work, launched in January 2003, seeks to “equip, connect, and mobilize our church community in their professional and industry spheres toward gospel-centered transformation for the common good.””
  • Founder Katherine Leary Alsdorf says the center’s work is based on the “practical theory of cultural renewal [that] most [believers] will have our biggest impact through our work.”
  • The professionals profiled throughout this chapter demonstrate that it is possible for Christians in the marketplace to go far beyond the traditional ways of connecting faith and work (that is, practicing personal morality and studying the Bible with others in the workplace). Their stories point to several additional arenas where kingdom values can be advanced, such as how employees are selected, treated and managed; how a firm’s profits are used; how an organization practices environmental stewardship; how its products are designed; how it relates to others in its industry; and how it contributes to its community.
  • The point is this: congregants need to understand that wherever they are, regardless of their status, they can probably do at least one thing that advances kingdom values like justice or beauty or compassion or economic opportunity or creation care.
  • One is ethics. Since the workplace is fallen, there will always be a place for strong teaching from the pulpit on personal holiness on the job. The second is evangelism. Church leaders should regularly remind their flocks that the amazingly good news of the good news needs to be shared with our nonbelieving coworkers. Finally, church leaders should continue emphasizing one other E-word: excellence.
  • Pathway two of vocational stewardship is about donating vocational skills to nonprofits and ministries-within the church, in the local community or abroad-that can use them to advance God’s kingdom.
  • Churches with the ability to promote not only blooming but also this pathway may discover that many congregants respond enthusiastically to meaningful opportunities to use their job skills on their off time.
  • The second reason many churches do not support vocational stewardship along pathway two is fear. Some clergy are not enthusiastic about helping their members to plug in to service opportunities best suited for their skills when those opportunities are outside the church’s own programs.
  • Leaders of a ministry fair could consider composing a vocationally oriented “Want Ads” booklet to pass out to congregants who attend. To create it, the fair organizer asks each ministry showcased at the fair to identify three or four serving opportunities by skill set or occupation.
  • Since that time, Pleasant Valley has sent out hundreds of its people. For example, recently some master gardeners in the congregation launched a community gardens initiative. It now engages more than one hundred people in some seventy-five gardens all over the city, growing produce shared with the hungry and sold at affordable prices through community farmers markets.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly for congregational leaders, service along pathway two has sparked spiritual growth in some parishioners.
  • The third avenue of vocational stewardship that congregational leaders can consider facilitating is getting behind the entrepreneurial dreams of high-capacity congregants.
  • In short, right now, God may be planting some big dreams in the hearts of your congregation’s members-dreams that could rejoice your city and that many congregants could rally behind.
  • In this chapter, we’ll look in detail at two congregations-South-wood Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Huntsville, Alabama, and Crossroads in Cincinnati, Ohio-that are testing out, in the real world, kingdom-oriented transformational initiatives that involve vocational stewardship. One has targeted a specific neighborhood in its city; the other, a specific issue. Both have been at their labors for several years; neither is anywhere near finished. Their stories offer us much by way of inspiration and instruction.
  • But the two have some things in common when it comes to mission. Both are externally focused.
  • Southwood’s journey into robust, holistic community development ministry in its city began with painful repentance. Roughly three years into his pastorate, Mike Honeycutt became convicted that Southwood had “become a church very much inward-focused … and not really reaching our community very well.” Through much prayer and a personal retreat, Honeycutt came to see that the congregation had “lost zeal for the Great Commission.” It was devastating to see that he’d failed in his leadership in this way, but he was convinced that God shows his shepherds these painful truths not to condemn them but to change them. Returning from his retreat, Honeycutt gathered his vision committee to begin the long, hard process of helping the church change course.
  • Congregational response was tremendous. By 2005, Jones reported that half or more of the flock had been involved in some way in Lincoln Village.
  • Southwood’s work in Lincoln Village-and that of the many other congregations involved in Lincoln Village Ministry-is not finished. But after seven years of strategic and compassionate investment, real change has unfolded.
  • First, leaders at both churches recognize the importance of preaching and leading with an emphasis on the kingdom-on the church’s external focus for mission in the community and the world.
  • A second lesson from these churches is that a narrow and deep strategy makes sense not only because it is more effective in terms of tangible results for the people or communities served; it also makes progress more visible. And that contributes to the ongoing motivation of the congregation.
  • Third, the stories of these churches reveal that success requires significant financial commitment. To mobilize such commitment, intentional leadership and directed preaching were required.
  • A fourth lesson learned is that, while both churches strongly affirm the value of mobilizing congregants by their skill sets, they do not see vocational stewardship as their exclusive method of lay mobilization. There is a call for everyone to serve, for all to take responsibility. And there are many opportunities for service that require no particular professional training or experience. In short, there’s a place for everyone, not just white-collar professionals.
  • Finally, this pathway, particularly as expressed in neighborhood-targeted ministry, requires a mindset of mutuality. When a church of largely middle- or upper-middle-class congregants, many of them white-collar professionals, gets engaged in a low-income neighborhood, the risk of paternalism is high. Church leaders must work hard to help their highly talented laity to see their own poverty and need. A great way of doing so is to teach the biblical definition of poverty, namely, “the absence of shalom in all its meanings.” Poverty is not only material; it is relational and spiritual as well. Given the universal implications of the Fall, all humans-including those materially non-poor-are poor in one way or another. This understanding can help congregants who are not economically poor to avoid considering themselves as superior.
  • It also can help congregants find places of commonality with the members of the target community.
  • Pursuing the journey of vocational stewardship as a church is not about “three easy steps and you’re done.” It’s an evolving process that looks different at different times and contexts. And it’s not one-size-fits-all.
  • As we take up our place as agents of restoration, we also become instruments through which our neighbors taste more of God’s goodness. As we faithfully do our part on the section of the “wall” we’ve been called to, we promote the common good. Depending on our circumstances, our efforts to steward our vocational power can cause transformation at a variety of levels-among individuals, within local organizations or neighborhoods, or throughout institutions and different sectors of society.

 

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