Coram Deo ~

Looking at contemporary culture from a Christian worldview

Kingdom Calling BOOK CLUB

Kingdom CallingKingdom Calling: Vocational Calling for the Common Good by Amy L. Sherman

I first read this book in a “Calling, Vocation and Work” class with Dr. Michael Williams and Dr. Bradley Matthews at Covenant Seminary two summers ago. King Jesus is on a mission to bring restoration in every sphere of society and has invited His followers to join Him in this Kingdom-advancing work.  Learn to deeply, creatively and intentionally steward your vocational power in ways that advance foretastes of the coming Kingdom of shalom for our neighbors near and far.

It’s an excellent book, so let’s read it together. This week we’ll look at the introductory material:

  • A growing number of people share an awareness that kingdom assignments typically involve venues beyond local church real estate and programming.
  • Kingdom callings play out in all of life, because that’s where life plays out!
  • Amy Sherman shares with us her conviction that “vocational stewardship”-the intentional deployment of our workplace knowledge, skills, platforms and networks-provides us a way to advance the kingdom for community transformation.
  • Lindsay’s careful research showed that 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 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.”
  • By the intentional stewardship of their time, talent and treasure, the tsaddiqim bring nothing less than foretastes of the kingdom of God into reality.
  • Our King wants us realize that the kingdom of God has begun to break into our time and space. His work was about offering foretastes of kingdom realities-and this is the life and mission he calls us, his followers, into. The tsaddiqim gladly join King Jesus in that glorious mission.
  • I realized that what I’d been trying to do all those years is help churches “rejoice” their cities-whether accomplishing that “rejoicing” requires at least two big things. 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. Learning how to steward our vocational power is a major component of growing as the tsaddiqim who rejoice our cities. By vocational stewardship, I mean the intentional and strategic deployment ofour vocational power-knowledge, platform, networks, position, influence, skills and reputation-to advance foretastes of God’s kingdom.
  • For missional congregations that desire to rejoice their cities, vocational stewardship is an essential strategy. To accomplish their big vision, they need to capitalize intentionally on the vocational power of their members. I decided to try to write a book to help missional leaders do just that.
  • There are very few churches that have strong, intentional systems for deploying their people’s time and their talent.
  • Congregants in our pews need to know that they should-and can-connect their workaday world and their faith.
  • 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.
  • This is a book primarily for pastors and ministry leaders-particularly those already committed to leading missional churches (that is, churches that seek to follow King Jesus on his mission of making all things new). I also hope pastors will hand it out to individual congregants who are struggling to integrate their faith and work.

OVERVIEW OF THE BOOK

  • Part one, “Theological Foundations,” provides the biblical underpinning for both the “foretaste-bringing” mission of the church and the strategy of vocational stewardship.
  • Chapter two describes the tsaddiqim who try to undertake this labor.
  • Chapter three examines the obstacles that have kept many Christians from living as the tsaddigim, and chapter four discusses how churches can respond to those obstacles.
  • Part two, “Discipling for Vocational Stewardship,” provides practical how-to guidance for church leaders. It begins in chapter five with a look at the current state of evangelical thinking on faith/work integration-and the shortcomings therein.
  • Chapter six, “Inspiration,” offers a concise biblical theology of work that should undergird any vocational stewardship initiative. Chapter seven examines the task of discovery-helping congregants to identify their passions, “holy discontents”” and the dimensions of their vocational power. Chapter eight then addresses the critical task of formation-that is, the necessary shaping of congregants’ inner life that enables them to be effective, humble and wise stewards of their vocational power.
  • Part three gets into the meat of vocational stewardship. First, I offer a brief introduction to four pathways for deploying congregants in the stewardship of their vocations:
  • Chapters nine through twelve take up one pathway each.
  • American workers, on average, spend forty-five hours a week at work. Thats about 40 percent of our waking hours each week-a huge amount of time. If church leaders don’t help parishioners discern how to live missionally through that work, they miss a major-in some instances the major-avenue believers have for learning to live as foretastes.

Next week we’ll start with Chapter 1. Won’t you read along with us?

Chapter 1 ~ What Does a Rejoiced City Look Like?

  • 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. 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.
  • Equity is somewhat easier to describe than to define. Consider, for example, the process of seeking equitable solutions to the challenge of providing affordable housing in a community.
  • Restoration. The third dimension of biblical justice we see in the grand story of creation/Fall/redemption/consummation concerns restoration.
  • Biblical justice is not solely concerned with the punishment of wrongdoing, but with the healing of wrongdoers and their restoration to the community. Justice and salvation are linked concepts.
  • In a rejoiced city, the criminal justice system includes this notion of restorative justice, as opposed to focusing exclusively on retributive justice. Certainly it calls offenders to account, yet it also seeks to address the harm of the crime, not just the legal offense against the state. It takes the victim seriously and seeks the reinstatement of the offender into the social fabric when possible. Recognizing that crime is about harm to human relationships, it seeks reconciliation of those relationships to the greatest degree possible.’
  • 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.
  • An essential part of our mission now is introducing people to a personal relationship with God. Evangelism that leads people to follow Jesus offers new believers a foretaste of the intimacy with God they will one day experience for eternity. Many of us have opportunities to do evangelism through our work based relationships.
  • 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 (Isaiah 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.
  • Offering hope to those who feel hopeless is kingdom work.
  • Comfort. God cares about the wounded in spirit.
  • His comfort is expressed in multiple metaphors in Isaiah 54-of those rejected and abandoned who experience embrace; of the disgraced and humiliated who receive new dignity and healing; of the widow who experiences the Lord himself as husband.
  • Presence with the grieving, counseling for the afflicted-these are kingdom works.
  • 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 (Psalm 46:9). In the new heavens and new earth, swords will be remade into plowshares (Micah 4:3). Nations will no longer take up arms against one another. The day of violence will be eternally ended, and God’s people will enjoy perfect security.
  • 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.
  • Believers advance foretastes of the kingdom when they devote themselves to the great work of relief and development; to hunger alleviation; to microenterprise; to sustainable agriculture; to efforts to find new ways to provide everyone with adequate shelter and clean water; and to advocacy for the rule of law so that just, free enterprise can flourish.
  • Sustainability. So many of the preview passages speak of the healing of the creation itself as God restores what was once barren.
  • We show forth his goodness and his future intentions by stewarding the creation with care.
  • 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.
  • My hope is that the pictures painted here of Christians working to advance tastes of justice and shalom help us to see what is possible and plausible in this time when Christ’s kingdom is mysteriously both now and not yet.

Chapter 2 ~ What Do the Righteous Look Like?

  • 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.
  • Clearly, living as the tsaddiqim isn’t easy. It requires tremendous effort and intentionality. More importantly, it requires power from God’s Holy Spirit.
  • 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

UP

  • 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.
  • Their Godward stance makes them people of prayer,
  • The tsaddiqim are deeply humble.
  • The Godward orientation of the tsaddiqim also means that they have an eternal perspective.
  • This aspect of righteousness suggests several implications for vocational stewardship. First, this “vertical” righteousness means that we affirm that the purpose of life is glorifying God, not self.
  • It does mean that we are called to resist the modern assumption that personal happiness and satisfaction are the highest and most important criteria when considering vocational decisions.
  • 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. Perhaps the most visible expression of this is that the tsaddiqim are not workaholics. They seek to draw their primary identity not from their work, but from their relationship with God. Their Godward orientation helps them remember to be faithful to all the various callings he has placed on their lives in addition to their work, such as family relationships, parenting responsibilities, service roles within the church, and duties to community and nation.
  • 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. The tsaddiqim practice God’s presence in the midst of their labors.
  • Relatedly, the tsaddiqim do their work “heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men” (Col 3:23 NASB). That is, they know their audience.
  • Finally, because the righteous are fundamentally Godward in their orientation, they view their work in eschatological terms.
  • The tsaddiqim have an eternal perspective.
  • 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.
  • From this eschatological paradigm, they celebrate the significance of human work and see it as a matter of “cooperation with God.”

IN

  • 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. The righteous seek not only to act rightly but also to be right inside.
  • 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.
  • When the righteous “care about” justice for the poor, it means they are intensely passionate to see justice done for the poor. Their concern is deep, intimate and heartfelt.
  • Most of the teaching on the integration of faith and work emphasizes the importance of cultivating personal righteousness in the context of our daily labor. That’s understandable given the considerable ethical perils of the contemporary workplace. 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.
  • The righteous ask God to help them maintain “clean hands” on the job by refusing to lie, cheat, steal or engage in a workplace sexual affair.
  • Pastors need to remind their people that they can indeed, though Christ’s power, be different kinds of workers than the nonbelievers around them.
  • Pastors should remind their members that professionals enjoying success on the job may need an even greater discipline than those who are persecuted at work.
  • The tsaddiqim, by contrast, pursue the common good out of a keen awareness of the cries of those at the bottom. Knowing God is the true
  • owner of all they possess, they are willing to share their resources and talents for the rejoicing of the whole community.

OUT

  • Also mandatory for the tsaddiqim is what we might call social righteousness.
  • Social righteousness is about how we treat our neighbors near and far. It is about how vertical love toward God is expressed in horizontal love toward the world he has made and the people he has created.
  • Social righteousness is nurtured when we look “out” at our neighbors near and far and deliberately consider how to advance their good.
  • Part of looking out involves considering the needs of those among whom we work. First, we simply have to see them. We have to make room in our hearts for caring about others. From this heart of compassion springs tangible action.
  • 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.
  • Institutional transformation includes actions that can move an entire industry to higher standards of quality or safety or financial transparency or energy efficiency or racial diversity-or other social goods.
  • The call to righteousness in this book in no way replaces the doctrine of full reliance on Christ and his righteousness.
  • The church is supposed to be a collection of the tsaddiqim-people of deep personal piety and intense passion for the kingdom of God.
  • Those committed to stewarding their prosperity for the common good, of people who think creatively and strategically about how to deploy their talents to advance foretastes of the kingdom.

Chapter 3: Why We Aren’t the Tsaddiqim

  • In many of our churches, our gospel is too small. While it is rightly centered on the vital atoning work of Jesus on the cross, it fails to grasp the comprehensive significance of his redemptive work. Consequently, it fails to direct Christ-followers into the righteous lifestyle of the tsaddiqim, who gladly join Jesus on his grand mission of restoration.
  • 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. Jesus’ work is not exclusively about our individual salvation, but about the cosmic redemption and renewal of all things.
  • 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. Much of contemporary Christian music cultivates and reinforces a me-and-Jesus mentality. And that matters, because theological shortcomings in the music we hear on Christian radio or sing on Sunday mornings affect our beliefs.
  • 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.
  • The best discipleship books often were marked by a kingdom gospel theology. The most popular Christian books typically focused on the individual Christian’s relationship to God.’° To oversimplify, the books strongest on a robust theology that could undergird the life of a tsaddiq are generally not the books being chosen by the highest percentages of Christian readers.
  • 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.”
  • Dallas Willard. 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. If we (mistakenly) believe that at the end, the earth will be completely destroyed23 and that just our souls will live on forever, it’s a bit hard to imagine being tsaddiqim who are passionate for such things as environmental stewardship or cultural reformation.
  • But these aren’t the only reasons we’re not the tsaddiqim. 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.
  • The siren songs of prosperity make it imperative that preachers in middle-class and wealthier congregations urge their members to join small accountability groups. There they can ask one another the hard questions about how they are managing the faith-eroding qualities of privilege, wealth and power.
  • The problem of isolation. Finally, beyond this issue of troubling temptations, Lindsay’s research identified another problem: the insulation of Christian professionals from people outside their socioeconomic class.
  • Today, in cities at home and abroad, many of God’s children continue to cry out for justice and shalom. Evangelical churches in America have innumerable opportunities to rejoice these communities. This will happen when our churches produce Christ-followers who live as the tsaddiqim.

Chapter 4: How the Gospel of the Kingdom Nurtures the Tsaddiqim

  • In 2008, InterVarsity leader James Choung did the Christian world an invaluable service when he published a new, simple diagram for explaining this gospel of the kingdom. Choung’s Four Circles illustration tells the Christian story from this creation/Fall/redemption/consummation paradigm. Unlike the Bridge illustration, Choung’s presentation centers the gospel story right away on God and God’s mission in the world, rather than on humans and their sinfulness.
  • 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.
  • Becoming like Jesus also means seeing ourselves as he did, as “sent ones,” and being passionate about the things he is passionate about.
  • Jesus is passionate for justice and shalom.
  • Jesus is also passionate about reconciliation among diverse people.
  • And, like his Father, Jesus is passionate about the poor, the vulnerable, the sick and the stranger. To become like him is to adopt all these passions as our own.
  • 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 should also reshape the language we use in evangelism.
  • Evangelists of the gospel of the kingdom should encourage seekers to respond to Jesus’ invitation to come over and join his heart. Intimate communion with Jesus occurs when we go to him.
  • The kingdom gospel also leads us to invest more thought and energy in the missional work of enacting and demonstrating the heart of God in the world.
  • Our understanding of the gospel also influences our view of mission.
  • 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.
  • We come to see that while he loved everyone, his steps tended to lead him toward the poor. In this Jesus is simply following in his Father’s footsteps.
  • 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.
  • The gospel of the kingdom tells us not only what we’re saved from, but also what we’re saved for. We have a purpose, we have a sacred calling, we have a God-given vocation: to partner with God in his work of restoring all things.

Chapter 5: Integrating Faith and Work

  • Today thousands of Christian professionals sit in the pews, wondering, Can I participate in Jesus’ mission-and do so using the gifts and skills God has given me? The answer is a resounding yes-but such a word is tragically uncommon in many Christian congregations.’
  • Fewer than ten percent of regular churchgoers, surveys say, can remember the last time their pastor preached on the topic of work. When he or she did preach on work, inevitably the tone was critical-if not hostile-and painted all businesspeople as greedy and uncaring. Seldom do pastors honor the work world as a place for parishioners to live out their high calling.
  • Key periodicals addressed largely to clergy and church leaders do not often cover issues of faith and work integration.
  • While many Christians are not receiving guidance from their churches, they may be hearing about faith/work integration from parachurch sources. Hundreds of books have been written on this topic. There are also many marketplace ministries available for Christian businesspeople to join.
  • 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. To disciple their people well for vocational stewardship, congregational leaders need to understand what their members may have learned from these sources about faith/work integration.
  • Miller describes the major themes in the movement as falling into four main categories or quadrants: ethics, evangelism, enrichment and experience.
  • 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,”
  • Christians in this quadrant are concerned about appropriately balancing the demands of work and family. They desire to grow in wisdom in handling the temptations of secular success as well as the immoral social activities permitted or even encouraged within the organizations that employ them. Issues tackled here might include cheating on expense reports, putting corporate interests over human relationships, or navigating the toll taken on marriage by long periods of business travel.
  • Generally, discussions of ethics are limited to personal morality.
  • 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. This includes cultivating friendships with coworkers from other (or no) faiths; sponsoring Bible studies at work; hosting events or conferences that offer platforms for believers to share their testimonies with nonbelievers within their organizations; or providing spiritual counselors or chaplains in the firm.
  • Quadrant three: Enrichment. The third theme in the FAW movement is personal transformation and spiritual nurture.
  • They are interested in healing, prayer, meditation-therapeutic and contemplative practices to aid workers. Such practices can help discouraged or downsized workers, or they may bring a new level of peace to over-stressed corporate executives. Maximizing one’s potential is also a major focus in this quadrant.
  • 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.”
  • Christians in this quadrant lament the common view that somehow secular work is “second class” or that only through a “ministry career” (such as pastoring or being a missionary) can a person truly live out her or his faith. These organizations provide counsel, books and conferences to help individuals discover their calling and align their natural and spiritual gifts with careers in which those talents can be well deployed.
  • Miller rightly affirms the strengths of each quadrant while simultaneously asserting that the healthiest approach is one that combines all these themes.
  • Miller’s Everywhere integrator type gets closest to the concept of vocational stewardship for the common good. It takes seriously the three dimensions of righteousness (vertical, internal and social). Evangelicalism could produce more believers who act like the tsaddiqim in and through their professions if its marketplace ministries, professional societies and books on faith/work integration helped move people as much as possible toward the Everywhere Integrator type Miller describes.
  • My staff and I analyzed the vision, mission and programs of twenty-three Christian professional societies. We found that the majority of associations were more internally than externally focused. That is, their principle aims had to do with member support, fellowship and peer-to-peer learning.
  • A vital part of vocational stewardship for the common good is a focus by believers on transforming the institutions in which they work.
  • My examination of marketplace ministries found no evidence that these business fellowships are discussing how Christian executives can reform practices within their particular industries that might be problematic from the perspectives of justice and shalom. Some of the Christian professional societies have taken some steps in this direction.
  • 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.
  • Her church offers little specific guidance about why her work matters, how God can and does use it, or how her vocational power can be stewarded to advance his kingdom.
  • Lacking this guidance, some Christians simply “turn off’ their faith at work; they function as “practical atheists” on the job. They have no vision for what it means to partner with God at work, to bring meaning to their work or to accomplish kingdom purposes in and through their work. Others look outside their local congregation for guidance, joining a marketplace ministry or a Christian professional society.

Chapter 6: Inspiration

  • It is from this high view of members’ daily work that pastors are positioned to offer inspiration to their flock. Carrying out this task of inspiration involves teaching a biblical theology of work and providing practical advice to members regarding the “vocational sweet spot.”
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Pastors can explain the various ways in which God is a worker, and then encourage their congregants to identify where their own labors fit. 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, scientists, educators, journalists, scholars and writers are all involved in this sort of work.
  • In all these various ways, God the Father continues his creative, sustaining and redeeming work through our human labor. This gives our work great dignity and purpose.
  • 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.
  • As church leaders teach the goodness of work, they also need to unmask and reject our secular culture’s false understandings of work.
  • 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.
  • False ideas about work emerge not just from the secular culture but also from poor theology.
  • Christianity insists that our lives-including our work-are all about God and his work, his mission.
  • As author Frederick Buechner says in his pithy definition of vocation, “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
  • Church leaders should inspire their congregants to choose jobs that, to the greatest extent possible, offer them the best opportunities for directing their creative talents toward the end of advancing shalom for the common good.
  • 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.
  • I’m encouraging church leaders to invite people to find and live in their vocational sweet spot because of the joy it brings to the worker, the hope it brings to those served and the glory it brings to God.
  • Pastors must be careful not to make parishioners feel guilty when, for any number of legitimate reasons, they are not able to be in that sweet spot.
  • To inspire people with a robust understanding of work, church leaders may need to exhort congregants to examine whether they’re in the right place vocationally. Some believers may need to reassess why they are in their jobs. What are the reasons-and are they good reasons, kingdom reasons, God-honoring reasons? How much of a role do comfort, convenience, pride, fear or materialism play in explaining why we’re staying in our current jobs?
  • A final aspect of inspiring the congregation involves searching for people in the church who are modeling vocational stewardship and telling their stories.

Chapter 7 ~ Discovery

  • Beyond casting an inspirational vision to congregants to steward their vocation for God’s glory and the good of their neighbors, church leaders need to provide a system that helps their people to examine their gifts, passions and “holy discontents,” and the dimensions of their vocational power.
  • Pleasant Valley Baptist Church in the Kansas City metro area is a national leader in walking members through this process of discovery and equipping for service.
  • Any church serious about vocational stewardship needs to designate a specific individual or team, paid or unpaid, that devotes time and energy to the work of equipping the laity.
  • Pleasant Valley’s equipping system is composed of staff training, a thoughtful adult education curriculum, one-on-one coaching and a database tool called Church Community Builder (CCB).
  • Congregational leaders need to establish deliberate pathways for helping members to discover and apply their talents.
  • At Pleasant Valley, the first steps on that pathway unfold through its four-week “Discover Your Design” course. This course relies heavily on Saddleback Church’s SHAPE assessment as well as assessment and spiritual formation tools that Pleasant Valley has crafted. Congregants learn through the class to identify their spiritual gifts, passions, skills, abilities and personality traits, and the key life experiences that have shaped them.
  • This high view of laity is emphasized in Vernon’s preaching from the pulpit. That preaching is then reinforced by the strong emphasis leaders put on having all congregants take the “Discover Your Design” course.
  • The task of discovery includes, but must go beyond, the traditional emphasis on spiritual gifts assessments. The vast majority of these assessments don’t help congregants to see how they can apply their spiritual gifts in the context of their daily work or in volunteer service outside the four walls of the church.
  • The seven dimensions of vocational power my fellow church members and I have identified are knowledge/expertise, platform, networks, influence, position, skills and reputation/fame.
  • Knowledge/expertise. Workers accumulate specific knowledge for the industries or fields they are in. This results from educational and vocational preparation as well as on-the-job experience.
  • 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.
  • Networks. To take stock of vocational networks, congregants can begin by listing current and former coworkers. Then they can identify friends and colleagues from their time of vocational preparation (college, graduate school, training programs); colleagues they have met at professional conferences; and customers, vendors, partners, mentors and public officials they have interacted with on the job. Most people are surprised to see just how wide their network is.
  • 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. That is, people can have substantial influence without holding high positions. All Christians, regardless of their position within an organization, should consider what degree of influence they possess in their work setting-and how that influence can be used creatively for good.
  • 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. It also denotes the standing or credibility a person has that comes from the positional power of her or his organizational affiliation.
  • Sometimes people are so used to simply performing their jobs that they don’t often stop to take stock of the many different skills they are using in the process. Individuals in various vocations possess an almost endless array of skills.
  • Some professionals achieve a high level of name recognition within-and sometimes beyond-their vocational field. This can afford them entry to powerbrokers, capacities for mobilizing a large following or strategic opportunities to direct wide-scale attention to a particular issue or cause.
  • Beyond identifying spiritual gifts and dimensions of vocational power, the task of discovery involves encouraging congregants to discern their holy discontent.
  • A holy discontent is that passion that “wrecks” a person-that issue that “keeps you up at night; something in the world you want to fix.”

Chapter 8 ~ Formation

  • Faithful vocational stewardship is not only about doing, it’s also about being.
  • Discipling for vocational stewardship involves not only the work of inspiration and discovery but also an emphasis on formation.
  • The danger here lies in people acknowledging the position, knowledge or skills they possess-but then over-esteeming 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. To nurture this attitude among their flock, church leaders can begin by teaching the Hebrew word avodah. This term is used to express three notions: worship, work and service.
  • Avodah also includes God-dependent prayer as we undertake our work, God-focused attention as we do the work with him as our audience and God-guided love for others as we consider the kinds of work we should do.
  • Another ancient word can also help church leaders seeking to shape their people for vocational stewardship. This one is vocare, a Latin term meaning “to call.” It is the root of our English word vocation.
  • Our fundamental vocation (calling) is that of a servant. Our work is fundamentally about serving others. Congregants who deeply grasp this are more prepared for vocational stewardship than those who don’t.
  • The tsaddiqim practice seeing and perceiving rightly.
  • 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. Our culture idolizes comfort, happiness and safety.
  • Church leaders encourage the development of godly courage in their members when they call those members to participate in doing the work that truly matters to God. That work is his mission of pushing back the kingdom of darkness with fresh expressions of the kingdom of light. It is the work of bringing foretastes of justice and shalom to broken people and broken places.
  • Humility. 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 first part of the work of formation involves church leaders seeking to develop within their members the character of compassionate, engaged, humble servants. 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.
  • God manages his power by sharing it, and we must imitate that modus operandi.
  • Made in God’s image, we have talents from him and authority to use them. We have vocational power. And it is God’s gift.
  • In this world, there are power disparities. Some people possess more power than others. That is just a fact. Another fact is that middle-and upper-class American Christians are among the world’s powerful. From our position of relative power, we are called to avoid despising those who, in the eyes of the world, are not powerful. We are called to see the poor and the dispossessed as more than just poor and dispossessed. We are called to see their potential, their dignity, their latent capacities. We’re called to labor with them. We do not impose our vocational power on them or even use it for them. We are called to bring it alongside them.\

Chapter 9: Displaying Vocational Power

  • Having seen why they should steward their vocational power and what that power is, members of the congregation now need help in discerning where to invest their efforts. This is the work of deployment.
  • Blooming where you’re planted. The primary and most important avenue for deploying vocational power is in and through one’s present work. The first place believers should look to conduct their foretaste-bringing mission is right at the current job they hold. I call this “blooming where you’re planted.”
  • 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.
  • We bloom when we acknowledge God as our director and audience, and conduct our work in functional, daily reliance on the Spirit. We bloom when we honor God through our ethical practice and when we intentionally and creatively seek to advance shalom for all our organization’s stakeholders. And we bloom when we act as “intrapreneurs”-people who innovate needed reform within their company or industry sector.’
  • Temptations of pathway 1. The temptations in this pathway are two (at least). One might be called pietism; the other, triumphalism.
  • The pietistic temptation emerges when congregants mistakenly define the mission of faith/work integration too narrowly. That is, they seek to be people of integrity on the job and perhaps attempt to evangelize coworkers, but they do not muse deeply over the work itself. They don’t invest time considering how their work images God in his ongoing providence in creation or how their work participates in God’s redemptive purposes. They fail to discern how people can bear witness to the missio Dei through work in ways other than placing Christian plaques on the wall or leading Bible studies.
  • 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. Triumphalism rears its head when Christians assert that only they can perceive the true, the good and the beautiful. It surfaces when Christians carelessly use language about “taking” their institution or vocational sector “for Christ.” Such language can cause great consternation among secular colleagues. Triumphalism is revealed when believers fail to be good listeners to people of good will who do not share their Christian faith, when believers are inhospitable toward others’ views.
  • Church leaders equip their flock to resist the temptations of pietism and triumphalism when they teach a robust view of faith/work integration and remind their members of God’s common grace. As they celebrate members who are living out vocational stewardship along pathway one, they need to affirm a wide range of examples.
  • As they exhort congregants to influence their fields positively, they should employ the language of servanthood, not conquest.
  • Pathway 2: Donating. The second pathway of vocational stewardship involves donating our skills to organizations other than our regular employer. This includes volunteer service at churches, nonprofit ministries or private or public agencies that can make good use of our particular vocational knowledge and experience in their labors here at home or abroad. This pathway is unique in its concern that volunteer service intentionally capitalizes on vocational power. It’s about getting bankers to serve as bankers, carpenters to serve as carpenters and architects to serve as architects.
  • 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.” In his book by that name, Crouch argues that “the only way to change culture is to create more of it.”
  • 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. Vocational stewardship along this pathway brings foretastes of shalom first to the direct beneficiaries of the services provided by these new organizations. In some cases, it can also bring about significant, far-reaching cultural or social change.
  • Temptations of pathway 3. The principal temptation of pathway three involves failure to listen or to partner.
  • In the same way, professionals who have proven themselves excellent problem solvers in the business realm may fail to see where there are limits on the transferability of those skills.
  • 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. Some congregations have chosen a narrow but deep strategy for affecting community renewal. They’ve honed in on a particular neighborhood or a particular problem, such as failing schools or the troubled foster care system or international sex trafficking.
  • Pathway four funnels all the diverse talents of congregants toward the same target.
  • 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. For example, if a church has targeted an economically distressed community, it must guard against its talented, fast-paced, powerful members running roughshod over community residents in so-called helping initiatives.

Chapter 10: Pathway 1 ~ Bloom Where You’re Planted

  • 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
  • Affirmation. Nurturing the tsaddiqim to bloom at their job begins with solid preaching based on the theological convictions examined in previous chapters.
  • At The Falls Church, for example, in the congregational prayer every Sunday, four or five church members are specifically prayed for by name and vocation.
  • Church leaders can also affirm their marketplace professionals by formally commissioning them during worship services.
  • Pastor Tom Nelson from Christ Community Church in Leawood, Kansas, uses workplace illustrations in sermons and invites testimonies from marketplace members. He and his staff also visit church members at their work sites.
  • 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.
  • 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. Redeemer Presbyterian Church, a megachurch of more than four thousand attendees in New York City, leads the oldest initiative of this sort that I found in my research. Its 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.””
  • We need to get to the point in our churches where even children can describe what “vocational stewardship” is. They will be able to do so if we regularly tell the stories of what it looks like in every sector of society.
  • 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.
  • As church leaders encourage their members to wed their faith and work, they should challenge them to ponder this question: “In my current job, am I doing all I can to deploy my vocational power to promote kingdom foretastes? Am I truly blooming where I’m planted?”
  • Even believers with limited authority at their workplaces can be creative about stewarding the level of influence they do possess. Specifically, church leaders can respond with the following. First, they can encourage church members to educate themselves about the working conditions of everyone below them in their organization. Believers can strive to develop friendly, respectful relationships with those workers, learning their names, inquiring about their families.
  • Believers in the firm-including those not high up themselves-may be encouraged by church leaders to improve the quality of life for the lowest-level workers in some simple, practical ways.
  • Regardless of what position a believer holds at the firm, he could start a quiet, intercessory prayer ministry.
  • Church leaders should remind their congregants that, in many firms, even employees in the lower echelons can offer suggestions about ways the organization could be more engaged in the community.
  • There is also nothing to stop a small group of believers at an organization from forming their own emergency benevolence fund. They could seed the fund with their own contributions and then invite other employees to contribute.
  • Additionally, even employees with modest positions or low seniority can suggest small, doable reforms in terms of the organization’s energy and resource use, to inch the firm in a “greener” direction.
  • Another strategy involves tweaking initiatives that already exist at the company in order to promote the values of equality or opportunity.
  • 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.
  • There remains a role for church leaders to continue to teach on some less “sexy” familiar topics as they disciple their people for blooming. 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.
  • In some cases, given the weight of their individual responsibilities, some believers may need to view excellence as the highest among the kingdom values they are seeking to live by as they bloom for Jesus in their profession.

Chapter 11 ~ Pathway 2 DONATE YOUR SKILLS

  • 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.
  • Despite the fact that this kind of service would be of obvious benefit to both the server and the served, most congregations have no specific, intentional focus or programs to identify their congregants’ occupational skills and match those to serving opportunities.
  • With regard to administration, some churches do not use any sort of database to gather information on their parishioners. Consequently, they do not collect vocational information that could be useful in matching members to relevant volunteer opportunities.
  • 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.
  • Congregational leaders have pioneered four strategies for overcoming administrative obstacles: implementing new technology; rethinking traditional approaches to engaging volunteers; partnering with a local “volunteer clearinghouse’; and providing formal coaching.
  • Many church leaders fear that releasing congregants to agencies outside the congregation will leave the church itself bereft of the human and financial resources it requires. Leaders must conquer this fear if they are to implement vocational stewardship along pathway two.
  • Facilitating pathway two may require congregational leaders to make some changes in both their attitudes and their administrative structures. Change is never easy, and it doesn’t happen without significant motivation. For those active in vocational stewardship along pathway two, the enormous benefits are well worth the effort.
  • The first benefit is the deep joy parishioners experience. They discover that it is profoundly rewarding to use their unique, God-given skills to serve others on the frontlines.
  • Service along pathway two has also deepened some congregants’ appreciation for believers whose skill sets are much different from their own. For them, it illuminates in fresh ways the truth of 1 Corinthians 12 about the value of all parts of Christ’s body.
  • Congregants who have donated their vocational skills to ministries also report that they’ve grown in their appreciation for the unity of Christ’s body worldwide.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly for congregational leaders, service along pathway two has sparked spiritual growth in some parishioners.

Chapter 12 ~ Pathway 3 LAUNCH YOUR OWN SOCIAL ENTERPRISE

  • A third avenue of vocational stewardship that congregational leaders can consider facilitating is getting behind the entrepreneurial dreams of high-capacity congregants. Right now, your church may contain some talented marketplace leaders whom God is stirring in an exciting-and perhaps slightly scary-new way. They are actively thinking of leaving their “day job” (or at least carving out significant time in their schedule) to birth a new social enterprise. They dream of implementing a new kingdom endeavor to bless a targeted group or to provide a creative solution to a thorny social problem.
  • 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.
  • At a remarkable evangelical church in Nairobi, these sorts of social enterprises are being encouraged deliberately, as a centerpiece of the church’s mission. Mavuno (“Harvest”) Church’s purpose is bold: “to turn ordinary people into fearless influencers of society.” It does so through a carefully conceived, robust and unique discipleship program called the Mavuno Marathon.
  • Mavuno Church’s model provides several lessons for congregations that wish to encourage social entrepreneurs. First, Mizizi provides the foundational kingdom theology that effectively undergirds a missional commitment. Second, the course includes a section inviting participants to identify and explore the unique passions and gifts God has given them. Third, Mavuno Marathon exposes congregants to the needs of the poor in their city and to contemporary issues of injustice. Fourth, as church leaders challenge congregants to take risks and do great things for God’s kingdom, they also recognize that church members with natural gifts for doing so are the ones who could suffer from pride. So, in addition to affirming these people’s talents and supporting their efforts to serve society, Mavuno challenges them to learn and to practice servant leadership. Fifth, the church helps high-capacity leaders to remember the foundational value of community and accountability, and expects them to be part of a Life Group. Sixth, it grounds these social entrepreneurs in the practice of prayer-for themselves, their initiatives, their city and their nation. As Linda says of the Ombi course, when you’ve completed it, “you fully understand that there can be no genuine social transformation except that which happens through prayer.” Finally, Mavuno’s model holds people loosely. It empowers the laity and sets these talented people free to minister outside the four walls of the church.
  • Today Muriithi wants to see Mavuno Church completely transform its members’ lives. “Our business is about raising an army that will bring reformation in our generation.” The Mavuno Marathon cultivates the personal and social righteousness that believers need in order to live as the tsaddiqim who rejoice the city.

Chapter 13 – Pathway 4: Participate in Your Church’s Targeted Initiative

  • Can you image a congregation that targets a particular community for long-term, deep investment and then “plugs in” marketplace professionals for meaningful and strategic service? Or envision a slightly different story, one of a church that doesn’t pick a particular place for radical, long-term engagement, but rather, a specific issue. Are any churches actually doing these sorts of things? An honest answer is, well, not many. But there are some.
  • In this chapter, we’ll look in detail at two congregations-Southwood 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.
  • The two have some things in common when it comes to mission. Both are externally focused. Both believe that a narrow and deep outreach ministry focus is far more effective than the mile-wide, inch-deep approach that characterizes many congregations. Each has committed to long-term investment. Additionally, at both Southwood and Crossroads, church leaders had to be captured by the missional call of the gospel of the kingdom before they could launch into their impressive initiatives. And leaders and congregants at both congregations had to experience punched-in-the-guts compassion. At both churches, attention to mobilizing congregants for service according to their specific skill sets and passions has evolved over time.
  • 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.”
  • At Crossroads in Cincinnati, the central focus of the church’s inch-wide, mile-deep outreach is not on a particular neighborhood, but on a pressing cause: promoting justice in the face of the evil of international sex trafficking.
  • Let’s look at several lessons they’ve learned. 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.

Next week we’ll conclude our look at this outstanding book.

Conclusion and the remainder of the book

  • What the individuals and church leaders profiled in this book have accomplished is not outside the realm of possibility. These are people like you; these are congregations like yours. What they have done, you can do.
  • The people and the churches profiled in these pages have struggled, questioned, gotten frustrated and taken missteps along the way. They’re ordinary folks like you and me. They didn’t have this all figured out.
  • Coming to clarity about the specific actions you can take to advance the kingdom in and through your profession takes time – time to muse, to pray, to consult, to read, to discuss, to question, to debate.
  • Fining the vocational sweet spot is typically a process with plenty of trial and error in it.
  • Waking up to all the different possibilities there are for serving God through our vocational skills also takes time.
  • Similarly, the churches mentioned in this book also hit bumps along the road. They weren’t perfect. They have their struggles just like every congregation.
  • 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.
  • In all spheres where we work – education, business, government, media, law, arts and more – we are agents of restoration. Talk about a heady job title! The contentions of Christian doctrine are bold; the work we do matters and it lasts.
  • Believers who participate intentionally, thoughtfully, strategically and creatively in the mission Dei through their daily work taste more deeply of God. They learn more about his character as they participate with him in the things he is passionate about. Their work lives gain deeper meaning and purpose. They realize that God is accomplishing his “creational order” work through them. That is, they’re able to see the intrinsic value of their farming or their “lawyering” or their artistry or their managing or their teaching. Through such professions, they realize that God is doing his work – through them! – of providing for, sustaining, and governing his world.
  • Believers who take vocational stewardship seriously also see their reliance on the Holy Spirit become more authentic, more of a daily practice. They lean hard into prayer, seeking heavenly wisdom for decisions. They offer up their workday, each day, as worship to God. They look for new ways to serve their neighbors near and far through their work. Along the way, they begin to feel as though they have stopped being mere spectators and have become active players in the work King Jesus is doing to push back the curse and push in the kingdom of shalom. And all of this brings rejoicing.
  • 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” (from Nehemiah), we 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.
  • To find a number of helpful follow-up resources go to www.vocationalstewardship.org

Next week, we’ll begin a new book club on the book that has had the most influence on me outside of the Bible – Don’t Waste Your Life by John Piper. Why not read along with us?

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