Monday, September 2, 2019

Working Good News: With Jesus Each Day of the Work Week

Faith, Work, and Economics (FWE) can be integrated into the local church as part of the vital importance of holistic discipleship in following Jesus. + Skye Jethani & Luke Bobo

In continuing to consider the Gospel of Jesus in light of Praying Good News and Sharing Good News, we are now going to take a look at another part of the abundant life Jesus offers: Working Good News.

Now you might be thinking, "Sully, why bring up work?" I understand. Rest is a seriously good thing. And I think if we truly believed and lived in the rest God gives in His grace, we would find that the work He has offered us is actually part of His Good News.

Ever since reading Amy Sherman's Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf's Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God's Work, Mike Breen and Ben Sternke's Oikonomics: How to Invest in Life's Five Capitals Like Jesus Did, and Steve Garber's Visions of Vocation: Common Grace for the Common Good alongside attending the 2015 Soma Faith & Work Summit and being introduced to Made to Flourish and the Theology of Work Project, I have been astounded at the plan and purpose for humanity that God has given us from the beginning of creation that will continue until new creation is fulfilled when He reconciles heaven and earth.

And now with Skye Jethani and Luke Bobo's Discipleship with Monday in Mind: How Churches Across the Country Are Helping Their People Connect Faith and Work, I feel we have a growing abundance of wise, practical, and inspiring resources to help us see how our work is connected with God's work where we spend much of our time.

Below are some excerpts from resources including Discipleship with Monday in Mind that help capture some of this bigger picture.

Faith, Work, and Economics Integrated into a Life of Following Jesus

In Christian Mission in the Modern World, John Stott concluded that, "We must begin with vocation." We must see the entire biblical text as a coherent narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation, revealing God's design and desire for human flourishing. We must regain the transforming truth that the Good News of Jesus speaks to every aspect of human existence, calling us to discipleship in all areas of life.

Scripture tells us that, as image bearers, we have been created by a working God – with work in mind. That means, in part, that we have been created with community and collaboration in mind; work is not an isolated activity, but an interdependent one. We presently live in a broken and fallen world where our work is not what it ought to be. The Good News is that, through the redemptive work of Jesus, the work we do and the workplaces we inhabit are profoundly changed by the Gospel.

With a growing understanding of the church's mission in the world, we will enthusiastically embrace our congregation's everyday work life. We will grasp with new conviction and passion that economic flourishing matters and that a primary work of the church is the church at work. + Tom Nelson, President of Made to Flourish 

Infusing Thoughtful Language as We Work with Good News in Mind

We help each other see that everyone is in full-time ministry. This emphasis dovetails well with biblical teaching of the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:4-10). So we avoid phrases such as, "secular work," "kingdom work," "full-time Christian work," and "moving from success to significance." We're also careful to avoid language that minimizes temporality. We avoid ideas encapsulated in expressions like "living for the line (eternity) rather than the dot (temporality)." We also try to eschew devaluing the material world with phrases like, "What really matters are people's souls." Another common phrase we might jettison, "Make your life count for God," since it can diminish people's sense of their intrinsic value as embodied image bearers in the here and now.

We don't ask people to "forget about their cares and concentrate on God" when they worship with Jesus' Church at a service, mass, or Divine Liturgy in a corporate worship setting. Instead we ask, "Hey, what's on your calendar this week? We're going to sing songs that ask God for wisdom and courage and help (for your work week). Don't leave (your work concerns) at the door." We infuse the gathered Church context with language around faith and work and the value of work. For example, the director of music isn't called the "worship leader." We don't want people to think that worship is something takes place merely on Sunday. It's something we do when we gather, and it's something we do when we scatter. All work can be a form of worship that, when done well and ethically, is done "heartily, as for the Lord" (Colossians 3:23-25).

We want to be governed by the motto that "the Church is where faith and life connect." Faith should inform all of life, of which work is a significant part. We want to be Jesus' Church for the city. We want to seek to be the kind of local church that, if we were to shut our doors, the city would mourn. "There's not a square inch that doesn't belong to Jesus" (an adaption of a famous quote by Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper).

Affirming All Vocations: Ex. Collecting Trash Matters to God

Preparing lattes matters to God. Changing dirty diapers matters to God. Cooking a meal matters to God. Developing an Excel spreadsheet matters to God. As someone once said, "If it is not sinful work, it is sacred work." Work is not only sacred but an opportunity to worship. The ability to work is a gift and a sacred practice. Work is an opportunity to worship, as we join God in the everyday invitation to represent Him.

To communicate the sacredness of work with the gathered Church, you can have "Faith at Work" interviews every 1-2 months. During the interview, ask five basic questions:

1. What type of work do you do? 
2. How do you try to do that work as a follower of Jesus? 
3. How does sin (i.e. selfishness, laziness, apathy, greed, injustice) seem to affect your work? 
4. How do you try to serve your neighbors through your work? 
5. How can we pray for you?

We can also incorporate this with the time with the kids. Child-friendly props are brought in, and teachers ask questions such as, "What do you want to do when you grow up?" and "How can you serve Jesus through that type of work?" The aim is to get children thinking about faith and work at an early age.

Another complementary approach (i.e. switch every other month) is to emphasize, celebrate, and affirm a different industry each month. For example, January can be education. February can be finance. March can be technology, healthcare, research, or childcare. Choose a person involved in that area and ask these basic questions:

1. What type of work do you do? 
2. How did you feel called to do what you're doing? 
3. What are certain opportunities or obstacles you're facing in your work? 
4. How does your faith speak to those obstacles? 
5. How can we pray for you?

One more set of questions (i.e stories of servants and stewards, 1 Corinthians 4:1) you might ask is: 

1. How do you cocreate with God through the work that you do? 
2. Where do you experience brokenness? 
3. Where do you experience restoration and redemption through the work you do? 
4. How do you sense that your work is part of God's greater work?

The cumulate effect can be holy and inspiring:

1. People have a sense of how God made them, and therefore of the good works that they are created to walk in.
2. People, in their work context, understand the stewardship or cultural mandate of Genesis 1 and 2 and what they are stewarding and what aspects of God's character are being reflected.
3. People take the command to "love your neighbor as yourself" seriously, and they see their work as a way of loving their neighbor.
4. People realize that the workplace can be a rich context in which to proclaim the gospel.

Working the Good News: Commissioning People to Their Work

After conducting an interview during the time the Church is gathered, then invite all congregants that are in that particular industry to stand and lead a commissioning service much like you would to commission someone to go to another city or another country to share the Good News of Jesus.

You can commission people in law, the arts, the health industry, at home, and more. This strengthens the vision to see all of life as sacred when it comes under the reign of Jesus instead of deepening the divide between sacred and secular.

For example, after commissioning those in the tech industry at Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Bellevue, Washington, Pastor Ryan Beattie said a female visitor hurriedly approached Beattie and said, "It's our first Sunday visiting here. My husband had never seen his faith relating to his work." The commissioning example was powerful for this man. At Trinity Grace Church in New York City, Jon Tyson mentions that someone said during a similar commissioning, "That was the most powerful moment in my entire life in church. Thank you." Such examples simply underscore the fact that we were never meant to live a compartmentalized life; our faith should inform our parenting, our citizenship, and our work.

Another approach is before opening the Word, invite a person representing a particular vocation to come forward. For example, have a schoolteacher come up and read a prayer for all educators. Then invite all teachers to stand and have the congregants clap and cheer for them. Then commission all of them to go and educate. Commissioning services have a powerful ability to affirm people in their work.

Working the Good News: Preaching and Teaching About Work

The sermon or homily in a worship service provides an ideal time to teach on the importance of faith and work integration. For example, a sermon around Labor Day Weekend with a focused prayer and commissioning time can make an impact.

In this next generation, many people don't talk about "careers" as much as "callings." We want to believe our work is more than a job for personal advancement. We want to understand how our work relates to a larger vision how it contributes to the common good and even to God's cosmic purposes. Teaching on faith and work helps make a concrete connection on how we can use our knowledge, gifts, and talents to make a difference in the lives of others.

We can also incorporate anecdotes and illustrations that draw from the variety of vocations represented by people in the congregation. Doing so speaks of those vocations in a way that affirms the dignity of the vocation.  

Another practice during a service is to host a forum featuring people from different occupations who talk about what they do and why it's beneficial for people. After sharing, congregants are allowed to ask questions. Often there can be more questions than there is time to answer them. Then have the entire congregation pray that God would make these sisters and brothers flourish in their callings.

Next post: Reconciling Good News: Moving with God in Welcoming Justice and Building Beloved Community

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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