Equipping followers of Christ to engage in their everyday work as the work of God, so workplaces are invigorated, communities flourish and culture is renewed to the honor and glory of the Lord.

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Friday, November 27, 2009

Can Such A Vision Be Restored?

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) was a pastor, a missionary to Native Americans, and the third President of Princeton University. Among his descendants have come scores of pastors and missionaries, 120 college professors, 110 attorneys, 60 authors, 30 judges, 13 college or university presidents, 3 congressmen, and one Vice President of the United States.

But there's more to the story.

While doing eight years of Ph. D. research on Jonathan Edwards, Dr. David Scott discovered something remarkable:

“One day…I came across the discipleship curriculum that the puritan pastor Jonathan Edwards had been trained in by his church in how to have a God-filled work life. They even had a name for it…'technologia,' a Latin term for their little-known method of teaching the art of God-centered work.... Edwards and his fellow students—future pastors and merchants alike—were tested in it in order to graduate from early Yale. The Puritans knew what it meant for the church to purposely pastor people in their work. We do not.”

The above is from an article published by WorkLife, Inc. (formerly called, "His Church At Work"), an organization founded in 2003 by Doug Spada for the purpose of helping churches to be effective in worklife discipleship today.

Dr. Scott, who is now a history professor at Southern Evangelical Seminary, goes on to say: “If you asked an engineer in one of our churches what designing computer components has to do with the kingdom of God, my bet is that he or she probably could not pass the test. The reason is that we modern evangelicals have no functional equivalent for the systematic work life discipleship teaching that Edwards took for granted…”

The former custom of teaching people "the art of God-centered work" is no longer customary. For the most part, worklife discipleship has gone the way of men's powdered white wigs.

I'm glad the wigs are gone. But somewhere between Jonathan Edwards' day and our own, we lost something really vital: a systematic method for training followers of Christ in God-centered work. All kinds of work. As the English Puritan Pastor George Swinnock put it, "The pious tradesman will know that his shop as well as his chapel is holy ground."

This concept of work held by the Puritans was passed on by design, being systematically built into the mind and habits of "pastors and merchants alike."

But the vision to "purposely pastor people in their work," as Dr. Scott put it, has vanished, not only from formal education, but from nearly every church and home in the country.

Can such a vision be restored?

I'd like to think out loud with you about this in the weeks to come.

I highly recommend that you read Dr. Scott’s full article, at http://filemanager.silaspartners.com/dox/hischurchatwork/AnotherGreatOmission-WorkLifeandtheChurch.pdf

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Primary Location For Spiritual Formation

“I’m prepared to contend that the primary location for spiritual formation is the workplace.”

This remarkable statement is by Eugene Peterson, in his recent book, Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places. Peterson is the author of The Message (the Bible in present-day English), who served as a Presbyterian pastor for several years.

I’m curious to know when Eugene Peterson developed this contention that the workplace is “the primary location for spiritual formation.” If he held this conviction while he was a pastor, his church must have been very unusual.

Not many churches have a budget line item directed toward spiritual formation in the workplace. Not many churches have programs that specifically help people integrate their faith with their work. Marriage? Yes. Parenting? Yes. Foreign missions? Yes. Evangelism? Yes. Music? Yes. Community service? Sometimes. Workplace? No.

In 2005, I interviewed twenty senior pastors in the greater Seattle area, asking them about their own church-related beliefs and practices regarding faith in the workplace. 20 out of 20 indicated they believed the local church should play a role in influencing the Monday-through-Friday workplace. A strong majority felt the church should be training, equipping, encouraging, instructing and/or supporting its members in this endeavor.

But when I asked what their level of satisfaction was with how their own churches were doing in this regard, the average response was 4.58 on a level of 1-10 (10 being the highest).

Twelve pastors (60%) gave themselves a 5 or lower. Six pastors (30%) gave themselves a 3 or lower. 80% of the responses were 6 or lower.

About 75% of the pastors felt that having classes at church that focused on how to specifically apply Christianity to practical matters in the workplace would be a positive thing to do. However, only one pastor indicated that such classes had ever been taught in his church.

When I mentioned the idea of publicly commissioning professionals and trades-people during Sunday morning services for the service of Christ in the workplace during the week, most pastors liked the idea. But hardly any had done so.

A couple of pastors indicated they had Sunday service prayer for teachers, police officers and firefighters. Apparently, accountants and car mechanics are off the radar.

My intention is not to be critical here. Churches have enough criticism directed toward them. But why is there such a disconnect between Sunday and Monday?

Any thoughts?

If you haven't viewed the video of the month yet, take a moment to hear Paul Stevens' thoughts on the role of the church in equipping saints for workplace service: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4jLkPzdkuc

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Friday, November 13, 2009

The Deepest And Most Significant Changes

One of the first books that opened my eyes to the faith-at-work frontier was Doug Sherman and William Hendricks' landmark piece, Your Work Matters To God, published in 1987.

Of all the formats the authors have used for teaching followers of Christ to integrate their faith with their work, Sherman and Hendricks say the small group experience, when effectively done, produces "the deepest and most significant changes."

I have a feeling John and Charles Wesley would agree. Along with William Wilberforce.

For those who want to live out the biblical worldview in real life, and to play an effective role in transforming culture, Sherman and Hendrick's advice is as fresh today as it was 22 years ago: "Consider forming an on-going group of associates who purpose to bring biblical principles to everyday work situations.”

The authors suggest such groups be discussion-oriented around specific workplace situations, where participants can experience accountability as well as mutual support and encouragement in making the connections between those workplace situations and authentic Christianity.

Sherman and Hendricks also recommend that such work-focused small groups be homogeneous. As they put it, “…it will obviously be easier for a secretary to think through what it means to serve Christ as a secretary with other secretaries and clerical workers than with vice presidents and CEOs.”

I’m wondering if any of you (readers of this blog) are presently in a work-focused small group such as the kind Sherman and Hendricks describe.

I am not talking about a group of working people who meet together for general Bible study. I am not talking about a group that meets for prayer, unless that prayer is specifically focused on workplace matters. I am not talking about a group that meets for a Christian book study, unless the book is about biblical applications to specific work issues that group members are facing.

What I am talking about are work-oriented small groups that meet regularly for the specific purpose of bringing biblical principles to specific workplace challenges and opportunities that participants in the group are currently facing. A true support group.

Are any of you part of such a work-life support group? If so, would you mind posting a comment, sharing how it is working for you and those in your group?

If you are not in such a group, but have thoughts on this matter, please post a comment.

Posting comments helps others. But if you are reluctant to submit your comments for the whole world to read, please send me a direct e-mail at overman@biblicalworldview.com. I’m truly interested in your thoughts, and in your experience along these lines.

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Friday, November 6, 2009

The Most Fitting Place

One reason I am passionate about helping followers of Christ to connect their faith with their everyday work is because authentic Christianity is not just something for the individual soul, but for the community as a whole.

If you take William Wilberforce’s passion for the reformation of society, and combine it with John Wesley’s passion for "real Christianity," then mix it together with regular gatherings of a small "Clapham Circle" of Christian businessmen, bankers, and other politicians for advice, encouragement, accountability and perspective, what do you get?

You get what the English poet William Cowper described as, “the better hour.”

There are four big take-aways from the Wesley-Wilberforce story that are meaningful to me:

First, while Wesley's work as a full-time preacher-teacher was the right thing for him to do, if Wilberforce had left politics to go “into the ministry” it would have been a great loss. A Christian politician can be “in the ministry” too, directly by doing his or her daily work in that field.

Second, a small group of believing friends to provide encouragement and accountability in connecting one's faith with one's work is indispensable.

Third, the application of real Christianity to all of life is transformational, not just for individuals, but for whole communities and nations.

Fourth, there is no better opportunity to live out the application of real Christianity than in the context of everyday, regular work. This is what Wilberforce did.

When it comes to "salting" and "lighting" the world, isn’t the everyday workplace the most fitting place for followers of Christ to apply the biblical worldview to real life, in natural and normal ways?

I’m not talking about sharing the Four Spiritual Laws with co-workers here. I’m talking about living out authentic Christianity in the context of our work relationships, decision-making processes, policies and procedures, marketing and sales, product development and production, pricing, contracts, accounting, management, strategic planning and community service.

Right now millions of followers of Christ are already sprinkled throughout the workplaces of the world, at all levels of society, in all arenas of influence. What might happen to whole communities and nations if we all did our daily work, in all spheres of human endeavor, "as for the Lord?"

Os Guinness was profoundly correct when he said: "God has His people where He wants them. The problem is that they are not being His people where they are.”

Wilberforce demonstrated a keen understanding of the full-orbed Gospel of the Kingdom. This understanding changed the face of his nation—and the world. I think it is time for a refresher course.

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