Dr. Charlie Self was recently interviewed by Values & Capitalism, a blog initiative of the American Enterprise Institute. As well as introducing Self’s passion for the work of the local church, the interview highlights Self’s thoughts on Christian vocation and his new primer, “Flourishing Churches and Communities: Integrating Faith, Work and Economics for Spirit-Empowered Discipleship”. Self’s book is a part of the Acton Institute’s new primer series designed to speak from several major evangelical traditions. Flourishing Churches and Communities represents the Pentecostal perspective.
The blog post covers concepts like vocation, non-profit vs. for-profit work, wealth and justice, and the role of the pastor. Here’s a sample:
Q: You have previously described the local church [as] the “incubator of transformation.” Why would you describe its role as foundational to Christian mission — and in what new ways could the church better fulfill its transformational role?
A: The local church is the concrete community where people worship God, serve one another and serve their community. It is also the place where people most frequently discover their gifts, callings and unique abilities. One philosopher said: We find ourselves only in another person’s eyes. This equally applies to our ability to discover our vocation.
I deeply believe the church’s work in the world, beyond liturgy and evangelism, involves empowering one another to take up our vocations for Christ. A friend of mine recently told me of a church in New England that once a month has special prayer in their worship service for a different domain of society. One month they take medical care. Another month they focus on education. Then they take business, or missions, the arts and culture, media. Those in the congregation who are engaged in these different domains receive prayer, with a clear sense that they are commissioned to represent Christ in their domain.
Pastors today do not have to be experts in all the domains, but they can empower people to discover how their particular callings, vocations and occupations serve God in the world. It is a wonderful thing when congregational leaders commission their parishioners, in the power of the Spirit, to do their work to the glory of God.
The Kern Pastors Network encourages pastors to engage in lifelong learning, but discipling and empowering congregations does not require expertise “in all domains.” Given that the KPN is a network of pastors for pastors, we thought it would be helpful to hear from a few fellow church leaders on the topic. Pastor Greg Thompson of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, Va., wrote “The Church in our Time;” calling for pastors to refocus their priorities. While it is not a simple task, he stresses the importance of preparing Christians to live out their vocational calling.
“…The task of renewing the church toward faithfulness in our time is highly complex. It will require the cooperation of multiple ecclesial traditions, multiple generations, and multiple vocational spheres—each animated by the living and active presence of God in our midst. No one person, tradition, or initiative is sufficient to map—much less to walk—the way before us.
“And yet it remains the case that any effort toward renewing the church in her calling for our time will inevitably require us to give sustained attention to three fundamental tasks. The first of these is reconsidering operative paradigms. We must take stock of the current ineffective working models for understanding the church’s relationship to the world, and embrace a more faithful alternative. The second of these is recovering theological foundations. In this, we must ask what neglected theological convictions must be recovered and held in common in order for the church to sustain faithfulness in our time. The third of these is refocusing pastoral priorities. To this end, we must ask what practical priorities pastors must embrace if the church’s calling is to be faithfully sustained…“…How then are pastors to take responsibility for the priority of nurturing congregations of faithful presence? By understanding the congregational locale—taking seriously the cultural, theological, and missional setting of the church. By converting the congregational imagination—proclaiming the comprehensive and restorational gospel of Jesus. By cultivating congregational virtue—laboring to renew the minds, reorder the loves, and redirect the lives of our people. By deepening congregational care — leading our people to care for the whole person, over the whole of life, and for the whole community. By expanding congregational mission — summoning all of God’s people, to take up all of God’s work, and bear it into all of God’s world. And finally, by shepherding congregational expectations—reminding them of both the brokenness of the present, and the certainty of the future. As we labor to embed each of these in the individuals, the ideas, and the institutional structures of our churches, we will — over time and by God’s grace — see our people becoming congregations of faithful presence.”
-Pastor Greg Thompson, “The Church in Our Time”
Rev. John Yates II, rector at the Falls Church Anglican, in Falls Church, Va., recently preached a Labor Day sermon reflecting on similar themes. He concluded:
“At the end, God will indeed judge us as to how well we have put his gifts to work in his service—our works don’t determine whether or not we go to heaven, but what kind of stewards of the gospel we have been will be evaluated. It would be a great joy to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
“We have a responsibility to discern and develop the gifts God has given us (both natural abilities and experience, spiritual gifts, and material blessings). Asking God to lead and guide us in how to do this, and helping one another are top priorities. Make knowing and trusting Jesus Christ the all-surpassing goal of your life. As you follow him, he has said he will help you ‘become’ what he wants you to become.”
The task of discipleship and the integration that KPN seeks to explore and model are emphasized by Self, who is himself a pastor with decades of ministry experience.
“As we reflect on this material, it is vital to remember that the local church is still the primary community through which God’s people worship, grow, evangelize, and demonstrate compassion – even though the church-as-organization is not called to do every task in God’s world. The major idea is this primer is that all spheres of life are ordained by God and can be infused with the Holy Spirit’s wisdom…
“…Discipleship that brings faith, economics, and work together is liberating. When the glory of God and the good of others is in view, when all facets of life are saturated with God’s presence and every member of the congregation wakes up on Monday with meaning for the day, the fruit will be greater than we can imagine.”
-Charlie Self, pp. 81-83, Flourishing Churches and Communities
From the Kern Pastors Network. Image: Jennifer Woodruff Tait.