Hope for a better integration between faith and work

4232232092_2be61c1467_zOne great thing about this week’s Come & See Conference at Steve Garber’s Washington Institute of Faith, Vocation, and Culture was the people it brought together – each with a heart to bring churches, colleges, seminaries, and individuals into a fuller sense of vocation – of ordinary work as God meant it to be.

Steve asked attendees to introduce themselves and speak one question they were bringing to the gathering. These questions are illuminating by themselves:

A seminary professor in his 16th year at his institution related that his growing passion over the years was to answer this simple question: How do we equip pastors and leaders who will see their calling to value the high kingdom calling of the members of their congregations?

An academic dean and OT professor at another seminary – who had also been a businessperson and pastor – wondered aloud how to give congregants dignity during their work weeks – even (from the perspective of “marketing”) how to get people to want certain healthy things for their own work lives.

Several echoed a two-decades veteran administrator in another seminary, who wanted to find some specific strategies that move beyond the first, framework-laying stage of the faith and work conversation. “We can function at the conceptual level,” he said, “but there’s quite a chasm between that and actually doing it.” I think I sensed Steve saying a hearty, though silent, “Amen” at that point.

An executive pastor at a California church related a bit about what it’s like to live in a significantly post-Christian culture – this, he said, has challenged many “easy ways” to be church. In that setting, he asked, what does it look like to be creative, to inspire creativity, in this area of people’s vocation in the world?

Another Californian pastor asked, How do people’s vocations shape how they do mission for the flourishing of the cities?

A college administrator asked, What goes into a healthy institution that contributes health to all its constituents?

A theologian and seminary Doctor of Ministry program director with a former life in business gave us a great image from Wayne Gretzky, who once said that he skated to where the puck was going . . . not where it is. He wondered if theological education was perhaps skating to where the puck used to be. How, he wondered, could churches and theological educators pinpoint where that puck is going today?

A Pentecostal church historian asked, How can Trinitarian Christians engage together to see the local church be an incubator of socio-missional transformation?

A biology professor at a Christian college wanted to see students not just become good in their professions, but make a real difference in the world wherever they are planted.

At that point it was my turn, and I reflected on some things I’ve been learning from the faculty, staff, and students at Wheaton College, Wheaton IL, where I’m involved in a new institute for faith and vocation: Why is preparation for vocation so fraught and stressful for so many young people? What can we do to prepare a straighter, more confident way into vocational flourishing?

There were a few Christian businesspeople in the room too. One, an entrepreneur in the throes of starting a new business – with all the complexity, exhilaration, and potential for failure such ventures entail – talked about wanting to found a business rooted in the values of Jesus. He didn’t want it to be pigeonholed as a “Christian business,” serving only Christians, but he wondered how to do things at every step that would honor Jesus.

There were more voices with more questions. But this is enough, maybe, to give a taste: church leaders across many spheres are joining in a searching, articulate desire to build up Christian workers in an unprecedented way. To imagine such strengthening of the family of Christ in their ordinary work sounded, for two hot July days in Washington DC, less like naivete or fond imagination than like that oft-forgotten Christian virtue of hope.

Image: “Hope” by Darren Tunnicliff.

About Chris Armstrong

Dr. Chris Armstrong is a professor of church history, author of Patron Saints for Postmoderns (IVP, 2009) and Medieval Wisdom: An Exploration with C S Lewis (Baker Academic, forthcoming), and founding director of the new Institute for Faith and Vocation at Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL. Chris believes the reason Protestant evangelicals find ourselves urgently needing to have a conversation about "integrating faith and work" is that we have divorced our faith from our material and social lives.


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