Yesterday Leadership Journal’s Redeeming Work initiative held the third of five planned conferences on faith, work, and vocation. Jeff Haanen was on the spot for the Faith and Work Channel. This is the second of three reports from him about the day’s events.
“When we connect our work to God’s work, great things happen in our communities.”
Dr. Amy Sherman, a senior fellow at the Sagamore Institute, addressed a crowd of 120 pastors and ministry leaders at Leadership Journal’s third “Redeeming Work” event. Speaking in historic Mile High Station, a renovated steel factory, Sherman gave three clear reasons “why vocation really matters.”
1. Discipleship that doesn’t equip people for 40% of life isn’t true discipleship.
Work is where we spend 40% of our time, yet, says David Miller and Princeton’s Faith & Work Initiative, fewer than 10% of church goers can remember the last time their pastor talked about work.
Much of our language about work, says Sherman, gives church goers the idea that “ministry” is only working for a Christian 501(c)3 organization. For example, many often say, “Did you hear about Doug? He left his company and went into full-time ministry at Young Life.” But can’t work at a company can also be ministry – a way to serve both God and neighbor?
The problem with not speaking about work in church is that if we don’t, we will uncritically accept about culture’s view of work. There are two prevalent messages in mainstream culture we receive about work:
- Work is everything. When 1 in 3 American adults don’t take their vacation days, and instead proudly tell everybody how busy they are, work becomes a way to find personal worth and value. Work becomes an idol.
- Work is meaningless. Shows like The Office or comic strips like Dilbert (though undeniably humorous!) give many the impression that work is meaningless, and cynicism starts to grow. The object of work here becomes how to avoid work at all costs.
By ignoring topics related to work in the local church, many pastors, says Sherman, can inadvertently either make lay people feel like second class Christians (who are not “in the ministry”) or they miss an key opportunity for discipleship in a major area of people’s lives.
2. Failure to teach and equip on vocation is a major contributor to the young adult dropout rate from of churches.
Again, the statistics are telling. According to a study from the Barna Group, 59% of 18-29 year olds drop out from attending church. Yet 75% of that group wants to live a more meaningful life. This age group tends to be interested in issues related to dating/marriage or career. Yet far too often, they receive either little guidance on how their faith informas their professional interests. (An earlier Barna study showed “84% of Christians 18-29-year-olds admit that they have no idea how the Bible applies to their field or professional interests (Barna 2011).”
3. Vocation is integral, not incidental, to the mission of God.
The phrase was first coined by Steve Garber of the Washington Institue for Faith, Vocation and Culture, and is central to why Sherman believes leaders need to make work a major part of their ministry and teaching.
God’s is at work renewing all things, from architecture to agriculture to business to diplomacy, farming and medicine (Col. 1:15-20). God is in the business of restoration. As God’s representatives on earth, Christians, then, should be finding ways to bring foretastes of God’s coming kingdom to this present age. Just as we go to a Baskin Robbins and get a little pink spoon of ice cream before we order, so can Christian bring a foretaste of the redemption of all things by bringing greater degrees of beauty, justice, safety, and economic flourishing.
Sherman says this is the essence of vocational stewardship. Vocational stewardship is the strategic and intentional deployment of all of the dimension of our vocational power to advance foretastes of the kingdom of God.
What does this look like in practice? Doug Wilson, formerly an executive at Hillenbrand, Inc., saw his hourly employees avoid doctors appointments because it meant taking time off. This led to deteriorating health to many employees. So, Wilson decided to create an on-site clinic so employees could see doctors without losing pay. This led to greater accessibility to health care and ultimately lower health insurance costs for the company he led, as employees were living more healthy lives.
Or take the example of Dan Krebs, a former loan officer at a car dealership, and Tony Wiles, a former police officer. They saw many of their community’s poor using pay day lending shops, sometimes charging over 400% interest, and thus keeping many in a cycle of poverty. So, they created a nonprofit organization called Grace Period, which offers free loans of up to $500, with flexible payment schemes for their clients.
Like Wilson or Kreb and Wiles, when we use our vocational influence to bring about foretastes of God’s kingdom, and commit to teaching about work in the church, great good can be done for our communities.