Missional Already in Our Work

Missional Already in Our Work April 15, 2015

missional-alreadyWant to lead a missional church? Think “vocations.”

The great missiologist Lesslie Newbigin stated,

“God’s saving power known and experienced in the life of a redeemed community has to issue in all kinds of witness and service to the world… (The) enormous preponderance of the Church’s witness is the witness of the thousands of its members who work in field, home, office, mill, or law court.”[1]

A growing number of pastors are instilling into their congregations a robust theology of vocation, equipping and empowering church congregants to live missionally within the contexts that God has placed them. As one of my doctoral mentors, Steven Garber, states,

“Vocation is instrumental, not incidental, to the missio Dei.”[2]

This vocation-as-mission movement intentionally equips God’s people, in the words of John Yates,

“to get out into the difficult and dark places of the community and the city, and simply do the best they can to love their neighbors and work for the common good… to dignify all Christian calling to serve God in all sorts of ways.”[3]

Christians are being encouraged to recover their creative callings.[4]

On Mission Right Where They Are

According to the vocation-as-mission movement, when Christians fully engage in their callings, they are already being missional. Darrell Cosden writes,

“Believers desperately need to grasp why and how mission is what they, the whole people of God, are engaged in already as they work. More specifically, they need to grasp why and how the work itself that we do is missionary activity rather than just an occasion for it…It is largely (though not exclusively) through our work that we reflect God’s image and co-operate with him in bringing people and the whole of creation to humanity’s and nature’s ultimate maturity and future.”[5]

In order for churches to be missional, Amy Sherman contends that Christians must be equipped in what she calls “vocational stewardship.”

“By vocational stewardship, I mean the intentional and strategic deployment of our vocational power—knowledge, platform, networks, position, influence, skills, and reputation—to advance foretastes of God’s kingdom. For missional congregations that desire to rejoice their cities, vocational stewardship is an essential strategy.”[6]

Pastors Just Don’t Get It

But there is a major problem. A majority of those who attend North American evangelical churches do not understand such a high view of vocation.

David Miller, Director of the Faith and Work Initiative at Princeton, writes,

“Many people report feeling that they live increasingly bifurcated lives, where faith and work seldom connect. Many who are Christians complain of a ‘Sunday-Monday gap’ where their Sunday worship hour bears little or no relevance to the issues they face in their Monday workplace hours.”[7]

The problem, it seems, does not lie just with those in the pews but with those in the pulpit.

Theologian Miroslav Volf, in making the case that the church needs to transition toward developing and applying a robust theology of work, states,

“Amazingly little theological reflection has taken place in the past about an activity which takes up so much or our time.”[8]

Pastor Tom Nelson concurs. He writes,

“For way too long, I did not see work as an essential component of a broader, robust theology of calling. I failed to grasp that a primary stewardship of my pastoral work was to assist and equip others to better connect the professions of their Sunday faith with the practices of their Monday work.”[9]

So what does it actually mean to be “missional?” In order to determine that, we must first understand the mission that God has for his people. 

It will not do to just spout the latest faddish missional rhetoric. We’ve got to get to the Bible. We’ve got to understand what our mission really is. That is the topic of the next series of posts here at (re)integrate.



[1] Lesslie Newbigin, “Our Task Today” (Fourth Meeting of the Diocesan Council, Tirumangalam, India, December 18, 1951).

[2] Steven Garber, “Vocation As Integral, Not Incidental” Address (The Q Gathering, Portland, OR, April 25, 2011), http://www.washingtoninst.org/893/vocation-as-integral-not-incidental/, accessed March 9, 2013.

[3] John Yates, “Is Our View of Ministry Too Narrow? Is It Too Church-Focused?” (presented at the Commencement, Covenant Theological Seminary, May 16, 2008), http://www.washingtoninst.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Cov-Seminary-May-19-08.pdf, accessed 2/19/2013.

[4] As the subtitle states in Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2008).

[5] Darrell Cosden, The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 2006), 129–130.

[6] Amy L. Sherman, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Books, 2011), 20.

[7] David W. Miller, God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement, First Edition (Oxford University Press, USA, 2006), 10.

[8] Miroslav Volf, Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work, Reprint (Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2001), 69.

[9] Tom Nelson, Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work (Crossway Books, 2011), 15.

Image by Humblenick, used with permission, sourced from Flickr.

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