church_congregationOver at The High Calling, Michael Kruse observes that many pastors and church leaders are now looking for a “programmatic strategy” for helping their congregations integrate work and discipleship.

The problem, Kruse argues, is that such a strategy doesn’t exist:

As leaders, we need to realize that to make faith and discipleship integrated in our congregations, we cannot do it with our congregation’s existing knowledge and skills, requiring those in our congregation (including ourselves) to make a shift in our values, expectations, attitudes, and behaviors. You see, while some of us sense a need for better integration of faith with vocation, there are significant obstacles.

Most Christians do not have a theological framework that accommodates the integration of faith and vocation. Many are even hostile to the idea. They are more comfortable with a life that is not integrated, compartmentalizing work and discipleship. Any attempts at integration feel like intrusions into their private lives. Worship is viewed as an escape from “secular” concerns. And let’s face it, if we really pursue integration, we will discover uncomfortable things about our lives.

Indeed, as the Acton Institute’s Stephen Grabill points out in his foreword to Lester DeKoster’s Work: The Meaning of Your Life, despite many Christians having an “implicit sense that work is good because it carries out the cultural mandate,” we have failed to grasp that work is, further, “one of the core elements of discipleship and spiritual formation.”

To start chipping away at this convenient and comfortable disposition, Kruse offers some basic and broad ideas to help church leaders begin the integration process with their congregations. (Amy Sherman offered a similarly themed set of recommendations a few months ago.)

The key steps offered by Kruse are as follows:

1. Confess – Get real before God about our own insecurities on this topic. Pray for courage and a spirit of openness to learn.

2. Get curious – Ask theological questions. Where is this conversation already occurring? Join the High Calling Community. Read books and articles. Find resources that help pastors lead their congregations in the integration of faith and vocation. There is an expanding universe of material on the topic from across a wide range of Christian traditions.

[Also, join the On Call in Culture community and check out our related resources.]

3. Go to work – Many are familiar with Charles Sheldon’s “What Would Jesus Do?” strategy for church transformation but few are aware of what inspired it. Sheldon took a three month sabbatical from his pastoral duties in 1891 and spent each day going to work with people from all walks of life, even doing jobs himself. The experience compelled him to develop a practical theology of daily life…Why not start with five congregants? Explain to them the journey you are on. Ask to come to the workplace, learn what work they do, and ask some open-ended questions about how the church has helped or failed them…

4. Preach with awareness – Most businesspeople report never having heard a sermon that affirms their work. Are there stories from the workplaces of your congregants in your sermon illustrations? Do you have a tendency to caricature the business world? Have you consciously attempted to integrate work and discipleship in your applications?

5. Foster a movement – Begin convening conversations with congregants who “get it.” Create space for “courageous conversations” (John Knapp’s term) about work and life, conversations where there is honesty and the question “Have you considered …” is common. Encourage the expansion of these groups. Most conversations about work and discipleship are outside the context of worshiping communities. How can we make the congregation be a welcoming place for such conversations?

6. Institutionalize – Find ways to incorporate work and discipleship into the life of the congregation. We commission people to mission trips or to “full-time Christian ministry.” Why not periodically have commissioning services for people who have taken new jobs? How might an integrated view of work and discipleship change the prayer of thanksgiving for an offering or change intercessory prayers for the people? Churches are experimenting with a range of practices. Each context is different but the issue is to get an integrated understanding woven into the rituals and rhythms of community life…

Read the full post here.

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