Category: Faith and work

BroadwayUMC-naveIn the early 2000s, Broadway United Methodist Church had a series of outreach programs, including a food pantry, after-school program, clothing ministry, and a summer youth program that served up to 250 children per day. Today, these programs are completely absent, and it’s no accident.

“They’ve been killed off,” writes Robert King in a fascinating profile of the transformation for Faith and Leadership. “In many cases, they were buried with honors. But those ministries, staples of the urban church, are all gone from Broadway. Kaput.”

“One of the things we literally say around here is, ‘Stop helping people.’” says Rev. Mike Mather, the church’s pastor. “I’m serious.”

Although Mather was the first to initiate many of these programs, with some efforts going back as far as the late 1980s, after a series of circumstances, including a series of community tragedies, he began to believe that a new approach was needed. “I started paying attention to what they really cared about,” he says. (more…)

forest-path-stewardship1Being a follower of Jesus includes a hopeful vision of the future. In the fullness of the kingdom of God, we will live on a new earth as embodied humans, worshiping and working, married to Christ and in fellowship with sisters and brothers from all nations (Rev. 21-22). There will be no more war, perfect justice, a restored ecology and each person will steward gifts and responsibilities consistent with his or her created design and fidelity during this present age (Isaiah 2; Mt. 25).

The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit are the historical/personal guarantees of this eschatological vision (Acts 2-3). This audacious Christian hope inspires our covenant fidelity to the Triune God and concrete service to the world. Because of God’s unconditional love expressed in the Cross-and the liberating power of the resurrection, we now serve others sacrificially and all our present good works are signposts of the future.

This vision – eloquently expressed by Scot McKnight, N.T. Wright and Cherith Fee-Nordling among others – avoids utopian fantasy and dispensational fatalism. Our efforts are substantial but partial, for we are saved in hope of the final redemption (Ro. 8:18-27). We are not merely gathering decisions before the Rapture, but making disciples of all nations that work out their salvation in local communities that evangelize and seek the common good (Phil 2:12-16). Our disciples-making includes all elements of human flourishing, from the inner life of contemplation to creating value through our work. (more…)

katy-big-snow-virginia-burton“No work? Then nothing else either. Culture and civilization don’t just happen. They are made to happen and to keep happening — by God the Holy Spirit, through our work.” –Lester DeKoster

As we begin to discover God’s design and purpose for our work, there there’s a temptation to elevate certain jobs or careers above others, and attempt to inject our work with meaning from the outside. Yet as long as we are serving our neighbors faithfully, productively, ethically, and in obedience to God’s will, the meaning is already there.

We can wrap our imaginations around this reality in a number of ways, but one helpful thought experiment is to imagine what would happen if a particular job or task were to be left undone. With our newfound prosperity and privilege, it is sometimes easy to dismiss certain forms of manual or “unglamorous” labor (the plumber, the builder, the garbage collector) in favor of supposedly “higher pursuits.” Yet if any of the workers in these areas vanished, what would happen to civilized society? Indeed, in a way, the simple, tangible nature of such work often provides the clearest illustration of the service and sacrifice God has called us to, bearing fruit we can quite easily taste and see.

I was reminded of this when reading my kids Katy and the Big Snow, the classic children’s story by Virginia Lee Burton (author of another timeless tale about work). Burton tells the story of Katy, a “beautiful red crawler tractor” who was “very big and very strong” and was able to push either a bulldozer or snowplow, depending on the season. (more…)

1940Today’s parents are obsessed with setting their kids on strategic paths to supposed “success,” pre-planning their days to be filled with language camps, music lessons, advanced courses, competitive sports, chess clubs, museum visits, and so on.

Much of this is beneficial, of course, but amidst the bustle, at least one formative experience is increasingly cast aside: good, old-fashioned hard work.

In an essay for the Wall Street Journal, Jennifer Breheny Wallace points to a recent survey of U.S. adults where “82% reported having regular chores growing up, but only 28% said that they require their own children to do them.” Paired with the related decreases in youth employment outside the home, such a trend is a worrisome sneak peak at our economic future, but even more troubling for those who believes that work with the hands produces far more than mere material benefits. (more…)

cogIn a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal, Rachel Feintzeig sets her sights on the latest trends in corporate “mission statements,” focusing on a variety of employer campaigns to “inject meaning into the daily grind, connecting profit-driven endeavors to grand consequences for mankind.”

Companies have long cited lofty mission statements as proof they have concerns beyond the bottom line, and in the past decade tech firms like Google Inc. attracted some of the economy’s brightest workers by inviting recruits to come and change the world by writing lines of code or managing projects.

Now, nearly every product or service from motorcycles to Big Macs seems capable of transforming humanity, at least according to some corporations. The words “mission,” “higher purpose,” “change the world” or “changing the world” were mentioned on earnings calls, in investor meetings and industry conferences 3,243 times in 2014, up from 2,318 five years ago, according to a Factiva search.

(more…)

worker1One of our favorite coffee shops when we lived in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s was The Daily Grind. The name’s humorous wordplay about everyday work and the delicious fresh-roasted coffee made us smile.

But too many of God’s people are not smiling as their alarms sound and they head to their daily tasks. Recent surveys reveal their deep dissatisfaction in their jobs, with few finding joy and significance in their efforts. Last year, Barna Group reported 75 percent of American adults long for meaning, while less than 20 percent say they’re extremely satisfied with their current work.

Young adults in their 20s and 30s are unhappy about the disconnect between their educations and expectations and the scarcity of some jobs. Many are working two or three part-time jobs and waiting for their “destiny” and their “dream” opportunities.

It makes one wonder: Can work be purposeful when it is often boring, repetitious, and sometimes unjust, with nasty bosses and challenging work conditions? Is it truly possible to derive joy and meaning from a job? (more…)

Rosa’s Fresh Pizza in Philadelphia has now given away more than 10,000 slices of pizza, using a unique “pay-it-forward” system where “customers can pre-purchase $1 slices for those in need.”

The story is inspiring on a number of levels, illuminating the power of business to channel the best of humanity toward meeting complex needs in new and unexpected ways, often quite spontaneously.

The owner, Mason Wartman, left his job on Wall Street to start the restaurant, following his vocational aspirations and bringing a new product and service to this Philadelphia neighborhood. This is a great social benefit in and of itself, and yet the owner and his customers went further, responding to other signals in their community through generosity and innovation from the bottom up. As several homeless people in the video explain, the grace-filled approach of the business and its customers made a remarkable impact, giving them peace, encouragement, and empowerment. (more…)

“Being Godly doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be wealthy. God makes no such guarantees in the Bible, so goodbye, prosperity gospel…[But] God clearly is not opposed to wealth in a kind of blanket way. He’s not even opposed, necessarily, to tremendous wealth, gobstopping amounts of money.” –Owen Strachan

In a lecture for The Commonweal Project at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Owen Strachan tackles the tough subject of whether it’s morally wrong for Christians to make lots of money. His answer: “No. But it could be.”

Although the unprecedented prosperity of the last century has been accompanied by unprecedented amounts of guilt and self-loathing, Strachan argues that “the focus of a true Biblical theology of wealth would be on how money is a gift from God.” Surely we need to be wary of the unique temptations that come with wealth, but when dedicated to, consecrated by, and stewarded in attentive obedience to God and the Holy Spirit, “it can be nothing less than an engine, a mighty engine, for spiritual good,” Strachan argues. (more…)

81W0J14jZsL“Christ followers are to see the world differently and have a different posture toward it. Rather than safety from or capitulation to the world, the grand narrative of Scripture describes instead a world we are called to live for. This world, Scripture proclaims, belongs to God, who then entrusted it to His image bearers. He created it good and loves it still, despite its brokenness and frustration.” –John Stonestreet & Warren Cole Smith

Through the new film series, For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles, the Acton Institute has prompted a robust discussion on Christian cultural engagement, prodding Christians to stretch beyond our typical categories of fortification, domination, or accommodation, and instead toward an approach focused primarily on service and love.

How are we to be in the world but not of it? How do we seek the good of the city and serve our captors without compromising God’s truth? What is our salvation actually for?

In their forthcoming book, Restoring All Things, John Stonestreet and Warren Cole Smith explore these same questions and continue the conversation, calling Christians to reorient our attitudes, actions, and vocabulary around God’s “true story of the world.” For far too long, they argue, Christians have preferred the path of opposition (resisting, reacting, and rejecting) even though in Scripture, the most common “re” words have to do with what we are for (reconciling, redeeming, restoring). (more…)

RootedGod has clearly given us dominion over creation, yet a variety of divisions and distortions persist. Radical environmentalists dream of a world without us, even as hyper-consumerists wield God’s call as justification for undue exploitation and self-seeking.

Getting the relationship right not only impacts our stewardship, but gets to the core of what we believe about God, why he created us, and who he has called us to be. It’s no wonder, then, that Abraham Kuyper begins one of his sermons on the role of the church by examining humanity’s broader role in creation.

In his sermon, “Rooted and Grounded,” Kuyper proclaims that the church must be both rooted”in the “organism” of the Gospel, even while being grounded in various institutional forms. Yet insofar as we are “rooted” in “organic” life, we must ask: Which garden do we intend to cultivate? How do we plan to do it? Why? (more…)