Category: Vocation

When we hear about church “outreach ministries,” we often think of food pantries, homeless shelters, and community events. But while these can be powerful channels for service and empowerment, many churches are beginning to look for new ways to empower individuals more holistically.

For some, this means abandoning traditional charity altogether, focusing their ministry more directly around recognizing the gifts and strengths of others. For others, like Evangel Ministries in Detroit, it involves a mix of many things, but with a particular emphasis on the power of entrepreneurship to transform lives and communities.

Hear their story here, in a video produced by Made to Flourish:

For Evangel, it’s not just about meeting immediate needs through traditional channels, but about teaching work skills and financial literacy, teaching congregants on the details of permitting, and even in some cases providing investment capital for particular businesses. (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…)

A few weeks back, Acton welcomed Gene Edward Veith to the Mark Murray Auditorium as part of the 2015 Acton Lecture Series. This week, I had the opportunity to talk with Veith for this edition of Radio Free Acton. We discuss the influence of the Protestant Reformation on the development of capitalism, Luther’s beliefs on vocation, and how young people can discern their vocations as they contemplate their futures.

You can listen to the podcast via the audio player below; after the jump, I’ve included the video of Veith’s ALS lecture for those interested in diving deeper into these ideas.

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Max Weber’s classic study The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism made the case that the Reformation had a major impact on the rise of free market capitalism. But according to Gene Edward Veith, Weber misunderstood what it was about the Reformation that caused that impact. On February 26th, Veith came to Grand Rapids to talk about what Weber missed in his classic analysis – primarily Martin Luther’s doctrine of vocation, which taught that God is present and active in ordinary economic activity, which becomes a sphere in which Christians can love and serve their neighbors.

Gene Edward Veith is Provost and Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College. He is the author of 18 books on topics involving Christianity and culture, classical education, literature, and the arts. They include Postmodern Times, The State of the Arts, The Spirituality of the Cross, God at Work, Modern Fascism, Classical Education, and Loving God With All Your Mind.

If you prefer, you can stream the audio from the player below, or head over to the Acton Institute digital download store and pick up an mp3 of your very own – you can do that at this link.

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…)

Members of  the “Acton Club” of West Catholic High School

Members of the “Acton Club” of West Catholic High School

Culture has either an overly optimistic view of youth culture, or an overly dour and depressing one. However, neither view is entirely true, nor are such disparate opinions very helpful.  The unavoidable truth is this: younger generations will have to bear increasingly more difficult levels of financial, and societal responsibility in the coming years. To put it mildly their future will not be an easy walk in the park.

However, in my experiences at Acton, I am witnessing a renaissance, a flowering of maturity in which young men and women are not waiting for someone to offer them a free hand-out, but rather are seeking a better version and a more compelling vision for their future. Certainly the root of this renaissance has been occurring over the past ten years with college students at Acton University, but the flowering I am talking about is happening amongst high school students.

In the spring of 2014, a group of students from West Catholic High School in Grand Rapids made an appointment to tour our offices and to learn more about Acton’s work. After the tour, I expected the students to simply say, “thank you” and then depart, but the leader of this intrepid band said, “Mr. Cook, we have a core group that are serious about our Christian faith, and we want to be successful, ethical and virtuous business leaders. We want to learn how we can live our faith as Christian business leaders in our world today.” Then he said something really amazing.

“Do you think it’s possible for us to start an ‘Acton Club’ in our high school?’

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“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…)

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…)

20111108diggingaditchOver the past two decades there has been an increased interest and promotion of the Biblical meaning of work and the Christian view of vocation. Many groups have contributed to this revival, including the Acton Institute (last year we launched Oikonomia, a blog at Patheos’ Faith and Work Channel, dedicated to providing resources specific to the intersection of faith, work, and economics).

While the faith and work conversation has been exceedingly fruitful, it has also been rather limited to what can be described as “knowledge workers.” As Comment’s Brian Dijkema says,

[W]e fall into the trap of taking Andy Crouch’s Culture Making and equating it with a baptized version of Richard Florida’s “creative class.” We get excited about those who open local coffee shops or become journalists or start a non-profit or (fill in the blank). But what do our “faith and work” books have to say to people who work on the line at a Ford assembly plant, or to medical assistants who take care of the elderly? Will landscapers and receptionists see themselves in the “work” we’re talking about? Would anyone who has to wear coveralls to work feel comfortable at our “faith and work” conferences?

And even when we bring skilled labour—or the completely different category of menial labour—into the faith and work conversation, we sometimes focus on the parts of those jobs that fit with creativity and fulfillment. It’s nice to say “it’s so good that you care for our elderly,” but it’s much harder to talk about having to change colostomy bags, or how you smell when you’re done cleaning out a chicken barn. Yet this work takes the waking hours of many people—perhaps even the majority—in North America and certainly the world. Leaving this work out of the conversation not only leaves too many on the outside, but unwittingly communicates a certain hopelessness, as if joy and satisfaction—indeed the LORD’s satisfaction—cannot be found in this type of work.

Several years ago, philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff made a similar point:
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_70189222_464_unemployedUnemployment is a spiritual problem. When a person loses their job, they’ve lost a means to provide for their family, an important aspect of their human flourishing, and the primary way they serve their neighbors. With the loss in vocation comes a loss in meaning. Not surprisingly, unemployment can have long-term negative effects on communities, families, and a person’s subjective well-being and self-esteem.

The most disturbing effect of unemployment is the despair that can lead people to take their own lives. One out of every five suicides in the world can be associated with unemployment, according to a new study published in The Lancet Psychiatry. As Business Insider reports,
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