Bethel Seminary joined the Oikonomia Network in 2012, and since 2013 has intentionally worked to prepare pastors and church leaders in the topics of faith, flourishing, and economic wisdom through its Work with Purpose Initiative. At the heart of the Work with Purpose Initiative is a focus on whole-life discipleship for the church. In contrast to the artificial sacred-secular dichotomy that views work and ministry as separate realities, an emphasis on whole-life discipleship empowers pastors and Christian leaders to equip and guide the church in ways that affirm the value and importance of the everyday work of God’s people.
From the beginning, Work with Purpose’s objectives targeted the transformation of seminary culture along with catalyzing a deeper understanding of discipleship, flourishing, and economic wisdom among church and ministry leaders. These strategies – our “Seminary Culture Change Strategy” and our “Church Outreach Strategy” – keep us focused on our primary mission to prepare Christian leaders to encourage and equip the church to effectively engage in all work. What follows are a few key activities Bethel is pursuing in both of these strategic areas.
Seminary Culture Change
Since 2013, the Work with Purpose team and the Bethel Seminary community have been pursuing economic wisdom together. Over the months and years of intentional focus, the seminary community has seen significant growth in its capacity to deliver on our mission of preparing Christian leaders with economic wisdom. The following five activities show the sustained impact Work for Purpose has on Bethel.
First, in order to empower Bethel to deliver on our mission, we have pursued a model of nurturing economic wisdom not only with faculty, but with seminary staff and administrators as well. In the spring of 2017, we will be offering our third faculty and staff Work with Purpose retreat. In these focused two-day retreats, the community of faculty, staff and administrators come together to reflect on vocation and consider our individual and community responsibilities in empowering our students with an understanding of economic wisdom and whole-life discipleship. With guests such as Scott Rae and Gary Black providing insights for our community leaders, we are seeing our collective capacity to nurture the economic wisdom of students increase both inside and outside the classroom.
Second, often flowing out of the reflection taking place in our faculty and staff retreats, our faculty idea grants program helps provide time and space for faculty to integrate relevant theological themes into both elective and core classes. Rather than simply having a stand-alone class on faith-work integration at Bethel, the faculty idea grant program incentivizes integration throughout our three core curricular emphases—biblical and theological foundations, spiritual and personal formation, and transformational leadership. One example of such curricular integration is the outstanding animated video developed by New Testament Professor Jeannine Brown, “Does My Work Matter to God?”
Third, we continue to offer in-person opportunities for seminary students, faculty, and staff to engage with key thought leaders such as Steven Garber, Will Messenger and Amy Sherman. Through such gatherings, the seminary community is nurtured with broad insights regarding faith, vocation and economic wisdom.
Fourth, as students encounter themes related to Work with Purpose in their classes and community events, many of them want to dig deeper. Our key answer to this has been our 100,000 Hour Colloquy—a reading group designed to provide time and space for students to engage foundational resources in the whole-life discipleship movement, such as Every Good Endeavor, Work Matters, and Kingdom Calling. The “100,000 Hour” part of the reading group name is our way of helping students understand that work represents a majority of our waking hours – nearly 100,000 hours in a lifetime – and deserves thoughtful biblical and theological reflection. Almost all of our most committed student advocates at the seminary have been through the 100,000 Hour Colloquy reading groups.
Fifth, in 2016 Bethel Seminary hosted a Work with Purpose Talks event. The Work with Purpose Talks provided a pathway for capturing four quality recordings from Bethel Seminary faculty highlighting whole-life discipleship conversations from the areas of Old Testament, New Testament, Theology and Ministry Leadership. Paul Ferris (Hebrew Bible), Jeannine Brown (New Testament), Glen Scorgie (theology), and I, Justin Irving (ministry leadership), provided these four TED-style talks at the end of November 2016. A preview of the videos is available here.
In addition to the activities related to seminary culture change, Bethel Seminary and the Work with Purpose team feel a responsibility to impact current church leaders in our network with the message of economic wisdom. Complementing our work with current students, the church outreach strategy seeks to catalyze the conversation surrounding faith and work in the Twin Cities of Minnesota, and beyond, through our partnerships with churches and pastors. The three following activities provide a natural pathway for engaging in this church outreach.
First, we host regular public events that we make available to both seminary community members and local pastors. Most of these events fall under our Pastors and Ministry Leaders Seminars. At these events, we invite leading experts such as Tom Nelson of Made to Flourish, Andy Crouch of Christianity Today, and Katherine Leary Alsdorf of Redeemer City to City to provide insights and ideas for whole-life discipleship and ministry practice. Such events have provided avenues for deeper engagement with regional church leaders, and are helping to catalyze a regional network of mature pastoral practitioners in collaboration with local partners, such as the Made to Flourish network.
Second, in addition to these public events, the Work with Purpose team is also producing quality church-based curricular resources for church small-group and Sunday school offerings. Thus far, we have classes published on faith and work and vocational stewardship. Currently being developed are a youth version of the vocational stewardship course, entitled Lord, Do What You Want through Me: An Exploration of Vocation and Kingdom Living for Youth and a course on the economics of flourishing, which provides an accessible and practical conversation about economics from a biblical perspective. In addition to these church-based courses, the Work with Purpose team has also developed a short booklet on core discipleship, work, and economic wisdom insights to help introduce these concepts to those who are new to the Work with Purpose conversation. This booklet, written by three professors, Glen Scorgie, Jeannine Brown and Paul Ferris, is entitled Work with Purpose: Biblical and Theological Perspectives on Work.
Third, while our public events and developed resources provide broad exposure to ideas and practice, the Work with Purpose team is building deep relationships with core church and denominational partners in order to catalyze deeper and sustaining conversations. Nationally, the Work with Purpose team is initially partnering with four districts in Converge Worldwide (the Baptist General Conference) to prepare pastors in the denomination to encourage and equip the Church to effectively engage in all work. Regionally, we are partnering with a broad network of pastors in the Twin Cities of Minnesota to help pastors and churches move from ideas to sustained engagement.
It is especially exciting for us to see the pastors and churches introduced to the whole-life discipleship conversation through our public events now taking on leadership roles in their own churches and communities. Examples of this broad and leveraged impact include churches that have gone through strategic leadership sessions to reorganize their churches around a model of whole-life discipleship, and churches that now host their own events which we are invited as partners to, rather than leaders.
In short, the church-based strategy is providing a pathway for leveraged impact as Bethel Seminary utilizes its strengths to catalyze the Church of the Twin Cities and beyond for action around economic wisdom and whole-life discipleship.