Oikonomia Network activities continue at Dallas Theological Seminary. Our approach has been to wrap these themes and values around our curriculum. Changes in curriculum are difficult and take a long time, so we build energy and equip students on the faith and work connection through events and other activities.
We continue to produce podcasts on The Table tied to faith and work. Bill Hendricks has discussed giftedness with us. Michael Thigpen has treated Old Testament themes tied to the topic as has Gordon Johnston. A close look at Genesis 1-3 was a key to these podcasts. We are preparing to record podcasts with business people impacted by and contributing to our work. Steve Ramseur, an executive with JLL, and David Ridley, formerly of Invesco, are among those guests. They share their enthusiasm for faith and work and speak of those they manage as their “flock” whom God has given them to care for in ways that mirror pastoring.
We also continue to hold our minister’s lunches. These events encourage discussion on faith and work among pastors. We host around 50 pastors once a year. Tom Nelson was our most recent guest speaker and spoke to a group of over 70.
We held our annual Faith and Work Conference in Wheaton, Il. this year, at Wheaton Bible Church. We had a record attendance of 200 as both business leaders, pastors, scholars, and church group leaders spoke about this vital issue. Speakers included Tom Nelson, David Kim, Katherine Leary Alsdorf and Scott Rae. In particular, attention was given to how business people can encourage pastoral staffs to address such topics.
Encouraging pastors to walk into this conversation has been the greatest challenge of our conferences. Business people attend in greater numbers, but it’s harder to attract as many pastoral folks. We have spent much of the last year discussing how to address this concern more directly. It has led to a talk that we regularly give to business folks encouraging them to raise this issue in the churches.
Several themes emerge from these efforts to bridge the business/church gap:
- Represent your vocation at your church and represent your church at your vocation;
- Reflect your vocation in your conversations at church;
- Connect your vocation to the mission of the church and treat it as a calling, portraying it as front line work;
- Encourage your church to commission people for such work and to remember such vocational space in preaching, so the 9-5 space is consistently addressed as relevant;
- Invite pastoral staff to your place of work so they can see what you do up close; and
- Discourage pastors from seeing you only as a church checkbook or as valuable only when you apply your skills within the church walls.
The goal in all of this is to help the church appreciate God has you where he does for a reason. The result is to extend the mission of the church. Evangelism and mission from the church already has a divinely designed program in place to reach out; it is in people’s vocations in the work space. The work of those who labor in their daily jobs opens an opportunity to show how we contribute well to the service of the city and our society. Part of this theme is also tied to affirming the work itself, not just the situations and opportunities that surround it, as of value because of the service it contributes as stewardship of our world (tending the garden God gives us). The greater the excellence in how someone does their work, the greater credibility they gain for sharing in other areas they desire to share in, such as spiritual concerns. These are some of the values we are communicating to those who attend our events.
Expanding faculty involvement also is a concrete goal. Once each semester we have a discussion that touches on this topic with all our faculty. Two of our younger faculty accompanied me to Karam Forum in March.
Finally, specific partnerships with outside groups are starting to take place. Global Resources set up forums in Chicago and San Francisco in which I discussed faith and work matters with young millennials just starting their careers. The message above was one of the topics we addressed with this group. These kinds of outside events show interest among younger believers.
Dallas students and graduates are exposed to the faith and work discussion on a regular basis. The result has been greater attention to this conversation. We are starting to see other faculty come forward, desiring to speak into this topic as well. The wraparound approach seems to be gaining an exciting momentum. It is encouraging to see and hear what God is doing with this topic at our campus as well as hear from others around the country as they seek to encourage development in this area.