Justin Irving, professor of Ministry Leadership
Erin Rupe, manager, Work with Purpose Initiative
Bethel Seminary joined the Oikonomia Network in July 2012 and officially launched the Work with Purpose initiative in January 2013. As a seminary, we use a “three centers” approach to preparing well-rounded ministry leaders. These centers are: (1) a sound biblical and theological foundation; (2) relevant leadership capacity and skill; and (3) strong spiritual, personal, and moral character. This approach intrinsically challenges students toward a holistic vision of discipleship, both for themselves and for the people to whom they minister. Authentically embracing such a holistic vision of discipleship means rejecting the artificial dichotomy between “work” and “ministry.” That is where we have grounded Work with Purpose.
In our first year of the initiative, we sought to deconstruct this dichotomy on a number of levels. We engaged seminary professors, the formative thought leaders of our community, primarily through the Faculty Idea Grant program. In 2013, we awarded seven grants to five professors to create materials and content within their own courses. The grants mobilized professors to invest resources and time in the research and development of material that generally interjected themes of faith and work into one class period within their respective semester courses.
We were recently pleased to hear that the early curricular results of these grants were selected by the national ON advisory committee as “helpful models.” Topics included a biblical-theological study of work in the Hebrew Bible (including a video class module), vocational development as a fundamental aspect of spiritual formation, and work in light of eschatology. Not only did these grants actively engage professors in considering the theme of work within their own disciplines, but it also directly impacted roughly 130 students throughout the year. The research from these grants also gave shape to content for some of our public events and catalyzed the development of new formal seminary course content that is currently underway.
We also developed and launched learning experiences and programs to engage seminary students directly. We offered a colloquy reading group, bringing motivated seminary students into lively conversation with business and economics students from Bethel University’s MBA program and the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. The group met twice a month for a semester, exploring concepts from four key books, including Amy Sherman’s “Kingdom Calling” and Michael Novak’s “The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism,” which made for rich, dynamic conversations. We also asked seminary student participants to capture their reflections in an essay at the end of the term. These essays demonstrated the tremendous impact that the regular and honest discourse had within the group.
Moreover, we created and launched a formal academic course that was first offered to students in the seminary’s Christian Thought program in fall 2013. The Theology of Leadership and Vocation course explores the vast intersection between our vocations as Christians and our vocations as humans: what is God calling us to do in the world? Under the instructional leadership of a local senior minister, students considered input from key sources and thinkers. Reading, lectures, and visiting presenters (both onsite and synchronously online) helped to shape a theology with which to contextualize vocation for seminarians. Significant time was dedicated to vocational discernment, including an overnight vocational retreat in order to apply lessons learned to personal decisions and responses to God’s call. The course will be offered again in an online format this fall, and will continue to be offered as a regular part of the Christian Thought program.
Finally, we hosted several public events to invite local pastors and lay leaders into the dialogue. The capstone experience was our MISSION:WORK Conference in October 2013. This one-and-a-half-day event was a dynamic blend of foundational and practical perspectives on God’s purposes for our work. We engaged the thought leadership of Steven Garber, Will Messenger, and Amy Sherman in our plenary sessions. We balanced these plenaries with rich table discussions among attendees, as well as practical panel discussions that specifically explored how to apply concepts to the Bible and our theology, to the workplace, and in churches. The event provided an arena for roughly 120 pastors, workers, and students to not only gain valuable insight from our presenters, but to also gain perspective from one another.
Our second grant year officially launched in June 2014. We look forward to continuing and expanding on these programs and others that were launched during the first year. This year we will more intentionally invite all seminary staff and faculty to explore faith and work themes in order to catalyze broader culture change at the seminary. Additionally, we will establish Work with Purpose as a regional resource hub for pastors. Now that the Kern Pastors Network has become Made to Flourish, our hub activity will allow us to leverage our learning community and networks to serve pastors and lay leaders more directly in conceptualizing and implementing faith-work initiatives within their own congregational contexts, including through Made to Flourish grant opportunities for local churches.