Al Erisman, executive in residence, Seattle Pacific University School of Business, Government, and Economics
God is at work through his people at work.
What does this look like?
This was the question that 270 pastors, business/workplace leaders, theologians, university professors, and workplace ministry leaders discussed at the inaugural Faith@Work Summit in Boston last October. It was hosted by The Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Workplace at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, The Center for Integrity in Business at Seattle Pacific University, and The Center for Faith & Work at LeTourneau University. The Oikonomia Network, which supported the conference through its program at Gordon-Conwell, was a fourth lead sponsor, and 12 other organizations joined as co-sponsors.
We discovered that God working through his people at work looks like:
- An orchard owner creating a healthy, growing environment for her workers as well as her trees
- A CEO of a publically traded company guiding his team under the value, “To Honor God in all we do”
- A Wall Street executive working for the good of others
- An inner city pastor developing entrepreneurs and disciples through his church
- A suburban pastor realizing the value of work and the calling members of his congregation have in their workplaces
- A university professor exploring ways to guide students and research that encourage godly values
- A media executive producing films that encourage reading and support values
- A seminary professor developing future pastors who understand and care about what happens in the workplace
- A strategy for workplace ministry leaders to work together rather than as rivals
- A technology leader who understands the Kingdom value of technology
- A workplace chaplain encouraging those engaged in tough jobs
- A campus ministry leader guiding graduate students through the rigors of their programs
- An ethics professor going beyond damage control to mission control
- A high tech sales leader seeing God’s purpose in a globalizing business world
- An inner city pastor bringing hope to his people
All of this work is rooted in the understanding that:
- The Word of God speaks to our life in the workplace in every book of the Bible
- Being a Christian in the workplace involves both evangelism and discipleship
- Stewardship economics, not greed, undergirds good business
- Care for the poor goes beyond market outcomes
- This subject of faith at work is not a trend but the work of God and the call of God
- There is a long history of the church understanding this call from God
There was one more indication that God is at work in this area. When the organizers started planning the conference, they found a hotel with a capacity for 250 attendees. That seemed daunting in the summer of 2013. But the conference sold out by Sept. 1. The capacity was increased to the breaking point with 270, but even that was filled by Sept. 8, and a waiting list was added. Attendees came from Australia and New Zealand, from India and Malaysia, from Europe and North America. There was strong representation in each of the five workshop groups. The profile of attendees cut across denomination and race, from leaders to students to workplace professionals to educators.
The Faith at Work conference was unusual in its structure. The first day consisted of 23 short talks providing the snapshots of faith at work in action (noted above). This was followed by a second day dominated by five discussion groups: pastors, workplace individuals, theologians, university professors, and workplace ministry leaders. The goal for these groups was to broaden the understanding of what God is doing in their areas, share best practices, and identify new things that could be done. Group leaders then reported what happened in their groups to the whole audience, and discussed how they could collaborate to advance the cause. For example, workplace individuals want to be supported by their churches, but the churches need volunteers to run their institutions, so the churches and the workplace individuals need to work together.
The conference was also unusual in its planning. It was not developed by a single organization, but by many working together in a spirit of cooperation. David Gill of Gordon-Conwell acted as host, supported by myself (Seattle Pacific University) and Bill Peel of LeTourneau University. The goal was to identify practices and examples that others could take and develop where they were, not to create a single strategy.
Three key outcomes will follow. First, videos were created for all of the talks, and they will be made available before the end of the year. Second, the three organizers will compile a book drawn from the presentations and discussions. It should be out in a year or so. Third, a follow-on conference is planned for in Dallas in 2016. Participants were encouraged to develop local conferences in the meantime.
God is at work through his people at work!