David Buschart, professor of theology and historical studies, associate dean
Don Payne, associate professor of theology and Christian formation
Dan Steiner, mentoring director
“Breadth of impact.” Like the Oikonomia Network, those of us involved in higher education – particularly theological higher education – find ourselves propelled by this vision. A little over six years ago our longstanding personal and professional interests in the theology of work converged, and the two of us built a new course on the topic. Since then, other opportunities to connect faith and work have continued to emerge for us and our colleagues.
Six years ago, we barely envisioned the “breadth of impact” that would eventually occur as students caught the vision. We hope you will be encouraged by the story of one of our students.
As a recent Denver Seminary M.Div. graduate, Dan Steiner is now experiencing his own breadth of impact as one of our colleagues! None of us envisioned what would come of his choice to enroll in our Theology of Work course, but we thank our Lord who routinely makes more of our efforts than we have the faith to anticipate.
-Don Payne and David Buschart
Dan’s Story: From Student to Mentoring Director
I currently work as a mentoring director at Denver Seminary. I facilitate students’ mentored formation experience that is a formal part of their academic program. This entails a lot of one-on-one interaction as well as some classroom instruction. I have the opportunity to educate and equip men and women in a unique way for the work of ministry to which they have been called, both inside and outside of formal church settings. In many ways, this is the dream job that I didn’t even know I wanted. So how did I get to this place and why am I so satisfied in my work?
I can divide my life into two distinct chapters: before I began to see through a theology of work lens and after a theology of work lens. Prior to attending Denver Seminary, I had a very truncated view of what constituted “the work of ministry.” I grew up in the church and worked in several different churches during and after college. The work of ministry in these contexts was generally confined to particular responsibilities and activities directly related to formal local church ministry: pastor, elder, youth group leader, Sunday school teacher, parking lot attendant, event organizer, etc. I structured my life and ministry as a youth pastor around this way of thinking, and equipped others to view ministry in the same way.
At Denver Seminary I had my thinking challenged in a number of significant ways by some key individuals. Little did I know that my entire ministry paradigm would go through some significant recalibrations, and that I would acquire a new lens through which I viewed all of life. Early on in my time in Denver, I remember a conversation with a mentor about how some seminary students were graduating with a theological degree and not going into formal pastoral ministry. I was disappointed that they would go to all that effort to earn a degree and not use it for occupational local church ministry. He challenged me to think about how theological education might benefit work sectors outside the local church. Over the next few years, the topic of the theology of work made its way into many more of our conversations and I found my understanding of work, ministry, and what it meant to be a pastor changing and expanding far beyond anything I previously conceived.
Taking the Theology of Work course in seminary further expanded my perspective. The professors went more in-depth into the topic and introduced me to thinkers such as Andy Crouch and Amy Sherman. Not only was I connecting the dots between my theology and my work, but I was gaining a richer understanding of how this would benefit people in the local church. I had never been taught about concepts such as the common good, creating culture and the value of good work. Out of this course was the opportunity for a mini-grant to develop a theology of work curriculum to be taught in a local church setting. At the time, I was working at a church and part of my responsibilities included teaching a weekly class. The opportunity to share with others what I had been learning was too good to pass up.
For ten weeks I had a chance to take nearly 50 people through the material. I also invited guest speakers from Denver Seminary and the Denver Institute for Faith and Work to share on their particular areas of expertise. I then had the opportunity to teach a second iteration of the course to a different group the following year. As a result of teaching this material and interacting with people as they connected the dots between their theology and their work, my eyes were opened even further to the importance of equipping people to see their work as significant for, indeed, integral to the Kingdom of God. My eyes have also been opened to see that I don’t need to receive a paycheck from a church in order to equip people for whatever work of ministry they will pursue. Instead of equipping the laity in a church setting, I now get to equip current and future leaders who will shape others in their own circles of influence.
As a mentoring director I have the privilege of engaging students on matters related to the theology of work in a variety of ways. In our “Introduction to Training and Mentoring” course I get to teach on a theology of calling, address the sacred/secular divide, and introduce students to a theology of work. In one-on-one conversations with students I get to hear their stories about why they came to seminary and what they are hoping to do with their degree. I have the opportunity to cast vision for them to see their current part-time jobs as significant in-and-of-themselves and not simply financial means to an educational end. I have the opportunity to challenge students to consider how they will equip their future congregation to see their work as ministry, building the common good of their community and ultimately bringing shalom through good work.