Note: Dean Blevins is an individual faculty partner in the Oikonomia Network.
Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS) has a heritage of vocation, flourishing and economic wisdom programs that will spark additional entrepreneurial efforts in the near future.
NTS faculty have crafted courses based on themes of vocational discipleship, discernment in the workplace, preaching workplace faith and ministerial entrepreneurship. Those courses also included gatherings of faculty, students and guest pastors to hear keynote speakers such as Jeff Van Duzer and Tom Nelson, as well as other national leaders in business and ministry within the denomination. These interactions spilled over to include larger presentations on work and faith at Church of the Nazarene national meetings – from workshops to plenary gatherings – and have also filtered into several bible and theology classes. Yet ministry courses still provide the core of classes that engage oikonomia-related concepts.
The range of courses recently developed reflect several faculty interests. Preaching Workplace Faith began with a gathering of Kansas City area pastors to develop a sermon series, “Labor’s Day,” a four-part series to be delivered around Labor Day. As a collaborative venture, the pastors gathered to read and discuss the importance of addressing the themes of work and economics within their specific contexts. The following winter those pastors became resource guests in a class. Led by university president Dan Boone and writer/editor Merrit Neilson, students engaged with several themes connecting everyday economics with faith through preaching. President Boone incorporated insights from the course in his later book, The Way We Work: How Faith Makes a Difference on the Job.
Another course, Adult Faith and Vocational Discipleship, represents an ongoing educational effort that stresses discipleship in and through the workplace. The course builds on the assumption that organizational and cultural forces in work “spaces” (what philosopher Charles Taylor calls social imaginaries) provide possibilities of discipleship beyond the church doors. Rather than assuming that faith in the workplace is merely an addition to ecclesial formation efforts, like Bible studies or prayer groups, the class encourages students to engage people in the workplace and listen to how their working lives either help or hinder their discipleship. Students in Adult Faith and Vocational Discipleship learn to recognize that God can work through work environments. Students gain a Christian perspective on economics, practice a form of spiritual direction and fashion specific congregational strategies that emphasize faith in the workplace. Recognizing that one of the major problems with emerging adulthood entails a loss of a sense of vocation, the class will focus on young adults in the workplace this fall.
A final course that represents the heart of NTS’s work on work and flourishing is Ministerial Entrepreneurship. This course seeks to expose future pastors to faith and economic theory through key principles of entrepreneurship. Ministerial Entrepreneurship makes use of curriculum developed by the Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City-based national leader in fostering entrepreneurial education. Over the course of the class, several students realized how much hard work was involved in entrepreneurial efforts, indicating how the class grounds students in respect for economic thinking and action.
Ministerial Entrepreneurship may well serve NTS in various settings in the future. Nationally, several regional leaders expressed interest in developing this course for local church pastors. In addition, Kauffman announced the development of a modular, online strategy for delivering their curriculum. Since NTS already maintains a partnership with Kauffman, the seminary may find itself strategically placed to provide a service that will extend the themes of oikonomia across the United States this fall.
This new venture reflects how faculty work and classes often spark initiatives that reach beyond their immediate focus when coupled with the entrepreneurial and educational spirit of an institution like Nazarene Theological Seminary.