Since 2012, Bethel Seminary has been engaging the conversation about whole-life discipleship through our Work with Purpose initiative. Seven years later, that conversation and the impact of the initiative continue within the seminary and beyond.
Through partnerships with local churches and our network of alumni, we provide opportunities for learning beyond the seminary community. We are grateful for this important work. We also continue to see some the most leveraged transformational impact happening in the context of Bethel courses. Through this work, students are catching a vision for how faith transforms work and economic wisdom, as faculty provide targeted instruction on related themes. Bethel Seminary faculty are personally embracing a vision for whole-life discipleship, intentionally engaging in integrative reflection in the context of their own disciplines, then are sharing this vision and integrative reflection with the next generation of leaders through their daily work of course instruction.
You could, of course, just take my word for it. But in this spotlight article, I’d like to share the testimonies of Bethel Seminary faculty. Work with Purpose is not a peripheral part of the seminary’s life and work. The faculty here at Bethel have embraced this vision as their own, and it shows in how they talk about Work with Purpose and the importance of these conversations for our students and community.
I’ll begin by sharing a reflection from the newest member of Bethel Seminary’s faculty. John Dunne, assistant professor of New Testament, shares the following about his work teaching here at Bethel:
An underlying thrust to all of my teaching is the desire for my students to eschew the Gnosticism inherent in much of American evangelicalism. Towards that end I point to the new creation as the definitive expression of what the purpose of our life and work is in the here and now. More specifically in regards to work, since we know where the story has been – and that work itself was part of the prelapsarian activity of God’s image-bearers (Genesis 2:15) – and since we know where the story is going – where in the new creation we will reign with Christ without end (Revelation 22:5) – we can improvise faithfully in the present (to borrow from N. T. Wright) and pursue various forms of work in a manner that is affirming of our humanity and glorifying to God.
This January, Bethel Seminary celebrated the arrival of our new dean, Peter Vogt. While Peter is new to his role as dean, he has a long history with Bethel in his previous work as professor of Old Testament. Peter was an early adopter of Work with Purpose themes at Bethel, and now continues to share his passion for economic wisdom in his role as dean. He notes that as he has integrated Work with Purpose themes and ideas into his Old Testament courses, this work has both made him a better follower of Jesus and professor, and has also help his students be better pastors and leaders.
Mark Strauss, who serves as University Professor of New Testament for Bethel Seminary, shares the following about Work with Purpose:
Work with Purpose is one of the most significant initiatives at Bethel in recent years. The reality that as believers all of our vocations – not just those designated as “clergy” – are in fact divine callings and essential ministry is a powerful idea….In a project I have developed for class, my students examine Paul’s work ethic in the Thessalonian letters, interview Christians about their perspective on the sacred nature of their “secular” work, and reflect on the concept of vocation as divine calling. Students have found this to be an illuminating and transformative assignment.
Drawing on the Old Testament for integrative reflections on leadership, Mark McCloskey, professor of ministry leadership, created eight video lectures for his Introduction to Transformational Leadership course discussing leadership principles in Nehemiah. Each video highlighted “Nehemiah ministers at work” as a major theme. Reflection was included on Nehemiah’s work as a royal counselor to the king, a royal governor, a construction foreman and a political reformer. McCloskey notes that “the main idea was that Nehemiah lived out his calling to serve God not as a minister, but in the context of his various professional roles and in the workplace.” The videos Mark created are serving student learning in both masters and doctoral level leadership courses in the seminary.
In addition to encouraging pastors and leaders experiencing a Bethel Seminary education, we also have the privilege of training therapists through our counseling and marriage and family therapy programs. Karen Quek notes that the “integration of Christian values and knowledge throughout the MFT/MHC curricular is a hallmark of Bethel’s MFT/MHC programs.” One of the explicit places of integrative vocational reflection includes the team-taught Theology and Psychological Theory Integrative Seminar. Professor of Theology Glen Scorgie teaches this and other theology courses for Bethel. He notes the following about some of his recent work engaging whole-life discipleship themes in his coursework:
It was gratifying to be able to complete a new 44-page Work with Purpose booklet entitled The Scope of Kingdom Work: Society, Culture, and the Life to Come. During the Fall 2018 semester, I was able to assign this text (in its pre-publication manuscript form) in a Bethel Seminary San Diego…class of aspiring therapists and counselors. In class, we spent well over an hour discussing together how their particular vocations can be infused with special meaning and significance when framed as kingdom work. For many, the “light went on” with considerable encouraging effect as they grasped the breadth of human endeavor that is important to God and his purposes in the world. In a few weeks, I will have opportunity to have a parallel class discussion with prospective ministers currently enrolled in our Master of Divinity program.
Work with Purpose conversations are woven throughout each of Bethel Seminary’s core discipline areas. Our faculty, including the most seasoned as well as our newest faculty members, are owners of the Work with Purpose conversation and the vision of whole-life discipleship we bring to Bethel students.
We’re grateful to partner with other like-minded institutions through the Oikonomia Network, and we hope some of our faculty voices may be an encouragement for you in this spotlight reflection.