This testimony is the latest in a series of articles sharing insights from a joint curricular development initiative of the ON, the Theology of Work Project and three ON schools (Asbury, Assemblies of God and Western).
I have the joy of teaching a course at Western Seminary entitled Introduction to Theological Studies and Ministry Leadership Formation, which is required for all students in ministry degree programs. I provide a framework for determining a person’s divine design for ministry. I teach that a person needs to find their fit in the world of work and the world of ministry. I want my students to see that every Christian needs to be helped to find their fit in these areas. I ask them to strongly consider a strategy of vocational discipleship in their churches.
I don’t believe the idea of “calling” is an accurate way to think directly about a person’s divine design, but I emphasize the call to salvation from which all work should flow. I teach students to discover a vocation for their work that is worthy of the calling with which they have been called (Ephesians 4:1).
I present this definition for vocation: A vocation that is characteristic of a Christ-follower is
- an approach to a particular life role in the realm of work;
- discovered through the prayerful examination of one’s passions, gifts, natural talents and personality through personal reflection and input from the Christian community;
- oriented toward demonstrating or deriving a sense of purpose or meaningfulness (as one who is beloved by God);
- in the pursuit of the glory of God and the fulfillment of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment (announcing and acting out the gospel of the kingdom of God); and
- one that holds other-oriented values and goals as primary sources of motivation in obedience to God’s command to love others by meeting their needs.
After a discussion of this definition, I’m able to present a brief theology of work for which I give much credit to the Oikonomia Network and its Karam Forum event. The speakers, workshops, books and commentaries have been a rich source of knowledge for me.
When Will Messenger and Alistair Mackenzie visited me at the seminary, I presented the above framework to them. We had a great conversation. Unfortunately, because of limited time in this course for the theology of work subject I was not immediately able to add anything further to the course.
Eventually, however, I was able to add a video of Alistair’s talk at the 2016 Faith at Work Summit, “Equipping the Church” in the middle of the fall semester. It was perfect for the course. The reason Alistair’s video is so valuable is the emphasis he places on the need for churches to increase their vocational discipleship of people in their congregations. His research with pastors provides startling discoveries regarding the lack of communication in churches about theology of work. One of his valuable discoveries is that people in their churches are not just asking about the meaning of their jobs, but all the work they do in life. They are asking: “How do I make meaning not just of my paid job, but how do I make meaning out of my whole life’s work?”
My students resonated strongly with this video when I assigned it. Since most of my students will minister in local churches, I believe they will continue to resonate with the need for pastors to help people make the connection between Sunday and what they are doing Monday through Saturday every week, to live out the call of the gospel.