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Does Faith Fit Into The World We Created?

Reprinted with permission from Convene Corporation.

By Helen Mitchell

Imagine with me for a minute. What if we lived in a world where all commerce stopped? There would be no electricity, no gas stations, no mass transportation, no cell service, no grocery stores or food distribution, no hospitals, schools, movie theaters or amusement parks. There would be no food on the shelves, gas pumps would go dry, streets would not be patrolled and fires would burn themselves out. Civilized life as we know it quickly melts away.

And what if all Christians left their jobs in the marketplace to work for the local church? What if their values, skills, ideas and influence were no longer in the marketplace? Very likely, corporate misconduct, oppression and injustice would increase. Courts and laws would become increasingly more unjust. Ethical dilemmas would not have a Christian’s perspective.

You may be thinking this sounds apocalyptic, unrealistic or far-fetched – is it? If we are honest, isn’t this the natural conclusion of a world we designed from our own reasoning? A world created by a belief system which says that only what happens in, through and for the local church is sacred, and what happens in the marketplace is secular.

Can ministry and kingdom work only be associated with the work and programs of the local church, a non-profit or in jobs that are in a helping profession, like nursing or teaching?

Most pastors and individuals I have met don’t see how work and vocation connect to the Christian life. At best, work in the marketplace is to be done honestly and with moral behavior, while searching for an opportunity to share the gospel message. Unfortunately, not only is this a distorted view of work and its purpose, it also leads to an incomplete Christian life.

Work was designed to provide intrinsic value for human flourishing and a better society. Work is also part of one’s calling and part of one’s service to Christ. Work, when done in the hands of a believer, can be ministry.

In Genesis 1:27-28, before the entrance of sin into the world, God gave Adam and Eve work to do in the Garden. Their work was to be fruitful. They were to oversee, develop and manage all of creation. Mankind has enhanced creation in numerous ways so that the quality of life for many people has improved. Medical advances, technology, housing, clean water and space exploration are but a few ways that our creative abilities have improved life for an entire society.

Psalm 24:1 tells us, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” (NIV).

God is the owner of the world and we are his managers.

Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (NIV)

We often think of that scripture, and rightly so, of the works and ministries of the local church, such as teaching Sunday school, directing traffic or greeting people. We also might think of doing good works in the community such as helping at a food bank, volunteering in a nursing home or tutoring underprivileged children. And we would be correct.

What if our understanding of good works was incomplete? The word “works” here in Ephesians 2:10 in the Greek is “ergon,” which can mean business, employment and anything done by hand.

Let’s look at that scripture again, inserting the Greek definition of “works”.

“For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus ‘to (run a good business), to (develop beautiful art), to (draft safe and innovative architectural plans),’ which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Before the foundation of the world, God determined who he would gift with the skills, talents, and abilities to manage their part of planet earth. I like to think that God gifted certain individuals to be plumbers because he gave the design to another to create indoor plumbing.

We have just looked at how work has intrinsic value and is part of one’s calling and service to Christ, but you may be wondering, how is it ministry?

Somehow, we got the word “ministry” mixed up. It is not an industry, a job title or an occupation. For a follower of Jesus Christ, it is a way of living. We all enter full-time ministry, or full-time service to Jesus at the moment of our salvation. The Greek word for ministry is “diakonia,” which simply means active service. The mailman, the hairdresser, the mechanic and the entrepreneur, each contributes positively to society and in service to one another.

One of the first demonstrations of ministry or service was in Acts 6:2, regarding the daily distribution of food for the widows. The apostles said it wasn’t their job or their calling to serve tables. We may be tempted to misread this passage that the work of preaching the gospel is superior to the work of waiting on tables. The word “serve” in this scripture comes from the Greek word, “diakonia,” which means to minister to or be in service. Both are equally important. Both are equally ministry.

Work when done with a willing heart, to serve others and for the glory of God, is part of our service to Christ. Your work matters to God and to others. Will you fully embrace your call to work? The world is waiting.

Should I Talk About My Faith During a Job Interview?

This article was originally published on January 21, 2021 at the Thorns and Thistles section of the Gospel Coalition and appears here by permission.

By Charlie Self

I’m looking for a new job, and so I’ve been doing various interviews. I’m not sure how forthright to be about my faith. Do I leave it out of the conversation unless the interviewer brings it up? Do I slide it into the conversation, perhaps by referencing my church or my wife’s job (which is at a Christian organization)? I want to be a witness to everyone, even my interviewer. But I also don’t want to be overbearing. And I do want to get a job. What should I do?

I commend your desire to honor God and give witness to Christ’s gospel in all circumstances. Please keep that disposition, and allow it to be tempered with wisdom.

Thinking carefully about how we answer questions is not capitulation to compromise or fear. The apostle Paul sometimes positioned himself as a faithful Jew contending for the resurrection when he was before Roman authorities. In other moments he took on skeptical philosophers, using their own literature to evangelize.

In the same way, your answers may depend on what company you’re interviewing with, the questions of your interviewer, and how well—if at all—you know that person.

Two Cautions

Generally, the interviewer is in charge of the conversation. Out of respect for them, it’s wise to follow their lead—answering the questions to the best of your ability, then expanding when prompted. If you are asked directly about matters of faith, you can answer honestly. If the conversation drifts into what you did last weekend, you may want to mention the church service you attended or the volunteer work you did.

Here are two cautions:

First, if the questions about religion seem pointed or hostile, you have the right to challenge them, since religious discrimination is forbidden by law.

Second, don’t be pushy or dogmatic. One of Christianity’s great contributions to the world is freedom of conscience and religion. Christ invites us to follow him voluntarily (Luke 9:56–63). Generosity and sacrifice for the sake of others is voluntary (2 Cor. 8–9). In a pluralistic world, we desire for all others the liberties we want ourselves. Our aim is humble obedience, not haughty obnoxiousness.

Indirect Preaching

Being ready to share your faith with gentleness and respect is good (1 Pet. 3:15–16). But if the opportunity for a direct testimony doesn’t open up, that doesn’t mean you can’t be a witness.

If you are asked about guiding principles and ethics, or if it’s an inquiry about integrity, you can bring biblical truth to the conversation without becoming preachy. A Christian executive-employment coach offered these pointers to professionals as they sought fidelity to Christ in the workplace:

Let the interviewer know your decisions are guided by the timeless values of clarity, honesty, and integrity.

Communicate your willingness to work with people of all cultures and lifestyles in an environment of mutual respect and common mission. If you are pressed on “tolerance,” you can offer that there is a difference between living peaceably with different views and being compelled to promote attitudes and actions contrary to conscience.

If an interviewer goes “off the record” and wants to know more about your beliefs, ask for a completely separate setting and distinguish a personal conversation from a professional one. You do not want to be trapped and then accused of preaching or imposing your religion.

There will be moments when you must declare the truth. Doing so with kindness and inviting further dialogue is vital. It’s also important to remind coworkers that other religions have moral absolutes as well, and singling out Christianity is unhelpful in a larger conversation.

Even if we do everything wisely, there is still a real spiritual battle. All our communication must be infused with deep prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit.

Years ago, I worked for a technology firm in Silicon Valley. One day I was invited into a manager’s office to discuss some difficult accounts. After the business was done, the manager commented, “I hear you are a minister and going to seminary.”

I affirmed the rumor. The manager continued, “I grew up in church but left it behind in college.” When I asked why, the manager replied, “I was weary of feeling condemned while I tried to follow all the rules.” Fervently praying, I sensed an opportunity. I asked, “May I share some thoughts about Christianity with you? Can we consider this a personal conversation?” With permission, I shared a one-minute presentation of the gospel of grace. The conversation ended with the manager pledging to consider God’s invitation.

All our communication must be infused with deep prayer and reliance on the Holy Spirit.

If you’re asked directly about being a believer, answer kindly in the affirmative and inquire if the person desires to dialogue outside of work. Be alert for traps that will try to paint you as intolerant.

This is why the apostle Paul tells us to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17) and to seek the mind of Christ through reliance on the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:16). Be alert for opportunities to share, while being wary of snares. With God’s help, you can walk in confidence and wisdom.

What Being a Business Woman Taught Me about Ministry

by Svetlana Papazov – svetlanapapazov.com

THESE DAYS I FIND MYSELF JUGGLING MUCH ON MY PLATE. I’m a wife, a mom, a business consultant for entrepreneurs and a church planter. But a church planter not of the conventional type. First, I’m a female. And if that isn’t enough to raise a brow or two, the church I started, called Real Life, is what one may call an insideout-church. At Real Life, we open our doors to entrepreneurs seven days a week. We integrate a faith community and a business incubator all in one package in order to make real difference in our city’s economy and effect social, economic and spiritual lift.

But I wasn’t always a church planter. Neither was I always a pastor. My path to pastoral vocation took, what it felt like to me, a “detour” route through the marketplace in order to shape my heart to serve. Here are lessons I learned along the way of pursuing God’s call on my life and finding its expression in mission in the marketplace.

1. There is mission in the marketplace

After my husband and I, with our nine-monthold baby, escaped the iron curtain and settled in America, we began to pray that God would bring to pass one of my childhood dreams — to be in ministry in order to preach the gospel. As a family, we began praying for God’s strategy on how to get into pastoral ministry. And as God often does, He clearly answered, but not as we expected.

This is what I heard the Holy Spirit impress on my heart: “There are many people willing to work on the inside of the church, but very few minister outside the church walls. I need you on the outside of the church’s walls.” I guess that was what Jesus meant when he told His disciples to pray to the Lord of the harvest for workers.

The harvest is outside of our church walls, profusely maturing in vast, white fields, but the workers willing to leave the comfort of airconditioned sanctuaries and go into the scorching heat to bring in the sheaves are few and far between. God was going to teach my heart to love His harvest as He loves it by having me be with the harvest in the marketplace for the first 13 years of my work life in the U.S.

2. Go slow to go fast

I considered myself to be a willing harvest worker, but I found out I was an impatient one. Have you rushed to do something good for God only to find yourself being calmly slowed down by the Holy Spirit’s hand on your shoulder? Have you ever been there? I have.

What the Holy Spirit whispered during that prayer as God’s strategy for my ministry vocation looked like a long detour to reaching my dream. I already had worked out a plan. Pastors who work in church ministries have degrees in theology. I fully expected that as I prayed my heart out, the Lord would give me green light to go for a Bible college degree. And why not? I had successfully escaped to my new country of chosen citizenship. Finally, I could do something that I couldn’t do freely in my country of origin — preach the gospel from the pulpit without persecution.

Instead, God had another plan. He wanted me to go slow in order to go fast. God was setting my pulpit in the marketplace, so I would build an integrated life of faith and gospel proclamation. There, my actions, my words and my attitude toward the lost could preach some of the strongest messages that I would ever proclaim. He knew that He would lead me one day to preach behind a pulpit set on a church stage, but for the foreseeable future, my preaching opportunities would be interacting with my future clients.

God wants all of us to steward faithfully the opportunities for mission in the marketplace, because this is where his harvest lives and hurts. We are His open epistles of love and healing to the broken world in our work places, our government, our schools and our entertainment. If we exit the public square, then we are leaving the blind to lead the blind.

3. Detours are God’s straightest paths to wins

In my zeal to pursue God’s call on my life, I thought that the fastest way to get from the place I was to the place I perceived that God wanted me to be was to draw a straight line through the circumstances in my life and follow it. But I discovered that often, on the way to the new destination, God allows us to zig-zag through relationship obstacle courses, meander through the dark nights of our souls, slow down because of strategies gone haywire — all in order for our hearts to transform, so we can lead in a new way at the new place. Our new destinations, together with our new dreams, are not only about new wins, but about the new person that slowly emerges from the zig-zags of life. We become new creations as God’s grace transforms us with every foreordained step we take. Our detours become God’s straightest paths to wins.

4. Work as worship to God

Somewhat surprised, maybe even a bit disappointed that my Bible college dream wasn’t going to materialize right away, I had to admit that what God was leading me to do made sense. My husband and I decided to put my landscape architecture degree and my husband’s skills for building beautiful yards into God’s kingdom mission and started our first small business, a design and build landscaping company. We took our work as worship to God by discipling our unchurched employees, by leading missional conversations, servicing our customers in excellence, praying for them and giving them Bibles as gifts. God blessed our business and we went on opening three more.

All our work was done “as to the Lord” (Colossians 3:23, KJV). He taught us much about how to reach unchurched people and eventually began to stir our hearts to start a marketplace church that integrates faith, entrepreneurship and work and trains believers to reach the lost outside of the church walls.

Doing real life with real people, connecting them to the real God.

After training my heart to love His harvest, God released me to get my biblical degrees in preparation to see my dream of opening a marketplace church become a reality.

In 2016, after much prayer, our family moved from Maryland to the greater Richmond area in Virginia in order to start Real Life Church and Real Life Center for Entrepreneurial and Leadership Excellence (Realliferva.com). Doing real life with real people in order to connect them to the real God is the mission we find in the marketplace and the desire of my heart!

This is one believer’s journey of integrating faith, entrepreneurship and work. What is yours? 

A Year of Working from Home

This article was originally published on February 9, 2021 in Common Good magazine at Made to Flourish.

https://www.madetoflourish.org/resources/a-year-of-working-from-home

By Hace Cargo

Many at-home workers are hitting a point of fatigue they didn’t anticipate or might not even recognize yet.

In just a few weeks, thousands of Americans who once commuted to an office almost every day will meet one year of working from home or remotely. While the effects of this shift in work dynamics are apparent in improved home internet speeds and office setups, many people in our congregations and broader communities are growing aware — maybe for the first time — of the toll this “new normal” has taken on them.

In recent conversations with people in my church, I have observed this new awareness in several ways. An empty-nester who has spent decades in the office every day doesn’t realize how his newfound comfort with working from home has erased every barrier that once existed between work and the rest of his life. A young couple, juggling two careers and virtual schooling for their children, feel defeated, unable to keep up at work or at home. Young single professionals who moved to our city within the last year or two for jobs now rarely have reason to leave their apartments, and the weight of loneliness continues to grow.

There is still far more speculation than certainty about the future of the office in corporate America. And the longer that uncertainty lingers, the more pastors should be aware of the subtle effects of this unchosen work-from-home arrangement on the people in their churches. How can pastors be aware of and try to meet these needs?

Innovative Discipleship

As is often the case in pastoral care and counseling, it may start with helping people identify spiritual and emotional dynamics still lurking below the surface of their daily lives. In the midst of all the challenges presented by the last year, frustrations and temptations created by working from home are just one aspect of their struggles.

None of the parishioners I referenced in the examples above engaged with me for the purpose of talking about their work. But it became clear to me (and then to them) as we talked that their work affected their general discouragement or loneliness more than they realized. Once we help workers realize these dynamics, we must respond to them with compassion and creativity.

One thing that has encouraged me during the pandemic has been the remarkably innovative ways that churches are approaching pastoral care and discipleship. For example, if your church does small groups or community groups, can you form a group just for working parents and find a safe way to care for their kids while they meet in person or online? Maybe a single person struggling with loneliness would be open to moving in with a family for a few months to share the load of caring for kids and receive the care of embodied friendship. Maybe an empty nester could be lured away from his email for an hour by the chance to mentor someone younger in his field, even if it is another Zoom meeting for now.

Perhaps this season of continued disruption is still ripe with opportunities for new ways to “stir up one another to love and good works” (Heb 10:24).

Hace Cargo is an assistant pastor at Brookhaven Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, Georgia. He is also a City Network Leader for our Atlanta network. Hace received his M.Div. from Covenant Theological Seminary and studied Speech Communication and Sociology at the University of Georgia. Hace previously spent several years in campus ministry and interned with a multi-ethnic urban church in St. Louis, Missouri during seminary, before returning to his hometown of Atlanta in 2014. Hace and his wife have two sons.

Leadership: Practice

Marketplace Missionaries

Four ways to prepare believers on Sunday for their work on Monday.

By Svetlana Papazov

The excitement was palpable as pastors and marketplace leaders began filling our church for a one-day conference on whole-life discipleship and the value of work. The morning training focused on the redemptive mandate of every Christian in the workplace. The idea that any work can be evangelistic challenged my new friend.

He had walked in with his mind made up to quit his job and go into full-time ministry. My friend enjoyed his work as an inventor, but thought the only Kingdom value was in the tithes he gave the local church.

Because of what he had heard — and hadn’t heard — from the pulpit, this sincere believer was struggling to see a connection between his faith and his calling. My friend’s attitude toward his Monday-through-Friday job reflects that of many congregants who faithfully attend church on Sundays.

A week has 168 hours. On average, people who work full-time spend fewer than two of those hours on religious, civic and organizational activities, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But they devote about 44 hours weekly to their jobs — more time than they spend on any other waking activity.

Every day, churchgoers work alongside people who are skeptical of religion. According to Pew Research Center, 54% of U.S. adults seldom or never attend services.

The American Church has sent many missionaries abroad, but there is also a vast mission field in our own backyard. To evangelize anew those who might not otherwise hear the gospel, we need to empower our congregants to become marketplace missionaries.

Believers have an opportunity to build a bridge to grace for people who never hear from a pastor. But they may not recognize their potential to make an eternal difference without the support and encouragement of their local churches. Barna Group reports that 72% of Christians “don’t fully connect the importance of their faith to their mission at work.”

To help parishioners begin to see their workplaces as mission fields, pastors should regularly affirm Monday work as a calling that’s just as important as Sunday work. Here are four ways to do that:

1. Intentional Language

What you say as a leader matters. If you associate God’s calling only with the work of full-time pastors, missionaries, and church staff, you communicate that these are the God-chosen and blessed vocations. What about the truck driver, mechanic, office manager, farmer, chemist or business owner?

Intentionally acknowledging on Sunday the redemptive value of vocations outside the church will change the way your people think about what they do on Monday.

2. Workplace Visits

Arrange to meet up with congregants for lunch at their office buildings, construction sites, and factories. Ask permission to deliver coffee and bagels for the entire office or work crew. Pray with police officers and hospital workers before they begin their shifts. Show up to support a military family when a member deploys. Bring several church staff members and some colorful baskets of supplies to help a teacher prepare, and pray over, the classroom before the start of the school year.

When pastors build into their weekly schedules this vital function of shepherding, it allows them to connect the two worlds — the church and the marketplace — and convey to congregants, “Your work matters to God.”

3. Celebration

People often sit in church for decades before they see someone from their profession on the platform. Set aside a special time to recognize and celebrate God’s call on marketplace workers. Give it a creative name, such as Monday on Sunday or This Time Tomorrow.

Ask parishioners interview questions that focus on their workplace mission: What has God called you to do this time tomorrow? What are the joys and challenges of being a follower of Jesus where you work? How can we pray for your work?

4. Commissioning

To help congregants integrate faith and work, consider commissioning them during a service.

Labor Day is a natural time to recognize the work congregants do. You may want to commission teachers and school staff in the fall.

Just as you might do when sending out vocational ministers, invite those who agree to be marketplace missionaries to come to the front of the church. Then have elders, pastors and members of the congregation extend hands and pray over them. Release these workers to advance the purposes and presence of God outside the church walls.

I’m happy to say my inventor friend left the conference encouraged that most Christ followers preach from behind the desk, not the pulpit.

Pastors can make a pivotal difference by affirming the unique contributions and callings of Christian lawyers, baristas, architects, forklift operators, doctors, and teachers, and sending them out as marketplace missionaries.

These workers can translate the gospel for the unchurched in word and deed, reaching their respective mission fields with the hope of Christ in ways no one else can.

This article was first published in the November-December 2020 issue of Influence magazine and appears here by permission.

Pastoring in the Age of Unemployment

The pastoral challenge is helping people rediscover their specific Kingdom purpose using their God-given gifts and abilities.

By Jamé Bolds

Earlier this year, I received a call from an exhausted physician who was laying off staff because patients were not showing up. That same day, I met with a distraught restaurant owner who asked me to pray over spreadsheets after her business shut down as a result of the pandemic. Then another parishioner, a c-suite executive, told me he had lost his job.

This is the reality of ministry in 2020.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, nearly 31.8 million Americans were receiving unemployment benefits in early July, up from 1.7 million at the same time in 2019.

Fortune magazine, reporting 42.6 million unemployment claims between the start of the pandemic and the end of May, noted that this figure is greater than the combined population of America’s 22 smallest states.

Let those numbers sink in. They represent real people — our friends, family members, neighbors and congregants — many of whom were doing well before COVID-19 struck.

As pastors, we are facing a sobering situation. We are not only navigating a pandemic, but we are also leading in an age of mass unemployment. The impact on our church members goes far beyond finances.

Loss and Lament

Unemployment isn’t just a loss of income. Many have lost professional relationships, an outlet for their skills, and a sense of vocational clarity.

One definition of the word “vocation” is “calling.” Every person who is a follower of Jesus Christ has been entrusted with a unique set of gifts and talents to invest in service to God and others (Romans 12:1–8; Ephesians 2:10).

Pastors don’t have a corner on “calling.” God calls parishioners, too, to serve in areas like education, law, medicine, entrepreneurship and government. Believers who know their place of service have vocational clarity. But when unemployment strikes, it may cause them to pause and reevaluate their calling.

The challenge that lies ahead is helping our people lament and then rediscover their Kingdom purpose as they find a place to use their God-given gifts and abilities.

The reality is, some of those jobs may never come back. Some people will need to retrain, relocate or reinvent. Whatever lies ahead, they will need pastoral support and guidance.

We can disciple our people to be faithful to their calling but flexible to their work. Before we engage in these things, we must first take time to lament with them and offer compassionate care.

In Latin, compassion literally means “fellow-suffering” or “to suffer with.” Immediately after a loss is not the time to try to fix things for those who are suffering. It is a time to “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15). Our American theology often glosses over pain, suffering and loss. However, these things are part of the human experience, so we must create space for them.

As Pentecostals, we rightly trust the Spirit to empower us to do the impossible. Yet the Greek word for the Holy Spirit, Paraklētos, starts with the preposition of para, which means “to come alongside.”

The Holy Spirit is One who helps by consoling, encouraging or mediating on our behalf. John 14:26 calls Him the “Advocate” (NIV), “Helper” (ESV), or “Comforter” (KJV). We can following the Spirit’s example by coming alongside those who are in pain.

To do this well, we must rediscover how to pray and lament. In Dark Clouds, Deep Mercy: The Grace of Lament, Mark Vroegop suggests a simple framework: honest complaint, bold request, and decision to trust. Vroegop uses Psalm 13 to illustrate this.

The Psalmist begins with an honest complaint (verses 1–2):

How long, Lord? Will You forget me
forever?

How long will you hide your face
from me?

How long must I wrestle with my
thoughts

and day after day have sorrow in my
heart?

How long will my enemy triumph
over me?

Teach your people it’s OK to have an honest complaint before the Lord. There is nothing wrong with asking, “Lord, why did I lose my job? Will there be work for me? What is my part in all this?”

Of course, prayer shouldn’t end there. Next, the Psalmist makes a bold request (verses 3–4):

Look on me and answer, Lord my God.

Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in
death,

and my enemy will say, “I have overcome
him,”

and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

We can boldly ask God to open up new kinds of employment or new ways to use skills. We can pray, “Spirit, lead me to that new business where I can glorify God and help people. Give me wisdom and strength to flourish and do well in my new job.”

Finally, the Psalmist acknowledged his decision to trust God (verses 5–6).

But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,

for he has been good me.

Pray with your people that they will trust in the Lord to provide new opportunities for work and relationships. Ask boldly on their behalf, and encourage them to approach God with confidence.

Faith and Work

Job loss is a traumatic event. Beyond the financial implications, it can take a toll psychologically, socially, physically and even spiritually. As we walk with people through this valley, it’s important to realize there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

However, I do believe God has uniquely positioned your church in your community. You may be in an inner city with all its socioeconomic complexities. You may be in a growing area where jobs are somewhat easier to find. Or perhaps you pastor in a rural community where the closing of a single factory is devastating. Regardless of your location, job opportunities change, but God’s faithfulness remains constant.

I think of career issues in terms of calling, vocation and work. Our callings are divine, our occupations change, and our work depends on our location. As we disciple people, we can help them discover what God has called them to do. This brings vocational clarity, a constant north star of God’s calling and purpose.

If our people know what God has called them to do and can hone the skills to pursue their calling and apply them in any environment, work activity simply becomes a matter of location.

Every believer needs to hear from God about his or her specific purpose in the Kingdom. Each person has unique gifts and talents. We have a divine design that benefits us, our families, and our communities as we seek the common good.

Vocational clarity brings dignity and meaning to work, but it goes beyond employment status or positions. It’s about who our people are at their core, whether they are big-picture visionaries, detailed analysts, relationship builders, or natural contributors.

Within that divine design, there is room for occupational flexibility. For example, someone with exceptional creativity could use that gift in construction, corporate problem solving, or legal analysis. It could find expression in laying tiles, designing spreadsheets, identifying financial solutions, or doing landscaping. It’s a matter of honing practical skills and being willing to learn new ones.

Work activity then becomes a matter of location and preference. It is the location and context of what and where people want to spend their time.

Practical Help

When people give you pastoral permission to get involved in their lives, it is a privilege. You may need to coach people to file for unemployment, relocate, or seek a new job. In some cases, the church may be able to help with some bills or network with someone in the congregation to find a position.

God designed us to work and create. Granted, not all work is a perfect fit. Nevertheless, sometimes people need a gap job to provide an income source, even if it doesn’t line up with skills and passion. When pastoring in an age of unemployment, shepherding people to start working is important. It’s often easier to find a job when you have a job.

Here are five things to consider when helping people find solutions:

1. Networking. As a pastor, you know a lot more people than you think you do. Now is the time to leverage that network. Think about what your people do for work and what their skills are, and identify individuals you know outside your church. You may be able to help match workers to potential employers.

For example, perhaps a talented, outgoing church member lost a sales job. With that person’s permission, you might send a few emails to the church’s insurance company, bank, and other vendors inquiring about openings.

2. Services. Think about the talent you have in your church and the skills others need. Do you have an unemployed parishioner who previously ran accounts payable for a company? Maybe that person could do bookkeeping for two or three small business owners in your congregation.

3. Bartering. I pastor many entrepreneurs, all of whom are a little eccentric and wildly creative. Instead of two businesses hiring each other, they sometimes do a straight trade.

Say a small accounting firm owner needs an office bathroom remodeled. Instead of paying for it, the contracting business remodels the bathroom, and the accountant does their taxes for them. Do your people have skills they could barter?

4. Relationships. What are the needs in your congregation, and what relationships do you have in the community?

Our church doesn’t have a food pantry. Instead, we support the local food banks and have a relationship with them, which makes it easier to refer our people there for help.

5. Benevolence. Every Communion Sunday, take up a special offering that goes directly to help those in need, helping with food, clothes, utility bills, etc. As in Acts 6, let the deacons manage and oversee that ministry.

Biblical Perspective

Colossians 3:23–24 offers a Kingdom perspective of earthly work: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

When everything we do is in service to God, work becomes an act of worship. It also benefits the local economy, which is a service to others.

We can see a connection between work and worship in the Old Testament in the Hebrew word avodah. First, it means “work” in contexts such as “there was no one to work the ground” and in God’s intent for Adam to “work [the Garden of Eden] and take care of it” (Genesis 2:5,15, emphases added). Elsewhere, this word means “worship”: “Let my people go, so that they may worship me” (Exodus 8:1).

All work can be worship if we offer it to God.

God called you not only to your church, but also to your community. This includes the marketplace where people work. What would happen if we discipled people to think of work as worship and creating an income as secondary?

What if every member of the congregation sought to honor God wherever they are right now — whether working a less-than-ideal job, learning a new trade, filling a volunteer role, caring for children at home, or seeking employment?

This is not to dismiss the real struggles people are facing, of course. But even in difficult times, we can trust that God is working in and through us. When He is the focus, fulfillment no longer depends on a particular position. We can use our gifts to glorify Christ and point others to Him in all we do.

May we lead creatively and prayerfully as we pastor our churches and communities in an age of unemployment.

This article was first published in the September-October 2020 issue of Influence magazine and appears here by permission.

What if My Work is Becoming Obsolete?

By Travis Lowe

“The nations shall see your righteousness, and all the kings your glory, and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the Lord will give.” Isaiah 2:2 (ESV)

I sometimes wonder what the world’s greatest VCR repairman from the 1980s is doing today. I wonder where the factory workers are who made typewriters, alarm clocks, or printed phone books. In our increasingly digital world, obsolescence is no longer a potentiality, it is a planned progression. Constant change is the new normal, but as much as we anticipate the next iPhone launch, few of us are prepared for changes that could affect our perceived identities.

It is natural that we find identity in our professions. This has been true throughout history. People have always been known as farmers or shepherds. However, when our identity is intermingled with a profession, what happens when that profession becomes obsolete? Who am I if I lose my job? Who am I when I retire?

I want you to know that in Christ, you have an identity higher than any earthly label. Paul says there is neither “slave nor free,” meaning you are more than what you do or who you work for. Jesus even called men to lay down their nets and this change of profession did not produce a loss of identity but the birth of a greater one. In Christ, you can celebrate that you are a great brick mason or a gifted programmer, but if all of that is stripped away, your identity remains as who Jesus says you are. God has given you a new name.

Prayer: God, help us find our identity in you and in your Word. Remind us of your promises and let us anticipate with gladness the newness that you bring.

This article was originally published on December 10, 2020 at Made to Flourish.

Homeless with a Twist of a Homemade Lavender

by Svetlana Papazov

I was visiting Southern California and heard of a coffee shop that offered uniquely crafted flavors and a faith and entrepreneurship story as touching as the fragrant petals sprinkled in their lattés. As a coffee lover I had to see the place. As a pastor I had to interview the church leaders who started that enterprise. I drove to Rose City Church in Pasadena to meet with the leadership and hear their story of neighborly love and economic impact.  

Church and Homelessness

When Pastor Dan Davidson re-opened Rose City in 2009, he became concerned about the group of homeless youth who camped out on the church’s grounds. With one of the largest community colleges in Southern California just a block away, he was not surprised to find homeless youth sleeping in the church parking lot.

He began to engage the teens by offering food and clothes, but this increased the number of youth coming—and that upset the neighbors. Realizing he had to help in a better way and that there was a gap in supportive services, Pastor Davidson found an old coffee cart on the church property and began training the youth to get jobs in the area’s growing gourmet coffee industry. They lovingly named this coffee cart Rosebud.

Church and Homemade Lavender

Rosebud traveled around LA, empowering homeless and transitional-aged youth as they practiced their newfound craft—serving an amazing cup of coffee. Rosebud’s work has led the church to establish a permanent cafe in Pasadena, which they named after their little cart. Today, the body of believers continues to persist in their mission of crafting coffee, community, and cause. Pastor Davidson says:

Our story matters deeply to the residents of Pasadena. A progressive city with more than 1,000 nonprofits, we had no trouble finding our loyal and supportive customers as the first social enterprise cafe. And though our story may draw them to the shop, it’s our hospitality that keeps them coming back. Not only do we seek to be one of the best coffee shops in town, but we also, and more importantly, seek to be the most beloved coffee shop in town. It’s our gift of hospitality and community served alongside a beautifully crafted latte with homemade lavender syrup that keeps our sales numbers growing.

Homeless youth are taught job skills in a caring, hands-on mentoring environment. Rosebud pairs one barista to volunteer his or her time with youth, anyone from eighteen to twenty-five, who then trains at the brick-and-mortar location for four-to-six months. Through the training, Rosebud works with its partner nonprofits to help find housing units to keep the young employees off the streets and to identify additional vocational training opportunities.

Church, Craft and Human Dignity

The youth-trainees take special pride in learning the flavor profile of the different coffee beans and crafting a delicious cup of java. It is often something profound that happens when the transitional-aged youth make their first cup of coffee for a client who then pays and thanks them for their services. It is as though a rebirth of their human dignity ensues.

These young people often have been given necessities for living, because they have lacked fundamental resources, but they have never been asked to contribute. The moment they are recognized as bona fide creators and contributors of value in the marketplace, something within them is unleashed. They can see themselves as givers instead of takers, as producers of goods and services that others appreciate, and that helps them dream of a hopeful future.

Pastor Davidson sums it up well: “These youth have been given many hand-me-downs, but that only have exacerbated their low self-esteem. When they were asked to contribute at the Rosebud Café by creating specialty coffees, using their training to recognize complex coffee flavors that is when they have come alive. They take pride in being able to work and contribute value to society.”

Church—a Bridge to the Sacred and Secular Divide

Rose City Church bridges the sacred and secular divide in the marketplace. Asking the transitional-aged youth to work and create value in the local economy honors both their human dignity and their creative streak, which bears the image of Creator God. There is nothing more empowering to a person than to be given the opportunity to create cultural goods and services, and to shape the economy by doing honest work. Rose City Church models the practice of integrated faith.

A Revolution in Discipleship

by Charlie Self and Johan Mostert

Pastors face a daunting task on a good day. In these rapidly changing times (and in light of a pandemic and social upheavals), making healthy disciples that will enable the local church to have a positive impact in the community requires courage, strength and wisdom. In this moment is an opportunity for reimaging Christian discipleship. What is needed is a new vision that conveys Christian discipleship in light of clear and direct outcomes. Put simply, a clear vision of what healthy disciples look like will transform our evangelism and discipleship, equipping for mission and outreach, both local and global.

Challenge and Opportunity

Although many preachers and sermons try to explain a biblical approach to discipleship, they often fail at delivering measurable outcomes. Answering what it means to be a disciple at work or in the home is difficult because those aren’t things that are easily measured. At least until now. Pastors desire effectiveness, and, by God’s grace, they are serving their congregants with sincerity and truth. A fresh picture of whole-life discipleship and assessment resources will help stimulate a culture of responsible action among congregants.

For example, there are many great resources that touch on some aspects of discipleship and should be part of every leader and member’s kingdom treasure chest. The challenge is coordinating them into a cohesive whole and helping believers walk in a hopeful realism. In one sense, we already have a feast-table of resources for Christian growth. The challenge is offering a framework and innovative systems that will bring the feat to the hungry believers and seekers.

A First Step: The Discipleship Dynamics Assessment

Developed by a team led by AGTS Professors and ministry practitioners Drs. Johan Mostert and Charlie Self, the Discipleship Dynamics Assessment is a one-of-a-kind tool that helps people understand their discipleship journey by breaking down measurable aspects of discipleship. The test breaks down discipleship into five dimensions and 35 outcomes. The online test (www.discipleshipdynamics.com) has excellent psychometric properties (reliability and validity support) and provides Christians a real and measurable understanding of their faith in real time.  The tool serves as a whole-life “diagnosis” that identifies areas that require attention for discipleship growth to take place.

The result is that pastors, leaders, churches, and church members can see exactly how they’re living and growing, and they can also see areas in which they need to grow.

A particularly powerful tool in this process is the Pastoral Dashboard. When a pastor or leader purchases a number of assessments, he or she can set up a group. Individual results always remain confidential, but the leader can see an aggregate score of the group on each outcome. This is very helpful is seeing the strengths and weaknesses of the community. Equipping resources and strategies can be targeted toward the areas needing work and potential leaders that are strong can be recruited as mentors.

The Assessment has been used across the country and across a variety of Christian traditions. It is also designed and tested to be used across cultures, so it has the potential to be translated and used anywhere. It is rooted in biblical, consensual theology (Lausanne, Nicene Creed, etc.)

The Five Dimensions of Discipleship

Rooted in Scripture and affirmed by history and testimony, a believer’s life is not a check list, but dimensional, with all aspects of our person and activity mattering to God. And here is a bonus: these dimensions help create spiritual conversations with pre-believers, for they offer a picture of wholeness that is attractive to the thoughtful. Here are the Five Dimensions:

  • Spiritual Formation – loving God with all our being and participating in the Mission of God and the life of the local church.
  • Personal Wholeness – healthy self-respect and being liberated from our history and growing in hope.
  • Healthy Relationships – loving others deeply and wisely, discovering healthy boundaries and strengthening families.
  • Vocational Clarity – knowing our personal purpose and the gifts and resources we possess. We are always more than our current job.
  • Economics and Work – serving God with our whole hearts and skillful hands, understanding that our daily work is a divine assignment.

A Childrens Pastor summarized these dimensions for elementary kids under their care: “I am close to Jesus, feel good about myself, get along with my family and friends, know what I am good at, and I do my chores and schoolwork for Jesus.”

A Revolutionary Vision

Generous grant funding, years of research and experimentation, and listening to hundreds of Spirit-filled leaders has yielded as resource immediately useful for spiritual leaders:

  • No more “sacred” and “secular” part of life – all of life is under the reign of Christ (Romans 12:1-2; Colossians 3:17).
  • No more “spiritual” and “practical” divides – all of life is spiritual and will yield fruitful practices (John 15).
  • Clergy and laity are now united on mission, with all vocations and occupations honored as service to God. Praise God for our spiritual leaders. And praise God for every member of the Body being mature and effective (Ephesians 4:1-16).
  • A picture of true biblical maturity declares that spiritual maturity is inseparable from emotional and relational maturity (Ephesians 4:17-5:1 and I John 2).
  • The goodness of rest and work, participation in church and social change, care for the marginalized and our planet are integrated under the Great Commission to make disciples whose lives are shaped by the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40; 28:18-20).
  • Every member of the church or organization becomes a resource to all the other as they mature (Ephesians 2:10; 3:10).

Let’s Get Started!


Dr. Charlie Self

Dr. Charlie Self has been a pastor, professor, public intellectual, and leader in faith-work integration for over four decades. He is currently Director of Learning Communities for Made to Flourish and Visiting Professor of Church History at AGTS. He is married to Kathy and they have three adult children and three grandchildren.