Theology of WorkUnderstanding the Nature of the KeyInstitutions
In this session we will learn the following:1. The Role of the Church2. The Failures of the Church and the “World”3. Allusions to the Value of Work in the lives of “Out of theBox” People4. Universal Call to “Ministry”5. Understanding the “Systems”6. Quotations on “Work”
There is a danger that in popular Christianity“community” is limited to the world of the “Church”.The Church is often seen as nothing more than a . . . 1. Building or a 2. Legal Institution or a 3. Program or a 4. Restrictive political entityWhen, what it really is, is the sum total of “peoplecalled by God”, to represent Him in the world.
Words and Music by Richard K Avery and Donald S Marsh, 1972For a children‟s rendition of this, see this:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jxrl8zDVjzo“I am the Church, you are the Church, we are theChurch together. All who follow Jesus all aroundthe world, yes, we’re the Church together.”“The church is not a building, the church is not asteeple; the church is not a resting place, thechurch is a people.
“Were many kinds of people, with manykinds of faces, all colors and all ages, too,from all times and places.“And when the people gather, theres singingand theres praying; theres laughing andtheres crying sometimes, all of it saying:“At Pentecost some people received the HolySpiritand told the Good News through the world toall who would hear it.”
According to the song, the Church is PEOPLE!!!People gathered and scattered, taking theirwhole being and their message of Good Newswherever they go.The Church is “Centripetal”: spinning peopletogether and . . .“Centrifugal” flinging people out into theworld as witnesses of His grace
Between Christ‟s resurrection and His return,the Church is the unique institution of God‟spresence, the “body of Christ”:1. It is God‟s especially designed collection ofpeople interlocked into relationship,commissioned to proclaim the redemptionof the world through Christ.
2. It is the “tithe” of creative andredemptive activity intended toinfiltrate that which is unholy with itscharacter of holiness. It is intendedthat Christians be “invasive” rather than“evasive”3. It is where Christians are equipped toserve God‟s Kingdom in the world atlarge. This is also true of the STEMworld.
Yet, the sad reality is that the Church often fails toengage the world, living contentedly, or inhostility in its sub-cultural Christian ghettoes.The Church fails to engage the world because . . .1. It often regards only its own work as “ministry”2. It regards value creation in the sphere ofscience as merely a neutral or negative activitywith no intrinsic or eternal value.
3. Or it reduces the Bible to the spiritual realmdisconnected from the ordinary world.4. It lives in fear of the seductive influence of theworld, including science, among its members,fearing contamination, or betrayal.5. Its pastors have limited or no experience in theSTEM world to know how to equip members forengagement
On the other hand, the non-Church worldincluding the STEM world fails to engage theChurch because it believes that. . .1. Its activities are morally neutral and notaccountable to the Church.2. It is too busy or too absorbed to deal with“trivial” Church pursuits3. It asks questions or stimulates demand forthings of inferior value that might beinsignificant to God and higher purposes.
4. It never gets around to addressing issues ofmoral accountability.5. It ignores the importance of relationships andis only interested in the bottom line or resultsfor their own sake.6. It fears the implicit hypocrisy of religiousinstitutions that oftentimes seek to “milk” theresources and benefits of the non-church worldwithout appreciating the sacrifice or costinvolved.
Implicitly there is an unspoken hierarchy of “ministries” in theChurch, all of which see themselves as serving the Church ratherthan the world.For instance, from those professions of highest value to lower:MissionaryDenominational administratorPastorTheological professorChurch staff personChurch volunteersFinally, “secular employment” including the STEM professionswhich though admired, really are seen as neutral in theirreligious or moral significance.
Yet, in the parable of the talents, in Luke19:11-27, Jesus gives highest priority, not toclergy, but to persons who used God‟sgifting in their lives, under risk, to give “valueadded”.They earned added responsibilities, not in theChurch, but in administrating cities, certainlynot a typical reward!
The Gospel of Matthew highlights Jesus‟ use of 23similes and metaphors to describe the Kingdom ofGod:17 of these take place in workplaces7 speak of farming6 take place in the home4 speak of handling money2 talk of caring for animals, or caring for children,or going to a wedding. The remainder talk aboutriding a camel, fishing, weather forecasting,baking bread, or buying pearlsNONE take place in a synagogue or temple!!!
Jesus describes the work of the Spirit as it “blows wherever itpleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where itcomes from or where it is going. So it is with everyoneborn of the Spirit”. (John 3:8).Everyone “born of the Spirit” suggests an unpredictability orspontaneity of the Spirit, not confined in institutions orprograms or even the Church.Ironically, Jesus‟ discussion with Nicodemus that night wasprobably in a neutral location away from the Synagogue inmuch the same way that it was with the woman at the well,told in John 4. He tailored his discussion to their social,cultural and economic context.
Repeatedly throughout Scripture, the Holy Spirit seemsto descend on the most unsuspecting candidates.For instance:1. Exodus 31:1-2: This was the first time that theHoly Spirit filled anyone in Scripture. Bezalel andOholiab, temple artisans, were filled . . .“giving Bezalel great wisdom, ability andexpertise in all kinds of crafts. He is a mastercraftsman, expert in working with gold, silver,and bronze. He is skilled in engraving andmounting gemstones and in carving wood. He isa master of every craft.”
2. Matthew 1: Christ was born to an unsuspectingyoung girl, Mary, made pregnant through thepower of the Holy Spirit. Ironically, in that same chapter is recorded thegenealogy of Jesus, including four women‟snames. To mention their names in a genealogywas, in itself, a scandal, given the gender divideduring that era of Judaism. But the namesthemselves compounded the scandal as all fourwomen bore the stigma of violence and socialclass.
Tamar was impregnated by her father-in-law. Rahab was a non-Jewish prostitute. Ruth was a Moabite widow, a member of a cursedtribe. Bathsheba was concubine and co-conspiritorwith David, to the murder of her husband.Yet the Holy Spirit appropriated their scandals intothe story of redemption!
Most prominent leaders in Scripture neither held clerical(Church) positions nor seemed highly qualified to performtheir significant leadership tasks that ultimatelytransformed or redeemed their worlds around them. Forexample . . .Noah, farmer and ship-builder, preserved the human race.Abraham, agricultural mogul, designated to become thefather of many nations.Moses, murderer, sheepherder, with a speech impediment,delivered his people from slavery, and inculcated the Lawinto their culture.
Joseph, arrogant teenager, slave, accused of moral failure andprisoner, becomes the agent of salvation for his family, Egyptand the surrounded nations. He was also the architect andcreator of cities.David, sheep herder and “runt”-kid in the family. Later, despitebeing an adulterer and murderer, he served as an effective rulerand “friend of God”Nehemiah, security detail in the enemy royal court, rebuilt the wallsof JerusalemEsther, Miss Persia, becomes the deliverer of her peopleDaniel, exiled from his own land, works his way up to the positionof court administrator, deftly succeeding four tyrant emperors
Joseph, carpenter, earthly father of JesusMatthew, tax collector, Gospel writerLuke, medical doctor, Gospel writerMark, mission-casualty, but becomes Gospel writerPeter, fisherman, becomes early proponent of theGospelPaul, former terrorist then tentmaker, uses hisprofession to access both rich and poor towardsthe Gospel
Conclusions:The narrative of the Bible shows clearly that professionalranking has little to do with God‟s calling. He chooses all tobe ministers and uses all talents and gifts in vocation to serveas transformative agents of the Kingdom wherever we areplaced.It is our responsibility to learn how to leverage influence andpresence to extend the Kingdom of God through whateverour vocation may be.The Church ought to be the arena of preparation for thatcalling.
For the most part, the STEM professions interfaces with thecomplexities of the “City”.The “City” is not just a demographical concentration ofpeople. It is also . . . 1. A population center that spawns alternatevalue systems. 2. A new “way of life” or “rhythm of life” thatis distinct from rural or small townlifestyles. 3. A place that attracts, manipulates and dispenses“power”—political, economic and cultural.
4. It is the “hub” of innovation and change, bothgood and bad. Here, the STEM professions takethe lead. 5. It is generally a place of cultural and economicdiversity, resulting often in cultural clash andeconomic disparity. 6. It provides opportunities for social mobility andanonymity. 7. It concentrates collections of subcultures incritical masses that become self-sustaining, bothhealthy and pathological
8. It survives by the healthy interplay of itsvarious infra-structural “systems”. 9. The City is not just an “organization, but itis an “organism” with life in constantdynamism.In some sense, it is similar to, or parallel to,the description of the human body in I Cor 12.
The human body at the physiological level is a complex interplay betweenvarious “systems”. These include:1. the Neurologic System2. the Musculoskeletal System3. the Cardiovascular System4. the Immune System5. the Ear, Nose and Throat System6. the Psychiatric System7. the Endocrine System8. the Ophthalmologic System9. the Pulmonary System10. the Hematological System11. the Dermatological System12. the Urinary System13. the Gynecological System14. the Gastrointestinal System
1. That all are necessary for the adequatefunctioning of the body2. That when one system is diseased or injured,that there are backup or redundant systemthat seek to repair the damage.3. That one diseased system can traumatize ordestroy other systems until death sets in.
I Corinthians 12:1, 25-26: “The body is a unit,though it is made up of many parts; and thoughall its parts are many, they form one body. . .there should be no division in the body, but thatits parts should have equal concern for eachother. If one part suffers, every part suffers withit; if one part is honored, every part rejoices withit.”Here we see the body as an organism, with eachpart inter-related and mutually dependent.
In similar fashion, the City or any MetropolitanStatistical Area (MSA) is an organism with avariety of “systems” that interplay with eachother. Here are some of them:1. The Transportation System: Determineshow people get around.2. The Welfare/Social Service System:Determines how people in crisis or chronicconditions economically survive
3. The Communications/Information System:Determines how people are informed. 4. The Political System: Determines howpeople are governed. 5. The Legal System: Determines howpeople in conflict resolve disputes, or protectthemselves 6. The Economic System: Determines howpeople are employed or exchangeservices
7. The Public Works System: Determines howcommunities handle basic infrastructural services.8. The Health Care System: Determines how sickpeople are cared for or cured.9. The Recreational/Entertainment System: Determineshow people handle their “alternate realities”, their“sabbath” rest.10. The Educational System: Determines how people areskilled or enculturated.11. Defense/Emergency System: Determines how theculture defends itself or responds to collective crisis.
12. The Various Religious Systems: Determineshow people find transcendent meaning13. The Social System: Determines how peopleengage community and extend networks ofsupport or common interest14. The Technological System. Determines howpeople transcend material limitations.15. The Land Management System: Determineshow people deal with their ecologicalcontext and their natural resources
So when one system is sick and diseased, like thephysical body, the whole community is affected.A healthy body rushes its resources to thediseased system, to bring health to it.However, if the disease, or the pathology is toogreat, then the whole body is profoundlyaffected, and it can become a “malaise” untodeath.Cities do die---Indeed, we have seen many citiesdie.
1. To live in our ghetto-ized communities, wellprotected from, and/or oblivious to the diseasearound us. We can do this by . . . disengaging from “real life” “caccooning” in protective secure communities taking “potshots” are the ungodly world aroundwithout doing anything creating a neat division between the “real world” and theChristian Church
Or . . .Infiltrating the various systems of the City toutilize one‟s skills, job, vocation, to leverageChristian influence “on the job”, to transformone‟s context as a “change agent” so that everyfacet of life becomes accountable before God.Hence, Christian ministry is not just what happensin and through Churches, but that the Churchengages the world, and its members becometransformative agents right where they work.
The STEM professions play an important role inmany of these systems:1. Create efficiency2. Create markets and products3. Generate research and discourse4. Affect quality of life5. Redesign the environment6. Solve problems7. Stimulate economies
What other impacts do you see the STEMprofessions having on the systems?Are they always beneficial?What standards are used to determine what“beneficial” means?Where do the STEM professions perhapsinfluence negatively a healthy engagement withthe systems?
It is hoped then those in the STEM professionsmight have a positive two-fold benefit inrelationship to the systems:1. To be agents of accountability andtransformation within their own professions, sothat the professions themselves act more“Christianly” because you have been there.2. To motivate the professions to influencepositively clients, service providers, and thecommunity where it is found, or what it serves.
1. Medical personnel2. Scientific communities3. Urban developers4. Academic community5. Management in the STEM professions6. Service providers for STEM resources7. Recycling and “Green” engineers8. Teachers of the STEM professions in public schools9. Research Centers10. IT personnel11. Media personnel12. And many more
Think through a list of your own extendedfamily.What is the influence of the STEM world in theirlives?How do they see that world in relationship toChristian purposes or values?
One can influence the system by these legitimatebut rather conventional ways. . .1. Showing competency on the job2. Expressing integrity on the job3. Being a true friend to other employees4. Organizing Bible studies and prayer groups5. Inviting fellow workers to Church6. Expressing gestures of assistance orcompassion when others are in need7. Showing balance and fairness in bothresponsibilities and relationships
All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity andimportance and should be undertaken withpainstaking excellence.Martin Luther King, Jr.Whatever your lifes work is, do it well. A manshould do his job so well that the living, the dead,and the unborn could do it no better.Martin Luther King, Jr.
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, heshould sweep streets even as Michelangelopainted, or Beethoven composed music, orShakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweepstreets so well that all the hosts of heavenand earth will pause to say, here lived a greatstreet sweeper who did his job well.”Martin Luther King
However, it may require a little more imaginativeresponses:1. Measuring the values of the professionagainst Biblical values2. Influencing the assumptions and values of theorganizational body to better mirrorChristian values3. Recommending alternative ways of dealingwith problems in the work environment, tobetter mirror the Kingdom.
4. “Blowing the whistle” when injustice or unfairness,or dishonesty is taking place.5. Empowering those around you, even if itmeans limiting or deferring your own power.6. Seeking to defuse unnecessary conflict.7. Seeking to move the organization beyond just the“profit or fame motive”.8. Leveraging the organization to “make a qualitativedifference” in its world.
1. Inappropriate Work Setting---Are there jobs thatcannot glorify God? If so, name some of them.2. Internal Corruption of the Organization---Can awork environment be so corrupt that all employeesbecome corrupted by it? For instance?3. Programmed Limitations due to confined roles, lackof interpersonal contact, administrative rules,curbed influence. Can you think of other situationsthat confine the Christian influence in theorganization?
Sometimes we are called to confront the “Powers”that corrupt the systems and their manifestinstitutions:1. Elijah confronts the gods of Baal (I Kgs 18)2. Amos confronts the corrupt legal system(Amos 5:10-13)3. Jesus confronts the corrupt economic-religious system (Mk 11:15-17)
There are two facets of the ministry of the Church.Too often we have focused on the first facet:1. “The Church Gathered”: or The Centripetal missionof the Church---to pull people into the confinesof a church building or church institution andconcentrate all ministry in that environment.The Church “gathered” should be a public witnessthe “Communion of the Saints”, for rest and forrestoration, for accountability, for training, forcommunity, for joint celebration, and forresourcing the mission of the “Church Scattered”.
2. Therefore, the optimal activity of the Church should be,as it is engaged in mission in the world, within thesystems, to bring them, and those, under the aegis orsovereignty of Christ, not just by individual conversions,but wherein the institutions themselves become“converted.”“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, butagainst principalities, against powers, against therulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritualwickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12.
“Then God gave Christ the highest place andhonored his name above all others, so at thename of Jesus everyone will bow down, thosein heaven, on earth, and under the earth, Andto the glory of the God the Father everyone willopenly agree, „Jesus Christ is Lord.‟”Philippians 2:10-11
Clinton Stockwell‟s little essay given in your materialssection, reminds us that just like a painter painting acanvas, the City itself is a collage of the creativecollective imagination of its residents, through manygenerations.If there is blight and ugliness, this is because thatimagination has been sullied by sin, selfishness, andshabbiness so that the “art” of the City, is damaged,destroyed or devalued.The Christian seeks to “turn it around”, through theinstruments that his or her vocation provides, be theyremedial, creative or confrontative.
“The scope of redemption in Christ is the sameas the scope of Creation.”Paul Marshall
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