Portland, Oregon is not a place you stop by on the way to somewhere else, but it is a place well worth visiting. Portland’s rainy winter skies and warm hospitality greeted me this week along with Jim Hislop who serves as Director of Center for Leadership Development at Western Seminary. Western’s leadership had extended me a gracious invitation to further their conversation regarding faith, work and economics.
Arriving at the Western Seminary and getting a personal tour of the campus I felt the storied history of this fine institution that has so faithfully been a Gospel lighthouse as well as pastoral leadership pipeline for the Evangelical church particularly in the beautiful, yet spiritually rugged Northwest. I was particularly impressed with seminary leadership that is unpretentious, genuine, lighthearted and yet seriously intentional about the mission of developing both congregant leaders and pastoral leaders who connect Sunday to Monday.
Dr. Gerry Breshears
My day at Western was packed full as I first spoke at a luncheon attended by Portland marketplace leaders, pastors and faculty. I enjoyed some very engaging side-bar conversations particularly with marketplace leaders after my presentation. I then spent two hours in a studio participating in a video interview hosted by Dr. Gerry Breshears who serves as Systematic Theology professor at Western. I have had the privilege of getting to know Dr. Breshears the last couple of years as he is an active participant and theological leader in the national Oikonomia Network. Dr. Breshears is not only a seasoned and wise sage, he is also a very engaging interviewer which made the two hours very enjoyable. The interview will be used as part of Western’s on-line leadership curriculum. Following the interviews with Dr. Breshears, I led a two hour workshop with the seminary faculty on how as an institution Western might rethink training of pastors who embrace a more seamless connection between faith, work and economics. The Western faculty was very engaging, adding thoughtful insights, raising good questions and simply a delight to be with.
Dr. Ron Marrs
After a full day and Michael Lawrence made it their mission to give me a taste of Portland’s local cuisine. We dined at Portland’s historic Jakes. Both the local food and the conversation made for a very memorable evening. Ron Marrs also made sure I got a quick tour of Powell Books, one of Portland’s most famous destinations. I left the rainy skies of Portland grateful for having had the privilege of spending time with such a thoughtful group of followers of Jesus, my heart overflowing with hope at the good work that God is up to at Western. Thanks Jim, Gerry, Ron, Michael and the entire Western staff for your warm friendship and hospitality. Keep up the good work!
Whether it is a talk given to a group of marketplace leaders, seminary faculty, or fellow pastors or even by a radio talk show host, the question I am most often asked may be a bit surprising to some. The most common question directed my way is not about the intriguing and life-changing contours of an integral theology of vocation, but rather how I personally came to a more integral understanding of my own pastoral vocation. What led to such a pastoral paradigm shift and how has that paradigm shift impacted your congregation?
Recently Skye Jethani pressed into this question with me. Skye Jethani who serves as the managing editor of Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal, came to Kansas City to tape an interview for a video series his team is doing on connecting faith, work and economics. It was a delight to meet such a thoughtful and engaging follower of Christ. I welcomed Skye to Kansas City with some very tasty “burnt ends” at Jack Stacks, one of our fair city’s finest barbecue restaurants. A good deal of our interview was focused on my own pastoral journey,what I now regrettably deem as several years of clergy malpractice. For way too long, I had spent the minority of my time equipping my congregation for what they were called to do the majority of their lives each and every day. Out of the taped interview with Skye, I was asked to write a concise testimony of my pastoral journey for publication in Leadership Journal. In this month’s edition of Leadership Journal my article appears. Thanks Skye and your team for the engaging interview under those bright lights and for the good work you are doing bringing such an important conversation to Christian leaders all over the globe.
“Tom, we have been breathing rarefied air!” These were the words Dr. Larry Sanders used to describe his journey as founder and CEO of Specialty Fertilizer Products (SFP). Recently I had the joy of spending time with Larry in his Leawood, Kansas corporate office talking about his remarkable company and how as a follower of Jesus he connects Sunday to Monday.
Dr. Larry Sanders
One thing that strikes you when you walk into the corporate offices of SFP is both the amazing accomplishments of Larry and his team as well as the spirit of humility which pervades the corporate culture. As a world-class chemist, Dr. Larry Sanders has developed patents on a variety of polymers that remarkably raise agricultural yields as well as vastly reduce negative environmental impact. SFP is a leader not only in global agriculture, but a pacesetter in pursuing three bottom lines of business, profits, people and the planet.Larry launched SFP as a shoebox entrepreneurial enterprise in 1998 and in less than a decade annual revenues reached 69 million.
In November, 2013 Ingram’s magazine featured SFP noting that “SFP has brought home the business equivalents of Heisman trophies, Cy Young awards and Super Bowl rings. In its short history, SFP has earned a No.1 spot on Ingram’s Corporate Report 100 list of the Kansas City region’s fast-growing companies (in 2009, as well as No. 3 spot in 2010), earned Inc. magazine’s No. 1 ranking among America’s fastest growing manufacturing firms (2009), and been recognized by trade journals as having the most outstanding product of the year.”
Clearly SFP has been a remarkable story of success and in many ways I think it is fair to say that the best days are ahead for Larry and his team. And while SFP is flourishing what captures Larry’s heart is how God is using his talents and vocational calling as a chemist to allow his employees to flourish and to make the world a better place for all. Larry believes that the talents he has been given require faithful stewardship and he knows his work matters. Larry is not only a joy to be with, but spending time with this humble apprentice of Jesus I came away with a grateful bounce in my step for how well he connects Sunday to Monday. Larry and his bride Donna are members of the Christ Community family and worship at our Leawood campus. Thanks Larry and the entire SFP team for your good work!
I find writer Peggy Noonan an insightful social observer, but in an opinion piece a while back in The Wall Street Journal her words were exceptionally poignant. Peggy writes, “A job isn’t only a means to a paycheck, it’s more. ‘To work is to pray,’ the old priests used to say. God made us many things, including workers. When you work you serve and take part. To work is to be integrated into the daily life of the nation. There is pride and satisfaction in doing work well, in working with others and learning a discipline or a craft or an art. To work is to grow and to find out who you are.”
How encouraging it is to hear Peggy Noonan’s integral understanding of faith, work and economics. Along with a growing cadre of voices from all across the religious and political spectrum, Peggy Noonan makes the point that jobs and employment are the number 1 domestic issue in our nation. And what I appreciate most about Peggy Noonan’s insight is the bedrock truth that work is integral to humans being made in the image of God and at the heart of human and community flourishing. My friend Steve Garber loves to say, “Vocation is integral, not incidental to the Imago Dei.” This is what I believe Peggy Noonan is also saying as she affirms that work is integral to being human and as she makes the point that to work is to pray.
Joblessness is not only an economic issue, it strikes at the very core of what it means to be human, to be a worshipper, to contribute to God’s good world and the common good. So if you have a job, will you join me in thanking God for your job? Will you remember today that doing your work whether it is paid or unpaid is as an act of worship? Will you embrace the transforming truth that as apprentices of Jesus we are called to pray without ceasing and to work is to pray? And will you pray for the many in our city and nation who are looking for a job and who are struggling with the vocational challenges of underemployment?
Faith, Work & Economics
It was a true privilege to be invited to make a presentation on faith, work and economics at the Oikonomia Network retreat in sunny warm Phoenix. Just in case you are wondering, I did arrive back in Kansas City just in the nick of time to encounter the coldest weather we have had in over twenty years. I am “suffering” for Jesus now.
The Oikonomia Network is a community of Evangelical theological educators from around the nation dedicated to equipping future pastors to connect biblical wisdom, sound theology and good stewardship to work and the economy. The word, “oikonomia” is where our English word “economy” comes from and simply means “household stewardship .
The focus of my presentation was encouraging these fine and dedicated theologians to help pastors articulate biblically sound principles and practices for economic flourishing within their local churches and communities. I spent a good deal of time speaking not only how the bible emphasizes the neighborly love of Christ-like compassion, but also the economic capacity needed to extend neighborly love through wise generosity of financial resources. I pointed out that Jesus’ compelling parable of the Good Samaritan not only highlights true Christian compassion, but also assumes the economic capacity that comes from diligent and faithful work. The Good Samaritan did not only open up his heart to the wounded man lying by the road, he also opened up his pocketbook. Neighborly love often requires more than just caring words, it also often requires economic resources. Compassion and capacity are both needed. If you would like to read a more comprehensive summary of my presentation in Phoenix, Dean Blevins, a professor at the Nazarene Theological Seminary wrote about it in his discipleship commons blog.
Interview with Chris Brooks and Katherine Leary Alsdorf
I also had the joy of doing interviews with some of the oikonomia participants. These interviews are being sponsored by the Kern Family Foundation and made available to encourage pastors in better connecting faith, work and economics in their churches. At the oikonomia network retreat we heard via video Gallup CEO, Jim Clifton say that he believes the greatest need of our nation is job creation.
I left sunny Phoenix with a greater conviction that nurturing economic flourishing is not an option for the Gospel-centered local church, but a vital part of Gospel-faithfulness. Neighborly love requires both compassion and capacity.
Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary
A high point in my travel this past year was spending a fun evening and a beautiful fall New England day with several faculty, students and friends of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. I was privileged to join my friend Dr. Steve Garber of the Washington Institute For Faith, Vocation and Culture in seeking to further the good work that is being done at Gordon Conwell seminary in connecting faith and work.
Dr. David Gill
It was a delight to meet Dr. David Gill who gives such thoughtful leadership to the Mockler Center For Faith & Ethics in the Workplace. Dr. Gill was a most gracious host and during our time together I had the joy of doing an extended interview with this intellectual leader in the faith and work movement. As we chatted about the faith, work and economics, we found ourselves covering a good deal of ground and some challenging terrain.This month Dr.Gill featured our extended interview in his Mockler Memo which is now available for you to take a peek at if you wish. I am looking forward to joining Dr. Gill and other leaders at a national summit on faith, work and economics that will be held in Boston this coming October. Dr. Gill keep up the good work!
This month I was invited by Professor Dean Blevins of the Nazarene Theological Seminary to address students and faculty on the importance of faith and work in the mission of seminary education. It was especially nice not to have to get on an airplane, but simply climb into my car and drive thirty minutes across town. Dean Blevins was a warm and engaging host and I enjoyed my time with faculty and students very much. The thoughtful questions and many reflections of the Nazarene Seminary community gave ample evidence of a faith tradition that is deeply committed to explore how the Christian faith speaks to all of life.Dean Blevins wrote a nice review about the day we spent together in his Discipleship Commons blog. Thank you Dean Blevins for your warm hospitality.