Join Michael Homan, Katherine Alsdorf and the Fellowship Community at our National Gathering, August 18-20th in Dallas, Texas. It’s not too late to register! Go to www.2014nationalgathering.com for more information and to register for the conference. Space is filling up fast!
“This stuff is like spiritual Xanax for my soul.”
This was the last line of an email from a friend and church member named Dale. I’m not sure I’d ever heard anyone put it quite this way, but after looking up the drug Xanax to confirm that I was interpreting him clearly, I laughed out loud. The penny had dropped and he was beginning to connect God’s work in the world with his everyday work as a project manager for a major corporation.
I don’t know about you, but I am quite sure I have never heard anyone refer to Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf’s book, Every Good Endeavor, and NT Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope, as spiritual xanax for the anxious soul. Along with the Biblical narrative, these two books were paired with Al Wolter’s Creation Regained and Andrew Murray’s Humility as part of a curriculum that Dale was studying as a participant in a newly established Faith and Work ministry at First Presbyterian Church of Houston, TX.
Our Faith and Work cohort met every Thursday for twelve weeks over an extended lunch hour, assembling away from the church building (by design) in the boardroom of a major oil and gas company located in downtown Houston. Around the table sat the company CFO and her executive assistant, along with a doctor on the front lines of research and training at the Texas Medical Center, two experienced attorneys, a land-man, and a marketing and fashion expert who has her hand on the pulse of Houston culture.
We studied the Scriptures, reminded that prior to the fall of Adam and Eve God established the rhythms of work and rest and called it good. We engaged the broader subject of cultural influence and renewal for the sake of the gospel. We practiced some of the spiritual disciplines and examined the idolatries of our hearts and the idolatries of our industries. We agreed to try tangible, gospel-informed experiments within our respective workplace environments — experiments that begin in the heart and work their way into our community and into the world God so dearly loves.
As a pastor it was one of the most life-giving and vulnerable experiments I had ever undertaken, namely because this kind of ministry does not fit cleanly within our conventional models of church programming. Thankfully, a Fuller Seminary D. Min course on the Gospel and Cultural Renewal was instrumental in helping me to see how our reformed theological heritage clearly undergirds the sovereignty of God in all spheres of life, including our work. Nowhere is this more evident than in New York City at the Center for Faith and Work (CFW), a major ministry front of Redeemer Presbyterian Church.
The CFW was established in 2002 under the leadership of Katherine Leary Alsdorf as a way to help people establish a meaningful connection between their faith and their work. Prior to this ministry role at Redeemer, Alsdorf served for more than 20 years in the high tech industry. Her story is not all that different than Dale’s, nor is it very different from many of the people in our pews and chairs struggling to connect what “missional living” is all about once the benediction is given and we walk out the door of the church. Dale, like so many, was in the throes of vocational tension. His company had been retained to by an African nation for the purposes of establish internal controls for the government so that foreign investors would begin conducing business with them. For a short season of his life, this new job would mean extended periods of travel and time away from his wife and two small children. But the problem was not the season of travel or time away from his family, though he would certainly miss them dearly.
The problem, said Dale, was that he did not have a worldview or a framework in which his “secular” work could ever be significant in the sight of God. He went on to describe to me how his family of origin and childhood church established an ethos where the most (and perhaps only) significant work anyone would ever do would be to engage in traditional forms of mission and ministry.
Translation: become a missionary or a pastor, evangelize, and remind people of their eternal destiny should they not confess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. All other work, so he was taught to believe, was insignificant by comparison and was simply a means to accomplish the “real” work of evangelism and full-time ministry.
As a result, for his entire adult life Dale has internally questioned whether or not his current job (and life) was truly significant in the eyes of God.
Did I mention that Dale is a faithful follower of Jesus, a student of the Bible, a fiercely loving husband and dad who is introducing his kids to Jesus Christ, the Lord of life? Or that he has traveled to Africa several times on short-term mission endeavors to preach the gospel, dig water wells, and fellowship with his brothers and sisters in Christ?
Friends, we absolutely need to proclaim the good news of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. We need to pray for conversion in the lives of unbelievers and invite them into the adventure of following Jesus Christ as maturing disciples. But let’s also press into some creative ways of what this looks like in addition to traditional forms of Sunday School classes and small group studies.
Dale was truly wrestling with God over a major life transition but did not have the language or framework to connect his faith and work in a redemptive way. Deep down he believed that God had opened the door for this new project in northern Africa, enabling him to utilize his God-given gifts in law, project management, and cross-cultural studies. But he still had one lingering question:
“Does God care about the establishment of institutional controls in African nations that result in economic and human flourishing?”
What say ye? As pastors and leaders, we would do well to validate and explore these kinds questions beyond the church walls as they are critical to equipping our congregations for missional living in the places where we spend the majority of our waking lives: our homes, our communities, and our places of work. Soli Deo Gloria!
Michael Homan is a teaching elder at First Presbyterian Church of Houston, TX, where he and his wife, Heather, live with their three children, Sarah (9), Andrew (7), and Samuel (4). As a D.Min student at Fuller Theological Seminary his final project is focused on helping the local church establish Faith and Work ministries as a critical component of adult discipleship. For more on Redeemer’s Center for Faith and Work and the work of Katherine Leary Alsdorf, go to: faithandwork.com