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Thinking about a Vocational Institute

Over the past year I have been a part of a monthly conversation with a group of Faith and Vocation leaders from across North America.

Recently I had the privilege of learning from Matt Rusten, Executive Director of the Made to Flourish Pastors Network. Rusten and Jeff Haanen, executive director of Denver Institute for Faith & Work, discussed the possibility of leaders and churches agreeing upon a set of common best practices for the integration of faith and work in local congregations.

They discussed that “faith and work” isn’t an “add on” ministry, but instead a vision for the sending of God’s people that should be integral to every church’s philosophy of ministry.

Rusten presented a list of four practices that I believe could be a common starting point for churches that embrace historic teachings about vocation. As presented by Rusten, the four practices intersect with four distinct areas of congregational life: corporate worship, pastoral practice, discipleship/spiritual formation, and mission/outreach.

An Outline of the Four Practices:

  1. Corporate Worship: Pastoral Prayers for Workers (1x per month) Pray specifically for congregants’ working lives.

  • General liturgical prayers

  • Vocation-specific prayers

  • Commissioning prayers

  1. Pastoral Practice: Workplace Visitation (1x per month) Visit parishioner’s workplaces.

  • Onsite – non-participatory

  • Onsite – participatory

  • Offsite

  • Meetings

  • Sermon preparation

  1. Discipleship/Spiritual Formation: Vocational Interview in Small Groups (regularly) Interview congregants about their daily work. (Use the following sample questions.)

  • Give us a picture of a day in the life of your work.

  • What unique opportunities do you have to love your neighbor through your work?

  • Where do you experience the brokenness of the world in your work?

  • How can we pray for you?

  1. Mission/Outreach: Asset Mapping Exercise (annual) Conduct a congregational survey about the varying assets a congregation has that can be deployed for community benefit.

  • Physical/space assets

  • Financial assets

  • Networks

  • Human capital

  • Community

As I go through this list I am struck by how do-able it is. Our churches are filled with people who work. We need to do a better job equipping them to know, experience and be God's on-the-job presence.

Additional Resources:

  • If you’d like a peek into the conversation that I get to have with leaders like Jeff and Matt, here is a link to the presentation. Matt Rusten’s comments run from about 4:18 to 19:00.

  • For the readers out there, this is the accompanying transcript of the City Gate call.

  • Here is a simple asset mapping survey that local churches can use.

  • Following is a transcript of Matt Rusten's talk

Exploring Common Standards in Church FWE Integration

By Matt Rusten

The following is an unedited transcript of a Matt Rusten’s presentation on the February 2019 City Gate call.

I know many of you on the call and I know that most of you if not all of you could have led this exact discussion and probably have led this discussion, in areas of influence that you have. Jeff and I were just talking about it and because our organization specifically exists, in our mission statement, that we are helping churches in faith, work and economic wisdom. I'll tee up today's conversation, but definitely I am under no illusion that I have a corner on the market for these insights. You guys are all great leaders and have thought about these things.

I think the goal today, Jeff and I had some fun going back and forth to say how many common standards would we want to talk about as just kind of the very first step that a church that is interested in this conversation would want to take. And one of the very concrete things they would do and how often. Should we have three or four of those or five or six of those or eight or nine?

Obviously there's a 100 things that a church could do, but I am going to suggest four concrete ideas that I think are just baseline for any church that wants to integrate faith, work and economic wisdom. I would love to hear your feedback on what you think are those items as we seek to influence churches.

First, just a little bit of context at Made to Flourish. We talk about faith, work and economic integration across four areas of church life. We don't think that this is just a silo program in a church, kind of a one-off ministry or something that those people “over there” do. We really do believe this conversation should have influence across the life of the church no matter how big that church is. Whether you are 12,000 people on a Sunday or whether you're 120 people on a Sunday.

(1) We think it should be affecting your corporate worship, the gathered community. Whether that is on a Sunday or other day of the week. (2) Pastoral practices. (3) Your discipleship or spiritual formation pathways in the church. And (4) the way that you think about engaging in mission or outreach to your local community. Either in your neighborhood, across the nation or across the world.

Again, we seek to resource pastors, thinking of lots of creative ideas and practical ways in each of those categories and each of us could come up with 10 or 15 examples in each of those four. I would like to suggest one key practice that a church can begin engaging in, in each of those four areas and suggest that these are some common standards.

So go to the next slide Jeff. The first area is corporate worship. Of all the different integration practices, I thought the most concrete, the most simple, has the most power to transcend lots of different types of churches, would simply be pastoral prayers for workers. I would love to see this happen in some fashion at least one time a month. They could be general liturgical prayers. We find that lots of our traditionally liturgical whether that be Anglican or some Presbyterians or Episcopalians have a very set liturgy and in many cases they're already doing this where they have prayers for the people, and those include people's everyday work.

They can also be vocation specific prayers. This is something that one of the pastors in our network. Jason Harris, in Manhattan, began doing it. He said this is one of the most transformative practices that his church is engaged in. You pick a different vocation group once a month, first lawyers then engineers then carpenters then real estate, whatever it would be. And he said after three or four months this was the big moment when someone had a doggy head tilt and different people would come up to him and say, "Do you really believe that God can be active in my line of work? Do you know what we do on a daily basis?" And this actually started a conversation as he formed really intentional prayers around specific vocations.

I also think this is a really wonderful way to offer commissioning prayers. Many churches are still, I guess I'll use the word stuck, maybe that's not the right word but they're stuck in this. We commission missionaries when they go out from us or we commission pastors when they are going into traditional church ministry or ministry has been commonly spoken of.

There are opportunities that make a lot of sense during the year to commission the teachers as the school year is beginning, to commission a new business owner, to commission city planners, different vocational fields. These are just three very minor twists on pastoral prayers for workers. I was talking to Dave Lyons a couple of weeks ago, and I said that the good news is sometimes a small gesture goes a really long way. It means so much to people and it's one thing as a pastor just to affirm people's work but to do that in the form of a prayer, not simply condemning people and seeking justice in the bad spaces of work, but actually praying that God would be at work through people's work as well. Just some different ideas. That's the first category in the corporate worship gathering.

(2) Secondly, in pastoral practices, we found that one of the most transformative practices is simply pastors getting out of their offices to go to the office place of their congregation members, work place visitation. This has often been the case that pastors have gone to different hospitals to visit people in the hospital when they are sick, but we are encouraging more and more pastors to do that. I think this is a growing need as people move to cities, as churches, there's a lot of large churches and it's very easy to spend 20, 30, 40 hours of your week in the pastoral study instead of getting out of our offices.

I have three subcategories of workplace visitation. One is simply an onsite non-participatory where you are meeting someone in their space and you are hearing about work. Maybe in their cafeteria over lunch and it's a chance for them to talk about their work and their work space. Maybe give you a tour. That is probably the easiest touch point. A lot of people are willing to take that risk.

Secondly is onsite participatory. This is where you are actually engaging in the work that people are doing. The president of our organization, Tom Nelson, one time reached out to a surgeon in his congregation and they had a conversation. He actually went into the operating room and put on the scrubs and was right there, was washing his hands and looking over whatever they look over into whatever crevasse of the human that the surgeon was operating in that day. And it was really a powerful experience. They took pictures of that and he actually showed that to his congregation, and there is something about solidarity of someone doing that. We had a pastor in our network that worked on a hog farm. He actually worked doing some of the tasks that his hog farmer was doing and in certain settings that will be appropriate.

We've had certain pastors in our network say, "You know what? Vocational visitation is really easier for white collar work, but I'm a mailman or I'm in a place where I don't have a level of power in my organization to even invite you in." In that case I would say there's opportunities to meet off site and still intentionally engage about people's work. They could be meetings.

And then finally in that off-site category, this isn't exactly off site, but one of the things that Jim Mullins [Redemption Arizona] likes to do, I'm not sure if Jim is on this call or not but he actually will do sermon prep. And he goes out and sometimes he'll ask to do that either in coffee shops or warehouses or different businesses in the city. He is reminding himself even as I am writing this sermon I'm offsite in a vocational space and it's something to think about workers when you're in your church office it's another thing to be in that space as you are preparing messages. So this whole category of work place visitation is really powerful for pastors and does so much to build trust with those we are meeting with.

The third integration area in discipleship or spiritual formation is around vocational interviews in small groups. The reason why I chose this practice of integration is that most churches have some sort of small group structure and they might not even do classes. They might not have Sunday school. They might not have curriculum. They might not have conferences, but usually they have some sort of small group or home group or bible group or community group or growth group whatever they call their group structure. And one of the most powerful things that I have done personally in my small groups is that I've taken this model. And some people do this on a Sunday morning, but you have a sort of all-of-life interview, or some people call it a this-time-tomorrow interview, and it's three or four very simple questions that you ask the person.

Number one, give us a picture of a day in the life of your work. And if I've asked this question to people in the groups that I've led I've been so surprised. I thought I knew what people did but I actually didn't. One of the women in my previous community group was a nurse and I thought I pretty much knew what nurses did. They go to hospital rooms, they turn people over, they give them shots. She said actually, no I work in a clinic and I check people in to the clinic. And one of my biggest tasks as a nurse in this clinic is not to freak out at the people that come in here and just show them love and care and dignity. She said last week someone came in with bed bugs and I was trying not freak out that I would get bed bugs because I was meeting this person and I had to show them honor and dignity. But even that little story of her world I was like, "Oh, wait I don't actually know what you do and the challenges that you face."

I had another guy in our community group where he was a salesman and at the end we prayed for him and he said that I don't think anyone has ever prayed for me as a salesperson. And what a wonderful opportunity that it is not just a pastor doing it but it's a group of people getting to know one another and actually praying for one another. So these are just the different questions that can be asked. There's nothing magical about them but what unique opportunities do you have to love your neighbor through your work? Where do you experience the brokenness of the world in your work? And then simply how can we pray for you?

This is a very simple practice and most small groups are trying to get to know one another anyway. I think even if you don't care about faith, work and economics and integration this is just a simple practice to build trust and to get to know one another in a group. Often times even groups that have been together a long time haven't done this simple exercise. This is a simple way to integrate these ideas.

And then fourthly in the category of mission and outreach. One of the things that I think is the most important exercises that a church can do is a simple asset mapping exercise. Especially if the church is at a point where they're thinking how do we want to engage maybe in ways that we haven't in our city. It could be a kind of evaluation. Some people call this ABCD: asset based community development.

But, these are just some different categories to think about mapping assets and there are different tools that are out there. There's no magic bullet. We've developed the tools that we give to our churches. I think different groups have sort of ABCD model and then at the Chalmers Center and Brian Fikkert has advocated some of these tools. I think CCDA does some as well but these are the different categories. First of all your physical space. Do you have a kitchen? Do you have a gym? Do you have a space that could be converted to a work space for entrepreneurs? What do you actually have during the week that isn't being deployed for kind of mission in your community?

Number two, what are the financial assets? Do you have a benevolence fund? Do you have certain categories that are financial assets. Number three, what are your networks? What are the relationships and influence that you have? And this kind of goes into the community. Where there are awesome organizations where you don't have to reinvent the wheel but they exist in your city and you can partner with them in the area of faith, work and economics.

And then finally, human capital. Who are the people that actually attend your congregation? I think so many congregations say what do we want to do in our city? What is our passion? What is our city involved in? Without ever taking a look to say actually, you know what we have like 60 educators or we have 100 carpenters. There's a huge church down in Dallas, Watermark, and every year they ask people to re-up their membership. And they ask them specifically when they re-up for membership in their congregation, what's your occupation? What do you do during the week?

And so, when a church of 12,000 when the hurricane hit Huston they know that they have 621 carpenters and people that are involved in that and they can immediately go to them and deploy them. That's different than sending out the youth group that has to be taught how to hammer and nail for a mission project. So, what are the assets in the congregation? Just the congregation to say how are we stewarding who God has brought to us and given to us, and is in our community to make really wise decisions.

So, I'll now break for discussion. I know there's 100 other practices that I can appoint it to and maybe that you think are more important or more kind of one on one practices, but those are the four that I would suggest that also attached on different areas of church life.

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