In this early part of the 21st century the Church is finding itself increasingly marginalised, and society perceives the Church to be increasingly irrelevant. This is a fundamental shift for which we, the Church, are largely unprepared. The last time we found ourselves quite so powerless and lacking in influence was back in the 3rd century. A word that is being used to describe the Church in this time of changing awareness is the word “Missional”. The term itself is still finding definition, and there appears to be little consensus on the detail of this emerging paradigm, except that it is different to the paradigm experienced for almost two millennia since Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century.
There are a few building blocks. A new theological field, known as the Theology of Work, is beginning to give some definition to what it means to be Church in the 21st century. The momentum for this emerging theology is being driven by lay people reflecting on the relationship between their lives in the working world and their Christian faith. A key book in this regard is Joy at Work (A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job) by Dennis W. Bakke, cofounder of Applied Energy Services (AES). In his postscript to the book Dennis attempts to describe the integration of his faith and the secular work to which he has been called, and in so doing touches on some powerful theology that helps us understand what it is to be the Church in the 21st century, what it is to truly be “Missional”.
Your “Missional” Call
Key to this approach is that “our daily work is a sacred calling from God”. This is a fundamental shift in thinking because it states that working in the secular environment is a sacred calling, no more and no less than working in or for the Church. Dennis says, “I am God’s representative at my place of work and … I am accountable to Him for my behaviour and actions on the job and especially for the service or product I help provide to society.” He goes on to say that, “A church’s service to the community should be measured by the sum of the work carried out by its members. This would include both voluntary and paid work at home, in business, at church, and in other not-for-profit organisations.” Dennis points to the fact that it is the influence of Greek philosophers Plato and Aristotle on early theologians such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas that leads to the idea that “Christian work” is somehow superior to work in the secular environment.
If we are to be truly “Missional”, true to the emerging paradigm of Church in the 21st century, we need to take seriously the role that each member of the “Body of Christ” plays in representing God in the world. This requires us to change our perspective on stewardship. Our concept of stewardship is too often defined by the old paradigm in which those working in the secular world are required to resource the clergy and the missionary programmes of the Church. “Missional” stewardship is primarily about accountability and responsibility, rather than resourcing the Church; the “… local church [being] a primary vehicle for holding Christian people responsible for their vocational work.” Instead of resourcing the Church being a primary focus, “Missional” stewardship asks us to “… [manage] resources to meet physical needs”, “… [serving] the important goal of stewarding God’s resources to meet societal needs.” In reflecting on his own church experience Dennis says, “Leaders of the church seldom discussed the need for accountability for the way we served God through our secular work.” I recognise this in my own ministry as an Anglican Priest over twenty years, more concerned that my stipend is paid and that our worship is staffed with readers and sidespersons on a Sunday; and less concerned that parishioners are meaningfully equipped to serve God in their work-a-day world from Monday to Saturday; frustrated by the 20/80 principle – that 20% of the congregation contribute to 80% of Parish life – instead of realising that perhaps only 20% of people have time to contribute, while 80% are busy serving God in the realm of homes, schools, business and government.
The above backs up another key “Missional” concept, and this is that God sends us, scatters us into the world; that we take the light of Christ into the world and its darkness through who we are, what we do and how we do it. Too often, in the older paradigm, Sundays were sacred moments that had little to do with our lives during the rest of the week, creating a kind of spiritual/secular schizophrenia. In “Missional” thinking Sunday – the Church gathered – becomes a celebration of what God has done in our lives from Monday to Saturday; it is a time of testimony, of sharing how God has been with us, how we have seen and experienced God as we have sought to live out our calling in the scattered environment of our week.
This then raised the question of what the church should be doing. Dennis says, “My own bias is that the church should concentrate its pastoral and administrative resources on evangelism, worship, and nurturing and equipping members for service. I suggest that churches run service programs … only in the rarest instances.” I am encouraged by this because it reflects the mission statement of our own Diocese (
Pretoria), that every Parish become a forming centre of Spirituality, and Ministry. My role as Parish Priest is to facilitate this process, which Dennis describes as follows: “One of the most important roles of the local church is helping people discover the work that God has planned for them and then empowering them to perform that work.” Mission
Underlying this “Theology of Work” is the Great Commission in Matthew, as well as the creation stories in Genesis, which Dennis describes as “… the stewardship mission of Genesis.” Too often the church gets overly caught up on the redemptive nature of God; “Theology of Work” brings our lives into balance by reminding us of God as Creator and Sustainer, too.
September is “Stewardship Month” in our Diocese: how are you accountable to the “Body of Christ” for 100% of your life? How are you resourced by the Church to be responsible for your sacred calling to represent God in the secular environment? How are you resourcing the gathered Church that it may become increasingly effective in empowering you and others in your daily lives in the scattered environment of your week?
All quotes are from: Bakke, Dennis W. 2005; Joy at Work (A revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job); PVG, Seattle; Pages 245-275