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THE ROLE OF WORK & CAREER IN MISSION: MISSIONAL COMMUNITY AS THE MEANS TO RESIST MAKING WORK FULFILLING (wink, wink)

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Ernst Troeltsch The Social Teachings of the Christian Churches vo. 2 (NY McMillan 1931) p. 610 … made a distinction between the Lutheran account of vocation and the Calvinist account of vocation. For Luther, according to Troeltsch, Christians were called to a particular work and were to exercise Christian faith in vocations. Work was thus regarded in the more traditional way (Medieval) as extraneous to the kingdom itself. For Calvin, Christians were to serve the cause of God through their vocation, to exercise Christian faith per vocationem. That required the particular work to be transformed, ordered to the mission of God. (I was reminded of this thru a footnote on p. 325 of Allen Verhey’s Reading the Bible in the Strange World of Medicine– I’m teaching a course on Medical Ethics this quarter)
This means a couple of things.

One – We must resist allowing work to be formed by capitalistic versions of success. Too often evangelicals have been Lutherans (in Troeltsch’s terms) – not seeing the need to order work itself towards mission. Instead, we make work something separate from our Christian lives which we might use if we choose for Christian purposes. We compartmentalize work and put it alongside other parts of our life that we participate in alongside our church activities. Everything (family, work, church, neighborhood) gets separated into compartments to be balanced by our Blackberry as we sit on the throne of our lives managing it all towards (what financial services professionals call) “balance.” In the mean time, we get swallowed up into our jobs without the means to resist the powerful forces of job, mortgage and success as accumulation. Our lives are virtually rendered useless for the Kingdom.

Therefore, secondly, we must have the means to redefine success at work via Calvinist terms (as defined by Troeltsch.) In other words we must see success at work not as ascending to the top of the sorporate ladder or accumulating millions (a.k.a. success in terms of capitalism.) Rather we must resist describing people as “successful” business men/women in church under these terms? This kind of success may indeed happen to Christians (and often does). But this is an aside to the success by which we followers of Christ’s mission seek to be measured. Instead, we seek signs that this workplace has become ordered towards His purposes of righteousness, justice and reconciliation, a field for mission and the extension of the mission of Christ. Our success will have little to do with accumulation or ascent to the top of the corporate ladder. Work thus becomes subordinated to the mission of Christ.

Stunningly however in some quarters, I still see the gospel preached in terms opposite to this ( and I am not just talking about Christian television). God wants you to be happy and successful, he wants you to find your job fulfilling in itself. Following Jesus can help you climb to the top “for His glory.” Huh? Do you see it? Jesus has become subordinated to success in terms of capitalism! We are seeking the promise that work will bring us the fulfillment we seek in this life. It is the mythology of late capitalism that pulls us in. Preaching in this way is equivalent to preaching “Jesus, the secret to a great sex-life” or “Jesus, the life you’ve always wanted.”

Of course the only way we cannot give in to these powerful shaping forces of capitalism upon our identity and life, the only way we can escape allowing years of our lives being devoured by the black of hole of seeking capitalistic success, is to be part of a reordering reality, the worshiping community of God’s mission in the world. This is what the missional communities must seek to be.
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Of course this does not mean we renounce work either. In my opinion missional pastors must learn how to navigate survival in a hostile capitalist world. I have noticed many missional pastors who are particularly skilled at navigating survival in the capitalist world without succumbing to the drive to accumulate or achieve success in the terms laid down by carnivorous capitalism. This skill is especially important to missional pastors who seek to do our work in the suburbs.
I hope to discuss this issue more at the seminar May 9th at the Grow Center at Northern. We’ll have a morning of discussing postmodern theory for pastors and then an afternoon of working on the practical living of missional life in light of what modernity is trying to do to us. Hope to see some of you.

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