For Theologians, is work a four letter word?

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The theological issue I’d like to reflect on is the nature of work and its proper relationship within the Kingdom of God.

Why do theologians occasionally find it difficult to work in the marketplace? Ought a pastor’s work to be considered more significant than a business owner’s? A good Christian can’t make a lot of money—right? In Genesis, doesn’t work come after the fall? As a seminary student, I was listening recently to the voices of students at Asbury Theological Seminary. I arrived at a conclusion—presently a disagreement exists within Christian circles about the nature of work and the Kingdom of God. But before I could reach into my library and pull out a copy of H. Richard Neibuhr’s, Christ and Culture (1941), I paused for a moment and thought back on my own theological journey. I’ve always had an interest in understanding work and its proper relationship within the Kingdom of God, primarily because I was running a business when God called me to seminary. Only recently, and with much help, I arrived at a solid understanding how theologians should understand the workplace.  Having received much wisdom and information from mentors and professors here at Asbury, I’d like to reflect theologically on that experience.

In my initial understanding of workplace theology, I did not understand how to balance work and the Kingdom of God.  So when God called me to seminary, I dropped the business side of my life, because of course, that’s what what-a-good-Christian-should-do right? This “Christ against Culture” perspective was my dominant paradigm prior to the days in seminary, unfortunately.

Thankfully, my understanding of work andthe Kingdom of God matured in seminary.  In Dr. Minger’s Vocation of Ministry Class, I read The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work and Ministry in Biblical Perspective, by R. Paul Stevens. In this book, the author’s central argument suggests the key to the future success of churches will be contingent upon the degree to which pastors equip people for ministry in their workplaces and neighborhoods. This book presented a clarion call for theologians to re-contextualize their theology. In addition, in Dr. Pohl’s Christian Ethics class, I learned about H. Richard Neibuhr’s five typologies for understanding the nature of work and its proper relationship within the Kingdom of God —“Christ against Culture,” “Christ of Culture,” “Christ above Culture,” Christ and Culture Paradox,” and “Christ Transforming Culture.” Also, it was in her class that I learned of the rich Wesleyan heritage exemplified in the Christ Transforming Culture. Fortunately, my understanding of work andthe Kingdom of God grew to the point when I understood finally that a faithful presence in the marketplace could be a legitimate form of ministry. Could Christ have known something when he chose to advance his kingdom primarily with the help of ordinary people often in non-synagogue settings?

After a conversation with Dr. Moon, Associate Professor of Church Planting and Evangelism at Asbury Seminary, and Pete Ochs, founder of Capital III, a private equity investment firm in Wichita, Kan., my understanding of the nature of work and its proper relationship within the Kingdom of God was complete. In summary, endeavor with the gifts you’ve been given all for the glory of God.  Do business owners have a role in the Kingdom of God?

So what part should they play? By what rules should they abide? If a conflict arises between the business standards and theology, whose morals take precedent? So why then is it so difficult for theologians to work in the marketplace? Stay tuned for part two.

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Christopher attends Asbury Theological Seminary and plans to become ordained as a deacon in the United Methodist Church. He has a background in public administration and city planning and was pursuing a future in law school when God called him to seminary. He has never regretted making that change in his life plans. Christopher can be found serving as a student pastor for Saltwell United Methodist Church and writing about the intersection of business and theology.

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