The afternoon session of the Oikonomia Network (ON) retreat continued with another presentation by Amy Sherman. Amy continued by focusing on congregations that embrace this work. Perimeter Church in Atlanta is a “VILC” (Vocation Infusion Learning Community) thanks in part to the ministry of Travis Vaughn pastor of cultural renewal. The journey included reading the whole of scripture including inviting Michael Goheen. Later the emphasis on faith at work included a five-week sermon on faith and work, creating videos showcasing people in their work, and orienting leadership in the church. In addition, the church began to gather vocational backgrounds as part of congregational demographics, and then creating “forums” focusing on specific vocations (business, education, healthcare), hosting book studies of Every Good Endeavor, as well as encouraging on the “gospel@work day.” Ultimately the church will start a new leadership strategy for cultural renewal for other churches.
The National VILC Initiative was launched 2012-2013 with 42 Congregations, of pastors and lay business leaders learning together. Leaders gathered to sharpen their theological understandings of faith, work, and economics (FEW), as well as glean insights from pioneering leaders in effective whole-life discipleship and develop customized “Vocation Infusion Plans” to steer new, church-wide activities aimed at showcasing faith-work integration and flourishing. Sherman offered five Lessons learned from the VILC:
- Leaders need exposure and education via an experiential pedagogy (not just hearing but also experiencing them). Mike Breen notes, Information has to go through imitation to bring about innovation (Building a Discipleship Culture). So leaders go through the Surge school (2008) sponsored by Redemption Church and hear panels of people who have been changed by these changes. Leaders also visit Agritopia to experience the relationship between faith and work.
- It’s important for pastors and congregants to learn TOGETHER. Not enough to get pastors on board with Faith and Work but also marketplace lay leaders in “real time” to bring about solid implementation. The collaboration infuses the congregation but also helps pastors think carefully about how they will teach/lead this movement. This insight reminds theological educators to also work closely with marketplace leaders in developing curriculum both for the local church and the seminary.
- Leaders must equip the scattered church theologically. Theology still matters and the church has to anchor congregants in God’s work, about creation, about God’ mission in the World, abut the church’s mission, and the real goal of whole life discipleship. Content matters, and teaching much include inculcating the leaders of the church. We must teach it so that we equip ministers for the wider church and the world.
- Preaching isn’t enough, Celebration is needed. A Barna research project noted that preaching on work has increased, but the parishioner’s view of their value of work decreasing. It is not enough to teach about work but we have to lift up occupations other than the pastor, missionary, compassionate ministry workers. Pastors need to visit congregants in workplace, fashion blessings for occupations, and also incorporate everyday workplace in local church architecture and liturgies.
- Churches infusing faith, work, and economics effectively are “doing,” not just talking about it. The activities include vocational affiliation groups involved in ministry and mission. Churches need to embrace the Great Commission 2.0 highlighting ministry in the various social sectors as well as geographic regions. The challenge is to encourage parishioners and theological students to be “active” in designing ministry in light of faith, work, and economics.
What can seminaries do?
- Assign student to research models and write short case studies,
- Create independent study course in which students write a blueprint for a new FEW ministry,
- Help students see how to infuse into existing ministries a new emphasis on vocation
Overall Sherman offered key challenges as well as insights that will help congregations as well as theological schools move from thinking “about” faith, work and economics to actually engaging and embracing this framework seriously, over time.