Religion & Liberty Online

Economic Flourishing Is More Than a Mission Trend

The faith-work movement has risen in prominence across evangelicalism, with more and more pastors and congregations grabbing hold of the depth and breadth of Christian vocation and expanding their ministry focuses in turn.

In an article at Missio Alliance, Charlie Self offers a helpful snapshot this trend, explaining where we’ve come from and why this shift in arc and emphasis is a welcome development for the church. To demonstrate its power and promise, Self begins with the story of Scotty, a mechanic and member of Self’s church, who after 40 years in the business finally came to understand the fuller meaning and purpose of his work.

“Pastor Charlie, I just realized I am as much a minister as you are!” Scotty told him one day. “I meet people in crisis, have as much knowledge as some doctors, solve problems quickly and continually update my information and technology…not to mention keep up with all the regulations and taxes. People share their lives with me. What an awesome responsibility.” In addition to providing these basic services, Scotty lives a life of active generosity and evangelism, constantly reaching out and connecting the day-to-day material to the day-to-day spiritual in other people’s lives. “Scotty is helping an entire community flourish and he is part of God’s reign, bringing hope and justice for many,” he writes.

For Self, author of Flourishing Churches and Communities (the Acton Institute’s Pentecostal primer on faith, work and economics), Scotty’s response exemplifies “the full integration of the Mission of God with economic flourishing,” connecting “faith and work, seeing our labor as a calling, working for justice in fields and factories.”

Believers are commissioned by Christ and empowered by the Spirit to “make disciples” that can lead others to faith and create wealth as they fulfill the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20; Acts 1:8) through lives shaped by the Great Commandment (Mt. 22:37-40). Economics is a moral art and science, activity that is at the heart of Creation as God called humankind to co-create and care for his world.

A vibrant eschatology propels followers of Jesus to live the future now in the power of the Spirit because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. All our activity is now infused with faith, hope and love (I Thess. 1:1-5) and there is no longer any sacred-secular separation as all is done for the glory of God and the good of others (Rom. 12:1-8; Col. 3:16-24). Every act of peacemaking, ethical enterprise, compassionate gift and wise management is a signpost of the coming kingdom.

web-pentecostalAnd yet, having spent decades building his business, serving his community, and honoring God through the toil of his hands, Scotty has only recently become aware of the deeper meaning in all this. This sudden realization by no means negates his efforts and contributions, and surely his actions had a divine drive and aim throughout this time, but what is a shift in awareness for those like Scott is a fundamental shift in attitude for others. In either case, it tells us something about the overall lack of awareness and status-quo of disempowerment that lurks in the world, and unfortunately, many congregations.

How much more attentive, confident, sacrificial, and obedient might we be if we grasp God’s full calling and control over every square inch of his Creation (including our lives), and the active power and presence of the Holy Spirit in leading, guiding, and enacting that transformation in ourselves and the world around us?

Pointing to the work of the Acton Institute and efforts like the Oikonomia Network, including nods to series such as PovertyCure and For the Life of the World, Self concludes that as resources such as these continue to be available, and as this basic revelation about human dignity, calling, and creativity continues to be understood and absorbed, our self-made walls between this and that will continue to fall as economic flourishing spreads.

Indeed, although it’s surely a “trend” when taken in light of the recent past, Self concludes that, once this takes root, such a fundamental shift toward whole-life discipleship and economic flourishing is bound to endure:

Spiritual leaders can no longer hide behind false dichotomies of clergy/laity, sacred/secular, profit/non-profit, success/significance or any other unbiblical combinations that disempower the vast majority of Christians. Ideological strongholds of Left and Right, Conservative and Liberal, Communitarian and Individualist must yield to biblical integration as God’s people realize that Jesus is “not a tame lion” (C.S. Lewis) and there are no human boxes that can contain our Lord (Peter Kreeft). For daily and weekly praxis, this vision of integration completely transforms the gathered and scattered church…

…Economic flourishing is more than a mission trend or the human need to eat. It is part of the Creator’s design before the fall and after the Parousia. From Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 19-22 we see humankind worshiping and working, reveling is glory and resting in grace. Those who were faithful in little in this age discover much to steward in the Age to Come. The future Shalom begins today as each disciple discovers the good works designed for them (Eph. 2:8-10). It is time to flourish – regardless of which parties are in power or which subcultural conflicts the church endures.

For more, read Self’s full article.

Purchase Flourishing Churches and Communities, Self’s Pentecostal primer on faith, work, and economics, or see other tradition-specific primers in the series.

Joseph Sunde

Joseph Sunde's work has appeared in venues such as the Foundation for Economic Education, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work, as well as on PowerBlog. He resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with his wife and four children.