September 5th, 2013
It’s Thursday. You’re back at your grindstone of whatever sort. Perhaps it’s as a paid employee or an unpaid volunteer. You might be head of a business or head of a household–whose respective skill sets are unsurprisingly parallel. (Peter Leithart: “Every mom does mercy ministry. Every dad runs a soup kitchen. Because every kid comes to the world homeless, helpless, hungry, naked.”)
Whatever your labor today, last Monday’s break likely seems a distant reality. And Sunday’s sermon on a theology of work–it might as well have been given 12 years ago for all you remember about it. (“What was it he said–something about a glory to work? Well have him come find the glory in my work; I seem to have lost my sense of it.“)
To say we even scratched the surface about the application of our faith to our work is probably too generous. Fortunately here’s one link where there is a bona fide treasure trove of resources you might pick through in the coming days. Articles, sermons, book titles and reviews, plus a couple videos providing far more grist for your thinking about what it means to labor in God’s name. As one example, below is a panel discussion on Re-thinking work in view of faith, held recently at The Gospel Coalition’s annual conference.
We pastors are notorious for our blind-spot toward the daily vocational devotion of the average parishioner. I hope my vision will improve with time, with help from what I read here–and from your help in sharing with me the story of your labors. That is, I’d love it if you invited me to your workplace sometime so I could see what you do during the week. I’d like to hear what particular challenges you face in living your faith in your work–interpersonal, ethical, or, as Sharon asked during Q&A, the challenge of finding that elusive “balance” between work and the rest of life. My vision for your faithfulness in your work will only improve to the extent I can step into your shoes, don your hardhat, or occupy your cubicle. So help me to see through your eyes the way you see your labor.
Speaking of vision, we turn to such this Sunday and for the lion-share of the fall. You’ve heard me blather on for months now about “Faithful Presence” as a formative idea for our church’s life together. This Sunday I hope to start explaining in more depth what I mean, and how it will look in practice. A Vision for Faithful Presence will be the title of the series.
While faithful presence is a potent idea, it’s not much of a slogan. It doesn’t evoke much in the way of accessible images to illustrate itself. But one that came to mind recently, one you’ve doubtless seen on one of your neighborhood walks, is the image of a tree that’s managed to literally split nearby pavement. The seed from which it grew would have seemed no match for the sturdy, ostensibly impenetrable mass of concrete and iron. But given enough time, the principle of a steadfast cultivation–a faithful presence–prevails. I think the image gets to the heart of what faithful presence both entails and promises. Faith “places” us in a position to blossom, even when the conditions would seem to deny the possibility, and faith sustains us in that posture. Then, by mystery and grace, the faithfulness brings forth–slowly, imperceptibly–what would not have been otherwise. So to be faithfully present to God, to one another, and to our world(s) means in some sense showing up and staying put, and then waiting dependently upon the phenomenon God has “built into the system”: the steadfast presence of His grace–to, in and through us–breaking through our cold hearts, our superficial relationships, and our increasingly disenchanted world.
That’s the vision in…a nutshell (ha). But let me say a little more about vision in general.
Vision is a word we typically associate with corporations and agencies. It’s what defines their identity and their mission. And due to the corporate ethos the talk of vision tends to inhabit, it’s a temptation to force the church into a mold for which it was not intended. Corporate vision confines its concern to what its workforce can accomplish; outside, unpredictable interventions do not factor into their goals and plans. Yet, nothing could be further from the character of what must shape the vision for a local church.
Plans must be made, operations must be organized, and a clear sense of the church’s reason for being has to be in the mind of each and every member. But “unless the Lord builds it, the laborers labor in vain,” says the Psalmist. So vision for a local church has to operate under a different set of presuppositions–namely that God has to act for it to be of any purpose. And the vision has to account for an even more volatile set of conditions like sin, the flesh, and the Enemy.
Furthermore, the indices of a church’s growth don’t always match how a thriving operation might define the same. No church’s vision can exclude numerical growth; it
“exists to spread.” But numerical growth can often belie an absence of interior growth. That’s why vision always must have outcomes that traffic in transformation, which is something every vision can aspire to but none can promise.
That’s why I’d prefer to think of vision in terms of shepherding–maybe not exclusively but primarily. Like vision, shepherding orients the flock in a particular direction and leads them in the way. But by its very definition, shepherding conceives of the relationship between its purposes and its people distinctively. Those in whom the church consists are surely commissioned to service for the sake of upbuilding the Body, but they are not mere cogs in the machine, quickly and easily replaced with those who might do a more efficient work. It’s only the rarest companies which conceive of themselves as existing in large part for the welfare of their employees. But the church that does hold together tightly the outcomes of its vision and the growth of its people has in truth lost its vision. (And the church who divorces its vision for its people’s growth from their love for those not yet part of the church has gone the way of mere institutionalism–an ever-present and always subtle temptation).
This Sunday we’ll do an overfly of a vision for Faithful Presence, looking at a portion of Jesus’ “High Priestly Prayer” in John 17:20-26. I don’t think it’s being too clever to say this passage is Jesus’ overarching vision for the church. That His vision outline is in the context of prayer is its own lesson.
That’s where we’ll start. But if it’s His vision, we won’t ever be finished until we see Him as He is.
We will be gathering again this Sunday at the Hilton Garden Inn at our usual meeting time of 9am. Please share this information with one another and with visitors for whom you may have contact information.
We’ll also caravan down to Armstrong Park for a Picnic under the portico! Have a look here for details.
If Jesus’ vision for His church rested in prayer, then ours must, too. So will you pray…
- for what we hope to be our final negotiations with Fairmeadows Baptist Church this Sunday evening
- for Hugh Comer and Jim Akovenko as they continue in training for the office of elder this fall
- for the mother of Rachel Kull recovering from heart surgery
- for Don and Helen Johnson as they seek treatment for his breathing
- for Nathan and Virginia Vandermeer as they both face chronic health issues
May the Lord bless you and keep you,