Editors’ Note: The Gospel Coalition’s Theological Vision for Ministry advocates for the integration of faith and work, because, “The good news of the Bible is not only individual forgiveness but the renewal of the whole creation. . . . Therefore Christians glorify God not only through the ministry of the Word, but also through their vocations of agriculture, art, business, government, scholarship.” Our churches seek to help people “think out the implications of the gospel on how we do carpentry, plumbing, data-entry, nursing, art, business, government, journalism, entertainment, and scholarship,” so they will “work with distinctiveness, excellence, and accountability in their trades and professions.”
Therefore we commend other Christians seeking to bridge the sacred/secular divide. Owen Strachan recently sat down in New York with Gabe Lyons, the founder of Q—-a learning community that mobilizes Christians to advance the common good in society. They discussed how Q seeks to help integrate faith and work and what Lyons does on a day-to-day basis.
Q Ideas has contributed in recent years to helping Christians work well to the glory of God in all kinds of different vocations, including fashion, business, and entertainment. What fuels your interest in that topic? How can Christians think well about engaging all of work, not just certain areas that Christians might historically do?
I’m motivated to talk about this because it feels like a lost piece of the Christian story in the last few decades. We’ve gotten away from affirming and empowering believers who have very different talents and callings outside of being a pastor or a missionary or a church planter. Bob Briner talks about this in his book Roaring Lambs, written in the 90s, and describes how first-class Christians are pastors—-those who are doing full-time Christian service—-and everybody else feels like second-class Christians. You didn’t see a lot of people in different vocations being affirmed at church or being pulled up by a pastor onto the platform for five minutes to hear about what they had done in the public school that week to serve the community, or to talk about some new invention somebody in their congregation had developed that was good for the community.
Andy Crouch tells a story about a lady in Boston who taught Sunday school at her church for 30 years. She was also responsible for cleaning up the whole Boston Harbor, which was a nightmare for the city. But the first time she was brought up in front of her church was to talk about how she had taught Sunday school for 30 years. They never mentioned that she had been responsible for helping the entire city by leading this huge project. That’s just normal. Pastors and leaders haven’t thought as much, I think, about how to affirm work in their congregation. Yet that’s the majority of the people sitting there, and it would relate so well to everybody to realize that the gospel is not just about showing up at church or evangelism. It also has a vocational component that demands we go out into the world and bring God’s kingdom to bear in every place that we might touch or work. That, to me, is a big transformation and rediscovery the church is going through right now.
The Reformation was, primarily, Scripture moving from the priest who could read and hold it to becoming something the laypeople could have in their hands. Even in the pews people could read the Bible, could interact with God, feel a freedom and a priesthood. This next transition, right now, is moving toward realizing that God has called us to be a priesthood of all believers, that there’s a parish that every priest lives in and has to think about. That’s what I think is happening right now as Christians are waking up to the question, What does the gospel look like applied to every specific area of the world? There’s a lot of work to be done in areas like fashion or business or advertising, places where you would never think the gospel has any relevance. It actually might have a lot to say about it.
With Q we’re trying to learn from leaders who are in those spaces—-what they’re working on, what they’re imagining, how they’re trying to shape the values of their companies, how they’re changing the way they’re doing business with people because of how they’re informed by the gospel. We want those leaders, then, to educate the church, which is hungry for this teaching, hungry for more theological development around how to think about vocation.
There’s a huge opportunity for seminaries and schools to come alongside all of us who wouldn’t ever go to a seminary for just theological pastoral training. But we would go and say that we need to ground our thinking in theology that would inform how I’m working in the place God’s called me to work.
You seem to have a very interesting life. What do you do on a daily basis? You’re talking about work. I want to know what your work life looks like.
My work life consists of several different facets. Running the organization Q is a big piece. We have a team here in New York and up to nine people in the office at a time working on Q and all the different events we’re hosting. I really enjoy convening people and leading these kinds of conversations about vocation, trying to learn from different people and then write about it. Writing is a bigger part of what I do now compared to a few years ago. I spend energy every week trying to reflect on ways we can take information that lives more in an academic think tank space and make that a little more accessible for people like me who aren’t academics.
Of course, living in New York, one of the things I enjoy most is connecting people. So I have a lot of meals or dinners with people who come through New York who are thinking this way and interested in meeting others. I’ll find myself trying to help people meet one another and spend time developing friendships that I may not need to be a central part of but that they carry on for the rest of their lives.
Readers have the opportunity to think more on these matters and ask questions about ideas that matter in a major conference. Join Gabe Lyons, David Brooks, and Ross Douthat for the annual Q Ideas conference in Washington, D. C. from April 10 to 12, 2012.