Peace with God is the ultimate aim of Christianity. That much can be deduced from Romans 5:1. It seems, though, that many Christians have shifted their focus away from seeking peace with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They seek instead inner peace, and the aim of faith bends toward ourselves. It turns away from the problem of sin that separates us from God, and away from the commission to love others as we’ve been loved by God. No wonder so many unbelievers misunderstand faith as merely an internal feeling.
More than just means to inner peace, the gospel of Jesus Christ is actually the foundation of a worldview—according to The Gospel Coalition’s Theological Vision for Ministry, “a comprehensive interpretation of reality affecting all that we do.” No doubt that means the gospel affects our thoughts and feelings, and the work we do in and for a church. But our faith can never be confined to church walls. The gospel dictates how we live in the home as well as the workplace, where most of us spend more time than church.
My guest on today’s episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast is Tom Nelson. He’s the senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Leawood, Kansas, the president of Made to Flourish, author of Work Matters and The Economics of Neighborly Love, and a Council member of The Gospel Coalition. He is also the writer and presenter of Gospel Shaped Work, a small-group video and book study published by TGC with The Good Book Company. It’s based on point four—the integration of faith and work—from TGC’s five points of gospel-centered ministry. And I asked him all the toughest questions we get from skeptical pastors and other readers when it comes to this aspect of TGC’s vision for gospel-centered churches.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Collin Hansen: Peace with God is the ultimate aim of Christianity. That much can be deduced from Romans 5:1. It seems though that many Christians have shifted their focus away from seeking peace with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They seek instead inner peace and the aim of faith bends toward ourselves. It turns away from the problem of sin that separates us from God and away from the commission to love others as we’ve been loved by God. Well, no wonder so many unbelievers then misunderstand faith as merely an internal feeling. More than just means to inner peace, the gospel of Jesus Christ is actually the foundation of a worldview. According to The Gospel Coalition’s Theological Vision for Ministry, “a comprehensive interpretation of reality affecting all we do.” No doubt that means the gospel affects our thoughts and feelings and the work we do in it for the church, but our faith can never be confined to church walls.
The gospel dictates how we live in the home as well as the workplace where most of us spend more time than church. My guest on today’s episode of The Gospel Coalition Podcast is Tom Nelson. He’s the senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Leawood, Kansas, the president of Made to Flourish and a Council member of the Gospel Coalition. He’s also the writer and presenter of Gospel Shaped Work, a small group video and book study published by TGC with The Good Book Company. It’s based on point 4, the integration of faith and work from TGC’s five points of gospel-centered ministry. And I’m going to ask him all the toughest questions we get from skeptical pastors and other readers. I know he’s prepared for those when it comes to this aspect of TGC, his vision for gospel-centered churches. Tom, thank you for joining me on the gospel coalition podcast.
Tom Nelson: Collin, it’s awesome to be with you. Thank you.
Hansen: Great. So start off, here’s a quote from our theological vision for ministry. “The good news of the Bible is not only individual forgiveness but the renewal of the whole creation.” Tom, what goes wrong when you don’t value both aspects of that statement or privilege one over the other?
Nelson: Well, this question points to one of the reasons I’m most excited about being a founding member of the Gospel Coalition because I’ve always believed that the gospel speaks into every nook and cranny of human life. And there’s a danger when that is lost. I mean, think about the book of Colossians, for example, that brilliant epistle. It’s so gospel-centered. You have both the sense that God has delivered us, right, delivered us as people from the kingdom of darkness, but also that he is called to reconcile all things. So you have this individual aspects plus the ta panta of all things. And redemption is a large scope and scale that brings the fullness of the gospel to all of life. I just love that. And what happens when you emphasize one over the other or you emphasize the individual, I think there’s two dangers.
One is if you just emphasize the all things, sometimes it can be kind of mushy. And it becomes kind of an individual sort of moralism or a gospel that becomes social justice, if I’m gonna use that language. And if you don’t emphasize the all things, the ta panta of God’s redemptive story, you have often a sense of theological reductionism. So I love that we have a rich theology that emphasizes the importance of image bearers being reconciled through the gospel, but all reality is a part of that gospel reconciliation. So I think it’s pretty important to hold both and to keep all of that in mind.
Hansen: You talk about this a lot, Tom, in you work, Made to Flourish, in your book publishing. This is one of the things that our theological vision for ministry assumes and addresses from this 2007 statement. So I’ll ask, how did Christians learn? This is what the statement says. They learned this. How did Christians learn to seal off their beliefs from the way they work in their vocation?
Nelson: Well, I think this is one of the tragedies. I don’t think the Reformers sealed it off. Something has happened since if you look at Calvin and Luther and others, they profoundly emphasize the vocational calling of every person and the importance of work. So I think we’ve lost something there. I would say there’s several things. One is that Haddon Robinson I think has said something brilliant. He said he thought the greatest heresy of the 20th century was the sacred secular dichotomy. Now, whether he’s right or wrong, I think he’s getting onto something. And that’s, I would just share my own experience. I grew up in a real strong pietistic Christian home and there’s strength in piety, but that pietism blinded me to the fullness of the gospel implications for all of life. Every square inch if we may be Kyperian.
And so I had a strong pietistic background that emphasized my own faith of being born again, which obviously is very important, but really the focus was so much of me getting to heaven and being right in my personal relationship with God and very little about how that applied to my Monday life. I called this a Sunday to Monday gap. It was very big in my life. And then in my seminary training, and I’m being charitable to those who taught me, I also with that had a sort of radical eschatology that was highly discontinuous. The discontinuity between now and then of the kingdom was very strong. And so that depreciated the now. It depreciated the material realm and it focused just on the soul and the immaterial. That was really the main thing. And that was because I had an unbiblical or I’d say at least an impoverished theology of the goodness of creation from Genesis on. So I’m just saying, I think there were several factors. I think Christians often have a privatized view of the world and see their faith as their own privatization. And I think that’s tied to our cultural individualism. I think there’s several factors that blind us to the integral nature of how God created the world and how all things are connected and all things will one day be redeemed in Christ.
Hansen: Let’s get a little bit technical here, Tom. I know you’re good at this. I’m gonna ask about eschatology. You referred to that just in your last question. I’m wondering, does our particular eschatology ultimately matter for faith and work? Here’s what I’m getting at. Do I have to believe Revelation 21:24 means that our work will somehow endure in the new heavens and the new earth or on the other side of things, what about if I think second Peter 3:7 teaches that what we do physically in this world doesn’t really matter since it’s all gonna burn on judgment day?
Nelson: Yeah, I love that question because that was my position for quite a while because it was built on a systematic theology and it wasn’t shaped equally with a biblical theology with all due respect to that system. I think that’s problematic. I mean, I understand there’s a pretty long tradition of sort of, it’s all gonna burn, a high discontinuity between the now and then. But I think there’s many more layers of continuity than we often see. So, when I see Revelation 21:24 it’s not the main text, but it is more coherent with the rest of the scripture. Here’s why. If we really have a rich understanding of Genesis one and two and the goodness in the material world and God’s saying that is good and understand the disintegration of that world by sin, then I don’t think the idea of eradication makes sense.
The creation is good. In Genesis three, we have massive disintegration of all aspects of creation, but there is a sense where there is a reintegration, I think that’s gonna take place. So I think deeply about integral and non-integral and disintegration as relates to sin and how it’s played out in the biblical story. Revelation 21 and 22 as a whole, I think we understand the book ends. I think it makes more sense that there’s more continuity in the now and material world matters. And I’ve looked at Jesus. Let me just think to say that one of the most important texts I think is the parable of the talents. It’s Matthew 25, which is an eschatological text about the future. And I don’t wanna push too much into parables, but I don’t also wanna do too little. There is a sense I think Jesus using these three money managers and he was a brilliant economist in many ways, Jesus was. Describes the fruitfulness and faithfulness of those who invested well that they will be entrusted with more. And I think there is an allusion that that work has implications. Their virtue, their behavior, the work they do has implications for future work. So I think there’s quite a bit of evidence for strong continuity.
Hansen: So, okay, here’s the million dollar question. What is the Christian way to manually enter data? Or how about this one? What’s the Christian way to build a dog house? Yes, data entry and carpentry, for people who aren’t familiar with our theological vision for ministry, are specifically listed in there, that there is a Christian way of working this out. And you probably know this as well. Well, you know this way better than I do, Tom. Some Reformed folks get really upset when you suggest that there’s a Christian way to do these things. Why do they get so upset about that?
Nelson: Well, I don’t know exactly the reasons for their visceral response at that level, but I guess I appreciate that. I would say a couple of things. I mean, I don’t agree with that, but I respect that response. And it makes sense. For example, let me just give one little example. So many texts we go to. The book of Ephesians is such a classic New Testament book on the gospel and then its profound implications for all dimensions of life. And for example, in Ephesians 4:28, it’s one of my favorite texts. I think it’s a midrash actually of the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke. And there’s lots of reasons why. But in Ephesians 4:28, Collin, the implications of the gospel profoundly shaped marriage life, right? There’s a Christian marriage. Christian marriage has distinctiveness, right?
I mean, he talks about marriage, but he also talks about work. For example, the gospel profoundly shapes economic life. In Ephesians 4:28, think of this, Paul says, “let the thief no longer steal.” When you embrace the gospel, it profoundly changes your view of the economy. “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather,” notice what he says, “do honest work, toiling with your hands so that you may give to anyone in need.” I’m just saying even there, there’s that virtuous sense of honest work and doing it well. So there’s a virtuous component. And so maybe there’s not a specific Christian way to enter data, but there is a non-Christian way to do it, right, that’s not virtuous, not for the glory of God and love of neighbor.
And let me just say there’s a lot here, but let me just say that I think that the work we do and the workplace we inhabit under God’s sovereign call as gospel people is the primary place for most people to worship God, be spiritually formed, express in incarnational ways, gospel plausibility. Because many people need to see the gospel lived out before they can truly hear it well. But it’s also a place of gospel formation and proclamation and the common good. So there’s a lot on the line. So there may not be a distinctive Christian way to do something that’s manual, but how we do it, who we do it for, what our focus is, how it forms us is profoundly shaped by the gospel.
Hansen: Let’s try a scenario here. You’re sitting down with a new church member, Tom and this member wants to know how to serve the church. We’ve got a lot of options. We know there’s always need in children’s ministry. We always need greeters and ushers, okay? We know these places we can plug them in. But I wonder in that scenario what would happen if we helped them to see that what they do in their work is valued as much as, or even more than, what they do inside our church walls.
Nelson: This is a really important challenge for us if we’re pastors listening to this or leaders. Because the tendency for us is we tend to think that what occurs on Sunday or the gathered church, I mean, there’s the gathered stewardship of the church, which matters and the stewardship of the scattered church. And many of us, and I had for a long time an impoverished pastoral paradigm. It was primarily about how well we did on Sunday and not how well our people do as followers of Jesus on Monday in their various callings. So I’m saying we need to do Sunday well, but we need to really do Monday well. And what I mean by that is that often we focus so much on the scorecard, the emphasis of how well we do the gathered church.
And as a church family, right, we should do what I call chores. You know, I’m a farm kid from way back, but all the family pitches in to serve the family, right, when you get together, do a meal, whatever. And I think that’s really important. But the gathered space is just one aspect. The primary focus is what we do on Monday as a scattered church, as gospel people who are living this out in the world. So I’m just saying, I think we really miss many of us pastors focus on, we really are a church for Sunday and not a church for Monday. And I think we need to rethink that. And our people need to rethink that. For example, in Ephesians 4:12, is a famous text for most pastors, right? It’s to equip the saints for the work of service. When you look at the broader context of that, it’s not just to equip them, right? As important as its is to serve the gathered church in some way, to be a children’s worker, to be on a committee, that’s important. But when you look at the broader texts of Ephesians it’s to equip them for all of life. That’s where Paul goes.
So I often say a primary work of the church is the church at work. And we’ve shift that a little bit, we understand how important it is. In fact, one of the things that stands up to me… I did an Easter message. I’ve done a lot of them, right? I think this may be 30 times. This is a lot of time. And one of my wonderful associates did it for the first time instead of me this year, which is another thing. Anyway, when you think of that brilliant and most hope filled chapter, right, Collin, 1 Corinthians 15, how does it end? You know, the brilliance and joy and hope of the resurrection, there’s a big therefore, right? “Be steadfast, unmovable knowing your toil in the Lord is not in vain,” right?
And so when we look at that word study, we look at the context, it’s not just the work that is specifically Christian. You know what I’m saying? Like in the church or alms for the poor as important as that is, it is that wording and language is all that we do for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor. Now, think of how powerful that is, that that resurrection hope, that grand resurrection chapter that is gospel, right, gospel described that goes at its end to work in the world for the glory of God. So anyway, there’s just a lot there, but I think we need to rethink, are we a church for Sunday first and foremost or a church for Monday? And that’s not to minimize the stewardship of the gathered space that we do that really well. But we’ve gotta think more about equipping people for Monday.
Hansen: Let’s get practical here with how your church does this. Let’s use you guys as something of a model, some ideas that other people can pick up on. What does your church do to help Christians work with, and this is a quote from the statement in our Theological Vision for Ministry, “distinctiveness, excellence and accountability in their trades and professions?”
Nelson: Well, again, I don’t know if we’re the model, but we are very intentional about really honoring the priesthood of all believers in all callings. I’d say several things stand out. One is we weave into our gathered worship service, a liturgical regularity that really theologically richly informs people about how the gospel shapes their work calling on Monday, whatever that is, paid or unpaid. So we give a vision of their calling as priest of believers on mission and we weave it through all kinds of the songs we choose, the pastoral prayer. We have a thing called This Time Tomorrow where we interview people regularly about their work and ask how we can pray for them. So, I’m saying we celebrate the importance of Monday’s mission. We also, in our preaching, teaching, Bible study, discipleship pathways, we really try to build a strong spiritual formational role that if we take, let’s just take 2 Peter:1, that God has given us everything for pertaining to life and godliness, right?
But as to life and godliness so that language of or taste or virtue. We talked a great deal about the formation of Christlikeness and the power of the spirit to live a virtuous life on Monday. And that virtue profoundly shapes the culture, texture attitudes of how people do their work. And one of our big goals at Christ Community is to shift the thinking from our congregation not to say, “Thank God it’s Friday,” but say, “Thank God it’s Monday.” Now, hopefully they say, right, “Thank God it’s Sunday,” whenever we gathered, that’s important. But we really want people to truly enter their vocational callings of work on Monday saying, “Thank God it’s Monday.” That’s what we’re looking for. Not just, “Thank God it’s Friday.”
Hansen: That’s a good goal. I mean, that’s very clear. That’s very clear. So let’s say you’ve got the congregation and they have this attitude, “Thank God it’s Monday.” When that’s characteristic of your church, what does it mean for your explicit evangelistic witnessed? Do you see unbelievers coming to faith through these work relationships?
Nelson: Yeah. This is where I think… Collin, I love your thoughts about it. This is where I think we have the most amazing opportunity. It’s always been that way. But when the global economy, I think the global economy and the global workplace is the Pax Romana of the 21st century. I mean, I think it’s the Roman road because there’s a sense where today most of the congregation I serve are as likely to have a relationship with someone or a connection with someone who’s in India or from India as much as they are to go across the street and know their neighbor to share Christ with them. World is together on mission tied to the global economy and the information age. So for us to prepare, pray, send, equip our congregational members to be on mission, gospel mission, we have got to focus on where they spend the majority of their time, where they’re touching the world.
And I can’t tell you for sure that the greatest number of people have come to faith there, but I can tell you this and it does happen. Many of those people will never set foot in the church where I proclaim the gospel. It takes a long time for many in culture to get to church. So our people are already there. They’re sent into the world, and the vast majority of our people are spending the majority of their time with people who are lost in their workplace. So we have got to pray, help equip them, encourage them and to deploy them for that mission in the global workplace. It is the most amazing opportunity the church has today. So we’ve gotta equip them for conversations, for prayer, for life, and focus their evangelistic mission there. I can get a little passionate about that one.
Hansen: Oh, I love that. [crosstalk] I’ve never really thought about it that way before, Tom. I mean, that’s just the global connectedness is without precedent as close as you could come, would be that time of that piece of Rome, of that Romans road that facilitated that kind of regional, as we would say, back then it would have been global, in their understanding, but that regional transmission of news. And so wouldn’t it be remarkable of the Lord to be able to give us this opportunity? And now the internet of course, is a massive factor in that. But as you said, the globally linked economy it’s not exactly a new thing. It’s been going for a long time, but it’s certainly rapidly accelerated.
Nelson: Yeah. It is. It’s [crosstalk]
Hansen: And between travel and everything else, it is right in front of us. And I just love… Well, I love your passion. Because I love that we can see this as a positive as opposed to so much of our, I think political discourse right now sees these things as a negative.
I’m not even talking about economic factors there. There’s a lot of debates that happen there. I’m talking primarily just in terms of culture. But to be able to equip the church, to be able to see this as an opportunity for the advance of the gospel and one that we should not neglect and one that the Lord has handed to us on this silver platter is so much, to me, more hopeful than a lot of the dystopian messages that I see a lot of Christians caught up in about our particular time in history.
Nelson: Yeah. I just, I wanna encourage everyone who’s listening that we have an incredible opportunity. We have sure cultural headwinds, but the gospel itself is powerful. We believe that, right? We believe it’s very powerful. But it needs to be deployed and our people are ready to be those deployers and ambassadors and they’re spending all this time literally talking, interacting with people around the globe. And so we do asset mapping. I mean, we’re still starting to do that. You know, we do that for our community, like what’s in our community. But what would be the thought, what would it do to churches and leaders if they asset mapped their individuals, if they trace where their members were during the week, who they were touching, where their gifts were, you would be absolutely stunned of the reach and influence of a congregation.
We’re a congregation about 3,000 with five campuses, and we haven’t done all this, but we have started a chart where people are on Monday and what they’re doing and look at the number of people they are touching. And I mean, it’s just stunning. So anyway, I’m just wanna say there’s so much more here in terms of gospel mission and equipping our people, but also helping our people see that where God has them is intrinsically valuable. They are giving honor to God. They’re worshiping God by the work they do. If it’s done unto God and the love of neighbor and it’s a place of their formation, but it’s a place of gospel plausibility. They are modeling the gospel. They’re incarnating the gospel, and it’s an incredible opportunity to proclaim the gospel and create faith conversations. There’s nothing like it in our world.
Hansen: Oh, I like it. I like you, in general, Tom, but I like passionate Tom especially. So this is going well.
Nelson: [inaudible] gospel mission, right, at the Gospel Coalition.
Hansen: Amen. No, that’s why we’re doing this whole series. That’s why we’re doing the whole series, how all of this fits together to be able to advance that commission that we’ve been given by God. Let me talk about a couple other topics veering in a little bit of a different direction for our last couple of questions. When you look through this particular aspect of our Theological Vision for Ministry and really within this broader context, you don’t see much specifically related to what many have called creation care. And I’m wondering as I read back through this again, should we have been more explicit about that perhaps in this section and wondered if you could answer, how does that responsibility fit with faith and work?
Nelson: I love that question. And, you know, again, I was privileged to be a part of the foundational meetings and some of the thinking. And I think your point, Collin, is well taken. I think we could have had a more explicit, stronger emphasis on the stewardship of the natural world and our planet. And I think particularly in the area where I work in is economics as we, I think we should put in what we’d call the economics of mutuality. That there is a threefold bottom line for the work we do for the glory of God. And that’s clearly profits as it’s needed in people and the planet. And we talk about the three Ps, those who are deeply involved in the economics and mutuality emphasis. So it’s not just individual, it’s also the broader global economy that the planet matters and the stewardship of that.
I think where we’re lacking there. And, you know, the area where I’d probably done the most study and I have so much to learn is I’ve done much more work in Torah and the Hebrew text of the early chapters of Genesis. And I think if we have a rich understanding of the cultural mandate, that five imperatives of the creation mandate to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, subdue it and have dominion is really important in how we begin to understand its trajectory throughout scripture and how it applies to life as gospel people. So I’m just saying, I think we should have probably, and I think we need to continue to mind more richly the creation mandate. So the creation mandate certainly deals with that aspect of creation, care, fruitfulness and stewardship. I just think we probably should spend more time unpacking that.
Hansen: Yeah, I didn’t really think about that ever before reading through the statement this time in preparation for this interview. And I saw that it was kind of heading in that direction because of dealing with these early chapters of Genesis. But then I thought, wow, we really press into so many other different topics. It was surprising to me that we didn’t in that case. Again, we all know some of the unhelpful idolatrous ways that Christians have engaged or non-Christians have engaged in this work of environmentalism, but there’s also plenty of wonderful examples of Christians doing it well. So it was just something that had occurred to me there.
So let me ask a last question. And this is one that we get a lot of feedback on. I don’t know that a lot of people realize how much pushback we tend to get on our statements about faith and work. And they do tend to come from pastors a lot of the times and other ministry leaders because they don’t really see the priority of what we’re talking about here. They would say, “I’m not gonna come out really and say that other people’s work doesn’t matter. But I really don’t think it does because ultimately I’m the only one here really dealing with the eternal realities of heaven and hell.” That’s an explicit or an implicit argument that we get. But I wanna put it in maybe just some of the best light. Because I think sometimes in how we talk about faith and work generally and the value of all work, sometimes we do lose some of the distinctiveness of the vocational calling to pastoral ministry.
So I’m wondering, Tom, what is different about that? Somebody who is so deeply engaged in both sides of this, in the workplace, encouraging churches to do this, but then also as a pastor? Let’s consider this scenario. What happens if a young man tells you, “I just can’t imagine spending the rest of my life selling insurance?” Tom, I work with a number of 20-somethings and it seems that it’s usually accountants who have that question for me. Somewhere in your mid-20 of I’m gonna be doing this for another 40 years and just sorta hits them. And so I thought in that situation, for me, there’s a couple of different options. I can show that person why his or her work is valuable. And that’s what I usually do in that situation. Or with this young man, you could help him discern a call into full-time vocational ministry thinking, “Well, maybe you aren’t meant to sell insurance for the rest of your life, but maybe you should be preaching.” How do you know, Tom, when to go in one direction or another?
Nelson: Collin, I’m not really exactly sure. There’s so much you’ve unpacked there.
Hansen: You’re welcome.
Nelson: I would love…Thank you. I would love to challenge some of those assumptions about what the biblical text teaches from Genesis to Revelation about how the gospel profoundly not only prepares us and aims us to the eternal realms, but how the gospel profoundly transforms the earthly realm. I mean, I think there’s a danger… Understand, I don’t wanna minimize the eternal realities, right? But the language I was taught, sort of the dot and the line, I think it has some faulty thinking. You know, people would say, “Well, you’re gonna live your life for the dot or the line.” The dot’s, you know, seven years and the line’s eternity and the seven years doesn’t matter. I mean, we could talk a lot more about that.
I think that’s a problem. I think it’s a logical problem. I think it’s a biblical problem. But I’m not saying that, you know, the attorney doesn’t matter or the gospel doesn’t matter. And you know, certainly the kingdom of heaven, the gospel not only helps us get ready, but I think there’s a certain where, you know, prices are [inaudible] heaven on earth. So anyway, there’s a lot of theological conversation around that. A couple of things I would say, and maybe I’m rambling here, but there’s just a lot that’s kind of getting my craw in that statement. But I understand. I mean, I don’t wanna lose the passion for people’s souls. Okay. So I understand that, but I don’t think it’s an either/or. I think it’s a both/and. I think they work together. I think I have you know, wasn’t it Lewis who said that people would think most about heaven are the on earth, something like that?
So I think that the economy and the fear of that is dangerous. I think it’s wrong. But anyway, but I’m saying the language you said is, you know, if we lose the distinctiveness, I would say yes, certain kinds of, let’s just call the work we are called to do as pastors is distinctive. But I would push back if that is communicated in such a way that implicitly it’s saying it’s more important. I think that’s the danger of that. I mean, you know, so anyway, I guess we could talk a lot about some of those philosophical and logical dynamics that are going on there. But let’s just say back to them and get back to the person. If I have a person, a person like that, I have a conversation… And I have conversations like that with my parishioners, right? Because life is broken, work is hard, every kind of work is a mixed bag.
And I find a lot of people who are disillusioned, and you know that too, in Christian organizations who leave a “secular job,” get in a Christian organization, a church or whatever and realize, “Oh, my goodness, sin is here.”
Hansen: Still work.
Nelson: This is not… I mean, you know, it’s hard. So I mean some of this is sort of a naiveness, I think or utopian idea that if I’m just in a Christian context, it’s gonna all be great. I’m gonna love the people and my work is going to really matter. So anyway. But I would say for that individual, what I often say, I have those conversations, I would listen carefully and I’d say, “First of all,” you know, “Let’s seek the Lord together about what he may be nourishing in your heart. You know, this may be something God wants you to do. Let’s look at your circumstances. Let’s have wise the sermon here.” Let’s remember that this is a luxury that most Christians have never had in human history. You know that they’ve had choices about their economic engine, right? So I just wanna frame it. It’s a good question, but I want them also to say that let’s look at it in terms of a wise decision-making process. And let’s look at the pros and cons, interact with other people who are in that role and then let’s seek that together. You know, but I wanna say both of them, both places selling insurance offers a great thing for the common good. Risk management is huge for human flourishing. So I’d try to give them a vision for that but also a vision that maybe God is leading into another context but also to have hopeful realism about that vision that it’s not all hunky Dory. Because I find a lot of disillusioned people in full-time Christian ministry, full-time vocational Christian ministry, sorry, who have a very wrong assumptions about that work. So I would try to have a hopeful realism, I guess. I’d walk through, talk with them carefully about the value of both opportunities. I wouldn’t dismiss any, either one of them, but I’d help them think through a wise discerning process or at least try to.
Hansen: Yeah. Reminds me of a book I was reading recently by Sam Allberry on singleness where he says it’s interesting that we don’t talk more often about the difficulties of marriage. And it leads to a mistaken impression of singleness that your problems are solved with marriage. And I think that’s pretty similar here to what you’re talking about with work. If we don’t ever talk about the thorns and thistles of Christian ministry, then you may lead people to believe that you don’t have to deal with PC load letter errors in your work, in your Christian work.
Nelson: if they’re not in our area of calling, right, Collin, in a 501-3C world or a non-profit Christian world, they just think everything must be great. And the people are so sanctified.
Hansen: Oh, yeah. Well, and there are so many blessings that we get working in these jobs. But I go back and so many of us are shaped just like you started out this whole conversation, Tom, we’re shaped by the experiences we’ve come through. And one of my formative experiences was with a parish church Christian ministry that I have so much thankfulness for and don’t know where I would be without that ministry. But where I don’t recall any vocational guidance whatsoever for these people who were in the formative years to prepare them for those vocational pursuits. There was only your work in evangelizing people that’s what matters. And sort of joining up with us to do that work professionally is what matters. And it was so strange because I can say this with some measure of sheepishness, Tom, that I spend way less time around non-Christians with way fewer evangelistic opportunities than just about anybody else who was working in the rest of the world, My brother who’s an engineer and my wife when she was a communications executive. And so I’m happy in what I’m doing, but I see myself, Tom, so much as in a support role to those people who are on those kinds of front lines of the mission. As opposed to seeing them as their work is youthful insofar as they can pay for me to be able to do my job.
Nelson: Yeah. That’s it to me. I mean, that’s where I came from, that sort of background too. And that’s unbiblical under-, or at least it’s impoverished. It’s not a full biblical understanding. It’s based on an instrumental value, not the intrinsic value of creation and work. So yeah, I come from some of that same background, with all due respect, and I’ve had to make some adjustments. And I think at the end of the day, with all due respect, it’s impoverished reduced gospel and it’s a reductionism.
Hansen: Well, my guest on today’s episode of the Gospel Coalition podcast has been Tom Nelson, senior pastor of Christ Community Church in Leawood, Kansas, president of Made to Flourish and a council member for TGC, writer and presenter of Gospel Shaped Work, our small group video and book study published by TGC with the Good Book Company. Tom, thanks for joining me today.
Nelson: Great to be with you, Collin.