For two years in the late 1990s, I left full-time ministry and went to work in the human resources department of an international automobile manufacturer. There, I saw trained professionals doing their jobs well and enjoying them in the process. When I returned to full-time ministry in 1999, I took a second look at my own profession and asked myself: How am I spiritually preparing my church’s members for their work in the world?
This question has not always been asked in Pentecostal circles. In our circles, the work of pastors, evangelists, and missionaries has been interpreted as having inherent value because it saves and sanctifies souls. To the extent that the workaday world has any value, it is merely instrumental in character. It supports the work of the church and its ministers. This interpretation has three unfortunate side effects: It cleaves the sacred from the secular, it privileges the work of the clergy over that of the laity, and it fails to make spiritual sense of what most church members did with most of their time, namely, work outside the church.
In Flourishing Churches and Communities, Charlie Self sees this interpretation and its side effects as a failure of discipleship. Just before Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, he commissioned his followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19), a task that requires his empowering presence, the Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:20; Luke 24:49, Acts 1:8). It is Self’s contention that this Spirit-empowered discipleship must address the whole of life. Disciples who follow Jesus in their churches but not in their homes, at their workplaces, or in their communities fail to follow Jesus fully and thus allow worldly values to guide their workaday behavior.
To correct this errant view of discipleship, Self—associate professor of church history at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary—takes his readers on a refresher course through Scripture. The Father creates, the Son Redeems, and the Spirit empowers human beings for godly living in every aspect of their lives, including their Monday-through-Friday jobs. Legitimate work done well glorifies God, contributes to the flourishing of communities, and dignifies the individual worker. In other words, it fulfills the Great Commandment to love God, neighbor, and self (Matt. 22:37–40).
Whole-life discipleship doesn’t do away with either evangelism or full-time ministry. It assumes that people are coming to faith in Jesus Christ. (How else will they begin to follow him?) And it helps ordinary Christians understand that they must be witnesses to Jesus Christ wherever they are: church, home, workplace, or public square. Moreover, the vocation of full-time ministers takes on a new clarity. We are called to prepare our church members spiritually for the work God has called them to do (Eph. 4:11–13), both inside and outside the church.
I recommend Flourishing Churches and Communities to pastors who, like the 1990s version of me, want to know how to prepare their church members for work in the world. I also recommend this book to those church members seeking to make spiritual sense of what they do with most of their time. The book includes discussion questions, so it’s perfect for use in a Sunday-school or small-group setting.
P.S. Full disclosure: I am a personal friend of Charlie Self, though I would still recommend this book even if he weren’t the author.
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