Common Practices

This week’s blog is a little different than what is normally featured. However, we at The Collaborative believe this is an important discussion that should be happening in our churches regarding possible expressions of the integration of faith, work, and economics across our congregations. Below is the account of several conversations, one via email and the other is a transcript of a conference call. These are communications that have taken place among members and leaders of the Made to Flourish Network (MTF). While it is a discussion primarily about and among pastors, we all need to be thinking about these things and be willing to discuss them with the leadership of our churches.

Please keep several things in mind as you read through this: 1) this has been significantly edited for improved readability as well as length, but the intent was maintained; 2) this is a starting place, not the ending point—it should stir our imaginations about the possibilities for the church; and 3) after the four common standards are listed they are fleshed out more fully later on in the discussion.


Exploring Common Practices for Faith and Work in Local Churches

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How will the Church in the 21st century “equip the saints for works of service” (Eph. 4:12) for the vast challenges we face in the world today? This seems overwhelming at first blush. But we must not forget that God’s people are touching every area of our cities through their daily work, and it’s the Church’s privilege and responsibility to send out agents of healing through their vocations.

Recently, Matt Rusten, Executive Director of the Made to Flourish Pastors Network, on a conference call for other leaders in the faith-and-work movement, discussed the possibility of leaders and churches agreeing upon a set of minimum standards for the integration of faith and work in local congregations. Faith and work is not an “add on” ministry, but instead a vision for the sending of God’s people that should be integral to every church’s philosophy of ministry.

A compelling list of four practices was presented as a common starting point for churches that embrace historic teachings about vocation. As presented by Rusten, the four practices intersect with four distinct areas of congregational life: corporate worship, pastoral practice, discipleship/spiritual formation, and mission/outreach. Here’s a brief summary of each of the four practices:

Four Common Standards for Integrating Faith and Work in Local Congregations

1. Corporate Worship: Pastoral Prayers for Workers (monthly)

  • Pray specifically for congregants’ working lives.

  • General liturgical prayers

  • Vocation-specific prayers

  • Commissioning prayers

2. Pastoral Practice: Workplace Visitation (monthly)

  • Visit parishioner’s workplaces.

  • Onsite - non-participatory

  • Onsite - participatory

  • Offsite

    • Meetings

    • Sermon prep

3. Discipleship/Spiritual Formation: Vocational Interviews in Small Groups (regularly)

  • Interview congregants about their daily work. (Use the following sample questions.)

  • Give us a picture of a day in the life of your work.

  • What unique opportunities do you have to love your neighbor through your work?

  • Where do you experience the brokenness of the world in your work?

  • How can we pray for you?

4. Mission/Outreach: Asset Mapping Exercise (annually)

  • Conduct a congregational survey about the varying assets a congregation has that can be deployed for community benefit.

  • Physical/space assets

  • Financial assets

  • Networks

  • Human capital

  • Community

Here is a simple asset mapping survey that local churches can use.

We at Institution heartily commend each of these practices in our network and eagerly look forward to working with local churches to better equip the saints for works of service.

Exploring Common Standards in Church FWE Integration

by Matt Rusten

(The following is an edited transcript of Matt Rusten’s presentation on the February 2019 City Gate call.)

I know many of you on the call and I know that most of you if not all of you could have led this exact discussion and probably have led this discussion in areas of influence that you have. MTF specifically exists to help churches in faith, work and economic wisdom. As I tee up today’s conversation, I am under no illusion that I have a corner on the market for these insights. You guys are all great leaders and have thought about these things.

I think the goal today, is to throw out some common standards just as potential first steps that a church interested in this conversation would want to take as well as recommended frequency. Should we have three or four of those or five or six of those or eight or nine?

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Obviously, there are a hundred things that a church could do, but I am going to suggest four concrete ideas that I think are just baseline for any church that wants to integrate faith, work, and economic wisdom. I would love to hear your feedback on what you think are those items as we seek to influence churches.

First, just a little bit of context at Made to Flourish. We talk about faith, work, and economic integration across four areas of church life—(1) We think it should be affecting your corporate worship, the gathered community, whether that is on a Sunday or other day of the week. (2) Pastoral practices. (3) Your discipleship or spiritual formation pathways in the church. And (4) the way that you think about engaging in mission or outreach to your local community, in your neighborhood, across the nation or across the world.

We don’t think that this is just a silo program in a church, kind of a one-off ministry or something that those people “over there” do. We really do believe this conversation should have influence across the life of the church no matter how big that church is, whether you are twelve thousand people on a Sunday or whether you’re one hundred twenty people on a Sunday. Again, we seek to resource pastors, thinking of lots of creative ideas and practical ways in each of those categories and each of us could come up with ten or fifteen examples in each of those four. I would like to suggest one key practice that a church can begin engaging in each of these four areas and suggest that these are some common standards.

The first area is corporate worship. Of all the different integration practices, I thought the most concrete, the simplest, has the most power to transcend lots of different types of churches, would simply be pastoral prayers for workers. I would love to see this happen in some fashion at least one time a month. They could be general liturgical prayers. We find that lots of our traditionally liturgical churches—Anglican, Presbyterians, or Episcopalians—have a set liturgy and in many cases they’re already doing this where they have prayers for the people, and those include people’s everyday work.

These can also be vocation specific prayers. This is something that one of the pastors in our network, Jason Harris, in Manhattan, began doing. He has said this is one of the most transformative practices that his church has done. You pick a different vocation group once a month, first lawyers then engineers then carpenters then real estate, whatever it would be. Jason reported that after three or four months different people would come up to him and say, “Do you really believe that God can be active in my line of work? Do you know what we do on a daily basis?” It has proven to start a meaningful conversation as Jason continued to form intentional prayers around specific vocations.

I also think this is a wonderful way to offer commissioning prayers. We commission missionaries when they go out from us or we commission pastors when they are going into traditional church ministry. However, there are other opportunities during the year where it would make sense to commission teachers as the school year is beginning, to commission a new business owner, to commission city planners, different vocational fields. These are just three very minor twists on pastoral prayers for workers. It means so much to people, and it’s one thing as a pastor just to affirm people’s work, but to do that in the form of a prayer, not simply condemning people and seeking justice in the bad spaces of work but praying that God would be at work through people’s work as well. These are just some different ideas. This is the first category in the corporate worship gathering.

Secondly, in pastoral work we have found that one of the most transformative practices is for pastors to get out of their offices and visit their congregants in their respective places of business. Pastoral visits is a practice that should be broadened beyond hospitals. If pastors are not careful they can end up spending 20-40 hours a week in their pastoral studies instead of getting out and spending time with their congregation where they spend most of their time.  

I have three subcategories of workplace visitation. One is simply an onsite non-participatory where you are meeting someone in their space, and you are hearing about their work. By meeting in their cafeteria over lunch, it’s a chance for them to talk about their work and their work space and maybe you can get a tour. This is probably the easiest touch point. A lot of people are willing to take that risk.

Secondly is onsite participatory. This is where you are engaging in the work that people are doing. The president of our organization, Tom Nelson, one time reached out to a surgeon in his congregation. After some discussion, Tom was able to observe and be in the operating room. Putting on scrubs, washing his hands and watching everything that transpired in the operating room that day was really a powerful experience for Tom. They marked the occasion by taking pictures together which just created even greater solidarity.  We had a pastor in our network that worked on a hog farm. Watching a surgery or laboring alongside of the hog farmer are just a few examples of an onsite participatory visit.

We’ve had certain pastors in our network say, “You know what? Vocational visitation is easier for white collar work, but I’m a mailman or I’m in a place where I don’t have a level of power in my organization to even invite you in.” In that case I would say there are opportunities to meet off site and still intentionally engage about people’s work.

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And then finally in that off-site category, this isn’t exactly off site, but one of the things that Jim Mullins (Redemption Arizona) likes to do is sermon prep. He goes out and sometimes will ask to work in either coffee shops or warehouses or different businesses in the city. He is reminding himself even as he is writing this sermon that he is in a vocational space and it’s something to think about workers when you’re in your church office it’s another thing to be in that space as you are preparing messages. This whole category of workplace visitation is powerful for pastors and does so much to build trust with those we are meeting with.

The third integration area in discipleship or spiritual formation is around vocational interviews in small groups. The reason why I chose this practice of integration is that most churches have some sort of small group structure. Personally, one of the most significant things I have done in my small groups is to do a this-time-tomorrow interview, and it’s three or four very simple, related questions that give the group a picture of a day in the life of your work.

People tend to think they know what people do, but in reality they do not. For example, one of the women in my previous community group was a nurse, and I thought I pretty much knew what nurses did. They go to hospital rooms, they turn people over, they give them shots. She said no that she works in a clinic where she checks people in and registers them when they arrive. One of her biggest tasks as a nurse in this clinic is help people who are already on edge not to freak out and she does that by loving and caring for them with dignity. She said last week someone came in with bed bugs and personally she was trying not to lose it over the fear of getting bed bugs herself, but she was determined to show them honor and dignity. After her stories I realized that I don’t what she does or the challenges she faces.

I had another guy in our community group who was a salesman for who we prayed. Afterwards, he said that he didn’t think anyone had ever prayed for him as a salesman. What a wonderful opportunity that it is not only a pastor doing it, but it is a group of people getting to know one another and being informed as they pray for one another.

There are a variety of questions that can be asked. There is nothing magical about these questions, but here are some examples, “What unique opportunities do you have to love your neighbor through your work? Where do you experience the brokenness of the world in your work? And then simply how can we pray for you?”

Even if you don’t care about faith, work, economics, and its integration, this simple practice can build trust while facilitating deeper relationships within your group.  Often even groups that have been together a long time haven’t done this kind of exercise. This is a simple way to integrate these ideas.

Fourthly in the category of mission and outreach an important exercise for the church is an asset mapping exercise. Especially if the church is at a point where they are thinking how we want to engage maybe in ways that we haven’t in our city. It could be a kind of evaluation. Some people call this ABCD: asset-based community development, which provides categories to think through when considering the church’s assets. There are various other tools out there that can also be used. There is no magic bullet. MTF has developed the tools that we give to our churches. Different groups have a quasi ABCD model. At the Chalmers Center, Brian Fikkert has advocated some of these tools. I think CCDA does some as well, but these are the different categories.

First consider all your physical space. Do you have a kitchen? Do you have a gym? Do you have a space that could be converted to a work space for entrepreneurs? What do you have during the week that isn’t being deployed for some kind of mission in your community? Second, what are the financial assets? Do you have a benevolence fund? Do you have certain categories that are financial assets? Third, what are your networks? What are the relationships and influence that you have? What are the organizations that are already doing what is needed so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel, but they exist in your city and you can partner with them in the area of faith, work, and economics?

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And then finally, human capital. Who are the people that attend your congregation? What do you want to do in your city? What is your passion? What is your city involved in? Often churches miss the value that is already sitting in their pews. You could have 60 educators or 100 carpenters within the orbit of your congregation. There is a large church in Dallas, Watermark, and every year they ask people to re-up their membership. In this process they ask specifically what is your occupation? What do you do during the week?

When a devastating hurricane hit Houston, the significance of knowing your people becomes clear. After the hurricane the church of 12,000 in Dallas knew they had 621 carpenters and people that are involved in that type of work. This allowed for organized and meaningful deployment of congregational members. This is a much different kind of response than sending the youth group that has to be taught how to hammer and nail for a mission project.

What are the assets in the congregation? How are we as a congregation stewarding the community God has brought together wisely?


Thanks to Alex Estes for the photo on Unsplash (original photo has been cropped)

Crosland Stuart