A Nicer Plane to Hell?

Last fall, I attended a public forum on the integration of faith, work, and economics. During a Q&A session, one man who was really wrestling with the topic asked the speaker, “Are we just putting people on a nicer plane to hell?”

It was shocking terminology – but the question, to me, was not surprising. As someone who identifies himself within the “gospel-centered” movement, I truly have struggled with some form of this man’s question. But typically, I find the question takes the form, “Yeah, but what about the gospel?” Or “Yeah, but what about evangelism?” For at first blush, discussions of faith, work, economics, human flourishing, and the common good seem important, but not nearly as important as the core gospel ministries of discipleship and evangelism. Besides that, as pastors, our plates are full with preaching, counseling, and hospital visits.

So is this whole discussion on faith, work, and economics really worth our time as pastors?

Yes.

The more I participate in this discussion, the more I’m convinced of its relevance and importance – even amidst a full schedule of preaching, pastoral care, discipleship, and evangelism.

So for those like me – who have wondered if all this faith, work, and economics is really a good use of our time as pastors – let me offer seven reasons the faith, work, and economics discussion is important. Of course, each of these could be examined in great depth, but let me provide an overview:

#1: Faith, work, and economics integration is about obedience to God’s Word.

As creation comes to its completion, Genesis 1:28 (ESV) says, “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” One of the first commands God gives is to work – to “fill the earth and subdue it.” Faith, work, and economics integration is not a bunch of Christians participating in a theological fad. Rather, it’s the earnest attempt of earnest Christians to obey one of the first commands of Scripture.

#2: Faith, work, and economics integration is about pastoring.

Many pastors have not spent extensive time in the workplace. Therefore, studying the intersection of faith, work, and economics gets us thinking more carefully, thoroughly, and compellingly about where our people are engaged for a LARGE portion of their week – work! So while faith, work, and economics discussions don’t always “contain” the gospel – they do provide the groundwork for you and me to compellingly apply the gospel into the real life situations of our people. Whether we’re speaking to them over coffee, from the pulpit, or anywhere in between, the more we participate in faith, work, and economics discussions, the better we can pastor our people.

#3: Faith, work, and economics integration is about discipleship.

Building off reason number two, when we apply the gospel into ALL aspects of our congregation’s lives – including their work – we are effectively “bridging the Sunday-to-Monday gap.” We are helping them become disciples of Jesus Christ not just when they’re at home or at church, but all through the week!

#4: Faith, work, and economics integration is about loving your neighbor.

One of the great commands Jesus gives is to love our neighbor as ourselves. This is where the economics piece comes into play. For as we learn about this as pastors, we’ll help our people not only see the value of their own work in service to Christ, but how their work is given to them to serve others! That’s the economy – our work working together!

#5: Faith, work, and economics integration is about healthy disciples.

This all builds into reason number five. When our people see their whole lives as service to Jesus Christ and others, they will be healthy, whole disciples. They will not be people who begrudge their work, but people who find greater joy in serving God and others wherever he’s placed them.

#6: Faith, work, and economics integration is about a winsome witness.

Healthy disciples of Jesus Christ will absolutely be winsome witnesses for the gospel. When our people understand how their work matters to Christ, they will enjoy their work, find more purpose in it, love their co-workers more, and work harder; as such, they will be winsome witnesses for Christ in the workplace. Let me be clear: I expect that as our congregations live out the faith, work, and economics vision, their co-workers will come to a saving faith in Jesus Christ.

#7: Faith, work, and economics integration is about Christian unity.

What I’ve found in the Made to Flourish Pastors’ Network, which is comprised of a wide range of denominations, is that this vision builds Christian unity. The core principles from God’s Word – obeying the commands to love your neighbor and fill the earth and subdue it – are principles that we ALL can gather around. As such, I have more friends and more allies in ministry from a wider array of denominations than I’ve had before. I believe that this has been worthwhile to me personally, but will increasingly honor our witness for Christ in the world as this fellowship continues!

I hope this is helpful to you. Email me at tolson@theorchardefc.org if you’d like to discuss this more – I’d be VERY interested to continue this discussion with you.

Tom Olson is the pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church’s Barrington Campus. He also serves as the Made to Flourish’s Chicago-based regional network coordinator.

Topics: Economics, Work
Church: The Orchard Evangelical Free Church, Chicago

About the Author

Tom Olson is pastor of The Orchard’s Barrington Campus. He attended Wheaton College and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.