How do people and their communities flourish?

In our anxious and polarized world, we need spiritual leaders who are voices of compassion and insight, love and wisdom, displaying hopeful realism and discipling believers for the real-world issues they face. In the midst of the current pandemic, the resources of Scripture and history help us empower others to build flourishing communities.

At Made to Flourish, we use the term “economic wisdom” to distinguish our created and curated insights and resources from any particular school of thought or political ideology. We believe that Scripture and history, along with carefully evaluated empirical data, offer some wisdom for how people flourish economically. We believe that godly women and men can have different perspectives on public policies while uniting on core principles.

We value the resources offered from our friends at the Oikonomia Network. This is a collaboration of over 20 schools that desire to equip future spiritual leaders with an integrated view of discipleship and mission leading to God’s glory and the common good. The principles offered in this article are derived from the ON’s core document, A Christian Vision for Flourishing Communities. This work represents insights from all major Christian traditions and the strong influence of leading Christian voices, such as the late Dallas Willard.

A cohesive vision

All that we do as spiritual leaders is under the divine invitation to join God in his mission to reconcile, redeem, and restore all things in Christ (2 Cor 5:14-6:2; Col 1:15-22). The following observations and principles are in this context as we offer all daily activity to God (Rom 12:1-2).

Some basic facts about economics: thoughtful believers from all cultural and political persuasions are finding agreement around the following ideas.

  • The economy is a moral and social system of exchange. When people have integrity and trust each other, they can bring their value-creating work to the world and help others flourish.
  • Work is fruitful and frustrating: it is God’s provision but carried out in a broken world.
  • Personal incentives must unite with systemic justice so all can have access, equity, and opportunity.
  • People are lifted out of poverty through ethical enterprise that rewards good work and offers both incentives for success and support in distress.

Biblical texts reject ideological extremes of individualism and collectivism. Instead, a vision of communal thriving through personal responsibility, hard work and generosity, private property and public good unite in a cohesive vision.

We must keep in mind the varying personal narratives that influence how people think about economics and work. Someone arriving in the West from the oppression of a communist regime will find the liberties of the USA and West invigorating. Those in historically oppressed and marginalized groups will be more positive about government intervention and suspicious of too much optimism about free markets.

Four biblical principles to navigate flourishing in uncertain times

Some wisdom as leaders encourage and equip for the future: though no human person or institution can predict the future, the following elements of biblical wisdom offer some guiding principles as we help congregants navigate the uncertainties ahead.

  1. Our identity in Christ as beloved children of God is always primary and offers us the peace and confidence by which we can offer our work lives as service before God and for others (Eph 1:3-14; Col 3:1-4; 17-24). Such a worshipful life includes insights on good personal and family stewardship.
  2. Work is all meaningful and moral activity apart from leisure and rest (and immoral activities), whether it is paid or unpaid, labor or leadership, factory or field, high or low-tech, at home or in an office. Parenting is work. Caring for a vulnerable friend or relative is work. Volunteering is work. Dignifying and commissioning all work in the context of worship is crucial so that we affirm that there are no insignificant people.
  3. We must nourish godly character, emotional intelligence, relational wisdom, and self-understanding for all who will be working. Much of work in the future will be learned on the job, potentially online, so the foundations for personal and professional success are vital.
  4. Though not everyone is a business or organizational entrepreneur, we must inculcate an entrepreneurial spirit that will help everyone navigate a variety of job settings and adjust to whatever the “new normal” may be.

While helping individuals succeed, we must advocate for an end to the banking, food, and job deserts that plague too many communities. Sustainable work for all will require collaboration with a variety of domains, including business leaders, social services, education, political leaders, and other agencies.

We need to help our congregants see the inherent value in their daily work, even if it is not their professional goal. Wealth creation and generation is a subset of value creation and God’s ledger of fruitfulness is far more than our bank account. Up to half the jobs that currently exist may not be around in 25 years. The good news is that there are new jobs being invented and, in the providence of God, there will be kingdom work for humankind until the Lord returns.

We need to change the idea of “retirement” to “reassignment” or “refirement.” If one need no longer have certain routines, then it is an opportunity to hear from the Lord about the new assignments. People live longer and happier lives waking up with purpose each day.

Friends, if this seems complex…it is! Caring and discipling for sustainable work is not a quick fix, but a long endeavor, involving relationships, accountability, prayer, occasional setbacks, and all the joys and sorrows of being human.

Topics: Common Good, Current Events, Economics, Issues Facing Workers

About the Author

Charlie Self serves as director of learning communities at Made to Flourish. Charlie is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God. He has served as an associate and senior pastor in several congregations in California, Oregon and Washington, D.C., and has served as an interim pastor six times. He currently also serves as professor of church history at The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri, where he teaches courses in apologetics, church history, mission history, leadership development, and discipleship. He is also co-developer of discipleship dynamics, a new research-based tool for churches and individuals to assess the effectiveness of their discipleship programs. Charlie is the author of three books: The Divine Dance, The Power of Faithful Focus (with co-author Les Hewitt) and his most recent work with The Acton Institute, Flourishing Churches and Communities: A Pentecostal Primer on Faith, Work and Economics for Spirit-Empowered Discipleship. He has an M.A. in history on the church and social change in Latin America (1992) and Ph.D. in modern european history, with foci on Belgian Protestantism and studies in virtue ethics and the holocaust (1995), from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He also has an M.A. in philosophical and systematic theology from The Graduate Theological Union and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California. Charlie is married to Kathleen, a professional artist, and they have been married and on mission for 36 years. They have three adult children.