Pastors, prepare for a new economic world

It is springtime: new blossoms, warmth from the sun, and, normally, a bit of hope in the air. Spring 2020 will be different for millions of people around the world struggling with the effects of COVID-19 and wondering what the economic and social future will be for them and others.

In talking to restaurant owners and workers, retail specialists, and commuting office workers, all expressed concerns to me about their future in a world that will be socially distant for a while.

No one knows the future of our global and local economies. “V-shaped” (fairly rapid); “U-Shaped” (slower) and “check-shaped” (quick descent, slow ascent) visuals are all presented, but only time will tell the full effects of the pandemic.

The case for integrating faith, work, and economic wisdom for human flourishing, church vitality, and community thriving is now stronger than ever, and few are arguing for any sacred/secular divides. This said, the need for wisdom is paramount as spiritual leaders empower their congregants for a new economic world. Without being economists or business experts, pastors and spiritual leaders have an important part to play as we step into the future.

Our starting place

Before sharing some insights for leaders, a few foundational thoughts are needed so that we anchor our wisdom in biblical and empirical reality and avoid the ideological and political extremes that poison the public square.

First, the Lord God created us to enjoy his presence and fulfill his purpose. We are not just workers — the Lord desires to dwell with us and his fellowship in Eden confirms this intimacy and delight. The Lord also gave humankind purpose, with an invitation to steward his world. This includes cultivation, mining, and growth of families and communities (Gen 1-2). God is the first worker and purposeful labor is built into creation. Of course, we are now fulfilling this purpose in a fallen world and find our labor arduous (Genesi 3; Ecc 4). But our Lord invites us to join in his mission of reconciliation, redemption, and restoration (Gen 12; 2 Cor 5; Col 1), which includes evangelization and seeking the good of our communities (Matt 28:18-20; Jer 29; 1 Tim 2:1-3).

Second, our identity in Christ transcends any current job assignment. Our vocations (callings) in Christ inform our current occupations (daily assignments). Godly character, including emotional and relational wholeness, clarity on our charisms (natural and spiritual gifts), and alertness to the moment are all part of knowing and doing God’s will. Our discipleship must begin with personal wholeness and integrate economics and work into a fabric of integral living.

Third, economics is a moral science, not just facts and figures presented mysteriously from and for experts. Biblical teaching and historical data confirm the importance of integrating personal responsibility and the common good. The blending of ethical entrepreneurship with generosity and the pursuit of just systems woven into every part of Scripture. From gleaning statutes to the Sabbath and Jubilee years, from responsible stewardship for personal property united with public works (Nehemiah), we discover that the Bible is not conservative or liberal, laissez-faire or communitarian. Put simply, believers can debate and discern policies and have diverse opinions, but the basic elements of human flourishing are clear.

Four steps

Pastors and spiritual leaders (elders, deacons, staff, volunteer leaders and so many others): Thank you for your love, sacrificial service, and tireless concern for your congregations and communities. These thoughts are intended to relieve burdens, not add to them! Here are four first steps in forging a new future.

Take care of yourselves. Self-care is not selfish; it is a vital starting point for having capacity to care for others. Nourishing intimacy with God, receiving healing in our hearts, physical exercise and rest, and relational wholeness are all part of being prepared for service. Jesus’ great invitation of Matthew 11:27-30 is an offer of pacing and rest we can embrace.

Keep going overboard with compassion, empathy, generosity, and personal connections. Regardless of class or culture, circumstances or locations, everyone feels anxious and everyone feels the impact of this moment. All persons have identity and value separate from work tasks.

Recalibrate discipleship in terms of outcomes, not just programs. Leaders, please present a clear and compelling picture of wholeness, in an atmosphere of grace and love. For example, remind congregants that emotional, relational, and spiritual wholeness are bound together. Remind the sisters and brothers that their character is refined, and their callings are expressed in their daily work, offered as worship to God (Rom 12:1-2; Col 3:17-24). One great agency helping churches are the great folks at Jobs for Life. They focus on the historically marginalized; however, their insights and programs will help any congregation empower its members.

And become a learner about economics and work. And be a listener to those in your community who are more expert in these areas. Perhaps some small groups focused on the different domains of society will help gather wisdom. Learning from business owners and workers, educational and medical professionals, artists and social workers can all help in our discipling.

Pastor, your new title in this season is, “CLO” – Chief Learning/Listening Officer. We pray for you in this season as you navigate some of the most unexpected days in your work.

Topics: Economics, Issues Facing Workers, Work

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.