Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good
- Friday, February 25, 2011
Let's insert a new phrase into the vocabulary of Christian thinking on careers: "vocational stewardship." By it, I mean the intentional and strategic use of one's vocational power (skills, knowledge, network, platform) to advance the values of the Kingdom of God.
Sometimes our vision for doing our work "as unto the Lord" is "adverbial." In integrating our faith and work, we focus on the kind of the employees we ought to be: ethical workers, kind workers, Gospel-sharing workers. This is certainly an important part of faith/work integration, but it's not the whole. For our work itself matters. What we do—not just how we do it—matters.
This is where vocational stewardship kicks in. It starts by asking: What are the hallmarks of God's Kingdom? We know that redemptive history is moving toward the consummated Kingdom. Revelation 21 tells us that in the New Heavens and New Earth, there will be no more suffering, pain, war, or death. Additionally, "preview" passages throughout the Old Testament offer glimpses into the characteristics of the Kingdom. Just as previews on Netflix give us a taste of forthcoming films, so passages like Isaiah 65:17-25, Ezekiel 34:11-31, Psalm 72, and Micah 4:3-4 inform us that God's Kingdom is marked by values like peace, community, justice, compassion, economic sufficiency, wholeness, and beauty.
Knowing what the Kingdom values are then allows us to consider: How can I deploy my vocational power to advance these values in my workplace, my community, and the world?
Take businesswoman Wendy Clark. At age 20, she started Carpe Diem Cleaners in Durham, NC. Initially her sense of what it meant to be a Christian businessperson was that her firm could generate profits--and then she could give generously to missions. Several years into her career she heard a presentation about faith/work integration and her eyes were opened to see that her business itself was a means of ministry.
Today Wendy advances the Kingdom value of compassion at Carpe Diem through her attentive care for her employees, mostly Latino moms. She's changed Carpe Diem's hours to accommodate their schedules "so that they aren't stressed out trying to get their kids to school, running late to work, and getting home on time," Wendy reports. Additionally, instead of holding training sessions in Durham, she takes the women—and their kids--to a family camp out in the country. That way, the families get a special vacation they probably wouldn't have had otherwise.
Elizabeth Weller has joined her passion for agriculture and her formal education in social work and religion in an initiative that advances the value of wholeness. As an undergraduate, Elizabeth pursued her love of farming during summer breaks. She learned practical skills working at a West Virginia orchard and then a small farm outside of Lexington, VA. After graduation, she continued honing her agricultural talents as an employee at Gould Farm in Massachusetts. There she learned how farm work could be used as a therapeutic avenue.
Today, Elizabeth and her husband have launched The Amazing Heart Farm. It's an agriculturally based center for individuals who've suffered trauma or loss. "By harnessing the therapeutic benefits of creative and physical work," Elizabeth explains, "we aim to provide a safe space for members of the local community to engage in emotional work and healing, to gain access to community resources, and to learn to use personal and community supports while providing themselves, their families, and the local community with locally grown, fresh food."
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