Blog - Grasping Vocation

Newbigin on the Work World

Friday, October 14, 2011

Believers from the work world gather Sunday after Sunday to listen to their pastors. What if pastors could listen to those believers describe the challenges, opportunities, frustrations, and questions they face on the job? For the past several weeks Leroy Hurt and I have been planning a county-wide forum to create just such an opportunity.

While working on this project, I revisited—and was greatly encouraged by—Lesslie Newbigin’s book, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society. This veteran missionary saw the importance of so-called "secular” work. A January, 2010, Christianity Today article called him "The Missionary Who Wouldn’t Retire.” Newbigin had left England in 1939 to preach the gospel in India. When he "retired” in 1974 and returned home, he found communicating the good news in England far more difficult than it had been in India. So he began to apply within his own homeland the cross-cultural ministry skills he had honed in India.

How could the gospel be communicated in what had now become a "foreign” culture?. "The only hermeneutic [interpreter, illuminator] of the gospel,” Newbigin wrote, " is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it.” Such a congregation, he said, needs to be "prepared for and sustained in the exercise of the priesthood in the world.”

Where does this priesthood of believers function? "It is in the ordinary secular business of the world that the sacrifices of love and obedience are to be offered to God. It is in the context of secular affairs that the mighty power released into the world through the work of Christ is to be manifested. The Church gathers every Sunday . . . to renew its participation in Christ’s priesthood. But the exercise of this priesthood is not within the walls of the Church but in the daily business of the world.”

How can this priesthood of believers be equipped to represent Christ in the work world? "The congregation has to be a place where its members are trained, supported, and nourished in the exercise of their parts of the priestly ministry in the world. The preaching and teaching of the local church has to be such that it enables members to think out the problems that face them in their secular work in light of their Christian faith.”

On Saturday morning, November 12, in the forum mentioned above, Thurston County pastors and church leaders will hear from those on the front lines of the work world. What they hear should make them better able to help Christians in the work world "think out the problems that face them in their secular work.”

Comments (4)

Stephen (10/15/2011 10:17:03 AM)
Excellent! I've long thought Newbigin has much to say to the challenges contemporary Christians face in secular society. Blessings on this effort!
Henry Paasonen (10/17/2011 12:16:33 PM)
Yes, the circled wagons mind set in many churches today is obviously a retreat from Jesus' expectancy that the dynamic of a local church -- however biblically defined -- be "salt" and "light" in what we now call "the secular world". (Note: He was not speaking simply of the individual believer as a Lone Ranger in his or her daily world). Of course, such a separationist stand is not new in church history. However, as a church planting missionary who has recently "retired" in the States, I am impressed how the church situation in North America resembles a "burned over land", similar to what happened after great movements of church growth in church history. Everywhere we see local churches either in decline or in holding position. Many exceptions, of course (also among some mainline denominations). Yes, the need is, as always, secular work as full time ministry. But the challenge before U.S. churches seems to be not how to growth, but how to diminish their Sunday "show time" ways and adventure into the gospel frontier which the house church movement is testing. There, too, we have much to learn from church history. Indeed, house church movements have not seldom misled the lambs. Yet, the answer is not only to jack up enthusiasm for men and women to be "the priesthood of believers" in the world (which types of movements have also misled the lambs in the past), but to develop the Ephesians 4:11-16 and Acts 2:42-47 essentials. We do not become "salt" and "light". We already are that dynamic.
Christian Overman (10/17/2011 4:36:31 AM)
Please tell us more about the Nov. 12 forum. Where will it be? Who is it for? May people from other counties attend? Is there a cost? Etc. Thanks!
Larry Peabody (10/17/2011 9:09:28 PM)
Christian, yes, those from other counties may also attend. We simply targeted our "Jerusalem" for this initial event. The forum will be held in the Garden Room of the Panorama City Restaurant, 1751 Circle Lane SE, in Lacey, WA, from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Nov. 12. A pastor and five from non-church workplaces may attend for the group rate of $35.00 (which includes a buffet breakfast). The individual rate is $6.00. You may want to check out the Facebook page, Reconnect! Thurston County. That page includes four video "samples" of the kinds of comments pastors may expect to hear that morning.

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