December 6, 2012 | 7:22 a.m.
By Tricia Theurer, Communications and Marketing Specialist for University Relations
Chris Armstrong, professor of church history at Bethel Seminary St. Paul, is the Work with Purpose initiative director.
This summer, Bethel Seminary received a $190,000 grant from the Kern Family Foundation to launch the Bethel Work with Purpose initiative in 2013. The initiative is designed to address the disconnect many Christians feel between their faith and their work. Initiative director Chris Armstrong, professor of church history at Bethel Seminary St. Paul, observes: “The problem is illustrated by the often-heard ‘I quit my job to go into ministry.’ Hear the value judgment? This assumes that only those called to a designated office in a church can truly do ministry.”
People want to know that their work, which takes up the bulk of their waking hours, has meaning, Armstrong explains. Unfortunately, the church often does not help them make the most of this connection, he adds. In one informal poll of church members mentioned by sociologist Robert Wuthnow, 90% claimed to have never heard any sermons or lessons on relating their faith to their work. A recent Barna Group five-year study on why young people are leaving the church revealed that 84% of Christians ages 18 to 29 professed to having no idea how the Bible applies to their professional interests. This gap in the church's teaching does not reflect the Bible’s priorities, says Armstrong. “It’s too easy to see the economic sphere as outside of God’s care, and work as a curse. But Genesis shows us a God who works, and who commissions humans to work as stewards and improvers of the earth—literally ‘economic’ workers who care for and increase the value of the things they are responsible for. So we know all kinds of work have kingdom value. And we want to help ministers-in-training see that.”
To that end, and led by a team comprising Bethel Seminary and Bethel MBA professors as well as pastors and business leaders, the Work with Purpose initiative will seek to bring discussions of work and economics into every discipline within the Seminary. The team will also collaborate with selected churches to create a church-based course that addresses workers’ real questions and needs. The course will be piloted in area churches late in 2013 and also become part of Christianity Today’s “Building Church Leaders” series of downloadable courses. Other initiative projects will include a series of conversation-starting reading groups, forums, and public lectures bringing together Bethel Seminary students and University of Minnesota business students, and a new masters-level course in the theology of vocation that will include a weekend discernment retreat. A culminating conference on October 11, 2013, will bring national speakers to Bethel’s campus to address these issues. Through such efforts, says Armstrong, “Bethel Seminary hopes to become part of a change in the church that will lead people to see their ordinary work as a place of extraordinary discipleship, stewardship of gifts, and service to the world.”
Based on results of the initiative's first year, funding may be renewed for subsequent years.