By Gideon Strauss

In the first article in this short series I quoted Uli Chi saying that “We are in the early stages of a Second Vocational Reformation.” Twenty years ago, most of the Christians I knew accepted a kind of sacred/secular dichotomy in their understanding of work: some work was sacred and more important, like that of pastors and missionaries; other work was secular and less important, like work in manufacturing or the service industries.

But in recent years more and more often I hear people echo the conviction articulated by Steven Garber (founder of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture, and author of The Fabric of Faithfulness) that “vocation is integral, not incidental, to the mission of God.” The sacred/secular dichotomy is being rejected by growing numbers of people as a mistaken understanding of the way the world works, and a mistaken understanding of how work works. Slowly but persistently a Second Vocational Reformation is starting up. What might this Second Vocational Reformation mean for us as individuals?

Resources are ever more abundant, like the many articles and blog posts on the website of The Washington Institute.

Resources are ever more abundant, like the many articles and blog posts on the website of The Washington Institute.

While we still have a long way to go before a majority of evangelical Christians live and work out of the conviction that “vocation is integral, not incidental, to the mission of God,” individuals who want to explore this claim now have access to more resources than had been available for a long time. There are books like Tim Keller and Katherine Alsdorf’s Every Good Endeavor and Andy Crouch’s Playing God, online magazines like Fieldnotes Magazine and The High Calling, and the web pages of organizations like the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture, and (re)integrate. There are local churches (still far and few between, but more than before) that offer vocational discipleship as an integral part of the discipleship of their members, like Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan and Mavuno Church in Nairobi. There are parachurch ministries that build communities of vocational support, like the New Canaan Society, the Pittsburgh Leadership Foundation and 4Word. And for the next generation, there are campus ministries that care as much about vocational discipleship as they do about the rest of their ministry, like Manna Fellowship at Princeton University, or the Coalition for Christian Outreach with their annual Jubilee conference.

Every Good Endeavor – Katherine Leary Alsdorf from Redeemer City to City on Vimeo.

A key benefit¬† individuals can gain from all of these resources is the recovery of the capacity to “reminagine the world as if Christ were sovereign,” as Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat write in their Colossians Remixed. I’ve been reading Walsh and Keesmaat in preparation for a Christ the King Sunday sermon, and I was struck by their emphasis on the power of an imagination revitalized by the gospel. They write on the key text for my sermon this Sunday:

The imaginative richness of Paul’s poetic proclamation in Colossians 1:15-20 is not a matter of clever wordplay. Rather, it is a matter of life and death. He is struggling for nothing less than the imagination of this young Christian community. … In a culture of captured imaginations, we need a Christian imagination in the arts and in neighborhood activism that will set the captives free, especially when they have become comfortable in captivity. In a culture of ubiquitous graven images and rampant consumerist idolatry, we need Christian practices in business, environmental protection and politics that will topple the idols and energize an alternative economics of God’s kingdom. In a culture of disconnection, we need Christian scholarship in the academy and psychological practices in the community that see things whole, cohering in Christ. In a culture of power as truth, we need servant communities ministering to the most vulnerable to demonstrate that truth is on a cross. In a culture of radical uncertainty, we need preaching and liturgy that build the body of Christ, where truth takes on flesh.

The Second Vocational Reformation not only prompts the imagination of the individual who yearns to do meaningful work, to integrate their work into their faith, to grow their everyday work authentically out of their deepest loves, it also sustains that imagination by offering  plausibility structures Рthat is, social and cultural ecosystems within which this kind of reimagination make sense, within which Christian practices in business, for example, are made plausible. In my next article I will explore some of the gospel ecosystems that are shaping the Second Vocational Reformation.

Gideon Strauss is the executive director at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and also editor of Fieldnotes Magazine.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.


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