October/November 2017 - Vol. 94

                  calls business man on street corner

Community, Work, and Mission - Part 2

God's Perspective on Work and Discerning Work Life Direction
by Joe Firn

I believe that the Lord wants us to be people of influence and impact for the kingdom of God. We are called to be salt and leaven - and this extends to our work life as well. Steve Clark, in his essay in the booklet on The Mission of the Sword of the Spirit, uses the example of a brother from one of our communities who gave a sharing and articulated what an “ordinary” life of mission looks like. This brother was a successful businessman, a good community man, who also lived a Christian community home life.

Steve described this “ordinary” brother’s experience at work, how he expressed being a missionary at work. His low key approach to evangelism took advantage of opportunities as the Spirit led him. He described his growing influence by the way he carried himself, his attitudes, the ways he approached his responsibilities and his high standards of ethics in conducting business. Steve also said that this brother “spent more time thinking about how to do a good job than how to evangelize people, and doing a good job put him in a position to have an evangelistic influence, because it gave him respect.” This is the most common and ordinary way for a brother or sister to become a person of influence in their work and gives us the initial call or mission for our work.

We can summarize this brother’s influence at work by saying that he demonstrated what it means to be a “Christian Professional” in his work life. Both parts of this phrase are critical. To become a person of influence we must both be a virtuous “Christian,” a person of integrity, as well as a “Professional”, highly competent in our chosen profession. Being a solid Christian, but incompetent at one’s profession is a bad witness, as is being highly competent but an unscrupulous pain in the neck to work with or to work for. Our formation as a disciple of Christ through our relationship with the Lord, the gift of the Holy Spirit, our community life and training, and the support of our brothers and sisters provides the base from which we are sent out to engage the culture through our work or service and become a person of influence. Getting the “Professional” part of that phrase right becomes a critical decision and goal if we are to fulfill our call as a disciple on mission.

Discerning our career direction is a prudential judgment. It begins with the understanding that we are free to choose what kind of work and career path we want to pursue - given our gifts and abilities, our commitments to family, Christian community, and the call to be disciples of Christ on mission.  In choosing our work life direction, it is a question of stewardship, free will and God’s grace. In Jesus' parable of the talents, the master did not specify how the servants were to use the resources he had given them. However, he did have the expectation that his servants would use those resources responsibly and put them to work in a wise and judicious way that would bear fruit for his estate. In choosing our work career path, we have the responsibility to make a wise choice based on counsel (what are our gifts, available job opportunities, training, etc.) and the important step to pray and seek God’s light and wisdom.

I think it is important to look at the world of work from three different perspectives: first, from the point of view of how God looks at work, second, what employers are looking for in an employee, and third, how we make a good decision for our work life direction.

God’s Perspective on Work
From God’s point of view, he has a four-fold purpose for work. First, we are called by grace to be a co-creator with him in his on-going work of creation by bringing the world to a greater development toward the end he had in mind when he first created it.

Second, by surrendering our Work Life to the Lordship of Christ, we enter into a participation in his on-going work of Redemption and bringing forth the Kingdom of God by becoming a disciple of Christ and missionary to the Work place. By performing our work with excellence and integrity, we grow in responsibility and influence others for Christ as a Christian Professional. This influence extends to witnessing to the “joy that is in you,” and supporting other Christians in your work place and profession.

Third, by discovering, developing and applying our "Godly Design" to the particular work He leads us to become good Stewards of his gifts to us. Our work becomes a vocation and provides a vehicle for applying our gifts and talents to an area of need in the world.

Fourth, our work allows us to earn a livelihood that supports the way of life the Lord calls us to and allows us to financially support the building of the Lord’s Kingdom. Together, these four purposes add meaning to our Work Life and give us an opportunity to make an impact on our culture and the world around us.

What Employers Are looking for in a Candidate
To understand what employers are looking for, we need to understand the fundamentals about how the World of Work is organized and how it functions. At its most basic level, every occupation in the World of Work is made up of a series of job functions called Technical Competencies. These consist of a body of knowledge, a set of skills, an array of aptitudes and a set of behaviors. Of these four components, knowledge, skills and behaviors can be improved and developed by coaching and learning opportunities.

At the heart of every technical competency lies the fourth component, natural abilities, or aptitudes. These are inherited abilities that are fixed throughout life and determine the ease or difficulty with which a person will learn and perform the work functions associated with that aptitude and the Technical Competencies for that occupation. Aptitudes and personality characteristics combine to form your aptitude profile, and the world of work is organized by aptitude profiles. Assessing your aptitudes and knowing your aptitude profile, enable you to understand your capabilities and choose an occupation that will play to your strengths and what you will need to do to overcome your weaknesses in your chosen profession.

Competencies in work
The world of work is made up of three types of competencies. Success in your career depends on obtaining and advancing in all three of these types of competencies, advancing from awareness, to basic, to intermediate, to advanced, to the expert level.

1. Technical - these are the competencies that make up your specific occupation; engineer, banker, accountant, teacher, sales person, etc. You advance in your career by systematically developing the knowledge, skills and behaviors of the Technical competency level above you.

2. Non-technical - These are concerned with the characteristics and behaviors needed to be a high performer at work. They are concerned primarily with the way a team member goes about performing their technical competencies.

One example of this set of competencies comes from the State of Virginia. The Virginia Competencies are: understanding the organization’s purpose and mission, attaining goals and objectives, customer service, communication, teamwork, leadership and personal effectiveness. Each competency has a set of indicators that can be observed and measured.

3. Leadership competencies come in five types: leading self, leading projects, leading others, leading programs and leading organizations. Each of the non-technical competencies has a leadership component with indicators. This is a natural starting point in developing your leadership capabilities. The Virginia web site has an assessment tool for evaluating how often a team member or team leader demonstrates the indicators for each non-technical competency. This assessment can be used for self-improvement, training, or performance management. Employers are looking for the candidate that meets the technical, non-technical, and leadership requirements for the open position they are seeking to fill.

There is one additional type of competency, called “pastoral,” that is appropriate for Christians. This competency includes topics like evangelism, intercession, spiritual warfare, pastoral care, apologetics, scripture, and Christian living courses. The Sword of the Spirit has a number of courses for pastoral workers and leaders who serve in Kairos, University Christian Outreach, Saint Paul's Outreach, and our communities. There is one more step which I think we need - some formal levels of proficiency for this competency. Growth and development is based on the wisdom needed for the issues encountered at the different levels of pastoral responsibility. These Pastoral Competencies are vital to grow in as we strive to become Christian Professionals and encounter the many challenges of working in an increasingly secularized society.

Discerning Work Life Direction   
Your Work life discernment is a self-discovery process of your "Godly Design", leading to a deeper understanding of yourself and your capabilities, and then making a free choice to apply those capabilities in an area of need. Our Godly Design is made up of our fixed and acquired abilities and the desires God places in our hearts. Our Fixed Abilities are those talents, personality traits and natural abilities inherited through our parents and grandparents. Our Acquired abilities are changeable and develop through our life experiences. These are our accumulated knowledge, skills, values, interests and formed character traits. God also works in us through our desires. He leads us to areas in our journey we find interesting, then fascinating, then compelling. We may develop a passion to solve some issue, problem or question, or provide a specialty service or product for the common good. This process is made easier by working with a Career Coach.

To uncover your Godly Design, your Career Coach will use a combination of reflective writing on your life experiences, an assessment based inventory of your personality and aptitudes, a series of three reading assignments that include written reports this Coach would develop on your background and natural abilities results. Understanding your aptitudes, how they have worked in your life in the past and how these can work for you in the future in conjunction with your personality characteristics is empowering. Once you understand your capabilities, you have the needed information to design your future work by using your best natural abilities and personality characteristics in an area of your choice where you believe you can make an impact. You can move forward in your career choice with confidence that you can quickly learn, perform and advance in the technical competencies for your chosen profession as a Christian Professional.

Finding Purpose in Mission
Entering the World of Work as a Christian Professional does not answer the question “For what purpose?” To begin with, answering that question includes embracing the purposes of God for our work. But that question is further answered in a unique way by each brother and sister as we grow in our Christian life, our vision for our work, and the opportunities that come from our personal growth and development in our profession. A helpful resource comes from the book, Restoring All Things by Warren Cole Smith and John Stonestreet. They write in regard to viewing and participating in the world:
“But Christ followers are to see the world differently and have a different posture toward it. Rather than safety from or capitulation to the world, the grand narrative of Scripture describes instead a world we are to live for. This world, Scripture proclaims, belongs to God, who then entrusted it to His image bearers. He created it good and loves it still, despite its brokenness and frustration. He has plans for it yet and invites the redeemed to live redemptively, for its good and our flourishing, even as we live for Him.”
They go on to ask four questions “that connect our actions with what we know to be true about the world from the biblical story.” These questions can give us food for thought as we seek to grow in our vision for our work and serving the common good.
  1. “What is good in our culture that we can promote, protect, and celebrate? Christians believe that how God created the world was, in His own words, ‘good’. Even after the fall, much of this goodness, such as beauty and truth and human dignity, remains.”
  2. “What is missing in our culture that we can creatively contribute? Christians believe that humans were created to be creative. When something good is missing in a particular time and place, we should find ways to offer it to the world. God is glorified and the world is helped by properly ordered human creativity.”
  3. “What is evil in our culture that we can stop? God hates evil, and so ought we. Throughout history, courageous Christians have worked to stop that which destroys and deceives. We must do no less. It’s a basic requirement of loving our neighbors.”
  4. “What is broken in our culture that we can restore? Ultimately, we reflect the gospel most clearly when what has been damaged by sin is restored to God’s intended purposes.”
We fulfill these questions by living out our call to Christian Community, but also by applying them to our work or service. They are directly related to our mission: to “Be” a Bulwark that defends people in this time of spiritual warfare, a Prophetic People that lives the Christian call radically as disciples, and a Servant People called to serve church and society by working to stem the tide of evil and promote holiness in the daily circumstances of our lives. Our mission also calls us to “Do”: to Proclaim the kingdom of God by life and word: to Gather others into communities and movements so they can live effectively; to Leaven: live as disciples and work for truth and justice in the daily circumstances of life, and to Defend Christian truth and morality in church and in society.

Living out our call to be disciples on mission: to live, work, and strive, by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that others might have true life in Christ, now and forever, is fulfilled by living out our community life. This life empowers us to go out from our communities, becoming a Christian Professional in our chosen work, virtuous and highly competent, impacting culture as a missionary while serving the common good.

Joe Firn is a member of the Word of Life community in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.
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