A couple of weeks ago, I posted my initial impressions from attending the 2016 Faith@Work Summit in Dallas at the end of October. Here’s the link.
Since it has been a full month since it ended, I want to share a bit from the notes I took from what various speakers shared over a Thursday evening, Friday, and a half-day on Saturday.
The first of six general sessions focused on the idea of taking the faith at work movement “broader, deeper, and stronger”. The first speaker addressed the “sacred-secular” divide, exhorting us to an integrated worldview where our faith is a natural part of everyday life.
Even though I thought I understood this concept for a long time, I still struggle with it. I found myself inexplicably introducing myself as “just a layman” on Friday when I met the executive director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics, Hugh Whelchel, whose book I had just finished days before the conference. Deep down inside, I must have felt that I could contribute more to the kingdom of God if I were able to minister full-time, even though I know that I am far more effective right where have been serving for the past 30 years.
The next speaker gave some specifics to the challenge to move deeper and broader. He said that we need to expound more on how we can apply our faith in particular jobs/fields, such as legal, agricultural, culinary, etc. (Note to self: Good idea for future blog articles.) With respect to the broader aspect, he said simply that the current leaders of this movement are “too pale; too male”, meaning that we need to include more people of color and women in our collaboration. He added that we needed to address those who have bad work or no work. I can add to that those who are underemployed as well. He mentioned ministering to the whole life-span of work: from the young finding work, to the middle-aged struggling with their work, and those who are done with their careers.
They kept us busy Friday morning and afternoon with back-to-back large group meetings. These were packed with several well-chosen speakers who passionately shared biblical insights and moving personal experiences of how they integrated their faith at work. We were mentally and emotionally worn out by dinnertime. I will hit some highlights here.
One of our favorite speakers was a millennial who spoke about millenials. I like how he described his generation: “They don’t just want go to church; they want to be the church.” Another speaker who moved me was The Honorable Edmund C. Moy, former director of the U.S. Mint. He gave several examples of public servants like himself from the pages of the Old Testament: Daniel, Joseph, and Esther. These individuals were placed in a “divinely-ordained vocation” for God’s purposes, as His representatives in high places. He asked us to imagine the impact if the church supported those who are called to public service as much as they support those who are called to other full-time ministry careers.
During each of the general sessions except the first one, they took a few minutes to highlight and honor some of the pioneers of the faith at work movement, such as social activist and Bible teacher John Perkins and author Dorothy Sayers. On Saturday morning, they honored Dick Halverson, who served as a United States Senate Chaplain from 1981-1994. Among other things, he was well-known for a benediction he often gave, which was meaningful to me: “Wherever you go, God is sending you, wherever you are, God has put you there; He has a purpose in your being there. Christ who indwells you has something He wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in His grace and love and power.” These are powerful words of encouragement!
The devotional leader on the last day of the conference was especially gifted. He reminded us that work was part of our original design as we were made in the image of God; work allows us to imitate God, our Creator; work provides a daily context to live out the greatest commandment; work gives us s greater space of influence. He mentioned the topic of racial reconciliation, which caused me to reflect on what God has enabled me to do at work in this regard. It motivated me to keep on doing whatever I can do to bring the peace of Christ and ensure harmony among my many co-workers who are men and women of color.
I have to say something about John Perkins, who was our final speaker. What a privilege it was to learn from him in his latter days. He spoke firmly about the topic of race, which God had already hit me with earlier. He said that reconciliation was not a side issue, but it is the heart of the gospel. He brilliantly stated that leadership is being able to see the pain of others (that God also sees), enter in, and turn it into passion for redemptive change.
We closed the conference Saturday morning by singing an old hymn by Charles Wesley, “Forth in Thy Name I Go”. I had never heard this one before, but it was a fitting way to end the conference. When we sang the first two verses I got pretty choked up. Note the connection between the work God has wisely called me to and His presence in verse 2:
Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go, my daily labour to pursue;
Thee, only thee, resolved to know, in all I think or speak or do.
The task thy wisdom hath assigned, O let me cheerfully fulfill;
In all my works thy presence find, and prove thy good and perfect will.
Here is a link to a video (with lyrics) of this great hymn that beautifully and biblically ties together faith and work.
It is obvious this event was a great opportunity for me. I was able to connect briefly with a few leaders in this faith at work movement. More importantly, I was able to hear, see, and know that this central theological topic of integrating our faith at work is more about “whole life discipleship” which was emphasized in many ways throughout the conference. This is a cause that I can continue to participate in.
So, where do I go from here? What am I going to do with all of this inspiration? That is something I have already given some thought to but I have not shared yet. I will sit on it a bit as we move through this Christmas season, and plan to boldly publish my thoughts after the new year.
Master Sergeant Russell E. Gehrlein (U.S. Army, Retired) is a Christian, husband of 38 years, father of three, grandfather of four, blogger, and author of “Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work”, published by WestBow Press in February 2018. He received a B.S. in Mathematics from Colorado State University in 1980 and an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary in 2015. He is also a former junior/senior high school math and science teacher and youth pastor. Russ currently works as a Department of the Army civilian at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.