I looked forward to this major event for about eight months, and now it’s over.
Two weeks ago, Linda and I were among 400 people who attended the Faith@Work Summit in Dallas, TX, sponsored by the LeTourneau Center for Faith and Work.
In many ways, it was a typical conference. We’ve probably all been to at least one. I have attended a variety of conferences and retreats, both large and small: Campus Crusade, youth ministry, Army recruiter, Promise Keepers, European Protestant Men of the Chapel, and Worldwide Chemical Conferences. They are usually mountaintop experiences. They make you feel glad to be part of their organization, provide opportunities to connect with others, help you understand the big picture of why they do what they do and your special role in it. When it ends, you leave with a deeper commitment to invest more of yourself in their cause. This Faith@Work Summit was all of the above.
I had extremely high expectations for this conference. I looked forward to meeting many others from different backgrounds who are as passionate about this doctrine of work as I am. I had hoped for some good teaching to confirm what I believe and expand my knowledge even further. I had hoped to network with some so that I could collaborate with them in future endeavors. More importantly, I wanted to see what God had in store for me. I needed a sense of direction to know where I should be focusing my own efforts in this movement.
I was able to connect with some people. I had noticed that several authors of some of my favorite books I had read on the subject were either attending or speaking at the event. Dr. Darrell Cosden, who wrote The Heavenly Good of Earthly Work, was going to be there, as was Tom Nelson, who wrote Work Matters.
I had also hoped to get the chance to see Bill Hendricks, who wrote the book that changed my life in 1989, Your Work Matters to God. God used this book to help me understand that being a Soldier was a valid career option for me, that my work had value in what God was doing in the world, and that I was not a second-class citizen because I was not in “full-time ministry”. I have taught these biblical principles of work from this book for over 25 years.
I was able to meet each of these godly men and they each graciously signed their books for me. I also met Hugh Whelchel, who directs the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics. (I had just finished his book, How Then Should We Work, two days before the conference. However, I had no idea he would be there, so I did not bring it for him to sign.) Oh, I almost forgot to mention, I also met Dr. John Perkins as I exited the elevator on the way to dinner Friday night.
One of the things I was concerned about before the conference was that I did not know if I would fit in to this group of professionals. I anticipated being intimidated by the leaders of this movement. I did not know if I belonged there or if I had anything to contribute to the discussion. Time and time again, the many people that I had the chance to interact with were humble servants of God. They seemed genuinely interested in hearing my story and my perspective.
I met many other Christians who are doing exactly what I am doing: living out an integrated faith in the workplace where God has placed me, taking advantage of opportunities to minister with co-workers as they present themselves, and teaching others to do the same. I left the conference dedicated to continuing these efforts.
This is the first of three reflections on this event. In my next article, I will summarize some of the specific things I heard and learned, which reinforced what I knew about the theology of work and took my understanding to the next level. In a subsequent reflection, I will share my five to ten year vision on what I hope to be able to do and what my role will be.
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.