Sunday, August 1, 2021

Work: A Means or an End?

In the last few weeks, I have participated in many discussions about wealth creation, and as a result, it seems to me that there needs to be a discussion about work, asking:  Is work a means to an end or an end in and of itself?

In my discussions, overall, there seems to be agreement that wealth creation is a means to an end - the flourishing of all.  We don't create wealth just to create wealth.  What we do with it matters and the Bible states pretty clearly that we are to be generous and not to hoard. 

Most also agree that that we are created to work.  We serve a working God, who continues to work to this day, and Genesis 1 and 2 (as well as many other passages) makes it clear that work is our part of being co-creators with God.  As Dorothy Solle says (in To Work and To Love), "First creation is unfinished.  Creation continues; it is an ongoing process...Human work is the act of working with God to fashion a more just world."

But in light of these two positions, do we view work as an end or a means to an end?  In a capitalist economy where efficiency and productivity are emphasized, are jobs created for the fulfillment of a person or the supplying of a need?  Do we prioritize work over the worker?  We often consider the impact that our work has on the world, but how often do we ask the question, "What does the work do to the worker?"  Another way to put it, do we value labor over capital or capital over labor? 
There has been and continues to be great conflict over this, which also enters into the way we view economics or wealth creation.

To that end, I have been reading a book called The Church and Work by Joshua R. Sweeden who shares a number of different opinions on this.  Let me share just a few with you:

Miroslav Volf, theologian and author, says, "If I am created to work, then I must treat work as something I am created to do and hence (at least partly) treat it as an end in itself."

Schumacher writes that "a person's work is undoubtedly one of the most decisive formative influences on his character and personality."

Sayers, in Vocation in Work, states:  "The great primary contrast between the artist and the ordinary worker is this:  the worker works to make money, so that he may enjoy those things in life which are not his work and which his work can purchase for him; but the artist makes money by his work in order that he may go on working...For the artist, there is no distinction between working and living.  His work is his life, and the whole of his life - not merely the material world about him...his periods of leisure are the periods when his creative imagination may be most actively at work...he wants money not in order that he may stop working and go away and do something different, but in order that he may indulge in the luxury of doing some part of his work for nothing...When the artist rejoices because he has been relieved from the pressure of economic necessity, he means that he has been relieved - not from the work, but from the money."

Karl Marx and Adam Smith had differing views on work.  Both highly regarded work and placed significant value on it for the benefit of society, but Marx emphasized how work shapes humanity and Smith emphasized work as a source of economic wealth.

St. Benedict collapses the means and the end of work by saying that it is not only instrumental for life, but part of the purpose and intention of life. 

To be honest, I'm not trying to answer some of these questions as much as I am longing to hear the church address some of these questions.  The church needs to have a voice in this dialogue, impacting social, political, and economic realities.  Sweeden writes, 
"When the church remains ancillary in theological considerations of good work, the church's influence in shaping the way Christians understand and embody good work is diminished.  When good work is connected to abstract theological proposals rather than to a concrete community, there is little expectation for the church to reconstruct dominant notions or practices of work among its members or its context.  In other words, the church becomes just another place where theological principles can be propagated - with only slightly more impetus to provide just wages and working conditions - instead of the place where members are nurtured into practices and understandings of work corresponding to theological convictions.  The danger is that the church becomes inconsequential for the understanding and practice of good work...The question inevitably arises, if the church does not ground Christian understandings of good work, who or what does?"
I believe that the greatest commodity one can possess is not money, but the ability to share skills and material things. 

What are your thoughts on this?

PS - Tuesday, August 3 begins our "Tuesdays in August" with DML Marketplace Ignitor Campaign.  Watch your email for more details and we hope that you will join us as our partners share some exciting updates of the impact of Discipling Marketplace Leaders in their churches and communities.  

Monday, July 26, 2021

Digging Deeper: The Difference Between Wealth Creation and Prosperity Gospel

Thank you so much for the great emails, comments, questions, challenges, discussions, and ideas from last week's blog on Wealth Creation.  It was really great to hear the thoughtful takes that many of you shared and it helped to shape my thinking as well as the group's thinking as we ponder this!

Some of the discussions that occurred in this last week made me want to dig a bit deeper into this subject in this blog as I think there may be some confusion about the difference between wealth creation and the prosperity gospel.  My husband recently gave me a book (to which you should now be saying in your head, "Of course he did!" as you have heard that phrase many times!) called The Prosperity Gospel in Africa, by Marius Nel who has done extensive research on the subject.  Some of my reflections will come from that book as well as some of the reflections that you have shared.

While there are different kinds of prosperity teaching strands, the most common is the miracle prosperity gospel which teaches that wealth is not achieved through hard work and a strict moral code, but "rather through God's desire to bless people with miraculous wealth, either through their own faith or by vanquishing the spiritual powers of evil that continually want to thwart God's miracles."  Wealth is not created through a theology of work and being co-laborers with Christ, but rather by miracles and faith.  This leaves out the purpose of our creation in Genesis 1:28 and 2:15.  

The centrality of tithing and giving generously is also taught in prosperity gospel teaching, to win God's favor and blessing.  We give in order to get.  There are usually no ministries at these churches to help people increase their capacity to earn but rather only prayer meetings to drive out the enemy.  The leaders of these teachings often consider themselves prophets, which makes them unchallengeable, and often leads members to attribute their blessings to the prophet rather than to the Lord.

Unfortunately, prosperity theology is very popular in Africa for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the immense poverty and unemployment.  Pew Research reports that when Pentecostal Christians were asked about this question, "Will God grant material prosperity to all believers who have enough faith?" 85% of Kenyan Pentecostals, 90% of South African Pentecostals, and 95% of Nigerian Pentecostals said yes (Nel, pg. 3).

Let me say clearly that the teachings of the prosperity gospel is in direct conflict with the Bible, and is in direct conflict with what BAM Global presents in it's Wealth Creation Manifesto, with their ten affirmations:

  1. Wealth creation is rooted in God the Creator, who created a world that flourishes with abundance and diversity. 
  2. We are created in God’s image, to co-create with him and for him, to create products and services for the common good.
  3. Wealth creation is a holy calling, and a God-given gift, which is commended in the Bible. 
  4. Wealth creators should be affirmed by the Church, and equipped and deployed to serve in the marketplace among all peoples and nations. 
  5. Wealth hoarding is wrong, and wealth sharing should be encouraged, but there is no wealth to be shared unless it has been created. 
  6. There is a universal call to generosity, and contentment is a virtue, but material simplicity is a personal choice, and involuntary poverty should be alleviated. 
  7. The purpose of wealth creation through business goes beyond giving generously, although that is to be commended; good business has intrinsic value as a means of material provision and can be an agent of positive transformation in society. 
  8. Business has a special capacity to create financial wealth, but also has the potential to create different kinds of wealth for many stakeholders, including social, intellectual, physical and spiritual wealth. 
  9. Wealth creation through business has proven power to lift people and nations out of poverty.
  10. Wealth creation must always be pursued with justice and a concern for the poor, and should be sensitive to each unique cultural context
We often talk about poverty in many ways shapes and forms:  spiritual poverty, material poverty, relational poverty, intellectual poverty, and so on.  In the same way, we need to broaden our view of wealth to include spiritual wealth, relational wealth, material wealth, and intellectual wealth.  That is critical to keep in mind when thinking about wealth creation.  Additionally, we need to keep in mind that wealth is not the end goal - the flourishing of all humanity to the glory of God is the end goal.  

What struck me in my discussions is also the difference between "east and west" or "majority world versus minority world."  While the West or Minority World was protesting the term wealth creation out of reaction of seeing how wealth has caused much apathy, complacency, and self-reliance around them, the East or Majority World was saying how important it is in their context.  This warrants some consideration.  Those representing the Majority World said that too many Christians are looking only for a blessing from God, without work.  They said that too many Christians are looking only to the West to save them, rather than work.  So context is important, and of course, definitions are important.

In closing, let me share a chart that we use in our teaching to help people understand where Discipling Marketplace Leaders places emphasis.  I've used this for so long that I don't remember where I got it (but I think it was from Ann Sherman in Kingdom Calling).  It shows the difference between those who value poverty, those who value wealth, and those who value stewardship.  For example, if I value poverty, I view possessions as evil; if I value wealth, I view possessions as my right; but if I value stewardship, I view possessions as a responsibility.  And so on through the chart.

Of course, DML promotes stewardship.  Our faith in our loving, creative Father beckons us to be a steward of our time, treasure and talent while on earth to the glory of God.    

I hope this clarification is helpful and would love to continue to hear feedback from you on this!  

By the way, some of the proposals I heard last week as alternatives to "wealth creation" were "resource creation," "fruit creation," and "asset creation."  I love the body of Christ as we wrestle together to communicate and seek to emulate the goodness and creativity of God!

Monday, July 19, 2021

Wealth Creation - For or Against?

I have been privileged to be part of a global consultation group to bring the Business as Mission (BAM) movement into the gathered church.  It has been exciting to hear of pockets of this type of work growing and flourishing places other than where DML is working - in Hong Kong, Australia, Brazil, Peru, and elsewhere!

But this week we ran into a challenge as we discussed the term "wealth creation," while looking at the BAM paper written on the Role of the Church in Wealth Creation.

I wasn't surprised.  For years, I've had to talk about "poverty alleviation" rather than "wealth creation."  I knew that "creating wealth" is an uncomfortable term for many Christians.

And it is understandable to a degree.  When we think of the term "wealth," there are negative images that come to mind: the growing gap between the rich and the poor, hyper-consumerism, wastefulness, uncaring attitude by the rich toward the poor, and so on.

But the creation of wealth is a gift from God to His people for the purpose of all people flourishing.  Deuteronomy 8:18 says, "But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to create wealth, and so confirms His covenant."  It's part of the covenant.  The desire from the Father in Genesis 1 and 2 (before the fall) is to give us the resources in creation for us to use for the flourishing of all people.  

The Bible talks a lot about wealth and the use of money, with three key themes:  

  1. Hoarding of wealth is condemned.
  2. Generous sharing of wealth is encouraged.
  3. Creation of wealth is a godly gift and a command.
The teaching in the church tends to focus on the first and second way, but often does not teach on the third one.  But what we often forget is that there can be no sharing of wealth unless it is first created.  And the only place wealth is created is in the business world.  Churches, governments, and educational institutions all receive their money from those who are doing business (taxes, tithes, fees - all come from wealth that has been created).  

From the Wealth Creation Manifesto of the Lausanne Movement (started in the 1970s by Billy Graham for the global church to address global issues), is this statement:
‘Wealth creation is rooted in God the Creator, who created a world that flourishes with abundance and diversity. We are created in God’s image, to co-create with him and for him, to create products and services for the common good. Wealth creation is a holy calling, and a God-given gift, which is commended in the Bible.’

To this, I say "Amen!"

Unfortunately the term "wealth" is often defined only to money, but we need to remember that it is much broader than that.  The United Nations defines inclusive wealth as "the sum of natural, human, and physical assets."  Natural assets include land, forest, energy resources and minerals.  Human assets are the population's education and skills.  Physical assets are machinery buildings and infrastructure. This broader view of wealth makes the creation of it much more palatable for many, I believe.

I know that if we have the opportunity to explore this more full definition of wealth and the idea of wealth creation (building capacity for the purposes of flourishing and shalom), many Christians would agree.

The problem is that we don't have that opportunity to talk to all and if we use the term "wealth creation," it may become a barrier to the message of what we are doing.  

So what to do?  I would love to hear from you.  If you hear that a ministry is involved in "wealth creation" in the majority world, does that strike you as positive or negative?  If it is negative, what might be a better choice of words that would allow for this not to be a roadblock?

The Wealth Creation Manifesto goes on to say this:

‘Wealth creators should be affirmed by the Church, and equipped and deployed to serve in the marketplace among all peoples and nations.’ 

I long to see this happen.  But as a Kenyan pastor and leader has said, "No pastor should ask for a tithe until we have taught about wealth creation from God's perspective and have taught financial management."  The Bible doesn't shy away from talking about money and economics, and neither should the church.  

There are some who fear that if we teach about wealth creation, we move closer to teaching about the prosperity gospel.  But when we are properly equipped in what the Bible teaches, we see the theology of work, the encouragement of generous giving, loving our neighbor, and the condemning of hoarding giving a proper balance to wealth creation.  They must go together.

If you have a minute to let me know your thoughts on the term "wealth creation," I would deeply appreciate it and would take your thoughts to the global consultation group.  Thank you!

Monday, July 12, 2021

Bits and Bridles of Mercy

This past week was a heavy week for the DML prayer team, as we continued to pray through Nehemiah, where threats from Sanballat and Tobiah turn from plots to action.  For the most part, the DML teams are joyful, content, and loving men and women who love serving the Lord.  But as we looked at this text, our own fears and anxieties came to mind as we prayed.  We were reminded that many members of our teams live in very difficult circumstances, amidst daily threats of kidnappings, pandemic waves with few vaccines available, sickness, poverty, and insecurity in many forms.

That same day, I received an invitation to listen to Kathy Keller, wife of Tim Keller, speaking on the evidence of a merciful God.  It felt like a good time to be reminded of God's mercy, and it brought to mind some thoughts which I share with you now.

When I was a young girl in our church's girls program (it was known as the Calvinettes), a running theme was from Hebrews 12:1-2, which reminds us to run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  I wrote a poem about this at that time and had to recite it at an annual event in front of hundreds of girls. As such groups did, they gave me a trophy for my poem to encourage me to keep running that race.  I was probably only about 8 or 9 years old.  These verses have deep roots in my soul because of the way my youth group discipled me with this wonderful passage. 

But occasionally I have to be reminded that I am running my own race.  I am not running someone else's race.  I must run the race set out for Renita Grace Kranenburg Reed Thomson.  My race looks different than every other person's race because I am uniquely made, with unique opportunities and challenges, relationships and characteristics.

I can't run the race for my brothers and sisters in Nigeria who pray daily for safety as they travel from place to place among many kidnappings.  I can't run the race for my brothers and sisters in Cameroon who continue to face the trauma and the threats from an on-going civil war.  I can't run the race for my friends in Uganda as they face another long COVID-related lock-down.  I can't run the race for my colleagues in Burundi, who continue to stare down great poverty every day.

I also have to remind myself that my race is not like a race in the Olympics.  The race that Hebrews calls us to is not run on a smooth, carefully maintained course.  There are not thousands gathered in the stands to cheer me on (the cloud of witnesses may testify but often not in a way I see or hear).  This race is much more a marathon.  A cross-country marathon with all sorts of challenges:  mosquitos, flies, rocks and puddles, to name a few.  There is an occasional view of a beautiful waterfall or lake, but for all of us, this race, this marathon, ends in the valley of the shadow of death.

I frequently think of the statement from Henry David Thoreau, which I learned as a teen:  "All men lead lives of quiet desperation."  I actually find that statement not only to be true, but oddly comforting.  It puts us all on a level playing field.  Despite creature comforts, privilege or even relative safety, at the end of the day, we "lead lives of quiet desperation."  We share the quiet desperation of our fallen state. Yet, we are made by a Creator who beckons us to His kingdom. 

Kathy Keller spoke of the significance of Romans 8:1 in light of life's challenges, which says that "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."  She reminded me that you can only be released from a threat when you know you were under a threat.  "Unless we are aware of the magnitude of the threat under which we live (fully sinful in front of a holy and perfect God), we focus on the small tragedies of life, like pancreatic cancer." She knows what she is saying as her husband and best-selling author Tim Keller has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, which is one of the more unforgiving cancers.

The "small tragedies of life like pancreatic cancer."  Personally, cancer, let alone pancreatic cancer, sounds like a pretty big thing to me.  When viewed with the right perspective, in light of God's salvation, even something as devastating as pancreatic cancer is a trial that believers can face with the confidence of the hope of our faith - that Jesus promises to be with us even in the valley of the shadow of death.  Whether it's civil war, Boko Haram, kidnapping bandits, floods, drought or pestilence, Jesus is there.

C.S. Lewis reminds us that we are far too easily pleased.  We are distracted by bright shiny objects.  We are often also distracted with our "glass half empty" way of looking at things.  How quickly we become distracted by the rocks in the road, or the sudden rain shower that soaks us on this marathon of our faith.

But thankfully, we aren't left completely to our own devices, nor are we abandoned to our lives of quiet desperation.  Psalm 32:9 warns us not to be like the horse or the mule which needs to be led by bit or bridle for course correction.  And Kathy Keller also reminded us that this is not a behavior modification threat - it is a text of comfort.  It's good if we can do it on our own, without God's bridle pulling us back to the path.  But when we veer off course, God will lead us back to the way that leads to life.

This way of life includes learning to praise God in spite of my roadblocks and detours on my marathon.  Hebrews 13:15 tells us that we are to continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God.  When I read those words, that quiet desperation begins to creep up on me as I recognize how far I am from living that.  However, what does Hebrews really mean?  How is praise a sacrifice?  

I'm learning that continually being able to praise is indeed a sacrifice...at least for someone like me.  I'm not naturally attuned to be a praiseful person.  I'm not an "in the moment" person, which is what I think we need to be if living as a praiseful person.  I'm much more of a "what's next person" which means I'm often looking at what else needs to be done.  I've been told that I can be a person who looks at the glass as half empty rather than half full.

So for me, it is a sacrifice to give up trying to be on top of everything to become a person who is thankful and praiseful.  It's difficult to do!  It's part of learning to be a living sacrifice and nurture a heart of gratitude.  

It needs to be done daily.  Sometimes hourly.

But God is faithful and merciful, with bits and bridles when we go our own way.

And He is faithful and merciful to my brothers and sisters across Africa, who are also running the race that has been set before them.  

Monday, June 28, 2021

Connecting Our Tithe to Our Workship

Connecting our tithe to our work seems like a natural thing to do, right?  Most of us would shrug and agree that, of course, our tithe comes from our work.  But we often don't make that connection when the church is gathered.  

A few weeks ago, I was invited to preach in Liberia, West Africa.  The main offering was taken before the message and the process started by asking those who were going to give a tithe to come to the front of the church and lay their tithe directly on the podium.  Then the pastor prayed for these tithers.  He asked God to bless the seeds that were being sown, and to help those seeds produce great fruit for the Kingdom of God.

He then asked the tithers to sit down, and the offering was then collected from everyone else (those who were not giving a full tenth but an offering of sorts).

That didn't sit well with me.  Not because of the calling out of the tithers - I'm not a fan of that process but I am used to that.  That is a pretty regular occurrence in many churches in Africa.  But it didn't sit well with me because the tithe was not tied at all to the work that provided the money - the pastor did not look back at where and how the money came, he only looked forward to how it could be used.

As my message was focused on "Thy Kingdom Come," I decided (likely a Holy Spirit prompting) to address this missing link.  Part way through my message, in talking about how we are to be actively working to bring the kingdom of heaven on earth, I asked those who had given their tithe to rise.

I then went into the congregation and approached the man in the first row who was standing.  I asked him to tell the church how it was he got his tithe.  He said, "Well, I calculated ten percent of my earnings."  I smiled and rephrased the question.  "What work did you do to receive those earnings?"  He smiled and said that he was a carpenter and made furniture.  I put my hand on his shoulder and asked the church to pray with me.  We thanked God for this man's ability to work, to make things from the resources that God has given.  We  prayed that God's Kingdom would come more and more in and through this business, and that this man would be a testimony to God as His image-bearer.  We thanked God for his faithfulness and asked God to continue to bless the work of his hands.

Then I went to the next woman who owned a provision shop and prayed a similar prayer.

Then another man who worked in an office.

I wanted to speak to more people but time was moving on.  As I headed up to the podium, there was an elderly lady in the front row with a sweet smile and I couldn't pass her by.  

I asked her how she had received her tithe money.  She said in very broken English, "My children give me money and I give one tenth of it."  I asked her what her children do.  She said that one is a nurse and one drives a taxi.  We prayed for the work of her children.  The world and the work being done seemed very present in the service.

I then continued my message in which I was emphasizing that "Thy Kingdom come" is not a simple longing for Heaven.  It is a mandate for us to work at it while we are here on earth.  Every day a little more than the day before.

As I reflected on it later, I thought about the first man's response.  His mind had so disconnected his tithe from his work that he could only think of how he did the math.  Our brain compartmentalizes things.  We say, "this is sacred and that is secular."  We think that our tithe is about future fruits.  We don't talk about how it came to be.

It makes me sad and increasingly frustrated.  Our total disconnect of our work from our worship is reaping negative consequences.  But I think it's a frustration that is coming at a good time.  God is opening my eyes to this more and more, and at the same time, I'm in conversations with others around the world who also believe in the church AND believe that a change needs to happen.

The purpose of Sunday is Monday.  And if that is not coming out when the church gathers, we are missing massive opportunities when the church scatters.  Our work becomes an act of worship - or as some people have phrased it: workship.

I leave you with this quote from author and theologian Miroslav Volf, from The Church's Great Malfunctions:

We need to build and strengthen mature communities of vision and character who celebrate faith as a way of life as they gather before God for worship and who, sent by God, live it out as they scatter to pursue various tasks in the world.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Yes, No, Wait

DML is blessed with leaders who have many years of experience.  Through the years we have learned to check with God before jumping into new opportunities.  We are blessed with a board and team that highly values seeking the Lord.  The goal is to discern whether God is saying, yes, no, or wait. We love to hear the Lord say “yes” to opportunities.  Especially when we see the value in those opportunities to expand the Kingdom of God!

At our recent Board meeting, we discussed some of the parameters that might confirm the Lord’s "yes."  We also discussed some parameters where the Lord is saying “wait" or "no.”  DML is blessed by some amazing opportunities being presented to us.  Currently our budget is enough to help empower 12 partners working in 11 countries.  But not enough to take advantage of a growing number of opportunities. That means we need to use the word "wait." One of the opportunities comes from the team that invited us to Cote d'Ivoire, a French speaking country in West Africa.  French speaking countries in Africa often lag behind when it comes to resources and help.  We were fascinated by the early steps in DML being taken by business leaders and their Churches.  We believe God desires DML to expand into French speaking Africa.  But we need to see God confirm this with the resources needed.

God is opening many opportunities for DML.  This past week we had conversations with people, churches, denominations and ministries from many diverse places.  As DML becomes better known, we are entering into conversations from people around the world.  These leaders  have a passion for the blending of faith and work in and through the church.  We had requests for DML just this week from Chad, Zambia, Brazil, Honduras, and El Salvador.  

Some of these opportunities may be met through some strategic partnerships that DML has made with like-minded organizations who are taking DML and making it their own.  These partner ministries are able to bridge some of the resource gap to reach new countries with the DML message, but not all.

God is rallying His people around the oft-forgotten message of Genesis 1 and 2 .  I was reminded this week that DML is part of the vision of God to redeem and restore creation to His purpose.  This is not a short term process but a long term vision measured in time as only God can measure.

The Bible says that the harvest is plenty but the workers are few.  But what we are finding is that the harvest is plenty, the workers are showing up and available, but the resources to support these initiatives are not yet in place.

The answer for now seems to continue to be "wait."  

But there is also a sense that God is up to something here and I'm looking forward to seeing how we can continue to join Him in the work that He is already doing!

We just sent out the DML June letter and amazing newsletter from Tanzania, describing the work going on with the Masai.  If you have not received your copy in your mailbox, please click on the links to read it here!