Melissa took a deep breath and prayed for wisdom as she opened her
twelve-year-old son’s door. “Let’s talk about the garden,” she said calmly as
Derek looked up from his iPad.
“Yeah, I kind of forgot about weeding,” he said, his attention going back to
the screen. “Sorry. I’ll finish it later.”
Melissa sorted through her thoughts. It was his third time “forgetting”
tasks that week. Should she yell at him? Impound his iPad?
“Derek, you are God’s unique creation and our beloved child, and you
are a vital part of our family.” Melissa could see Derek’s expression was wary.
He wasn’t sure where his mother was going with this. She continued speaking
calmly. “Everyone in our family has their work to do. What makes your job of
weeding the garden important?”
“It . . . helps the plants grow better, I guess.”
“Fewer weeds, more produce! Every time we eat a tomato, your work
helped put it on the table. So we depend on you doing it well. Here, read this.”
She handed her son her Bible, open to Genesis 2:15. He read aloud, “The
Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”
“See,” she said, smiling, “assigning you to weed the garden is not just my
idea. You inherited the job from Adam, who got it from God. You are just the
right person to do it.” There was a pause. “NOW.”
As Derek scrambled out the door, Melissa thought: “And my assignment
from God is tending this kid as he grows.”
Vocational discipleship invites people to reclaim their identity as redeemed image-bearers and to discover their kingdom calling so they can fruitfully enact God’s purpose through their work. In this book, we lay out a model of spiritual growth anchored in three core questions:
1. Who Are You? Disciplers help people regard themselves as God’s redeemed image-bearers.
2. What Is Your Purpose? Disciplers help people understand the kingdom purpose of their work.
3. How Will You Fulfill Your Purpose? Disciplers walk with people to carry out the kingdom purpose of their work more faithfully and fruitfully.
Parts two, three, and four of this book are organized according to this discipleship model, equipping disciplers to engage with people around these three core questions. Part five examines how disciplers can enable this model to sink in and produce change, including confronting false narratives about work. The appendices and the resource pages throughout the
book provide practical tools to help carry out this approach to vocational discipleship.
One cannot be an authentic follower of Jesus and not experience change (Mark 8:34). Disciples experience transformation in three arenas: our being, our knowing, and our doing.
Christians often have a vague sense of how they’re supposed to behave at work, but not who they should be at work. The first role of discipleship is to open their eyes to claim who they are as God’s redeemed image-bearers. Disciplers help people discover this powerful, foundational truth in a biblical context and how it relates to faithfulness in vocation. Disciplers support reflection on what it means to be an image-bearer on the job.
At the end of my (Tom’s) class, one student wrote:
I am always convicted, humbled, and encouraged by remembering that I bear God’s image. It is both a simple concept and a deeply moving concept, because remembering that you bear the image of God himself changes the implication of your entire life. It allows me to read the Scriptures in a new light, it allows me to work in a new light, and it allows me to be a believer in a new light.
As this student discovered, seeing ourselves as God’s redeemed imagebearers can be a starting point for further growth.
We’re immersed in a secular culture that drives people to seek success defined by profit, prestige, and comfort. Christians are also typically steeped in a religious culture that defines the aims of spiritual maturity in terms of being church-centered and other-worldly. In this context, discipleship searches the Scriptures and invites the Holy Spirit to help people to know
God’s kingdom purpose for image-bearers.
This transformative process involves more than sharing a few key verses or principles about faith-based work. Discipleship is rooted in a story that gives image-bearers purpose. Disciplers help people locate their specific vocational calling within the biblical “Big Story” (the gospel told in four chapters—creation, fall, redemption, restoration). From start to finish, from
creation into new creation, the Bible points to four kingdom purposes for work:
1. Glorify God
2. Bless people
3. Draw people to Christ
4. Enable the world to flourish (build abundant community, establish order, develop potential from creation, and restore brokenness)
Vocational discipleship takes these big ideas and zooms into the specific things people do every day to restore the goodness and cultivate the potential of God’s creation.
In God’s kingdom, it’s never enough just to have spiritual insight or a pure heart—faithfulness is always revealed in action. Jesus declared, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt. 7:24). As people grasp that they are made in God’s likeness, equipped and empowered by loving grace
to serve God’s kingdom purpose, they can dedicate themselves to pursuing it effectively. Disciplers guide people to faithfully and productively live out their calling, doing good work in a good way.
How people work matters to God. Since work carries out God’s agenda, God wants to see it done well, and in a manner that reflects his image. Vocational discipleship cultivates Christ-likeness in people’s attitudes and actions in the workplace. A discipler must be prepared—like the prophets and like Jesus—to address tough issues of productivity, wealth, ethics, excellence, generosity, and fairness. Encourage people in practicing disciplines that will “keep [them] from being ineffective and unfruitful in [the] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:8).
Vocational discipleship in this model possesses four characteristics:
(1) Relational; (2) Contextualized; (3) Integrative; and (4) Transformational.
Vocational discipleship cannot be just a program or a curriculum. It requires a personal investment of time, transparency, and mutual accountability. “Disciples are made in relationships through personal, eyeball-toeyeball invitation.”
Relational investment allows the discipler to customize to the person’s personality, needs, questions, and unique work situation. A relational approach also means that people will learn from your life as much as from your words. “The key to equipping is modeling. Most of what we learn is observed—caught, not taught. Jesus said, a disciple is not above his teacher but when he is fully trained he will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40).”
Above all, discipleship requires you to authentically, self-sacrificially care for those God has entrusted to you. Work in this world is hard, and people are hurting. Sometimes a listening ear and affirming word is worth a hundred principles.
Because the essence of discipleship is relational, this means you don’t have to wait for your church to start a faith and work program. Launching yourself as a vocational discipler is as simple as setting a time to connect.
Vocational disciplers should seek to go to their workers’ turf and focus on their issues. Timothy Keller observes, “Many churches do not know how to disciple members without essentially pulling them out of their vocations and inviting them to become heavily involved in church activities. In other words, Christian discipleship is interpreted as consisting largely of activities done in the evening or on the weekend.”
Learn as much as you can from the people you disciple about the jobs they do. Discipleship doesn’t consist simply of imparting wisdom; spend a good amount of time asking questions and listening. Whenever possible, vocational disciplers should enter the world of their workers because that is where God is moving. One way to contextualize discipleship is through a “Gospel@Work Day” (see Appendix B).
Vocational discipleship integrates big ideas into the level of daily choices. Although it is rooted in broad theological principles, it always leads toward practical application in the work world. The focus on who people are as image-bearers also helps connect their work more seamlessly with other roles of their life (see Appendix B for an integrative Life Plan).
Executive coach Daniel Steere noted after participating in Tom’s kingdom purpose discipleship group, “I’m more consistent now, because I have a better narrative to tie it back to. . . . I’ve done the homework, to go from a 30,000-foot view of my calling down to what do I do today.” The discipleship process gave him a “holistic framework for why I do what I’m doing.”
I (Tom) had a professor who said the job of a teacher is to create cognitive dissonance: if you walked out of his class and your head wasn’t spinning, then he hadn’t done his job. As disciplers, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who sure made a lot of heads spin!
We aren’t trying to be controversial or flashy for its own sake. But if we’re doing our job, then we’re going to challenge people’s assumptions and the false paradigms surrounding work. We’re going to unmask and confront idolatry and sin in the workplace. Disciplers have to be prepared to generate friction in order to shed light.
As people grasp their kingdom purpose as redeemed image-bearers, they may be open to reconsider aspects of their working life: what work they do, how they do it, how they treat others on the job, what motivates them to work, and what they believe God expects from them as a worker. A vocational discipler walks with people through these shifts.
There is no set program or model for vocational discipleship. To pursue their goal of “helping God’s people work well for him,” disciplers have a range of options for effective formats.
• Structure: one-on-one, small group, class
• Style: teacher, coach, chaplain, spiritual advisor, mentor, peer support
• Substance: Bible study, book study, prepared curriculum, informal conversation
There is no single correct order for tackling topics, or even a clear starting point, as people will best learn their kingdom purpose out of whatever their working life is throwing at them in the moment.
Whatever path you walk with a follower of Jesus, you can find your way by returning to these three core markers of spiritual maturity in the ministry of their vocation:
1. Who are you as a redeemed bearer of God’s image as you engage in your work?
2. What is God’s kingdom purpose that you are called to fulfill through your work?
3. How can you work productively, so that God is glorified and his beloved world flourishes?
You are invited to join me for a “Leading With Questions” free webinar hosted by “be more Effective” in London, UK. The time will be from 11 am to 12 noon London time. Click HERE to register. Everyone who registers will be sent a link to the recorded webinar! Of course this means that no matter where you live on the Globe you can register and then view the recorded webinar at your convenience!
Excerpted with permission from the 5th Chapter of “When Everyone Leads” by Ed O’Malley and...
Happy Thanksgiving! Family and Friends are coming! Pumpkin Pies are baked! Turkey is ready to put in the...
Excerpted With Permission from Chapter 5 of “How To Talk About Jesus Without Looking Like an...
Guest Post by Jeffrey Davis Originally posted at Psychology Today Social psychology shows people are eager to...
Guest Post by Kevin Herring Originally Posted @ Ascent Management Consulting How can leaders increase...
Guest Post by Jeff Haden This works whether you’re trying to make a great first impression or deepen a...
Excerpted With Permission from the 3rd Chapter of “Win the RELATIONSHIP- not the DEAL” by Casey...