On the heels of the release of Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work, Steve Garber sat down with author Tom Nelson to discuss his call as a Pastor to minister to the vocational needs of the Church. Below, Tom shares his inspiration for the book and his vision for how the Church can step up to embody a theology of work for the Glory of God.
Also, check out Justin Taylor’s video interview with Tom about his book.
Steve Garber: Give us a thumbnail sketch of your life, Tom.
Tom Nelson: I grew up in a devout Christian home in rural Minnesota and came to faith as a young boy. I completed a degree in business and then served with a parachurch campus ministry for ten years. After completing my seminary education, my wife Liz and I moved to Kansas City and were given the faith opportunity to plant Christ Community Church. For over twenty years Liz and I have been given the rare and gracious privilege of serving a wonderful congregation that truly loves Christ with mind, heart and hands.
SG: When and why did you first begin rethinking the meaning of work?
TN: Seeing the vital importance of vocation to God’s mission in the world was really a gradual and rather sober awakening in my life and pastoral calling. When I begin to more carefully study Holy Scripture as well as the writings of the Protestant Reformers, I was stunned by what I had failed to grasp. I had been a pastor for several years and completely missed the central vocational thread of our church’s Gospel mission. I was saddened that I had unknowingly perpetuated a Sunday to Monday gap between worship and work, reinforcing dichotomous thinking, language, priorities and practices. For way too long I lacked an integral theology of vocation that would have better informed and shaped the contours of my life and ministry. About ten years ago, I sensed God calling me to verbalize to my congregation my heartfelt confession as to my failure in this regard. I also assured my congregation that in moving forward they had my unwavering commitment to preach, teach and celebrate a robust theology of vocation. God has graciously taken my pastoral weakness and is building into the life of our congregation a robust and growing theology of vocation. For this I am eternally grateful.
SG: Why did it matter enough to you to go to all the hard work of writing a book?
TN: Having been a pastor for over twenty years, I have seen first-hand the compelling difference a robust theology of vocation makes in the life of a local church congregation. It is from this front row seat of observable transformation in people’s lives where Work Matters was birthed. I guess in my heart of hearts I deeply long for individuals and local church congregations to experience what I have experienced. If you would have told me several years ago, that I would be called to write a book on work, I would have chuckled with disbelief. So in many ways by the grace of God, Work Matters found me. God is a God of surprise isn’t He?
SG: What is the heart of the book?
TN: At the heart of Work Matters is the compelling story of vocation we find in the Holy Scriptures and how you and I are invited into that story to participate in God’s redemptive mission in the world. With accessible language, I attempt to unpack a compelling theology of work and then show how a theology of work is put to work in everyday life. The words of Dorothy Sayers capture well the heartbeat of Work Matters. “The only Christian work is good work well done.
SG: As you know the church and its long stumbling over that idea that work matters to God and to the world, what do you think will be the great challenge for those who read your book?
TN: For those who have not yet given a great deal of thought to a more comprehensive theology of vocation, I believe the challenge will be to embrace the transformative experience not only of learning something new, but unlearning something that was not previously well learned. Frankly, many of us are quite foggy in our thinking about work and we need greater clarity. The ongoing process of unlearning is a humbling one, but a necessary one for all of us in our journeys of faith. For others who have thought a good deal about the theology of vocation, a challenge might be to apply this theology to their particular workplace and local church congregational setting. Humility, courage and grace will be needed.
SG: What do you hope happens, as your book goes out into both the church and the world?
TN: My hope is that out of my own theological failure as a pastor, Christ will be glorified, the Gospel will be advanced, the common good will be nourished and followers of Christ will increasingly see their work as God sees it.