For pastoral friends all over the country…
I know that these days are among your busiest. So not a long letter– but a question for you: What is the gospel we remember at Easter?
We all have different callings. The longer I live the more I am aware that one of mine is listening to people in their complex hopes and hurts, trying to understand the meaning of the gospel of the kingdom for the lives they live. Yes, it is another way of saying that my life is given to exploring the integral relationship of faith to vocation to culture. In and through this calling has come an increasing involvement with pastors and seminaries across the country over the question: what is the relation of vocation to the missio Dei, to what God is doing in history?
In our work with The Washington Institute we have argued that “vocation is integral, not incidental, to the missio Dei.” While that may seem obvious, sadly it not what most people hear in the liturgical life of their congregations. The preaching, the praying, the singing, does not reflect that vision. What is offered instead is too often, while theologically “true,” a form of compartmentalized faith that simply, sadly does not have much to do with the push-and-shove of people’s complex lives. And of course so much of life is taken up with what is honestly called vocation, which is the stuff of our lives day after day– from families to work to neighborhoods, from the most local to the most global. It may be just the people I see, the stories I hear, but so much of my life is full of people trying their hardest in the worlds of the arts, of business, of law, of education, of banking, of politics, of medicine– and so often feeling the weight of the world, the flesh, and the devil. They want to do what is right, and they yearn for a word from the Lord that what they do matters, that it is honestly part of what God is doing in the world, as they try to live hopefully across the spectrum of their responsibilities and relationships, personally and publicly.
One reason for the disconnect is that this vision is not taught in most seminaries. In the work we have done over the last several years through the Lilly Endowment project “Connecting Calling, Colleges, and Congregations,” almost universally I have heard from seminary deans and presidents, “What you are saying (about the vision of vocation and the missio Dei) is our theology here, but we don’t teach that.” That they don’t raises many questions, obviously, but I am not going to address that here.
What I am doing here is passing on a link to a friend’s church in Florida. Last fall Tullian Tchividjian wrote, asking if I would write a recommendation for a book that he had written. And so I did; the bookUnfashionable is almost out. I love the way he describes his church: New City Church On earth as it is in heaven. For most of my life I have seen the prayer of Jesus in a similar way. For the people of God, these words are our reason-for-being, they are why we get up in the morning, they are the point of life. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
So, as you preach and pray over this weekend, remember to remember that your people live complex lives, and that they need to hear from you a word from the Lord that the God of heaven and earth has not forgotten them; that in fact the gospel of the kingdom which is at the heart of the Easter celebration is good news because it speaks into the reality of human experience in a very wounded world. Good news? Yes, he comes to make all things new. As Tullian says so well, “God wants us to involve ourselves in the rehabilitation of hearts and houses, souls and society. We’re to care about the renewal of both people and the environment. This requires word and deed, proclamation and demonstration. God is renewing human hearts and recreating all things through his church. This is our mission to the world.” On earth as it is in heaven.
For more on this, please read John Yates’ wonderfully wise commencement address at Covenant Seminary last spring, now featured on our website. For over 30 years John has served as rector of The Falls Church, my congregation. When he preaches, I feel as if he loves us, which is itself is a great gift. And of course that he preaches like this, offering a rich and full vision of the kingdom, is a great gift to our congregation, to our city, and to the world. And if you are interested in an online dialogue, step into it here, and comment.
Who We Are · Mission Statement
At New City, we believe that God is on a mission to reclaim and replenish a world lost and broken by sin thereby “making all things new” (Revelation 21:5). We believe that the most startling aspect of God’s mission is that he has called his imperfect people (the church) to take part in carrying out his glorious work of revitalization. Christians have been rescued by God in Christ to become agents of renewal–missionaries.
This means that while evangelism remains a priority, the salvation of individuals is not the church’s only mission. Churches are designed by God to be instruments of renewal in the world, not only renewing individual lives but also renewing cultural forms and structures, helping to make all that is crooked in our world straight.
So, our mission is spiritual and physical, individual and cultural. God wants us to involve ourselves in the rehabilitation of hearts and houses, souls and society. We’re to care about the renewal of both people and the environment. This requires word and deed, proclamation and demonstration. God is renewing human hearts and recreating all things through his church. This is our mission to the world.
Dr. Steven Garber is Founder and Principal of the Washington Institute and author of The Fabric of Faithfulness.