The Economics of Neighborly Love: An Interview With Tom Nelson


The Green Room recently had a chance to sit down with Tom Nelson, president of Made to Flourish, pastor of Christ Community Church in Kansas City, and author of Work Matters. Here’s what he had to say about his new book releasing this fall, and about what’s going on with MTF.

TGR: How is this book different from Work Matters?

TN: It’s called The Economics of Neighborly Love and will be released by Intervarsity on September 5.  Work Matters focused on the stewardship of individual work. The more I traveled and spoke, the more I realized I needed to speak about community and macroeconomics.

When Jesus teaches us the great commandment to really love God supremely and our neighbors sacrificially, there are two fundamental truths. One is heartfelt compassion for the neighbor. But Jesus gives us also the need for capacity-building. Luke 10 deals with economic life. Neighborly love, truly understood, involves both compassion and capacity.

TGR: Tell us a little more about the book’s specific content.

TN: In the first few chapters there is a strong theological case for economic flourishing, especially fruitfulness not just faithfulness. This is an important theme in Scripture. I talk about the three aspects of relational intimacy, vocational productivity, and neighborly love. Then I highlight different aspects of economic wisdom: things dealing with the poor and justice, generosity, rebuilding the city.

I do talk some about the practical aspects of what this looks like, but the focus is more on framing what it is and why it’s important.

TGR: How is the book connected to your work with Made to Flourish?

TN: It’s formed by this broader vision, but I wrote it with MTF in mind, especially pastors, to tell them that though individual work matters, the collaborative economy that we participate in matters too. Economic flourishing is a fundamental aspect of human flourishing and the lack of it is wounding to the soul. So pastors need to think thoughtfully about helping people grow their own economic capacity.

TGR: Do you have some specific examples of churches doing this well?

TN: The book has quite a few different examples from churches around the country. One church in Ohio has built into their facilities and mission a job entrepreneurship center. Helping to facilitate that is central to their mission—having this entrepreneurship incubator focused on job creation. This is a really strong example deeply involved in helping people’s capacity to create wealth.

We also looked at cooperative partnerships. My church, Christ Community has such a partnership with Christian Fellowship Baptist in Kansas City. One church is primarily African-American and urban, the other suburban and white. We’ve worked together to host conferences, including a Common Good Conference, where we thought about the most vulnerable and job creation and education. We’ve also had a pulpit exchange and worked together for Habitat for Humanity, and we just hosted a forum on racism in America with Michael Emerson. In all these things we’re trying to focus on what we can do together for the common good.

TGR: How are things going with Made to Flourish?

TN: The organization is designed to help bring spiritual wholeness and pastoral effectiveness to pastors across our natures. Both are very important. Being an effective pastor includes a focus on whole-life discipleship, equipping congregants for Monday life in the economic world. I’ve talked many times about my own experience as a pastor and how I spent the first 10-15 years in pastoral malpractice. I spent the majority of my time equipping people for the minority of their life.

The first way we equip our pastors is the website. We think of it as a highly accessible, highly credible library for pastors to go to and find the best thinking and best practices on faith, work, and economics. We’re collecting lots of great materials: sermons, liturgies, and articles to help pastors work this out, not only connecting Sunday to Monday but bringing Monday back into the worship experience.

We’re also building a national network: you can go to the website and find things happening in your area. Our website is really huge for us. We want to make it a one-stop-shop to think through these issues

We also run webinars for MTF pastors and others, and we will host a national conference in October 2017, in Kansas City but broadcast to various cities.

Then we have laboratories. These are regional intensive learning experiences for a year. Pastors and congregant leaders, three from each church, meet in a retreat center for two days. Plans are put into place for how to integrate faith, work, and economics in your church.  We want to build these up all over the nation. It’s an intensive year-long program.

Finally, we’re trying to reproduce leaders through pastoral residencies. Just like medical school residencies, these are programs intended as an after-seminary experience. We’re trying to cultivate this with churches around the country where faith, work, and economics integration is already in process.

TGR: Is there anything else you want our readers to hear?

TN: A lot of people say, “I just love my pastor, but I wish they were involved in something that helps them better connect Sunday to Monday.”

Now we have a chance for pastors to participate in a national organization to help them be spiritually whole and effective. This is a space that’s been lacking across the nation that we can fill. Businesspeople say they know their pastors really care, but they need better understanding of people’s daily challenges.

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