Full-Life Discipleship at Gordon-Conwell

By Kenneth Barnes

There are few things more daunting to an academic then returning to one’s alma mater to give a talk. When that talk is part of an interview for a teaching position however, the emotional stakes are even higher. That was my experience when I visited Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary nearly thirty years after graduation to deliver a lecture on workplace theology as part of my application for the Mockler-Phillips Chair in Workplace Theology and Business Ethics and Director of the Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Workplace.

It was nerve-wracking, not merely because I knew that I’d be seeing some of my former professors, but because I am not a career academic. After leaving the seminary, I continued working for many years in the corporate world and served churches on a dual-career basis, and I wondered whether I’d be seen more as an impostor than a potential peer.

Happily, that wasn’t the case. While Gordon-Conwell has maintained its reputation for academic excellence, especially in the area of biblical studies, it has also enthusiastically embraced the principles of the Oikonomia Network and other organizations dedicated to the promotion of whole-life discipleship. At this stage in the center’s development, they wanted someone with a business background to run the center, and if he or she happened to be ordained and have academic qualifications, so much the better; but it was a practitioner they wanted, most of all.

The Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Workplace was created in 1994 through the generosity of Joanna Mockler, in memory of her late husband Colman Mockler. Formerly CEO of the Gillette Corporation, Mr. Mockler was not only a brilliant business strategist and leader, he was a man of deep faith and high ethical standards. He believed however, that seminaries needed to do a better job equipping pastors to serve the business community, and wished that there could be more opportunities for pastors, seminarians and marketplace leaders to interact with one another about the connection between faith, work and business ethics.

After two years of discussion and planning, the Mockler Center emerged under the creative leadership of Pete Hammond, longtime marketplace ministry leader for Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. In 1999, Will Messenger took over, bringing with him a rich background as a Harvard MBA, business leader and experienced pastor. In 2009, Will left to become director of the Theology of Work Project, and thanks to another generous gift, this time from former Raytheon CEO Tom Phillips, David Gill became the first person to hold both the newly created faculty position of Mockler-Phillips Professor of Workplace Theology and Business Ethics and director of the Mockler Center.

Over the course of those twenty-plus years, the center has fulfilled all the dreams of its patron. Courses were developed in the areas of workplace theology, leadership, business ethics and entrepreneurship. Conferences large and small were held on our various campuses, and a network of faith and work practitioners across the country began to emerge, culminating in the first Faith@Work Summit in Boston in 2014. It was a season of transformation for a movement that was once seen as a “satellite” to parochial ministry to one that thanks to such pioneers as Timothy Keller (GCTS ’78) and others has become a fundamental ingredient to many churches’ discipleship ministries.

What was I supposed to do as I stood on the shoulders of giants such as Hammond, Messenger and Gill? The honest answer is, I didn’t know. What I did know, however, was that God was calling me back to my theological roots and once I was there, he could be trusted to show me the way forward. I’m happy to report that he has done just that.

In January, at an event featuring Os Guinness at the Union Club in Boston, a new phase in the development of the Mockler Center was launched with the introduction of the Mockler Fellows program. What is unique about the Mockler Fellows program is that unlike most fellowships, it is not designed for full-time academics. The program is designed as a life-long learning platform for anyone who wants to explore the integrations of faith, work and business ethics at any level, from casual observer (via course audits) to doctoral studies. Most importantly, all of the core courses will be delivered by seminary professors, but not just on a seminary campuses. Every class will also be offered in and around Boston, Charlotte and Jacksonville at local churches, and will be held over three non-successive weekends each semester, so that people in full-time work can take advantage of the program.

In addition to the Mockler Fellows program, we are working on the integration of faith, work and business ethics issues into the curricula of other standard seminary courses. This includes biblical studies, theology, church history, pastoral counseling, preaching, discipleship and leadership development courses. We are also hosting a series of dinners and breakfast meetings with church, business and academic leaders as far afield as Oxford, Cambridge and Melbourne, Australia to expand our network of leaders and like-minded organizations.

The Mockler Center is only one example, of course, of what Gordon-Conwell is doing to expand its commitment to full-life discipleship. There was also the appointment of Tom Pfizenmaier to the position of director of the Center for Formation and Leadership Development and associate professor of Formation and Leadership Development, and the recent development of a D.Min. track in outreach and discipleship.

In short, our desire is to continually help both existing and future Christian leaders develop and flourish as ambassadors of Christ; to hone their prophetic voices to speak truth to power; to be champions of our Christian values and as our seminary motto states, to: “think theologically, engage globally and live biblically.”

Kenneth Barnes is Director of the Ockenga Fellows Program, Director of the Mockler Center, and Mockler Associate Professor of Workplace Theology and Business Ethics at Gordon-Conwell.  This post is reprinted from the Oikonomia Network. Stay tuned for a follow-up interview with Dr. Barnes soon!

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