Catching Up With Ken Barnes

A few weeks ago we reprinted a post from the Oikonomia Network by Ken Barnes about the beginning of his tenure at the Mockler Center at Gordon-Conwell. We caught up with him recently for more details. 

TGR: How are things going since you wrote that article for ON? 

KB: Things continue to move along. I’m very happy with the growth of the Ockenga Fellows program and the center itself. Our primary goal at this point is to drive the content that has traditionally been for matriculated MA students down to the general public through the churches. 

We’ve created a lifelonglearning module, and we hope to push it out to churches and get people to come into the conversation. By expanding the footprint of thMockler Center, people can engage with the content of the courses whether online, at our campuses or at local churches. As of this academic year, all our Faith, Work and Economics courses are being taught on intensive weekends over the course of a semester, making it easier for working people to take them. Tonight [he was interviewed in late April] is the beginning of the last weekend for Workplace Ethics class, and last weekend was the last weekend for Workplace Theology class. Everything we do is about making the content as accessible as possible.   

TGR: Tell us a little more about your background. 

Before I was at Gordon-Conwell I spent 3 years in Australia where I started the Marketplace Institute at Ridley Theological College. I also spent 9 years at Oxford University teaching in the business school, and teaching theology and religion in their continuing education department. I have taken elements of all of those programs to try to create a pedagogy that will work for the marketplace in New England and beyond. Before that of course, I combined a 30 year career in business with life as a church pastor and an academic, so I have some personal experience of what its like to harmonize faith, work and economics. 

TGR: What are your students like? 

KB: I have a mix of students. Many are master’s students, others are auditing the course. Some are pastors, some are in the marketplace. It keeps the conversation going long after people leave seminary and helps people who are actually at the junction of the integration of faith, work, and economics contribute to the conversation. Having people from the marketplace take the courses, discuss, and participate in presentations, we learn more every time we have a class. It’s much more integrated, practical, and hands-on.  

Masters students are understanding that faith, work, and economics are not tertiary to their ministry. Every decision somebody makes in their work is an ethical decisionWe need to view this as full-life discipleship, not a program that address a handful of issues; we need to get faith, work, and economics into every aspect of their ministry. If a person is not in full-time parish ministry and they are a Christian, they should strive to live out their faith at work.  

Statistics from the Lausanne Movement show that 98% of people in churches spend 95% of time outside the church. An awful lot of that time is spent working: paid, or unpaid work in schools, family, the marketplace, the professions, and business. What does it mean for our work to be worship? What does it mean for us to be Christian ambassadors in non-Christian environments? What does it mean to do apologetics? 

TGR: Is this becoming more central to the Gordon-Conwell curriculum? 

KB: Thanks to the excellent work of my predecessors, faith, work and economics have always been central to the ethos of GCTS. Part of my job that’s extremely important is to work with other faculty in order to see that these ideas are in fact incorporated into the seminary curriculum. For instance, work with people who teach NT exegesis and together we explore where faith, work, and economics are either directly addressed or alluded to in Biblical texts. We use resources like the TOW Project commentary, which is a great tool for helping students, pastors and lay people alike. In church history we look at things like John Calvin’s teaching on usuryIn fact, I work with professors in all of the divisions—preaching, theology, Bible, church history.  

TGR: What are some of the new things going on at the Mockler Center? 

There are some really exciting new things. One is that we are resurrecting our D.Min program. It will start in the summer of 2018 and is entitled “Living Faithfully in a Globalized Economy.” I’m co-teaching it with colleagues from the UK and Australia, looking at emerging areas of importance for macroeconomics and how those issues relate to pastoral care and the church’s social mission 

The first summer, we’re going to study the impact of AI and robotics on the future of work. I don’t think there’s anybody else looking at that. There are huge economic, moral, and ethical issues associated with the development of this technology. For example, while new technologies usually result in job creation in the long runthere may be huge job losses in the short run – how do we prepare people for that? There are also theological questions relating to the very nature of work itself and the ontology of being created in the image of God.  

The next summer we are going to Europe to explore issues related to global finance, social entrepreneurship, and the alleviation of poverty. We’ll get people to think deeply about how capital is employed in ways that reflect kingdom values as opposed to the world‘s valuesThe third summer, we’ll go to AsiaPacific to explore the sociological, environmentaleconomic  impact of such things as mining, traditional manufacturing, and out-sourcing.  

I am also in the process of developing a tutorial program to help churches sponsordevelop and nurture Christian entrepreneurs in and around their parishes. The work is in conjunction with colleague of mine from Cambridge University who is doing a lot of research in this area.  The people who going to be teaching the class and doing the tutorials are Christian entrepreneursWe’re trying to get away from the idea that thought leaders have all the answers; our job as thought leaders is to mine the data and make sure that it and its interpretations are spread as broadly as possible.  This will be online anywhere in the world. A lot of exciting stuff. 

There are some serious people from the marketplace supporting our efforts: the Kern Family Foundation, as well as Joanna Mockler and Tom Phillips who created and endowed my chair. I am so grateful for all of their support and also for the support of the Gordon-Conwell administration. It was a wonderful place to be a student (30 years ago), and it’s a wonderful place to teach as well! 

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.  

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