In the first post (5 Reasons Pastors Fail to Identify Flourishing From the Pulpit) we looked at the risk of flourishing being a buzzword that people write off, and the reason why many pastors are hesitant to name that which flourishes in one’s community.
Sadly, pastors are not well equipped with helpful doctrine, definitions, or demands to identify flourishing, and so they remain silent. They stick to the topics of clearly defined Biblical sin and redemptive behavior, and thereby reinforce dualistic language, myopic commentary, and the failure of prophetic witness.
Here are 7 helpful ways to name flourishing from the pulpit.
#1 Antithesis & Common Grace
The antithesis principle in theology recognizes that Christians stand in the battle between good and evil. Evil remains within our redeemed hearts in this age. All the while, non-believers continue to bear the image of God and a common grace extends from God even to those that fail to profess His name as Lord and Savior. Jesus says in Matthew 5:45: “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (NIV)”
A healthy internal grasp of the antithesis principle and the work of common grace in creation grant pastors freedom in their preaching. We can recognize flourishing in a certain sector, and yet recognize there is always more to be done. As well, these doctrines help pastors proclaim hope and possibility for areas of blight or corruption that can flourish again one day.
#2 Get Specific
Speak to and about specific methods, programs, and patterns of behavior rather than general categorizations of flourishing. People want to hear about concrete, workable solutions to social ills in real time and in real places.
We can describe something that appears to flourish to us, and something that does not appear to flourish. Yet, it can be too subjective. I think bike lanes in downtown Orlando are an example of a flourishing city. My friend sees a wasted city program and desires more efficient government. Who is right?
A clear, measurable definition of flourishing overall and per industry or sector can guide a ministry, City Council, business owner or head of household as they aim their decisions in the direction of concrete success. Ministry leaders need to land on one, define it for a local context, and demonstrate both qualitative and quantitative measurement. At The Collaborative we are working with The Polis Institute to develop wellbeing metrics for Orlando based on Gallup’s Wellbeing Index. We aim to measure the impact of our work, change what fails, and advance what works. We will be able to define flourishing in Orlando in five key areas of a person’s life and the community.
Get specific. Otherwise, pastors risk seeming too ephemeral and lofty in a very practical, concrete-results-oriented America.
#3 Focus on the Journey, Not Having Arrived
#4 Get & Give Testimonies
God gave us the Bible as a story, and within it are innumerable mini-stories. Humans resonate with stories. A pastor has a number of formative tools at his or her disposal, the testimony being one of them. A testimony of flourishing at work does not need to answer the theological nuances a sermon from the preacher might need to do. Testimonies are authentic and contextual. They are also evidence of God at work among the people and in the community, rather than from the professional speaker (aka-preacher) and in the institutional church. Find testimonies of flourishing occurring in the workplace,linking work and the Kingdom of God. Lift them up and let them go.
#5 Keep your nouns and adjectives clear
Christians are people more than they are adjectives. Marketplace ministries and the Attractional Model of church evangelism have advanced in our lingo the idea of a Christian business, Christian music, or Christian gymnasium. Yet, Christian is best reserved for the persons who profess the name of Jesus as Messiah. Using christian as an adjective muddies categories of atonement, redemption, and the Kingdom of God.
Back to number #1: if common grace is at work in even the non-believer, it becomes difficult to claim an object is more christian than another. Likewise, if brokenness remains fully present in people, companies, systems and lattes (I’m writing in a coffee shop), an outsider hears in the adjective christian a dividing line between them and the work of God. It also brings the cynic quickly to the conclusion that, based on observations, there is more hypocrisy at work than redemption. For all he or she sees is the chasm between the christian item and his or her definition of the good.
#6 Focus on God at work rather than the company name
If there is a company or marketplace leader who is worthy of lifting up as an example, skip using the exact name of either. The focus should be on the work of God, obedient choices, or faithfulness of the leader or company. This avoids a listener becoming distracted by their own evaluation, and keeps the focus on the methods and measurements of flourishing.
#7 Don’t compare
Finally, do not compare one company or effort against another publicly. God can be equally at work in Coca Cola as he is in Pepsi, just as God can be in the Florida Gators as much as the FSU Seminoles. The aim of naming flourishing in a sermon is not to denounce a lack of flourishing elsewhere, or make it a competition. Rather, do as Jesus does with the recruitment of his disciples in Mark: come and see. A preacher calls the listener to come and see the work of God, not come and compare.
Flourishing must be named from the pulpit for the edification of the body and the equipping of the Saints. Go forth and name it, and name it with boldness.
Dr. Case Thorp is leader of The Collaborative for Cultural and Economic Renewal and the Senior Associate Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Orlando.