Economic Wisdom and the Future of the Church: 5 Useful Principles

By Charlie Self 

In seminary classes and seminars, informal conversations and large conferences, I enjoy asking pastors, church planters, and revitalizers this question: “As you plant and revitalize, have you given any prayer and thought to how your congregants will eat in the next 10-20 years?”

This query is met with puzzlement. These gifted and sacrificial men and women are prayer-walking, studying demographics, discerning missional opportunities, working on compassion ministries, developing good relationships with other churches, local schools, and agencies. They are forming a courageous core, developing the ethos (culture, mission, vision, values) of the church, and trusting the Holy Spirit for results.

John Perkins, civil rights leader, founder of the Christian Community Development Association (CCDA), and leading racial reconciliation advocate, recently declared that “What the world needs now is Jesus…and a good job.” Integrating economic wisdom and the dynamics of daily work is a crucial factor in kingdom influence for the local church.

So what is economic wisdom in a church context?

Before offering some insights for application, let’s establish what we are not saying economic wisdom is as we introduce it here:

  • We are not making any category of life more important than the call to salvation and discipleship;
  • We are not asking pastors to be expert economists;
  • We are not creating a large number of new programs (though there may be Spirit-led initiatives); and
  • We are not taking ideological or political sides on certain public policies (though some are called to public service).

So why must economic wisdom be a part of the equation as we present and proclaim the gospel of the kingdom and see the Holy Spirit build the Church?

Most of God’s work in the world — past, present, and future — occurs through people who spend their days working and participating in the local and global economy. Understanding biblical principles of economic wisdom, work, and how they shape Christian character, ministry, community outreach, and city transformation is of paramount importance.

Some definitions:

All work is meaningful and moral activity apart from leisure and rest. It includes paid and unpaid tasks, labor and leadership, compassion activity, family nurture, volunteering, business entrepreneurship, and more. God’s people must see their work as intrinsically good, not just a means to an end. Our creator designed us to work (Gen 1-2). Through Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are redeeming work (Matt 5:16; Eph 2:10) in light of an eternity of creative work (Matt 25; Rev 21-22).

The economy is the moral and social system of exchange. All of us participate in a choreography of mutual interest and trust. At the same time, sin perverts God’s original design through greed and bribery, unjust systems, which deny access for many, and oppressive power structures that isolate the poor (Amos 2, 5). Poverty alleviation includes charity, but must go beyond alleviation to establish relational networks, skill training, character growth, and justice advocacy.

Economic wisdom is a biblical category that helps us get beyond the angry and paralyzing ideological and political polarization. The Bible offers us many insights regarding personal responsibility and social concern, debt and savings, diligence and justice, property rights and the common good. Christians must discern applications in their local and national context.

Whole-life discipleship (there is really no other kind) is a vision that sees all of life under the reign of king Jesus (Col 3:17-24). As we plant and revitalize churches, we want to equip God’s people for flourishing in all of life. We must also recognize that godly character, good self-understanding, and professional flexibility are critical to the future. With so many changes in the local and global economy, pastors need wisdom so they can learn from other members of the body and prepare congregants for a changing world.

5 principles for pastors, planters, and revitalizers

Here are some starting points to continue this journey toward wisdom:

  • As we disciple, let’s make sure the biblical foundations of work are established, from God’s original design, to the effects of sin, the power of redemption, and the reality of the inherent goodness of work in the eternal kingdom.
  • Let’s connect our discipleship efforts – sermons, Bible studies, small groups, mentoring – with the formation of Christian character at work.
  • Pastors and spiritual leaders, you are the “CLOs” – the “Chief Listening/Learning Officers” – of your community.  Intentionally gather women and men into vocational or occupational groups and prayerfully listen to see how God is working in their fields.
  • As part of outreach and mission, work together with other agencies to resource efforts to improve the economy. One local church created a sustainable business incubator. Another church works with the local welfare office, offering financial counseling for recipients and helping them connect with opportunities. When help people with their daily work, the credibility of the gospel is enhanced.
  • Economic wisdom includes how church resources are managed. Prayerfully consider how the Lord is leading. Facilities and salaries are good, but if certain principles are in place at the foundation – including giving to missions outside of your community – it is likely the Lord will entrust more resources in the years ahead.

We were called to God’s kingdom for this moment of completing the Great Commission – through the congregants who fill our pews each Sunday, and who wake up and work each day. May we grow in wisdom and knowledge as we plant and revitalize churches, integrating every area of life for the glory of God and the building up of his kingdom through every good endeavor.

Reprinted from Made to Flourish.

Charlie Self serves as director of city expansion at Made to Flourish, bringing leadership to our efforts to expand our regional networks into new cities. Charlie is an ordained minister with the Assemblies of God. He has served as an associate and senior pastor in several congregations in California, Oregon and Washington, D.C., and has served as an interim pastor six times. He currently also serves as professor of church history at The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary in Springfield, Missouri, where he teaches courses in apologetics, church history, mission history, leadership development, and discipleship. He is also co-developer of discipleship dynamics, a new research-based tool for churches and individuals to assess the effectiveness of their discipleship programs. Charlie is the author of three books: The Divine Dance, The Power of Faithful Focus (with co-author Les Hewitt) and his most recent work with The Acton Institute, Flourishing Churches and Communities: A Pentecostal Primer on Faith, Work and Economics for Spirit-Empowered Discipleship.

He has an M.A. in history on the church and social change in Latin America (1992) and Ph.D. in modern European history, with foci on Belgian Protestantism and studies in virtue ethics and the holocaust (1995), from the University of California, Santa Cruz. He also has an M.A. in philosophical and systematic theology from The Graduate Theological Union and Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, California.

Charlie is married to Kathleen, a professional artist, and they have been married and on mission for 36 years. They have three adult children.

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