The decline of the American church is often overblown. However, we have felt a seismic shift in cultural values in the 21st century. Even in the ‘Bible Belt’, it can’t simply be presumed that most people’s moral frameworks are founded on even a hazy understanding of the Bible.
In looking for guidance in the behaviors of daily life, people simply don’t view the church as a relevant authority. Many assume that the church is interested only in superficial moral behavior or pious practices. Of course, the church may still be useful for individuals as a safe social environment or as an opportunity for spiritual inspiration or refreshment. But those experiences don’t begin to touch anyone’s actual, day-to-day lives.
In this climate, church leaders need to learn to study and proclaim how the gospel transforms our every thought and action, both individually and collectively. In looking at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have a new lens to expose the broken, destructive systems in which we participate, and we have a new vision for leading our world into flourishing. This message extends beyond personal moral behavior or spiritual disciplines; the gospel has enormous implications for our economy.
Management of the Home
Economics is bigger than Wall Street. It’s bigger than a jobs report or tax reform. Economics refers to the enormous and complex systems that manage how we interact with one another. Literally, the word means ‘management of the home.’
Christians should have a voice in this. The Bible teaches us to reverence our God-given task to steward creation, to seek justice, and to bear God’s Image in all we do. It’s a noble, weighty responsibility. To act as if humanity’s economic activity is outside of our sphere or (worse) to act as if it is beneath our notice is a betrayal of one of our most fundamental callings.
Churches and their leaders should be educated and prepared to advise and equip their members to do good, faithful work in their economic endeavors. And this will mean more than just platitudes of integrity and righteousness.
Fortunately, leaders are already engaging in this work. There’s Praxis, which describes itself as a creative engine to further ‘redemptive entrepreneurship.’ Born from the broader mission of Q Ideas which explores how the gospel engages our public sphere, Praxis offers training and resources for those wishing to build an organization. I was inspired just browsing the stories of some of their recent entrepreneurs.
When it comes to learning how your church can become more engaged, the Oikonomia Network is a partnership between theological educators and institutions who want to help pastors equip disciples for fruitful work and economic wisdom.
One of their initiatives, The Economic Wisdom Project, provides rich, clear teaching on integrating biblical teaching with contemporary economic contexts. Just reading their vision paper, I was blown away with the thoughtfulness and intentionality to move pastors to think about how they can begin speaking into the Monday-Friday lives of those in their charge.
The Economic Wisdom Project also has a book-length collection of essays to introduce the principles of economic wisdom to churches, as well as a series of TED-style talks from evangelical thought leaders.
The headlining thought partner with Oikonomia Network is Dallas Willard, perhaps the most well-known author and theologian on discipleship. At first blush, this could seem like an odd marriage; after all, why would someone so invested in the practice of spiritual disciplines wade into the world of dollars and cents?
But of course the answer is obvious—anyone who has truly committed themselves to a life of discipleship knows that it must be rooted in the mundane (literally, the worldly). If the call to follow Jesus does not alter how I approach buying groceries or negotiate contracts, then my life will remain fundamentally unchanged.
A pastor who understands how the gospel impacts our economic lives will be able to speak authoritatively into the most immediate aspects of individuals’ lives. Take, for example, Andy Crouch’s recent teaching for The Economic Wisdom Project. In this short talk, he uses the metaphor found in Isaiah 5 to expose the fragility of the economies we have built today and commend to us economic practices that will lead us to flourishing that will last. (He advocates for a ‘posterity gospel’, not a ‘prosperity gospel.’)
Yet, in the midst of this video largely concerned with how large-scale economies function, I couldn’t shake this thought: he’s talking about the human heart. The very same brokenness we see in enormous institutions that score huge profits with minimal creativity is the same deformity of our own wayward souls that settle for cheap thrills when glory is all around us.
I hope you’ll explore some of these resources and ask economic leaders in your church to help you understand what it would mean to live out the call of Christ in their contexts. For its own sake, the world needs a new economic vision—and it will have to come from us.