Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.


Vocational Stewardship Beyond Piety to Public Good


Amy L. Sherman

05-13-2011


May 13, 2011
by Amy L. Sherman

Christians believe that God is on mission to bring restoration to every sector of life—and that following Jesus means joining Him on that mission. We need more creative thinking about what this means for our daily labors. Too often, counsel on integrating faith and work is exclusively pietistic. It’s about the kind of workers we should be: faithful, honest, caring, and evangelizing. While important, this says little about the work itself—and how it might be stewarded for the common good. Whether we’re architects or bankers or artists, we need to ask: What foretastes of the coming Kingdom could I facilitate through my vocation?

Nehemiah’s story of the rebuilding of the city wall around Jerusalem is illuminating here. Without a strong city wall, Jerusalem was not a place of shalom. As my friend Rev. Scott Seaton of Emmanuel Presbyterian Church explains, in the ancient world, “walls and gates helped create a safe environment for a prosperous community not just economically, but socially, educationally, and spiritually.” Moved by the people’s suffering, Nehemiah mobilized city residents to partner in a massive rebuilding effort. Importantly, people of many different occupational talents engaged in the work, such as priests, public officials, perfume-makers, goldsmiths, and merchants.

Today, we don’t have physical walls around our communities. Instead, other features provide strength and health to our society: the economic and political system, our schools, the arts and nonprofit sectors, the media, and the legal and healthcare systems. Each of these societal sectors is like a section on the city “wall,” and all must flourish if people are to enjoy tastes of shalom. Through our various vocations, we have opportunity to take our places on the city “wall” and promote the common good.

Perry Bigelow, a suburban homebuilder in metro Chicago, illustrates this beautifully. For decades he has thought strategically and biblically about how to design and build communities that reflect Kingdom values. To promote creation care, Bigelow Homes incorporate numerous “green” building practices that produce highly energy efficient homes. To promote community over hyper-individualism, Bigelow Homes have big front porches and Bigelow subdivisions boast narrow streets, wide sidewalks, and lots of common green space. All this facilitates pedestrian traffic and spontaneous meetings of neighbors.

Bigelow’s method of suburban development is also deliberately designed to benefit the local municipality. By building diverse size homes, Bigelow increases the total number of property-tax-paying units on their land tracts. The diversity also means these subdivisions are demographically heterogeneous. Typical suburban subdivisions have very high numbers of families with school-age children. By contrast, Bigelow subdivisions contain singles, childless couples, and seniors as well as families—meaning they place less of a burden on local schools.

Christians in all sorts of vocations can seek to strengthen and/or repair their parts of the city “wall” by intentionally advancing Kingdom values. Christian bankers in Atlanta are promoting economic sufficiency by designing a microloan program for innercity entrepreneurs. Don De Graff, mayor of South Holland, IL, is promoting unity in his ethnically diverse town by supporting community suppers and neighborhood block parties—and by keeping close tabs on real estate practices to guard against any racially based housing discrimination. Screenwriter Barbara Nicolosi is influencing the arts section of the city “wall.” Through her innovative Act One program, she is seeding Hollywood with skilled Christian artists who bring to their films a deep theology of fall and redemption. Interior designer Cynthia Leibrock is championing mobility for the elderly and disabled by persuading peers in her field to adopt aging-in-place strategies. And business owner Justin Kitch has blessed his city by sharing his employees with it. He gives workers two hours of paid time off each week to volunteer in local nonprofits.

Our communities certainly need ethical professionals—and Christians should set a high standard. With greater creativity and intentionality, though, we can offer our communities even more: vocational stewardship that strengthens the public commons.

—Dr. Amy L. Sherman is a Senior Fellow with the Sagamore Institute. Her new book, Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good, releases from IVP in December. 

 



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