September 16, 2013

Redemptive Particularization

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“Where do you see the faith/work movement going in the next few years?” That was the question I was asked at a Q&A session following a speech I gave at a leadership event put on by WorkMatters.


My answer? A few things will change but the core mission of this movement will remain the same.

Let me get more specific, though.  Here’s where I see changes coming:

  • Language will change. Each generation needs to tag its own terms and stamp its own vernacular.  Terms and phrases and macro themes are constantly shifting.  Five hundred years ago, we were talking about the priesthood of the believer.  Fifteen years ago, we were talking about integrating faith and work. Then, we started talking about gospel-driven, and now I keep hearing “gospel-mindedness.”
  • Containers of ministry will change. Churches are sliding over into creating products, and businesses are sliding over into being missional.  Churches have executive pastors and businesses have cause and mission directors.
  • Expressions of gospel touch points will be nuanced.  Everybody wants a multiplier these days.  This is a good thing, and I think the trend will continue.  The stretch to touch the common good with our services and goods is transforming the way we think about business and ministry.  We don’t simply want to bring money in; we want to push good out.


These are three changes that I see coming, but the mission of the faith/work movement is (and should be) the same as it’s been for centuries.

Every generation has to figure out what it looks like for me to take the redemptive gospel into my particular work setting with my particular gift mix and calling.

It’s what I call redemptive particularization.

One story from the Gospels displays this idea better than any other.

In Luke 3, crazy man John the Baptizer is preaching the hard gospel to the crowds. Here’s what he says:

7-9 When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: “Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin. And don’t think you can pull rank by claiming Abraham as ‘father.’ Being a child of Abraham is neither here nor there—children of Abraham are a dime a dozen. God can make children from stones if he wants. What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire.”

That’s about as straightforward as you can get. Most preachers would have delivered that sermon and headed to lunch feeling great about the clear, straight message. But right before John jumps on his camel, a hand shoots in the air. I can hear John saying to himself, “This really wasn’t a Q&A session, guys, but go ahead, shoot. What you got?”

10 The crowd asked him, “Then what are we supposed to do?”

At that point most communicators would say, “Weren’t you listening? Did you miss my simple sermon? Listen to the podcast later if you missed it.”

The problem, though, was that the crowds heard it but didn’t know how to apply it. They asked the preacher to hit the application button. Tell me what to do.

11 “If you have two coats, give one away,” he said. “Do the same with your food.”

And that’s not the end. Twice more, people ask John to nuance the message to their “particular” situation.

12 Tax men also came to be baptized and said, “Teacher, what should we do? 13 He told them, “No more extortion—collect only what is required by law.” 14 Soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?” He told them, “No shakedowns, no blackmail—and be content with your rations.”

The crowd’s application was different from the tax collectors, who themselves had a different one from the soldiers. The in-port of redemption into three different cases had three different edges. The specific application varied according to the person and the job.

Sure, there are some universal commands, like the Big Ten from Exodus. But that’s just the start of the conversation.

You’ve got to take the message of the gospel and particularize it to your station in life. As this video explains, we’ve got to make our work part of our worship.

I have a good friend who’s a radio personality. He has to particularize the gospel for a small market media personality and a business owner who is recognizable everywhere around town.

I have another friend who runs a massive global company. He must particularize the edges of the gospel into his setting, all in harmony with his gifting, style, and calling.

In my mind, that question will always be the core of the faith/work movement (or whatever it’s called).

How do I take the truth of the gospel and particularize it to my station in life?

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