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Statement from the Lausanne Regional Consultation on the Teaching of Theology of Work

Held on 31 July - 2 August 2013, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

A. Introduction

The Lausanne Regional Consultation on the Teaching of Theology of Work was conceived at the Boston Meeting in 2011, after conversations of finding ways to advance the Cape Town Commitment in the area of “Truth and the Workplace.” This consultation topic was selected in particular because of its relevance and significance in the context of South East Asia.

A desired outcome of this consultation is to chart a fresh way forward in renewing the relevance of theological education for the equipping of God’s people, who spend most of their waking hours in the workplace.

As a pilot initiative, this consultation seeks to identify the major gaps and inadequacies in the existing mode and curriculum in seminaries, Bible colleges and graduate schools, as well as non-school settings, in the integration of workplace theology with various traditional subjects.

It also seeks to catalyze and encourage the sharing of ideas, resources, and collaboration between the stakeholders within the region, with a view of bridging the gaps and needs.

B. Affirmation

We hereby affirm the statement on “Truth and the Workplace” in the Cape Town Commitment:

“The Bible shows us God’s truth about human work as part of God’s good purpose in creation. The Bible brings the whole of our working lives within the sphere of ministry, as we serve God in different callings. By contrast, the falsehood of a ‘sacred-secular divide’ has permeated the Church’s thinking and action. This divide tells us that religious activity belongs to God, whereas other activity does not. Most Christians spend most of their time in work which they may think has little spiritual value (so-called secular work). But God is Lord of all of life. ‘Whatever you do, do it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men,’ said Paul, to slaves in the pagan workplace.” (2011, p 35)

We want to affirm that much progress has been made globally with regard to workplace ministry with many new initiatives in this region amongst others, though we recognize much still remains to be done.

We believe that it takes the combined efforts of every component of the Church to encourage and strengthen believers in the workplace.

C. Encouraging Developments

Here are the specific encouragements related to South East Asia:

  1. The Theology of Work Project involving some Asian writers has now almost completed putting the whole Bible on the internet free with articles on each book as to how it reveals the purpose of work. 
  2. Some local churches in South East Asia are taking the empowerment of people Monday to Friday seriously as well as teaching theology of work (e.g., a church in Kuala Lumpur that interviews and prays for ordinary members about their work life every Sunday).
  3. Theological schools in the Philippines, for example, are incorporating theology of work into their core curriculum, so that future pastors will understand the meaning of the engagement of the people of God in the workplace and be better able to empower them so to do (e.g., PTS & Advanced Studies, Manila).
  4. There are innovative programmes in some theological schools in Asia, such as the MBA program sponsored by Asia Theological Seminary in Manila, with social transformation and theology of work at the core.
  5. Some theological schools have incorporated marketplace ministry tracks incorporating theology of work as an essential part either as an elective or in core courses (e.g., Malaysia Bible Seminary in Kuala Lumpur).
  6. Non-governmental organizations have been formed to educate and advocate on specific aspects of theology of work, such as Transparency International, dealing with corruption and bribery.
  7. Consultants are emerging to mentor companies engaged in Business as Mission (“BAM”), Missional Business, or Transformational Business.
  8. At least one theological school, Bible Graduate School of Theology in Singapore, has made people in workplaces, professions and business as their exclusive target for graduate theological education with theology of work as its core, taught in a variety of courses but specifically in one entitled “Vocation, Work and Ministry.”
  9. Alpha in South East Asia has developed a marketplace track which is taking ordinary people in the context of their workplace though a series of studies, in the context of community, leading to a whole life discipleship/integration of faith.
  10. Bi-vocational or “tentmaking” pastors are emerging who combine work in the world with church leadership and thus model as well as teach theology of work.
  1. Graduates' Christian Fellowships throughout the region and beyond, such Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, South Korea, Japan, etc, are pioneering and leading the East Asia region to equip professionals to take the whole of life calling into the workplace seriously and engage in being salt and light in the community or nation where they are.

D. Needs and Gaps

Matters considered during the consultation beyond regional reporting (in some cases papers or transcripts are available) included the following:

  1. The need for theology of work in theological colleges and seminaries.
  2. Theological Resourcing for Life in the Marketplace.
  3. Models of theological education in Scripture, in history, and in the world today.
  4. The consideration of the workplace itself as a theological educator (questions raised, values formation, spiritual formation, relationships, ethical development, fruitfulness/productivity, conflict, and life issues).
  5. Doing theology from bottom up (doing theological reflection on work using case studies, life, and work situations) as well as top down (applying the great themes of Biblical theology to work life).
  6. Cultural considerations and the many varieties of capitalism were considered (e.g., in Sabah, East Malaysia, many people still operate under the patron-client relationship).
  7. A theology of matter and how a right theology of matter precedes a good theology of work (we are dealing with an objectively real world, the dichotomy of matter and spirit, the hierarchy in nature, the continuity and discontinuity between Gen 1-2 and Rev 21-22).
  8. Corruption, bribery, and the systemic nature of evil in the workplace. A noted explanation revolved around Daniel’s work in an unsupportive culture. His work was considered “neither corrupt nor negligent” (Dan. 6:4) and how both competency and honesty are needed, and how a competent person can usually function honestly while failure in one or the other—competent but not honest, or honest but not competent—is unsatisfactory for dealing with complex and grey areas in the marketplace.     
  9. Developing an approach to ethics in the workplace that is mission-controlled rather than damage-controlled. 
  10. Resources for further development of theology of work, business career planning, and church-resourcing: books, articles, courses, websites, and people.

E. Call to Action

In our proceedings and discussions, these are the key areas that are identified and therefore, a call to action in each of the following areas:

1. Church

  1. Lack of teaching on the theology of work and not understanding the implications for ministry and missions through the daily lives of believers.
  2. Practical dualism between what is taught as theology of work and what is practiced.
  3. Theological dualism concerning vocation leading to unhealthy emphasis of so-called “full-time” ministry while ignoring valid calling into other vocations.
  4. Lack of recognition and affirmation of the believers' role and gifting in their spheres of influence within their societies as agents of transformation and workers in the Kingdom.

2. Workplace Ministries

  1. Insufficient role models and mentors who are integrating faith and work. Workers find it hard to see how Christian principles can be lived out in the workplace. Therefore, they are not able to work with integrity and excellence, and craft policies that embody biblical values.
  2. Many workplace ministries operate in isolation.
  3. Christians in the workplace need to learn and acquire a proper understanding of theology of work, and recognize the important role of theological education as a strong basic foundation for their life and workplace ministry.

3. Mission agencies and Missional Businesses

  1. While applying new methodologies, the old paradigm of saving souls as the highest priority has not changed, thus creating dissonance in purpose and expectations of outcomes. Hence, applying "job faking" or "business as visa" undermines the integrity of tentmakers and BAMers.
  2. Tentmakers and BAMers should be encouraged to be well grounded in their basic understanding of theology of work before deployment to the mission field.

4. Seminaries and Theological Educators

  1. There is inadequate teaching and integration of the theology of work in the curriculum, and therefore the seminaries are not keeping up with the realities and demands of Asian societies.
  2. Some theological educators feel inadequate to address workplace issues because they have little experience in the workplace.
  3. There is a resistance to changing curriculum because of the efforts needed without fully appreciating the need to do so.
  4. Lack of indigenous writing and research, and inadequate financial resources, are often a stumbling block.

The various units in each area are encouraged to network, share information and resources, and explore possibilities of collaboration to bridge the needs and gaps described above.

Report by: Philip Chang, International Deputy Director – South East Asia
and Timothy Liu, Senior Associate for Marketplace Ministry,
On behalf of the Participants of the Lausanne Regional Consultation,
Held on 31 July - 31 August 2013 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Dated: 11 August 2013