INTERVIEW: Faith in the Real World – Irish Bible Institute, with Seán Mullen, Damian Jackson and Patrick Mitchel
If any of you read my blog (please say someone does?!) you’ll know that the whole theme of ‘Faith & Work’ is hugely important to me. I have previously written about lessons from being a Pastor and a Salesman and how working for a corporation is like working for a church. And it’s something we teach on regularly at Christ City Church.
There are two main reasons I am passionate about faith and work, which I outline in an earlier post;
- Work matters to God – from the start of the Bible to the end God himself is a worker (a gardener, carpenter, fisherman and city builder) which gives huge dignity to our work. And he wants us to worship him with our work, bless others through our work and find personal satisfaction in our work. The physical resurrection of Jesus is the final proof that the material world matters to God and he wants us to continue his work of bringing order out of chaos, beauty from blackness and fullness from emptiness through our everyday lives and work.
- God matters to work – Colossians 3:23 sums it up so well when it says “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” God wants to be involved in our work, give us strength and inspiration for our work, give us a worldview with which to redeem the best bits of our work for his glory and use the workplace as an opportunity to share his love to others. Work is probably the thing we spend most time doing in any given week (40-60 hours) and God wants to be involved with the thing that takes up most of our lives (Note, work here is defined as paid and unpaid, voluntary and professional, work in the home and work in the office, and I am also talking about work at university and school, ie. studies).
With all that in mind I was delighted to hear about the upcoming Irish Bible Institute event called Faith In The Real World, with three superbly chosen speakers who are all good friends of mine. Seán Mullan was a Pastor and Director of the Evangelical Alliance Ireland and then left all that to become a social entrepreneur and start Third Space (which I have written about before). Damian Jackson was a software engineer for many years, left that to pursue a PhD in immigration and the church’s response and is now doing post-doctoral studies in the ethics of technology. And Patrick Mitchel is a doctor of theology and lecturer of biblical studies at IBI. What a great combination for 48 hours of looking at “Faith in the Real World.”
In preparation for the event I got to interview the three of them and this is what they said.
(1) What has been the biggest challenge for you relating your faith to the real world and why?
Seán – The challenge of thinking through how what God is doing in his world connects to what I do every day. What are the points of connection? Is what Jesus teaches about truly viable as a way of living daily in the world I live and work in? What’s my role in ensuring that it happens?
Damian – I think the biggest challenge for me personally has been my own fear. I’ve always been afraid of rejection and exclusion from the group and being a Christian is obviously a marker of difference. So being open about my faith in an everyday life context has been something that took me a long time to dare to do, and then learn to do. I’d become very good at hiding it!
Patrick – Good question. On the one hand I have experienced how the Christian faith makes deep down sense of life. It makes sense of the world we live in; who I am, the value and dignity of people; how broken and unjust this world is and how we long for a better just world. It speaks fantastic good news of a redeeming God acting to overcome injustice, sin and death through self-giving sacrificial love. What I find hardest is the gulf between that good news and where friends and neighbours are at; where that story is vaguely known and dismissed as irrelevant to life.
(2) When and why did you have the lightbulb moment of realising God wants you in the real world, not just in the church world?
Seán – Long story but my “call” back to paid work in the non-religious world was the most clear “call” I have ever had in my life – I knew I had to do it.
Damian – I escaped the real world after ten years as a software engineer to do a PhD! It was something that one of my interviewees said to me during my research that lit the bulb for me. She said that in her experience it was when people of faith worked at grass roots level to make society more loving and reflective of God’s character (in this case working with undocumented migrants) that change came about in society and that that was more effective than a ‘top down’ approach lobbying politicians. I realised that that was how Jesus worked with his twelve ordinary followers and that’s still how he works today, through the interactions of his followers with other people in daily life.
Patrick – I haven’t had so much a lightbulb moment as a dimmer switch gradually turned up to shine a light on Jesus and his kingdom. I’ve spent most of my working life in ‘full-time Christian ministry’ and in active church leadership involvement. It’s been and is a joy and privilege. So it’s not that church work is unreal. There’s so much ‘real’ stuff that goes on in ministry which is essentially having deep involvement in real people’s lives. But it is seeing that work within a much bigger picture. God’s agenda is big – bigger than we can imagine. We pray ‘Thy kingdom come’ – but do we realise what we are saying? It is that God’s mission is to redeem all of this world, even creation itself. And Christians therefore have a great big grand exciting mission – to be God’s kingdom people witnessing to Christ who is Lord of all wherever he has put us.
(3) As you look at Dublin, both the church scene and the “real world” scene, where do you think there is lack of integration? What can we do about it?
Seán – I think the key places where there is a lack of integration is in the minds of people, both church people and society in general. There is an operating understanding that God turns up when we “get religious”, when we gather in certain places, do certain activities. But the idea that he might turn up at eleven on a Monday morning while I’m at a desk on the phone dealing with a frustrated customer doesn’t seem to be a natural way of thinking. And the idea that Jesus knows better than anyone else how to best deal with that situation doesn’t enter our thinking easily. And society in general thinks that God has a “sector” where he is allowed to operate and the rest of the sectors of life, the secular sectors, are none of his business.
Damian – I think that often we’re very good at preventing the collisions from becoming visible (well I am anyway!), particularly in the workplace where we sense a hostility to a faith-based life (which may often be in our imagination). We hope that this workshop will enable us to find ways of letting that collision happen – letting our faith’s impact on what’s happening around us affect our words and actions so that it will be visible to others – in a way that demonstrates Christ’s love for those we encounter in our everyday lives.
Patrick – So much of church life can revolve around the ‘sacred’ activities of the church. But all of life is spiritual, and much of it is dominated by work. I think we haven’t really integrated how Christian faith connects to the modern-day world of work. That’s what happens in the ‘secular’ world. Church life can marginalise the spiritual, ethical, relational and business challenges that people face every week. Church is not a place to be safe from that world, but to equip and resource Christians to be out in that world, facing those challenges, living kingdom of God lives for Jesus.
(4) What is the biggest practical tip you have ever received for being a disciple in the real world?
Damian – If you can let people know you’re a Christian early on when you find yourself in a new context, like a new job, then everything else is much easier and living out your faith in your everyday life is much more natural and straightforward.
Patrick – My wife shows it to me every day. Don’t get all complicated, listen to and love real people wherever God has placed you.
(5) Why should someone come on this day?
Seán – Because your thinking and your experience matters in this conversation. We need to develop better ways of thinking of and speaking of the things we believe about Jesus and his message in Dublin in 2015. Everyone who lives and works in that world has something to bring to the table – your bit matters.
Damian – Well, we don’t have all the answers but we do have some! We’ve thought about this stuff for a long time and tried, failed and succeeded in living out our faith along the way. But the best reason to come along is because when we get together in a loving an open environment, share our experiences and ask our questions then we all learn and are equipped and encouraged.
Patrick – My prayer is that together we can catch a clearer vision of God’s heart for the world. And that each one of us can be encouraged and inspired to see more clearly our own God-given mission wherever we live and work.
So what are you waiting for? You can sign up here – it’s happening on Friday & Saturday 5-6 June 2015, 10.00am-4.30pm.