The "Quote/Unquote" Interview: Equipping Christians for Kingdom Purpose in Their Work

Phil Miglioratti (The Reimagine.Network) Interviewed authors Thomas Lutz and Heidi Unruh

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"I began to read the Bible quite differently than my pastor friends. They tended to read and teach the Bible as if it were written only to church members."

PHIL >>> Tom, I would describe your experience as a Spirit-led reimagining of Holy Scripture. What led to this revelation?

TOM >>> I think it grew out of the context in which I prepared my sermons and discipleship teaching material. I was bi-vocational, starting a business while pastoring a church, so much of my sermon preparation occurred at my desk in my workplace outside the church. It was only natural to create illustrations from or apply my teaching to that context—the salesperson I just interacted with, the customer I just served, the employee I just encouraged, the vendor I just paid. It was only years later that I realized that Jesus too taught this way, having spent 18 years as a builder before launching his Kingdom crusade. Pastors who work full time at church do the same thing, except for them the context is very different. In an attempt to be relevant to their congregation they illustrate from or apply to what they have in common with their members, i.e. their hobbies, family and church life. But since they don’t work “outside the church,” work-related applications and illustrations go wanting.




"My dream is that vocational discipleship can ignite a movement that showing up for work means

showing up for love of God, creation, and neighbor."


PHIL >>> How is "vocational" discipleship different from "church" discipleship...and why should it matter to church leadership?


As Tom indicated in his answer above, we aren’t saying that church-centered discipleship is wrong, just incomplete and inadequate for where connecting with people where they spend a significant portion of their time. Our book includes a quote from Skye Jethani that addresses your question: Most of our church ministries are designed to make people into little pastors. We take our calling as pastors to teach the Bible, to evangelize, to teach the faith, and we replicate ourselves in our people. We teach them how to study the Bible, how to teach the Bible, how to lead small groups, how to share their faith.

In contrast, vocational discipleship is equipping people to be followers of Christ as workers. We need vocational discipleship because how we live out our faith on the job matters to God—a lot. Learning to be Christ-like at work is not incidental or optional for discipleship; it is an essential crucible for spiritual formation.




"We agree with Amy Sherman's blunt assessment: 'DIscipleship that doesn’t equip people for the activity they spend forty percent of their waking hours doing is not discipleship.'"

10266490078?profile=RESIZE_400xPHIL >>> Please unpack a scripture that undergirds this assessment. 

TOM >>> 

In this regard the most compelling verse, to me, is Ephesians 4:11-12: “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, …” Taken as it is often read as to prepare God’s people for works of ministry, or good deeds,” one might think it contradicts what Amy says. However, if we look a bit deeper in fact it confirms her words.

The pivotal phrase is the Greek phrase “ergon diakonias”. My undergraduate work was in Classical Greek. In seminary we are taught Koine Greek. I call it church Greek. That usually results in churchy sounding translations. I have a habit of always consulting a Classical Greek dictionary when I begin studying a word. This is the sort of dictionary that Paul would have found on his shelf. In that resource you will learn that the primary meaning of “ergon” is “that which one normally does for a job”. You would also learn that diakonias meant “to be of service”, kind of like our term “customer service”. So, I think Paul in fact was saying that the role of gifted Kingdom workers is to prepare God’s people to do jobs that are of service, or as I would put it, that create flourishing. That’s what most Christians do in forty percent of their waking hours.

HEIDI >>> 

Hebrews 10:24 is one passage that speaks directly to the role of discipleship: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (NIV). Here we also encounter the Greek word ergon. As Tom exegeted above, this is not merely synonymous with church or charitable activities, but also includes literally “work” in the sense of tasks undertaken for a job. Ergon is here accompanied by the word “good” (kalon), meaning it is valuable, worthy, virtuous, morally beautiful. As Christians, we are to encourage one another to do good work in a good way.

I also learned a lot from the book of Titus in the process of writing this book. Paul is discipling Titus to be a discipler, and in his short letter, “good work” appears five times! For example, in Titus 2:11–14, Paul says that God’s grace teaches people to live in a godly way as they put their hope in Jesus, “who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity and purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds.” Here again is the same phrase as Hebrews 10:24, kalon ergon: getting useful work done in a way that multiplies goodness. Good work that helps God’s world to flourish is the outcome of good leadership in the church.


"I offer tribute to the many image-bearers I know who struggle daily with difficult, unfulfilling jobs."

PHIL >>> Heidi, how can this book also be a resource for women and men Christ-servants who live most of their day in the workplace/at their job?


First, I hope that all can find encouragement in knowing that their work matters to God, and is part of God’s eternal Kingdom plan. We have this preconceived notion that being super-spiritual means devoting time to prayer, reading Scripture and talking to others about God. Yet a fresh reading of the Bible shows clearly that our spiritual (God-imaging, Jesus-imitating, Spirit-filling) nature is also expressed in part through work. Some of the most super-spiritual people I know are those who serve Christ as they do thankless service jobs.

Second, I hope this book encourages Christians who are employers, influencers and decision-makers to respect the image of God in every worker, and to help create conditions where all who do honest labor can thrive.


"The world needs a church that sends out image-bearers who are productive in God-honoring kingdom-purposed work. Vocational disciplers are the hands and feet of this mission."

PHIL >>> Tom, why the use of the term image-bearer throughout the book? And how could the use of this term by disciplers influence  how they approach disciple-making?

TOM >>> 

One thing that distinguished the original humans from non-human creation was that they were made “in the image of God.” In the garden, God gave these image bearers three assignments: 1) This place is empty—so create abundance for the benefit of all; 2) this place is dangerous and incomplete—therefore subdue it, tame it by corralling forces like wind, water, electricity etc. for the benefit of all; and finally 3) this world has infinite potential, placed by an infinite God—therefore cultivate all that potential for the benefit of all. Theologians call these commands, collectively, the creation mandate. When the image bearers fulfill these commands, what the Bible calls “shalom” or flourishing occurs. Everyone has a call to contribute to the flourishing of all. After God spoke these words, he pronounced the image bearers blessed and announced that now the world was “very good”. God therefore defined all human activity in the world aligned with His creation mandate as spiritual. Too often present-day believers don’t understand that. When I say spiritual, they think nonphysical. When I say redemption they think, exclusively, sharing the Gospel of forgiveness of sins. When I say heaven, they think disembodied. The net result of this meta-narrative is they subconsciously think that spiritual stuff, stuff that really matters to God, is what happens at church on nights and weekends. When people grasp this role as image bearer, suddenly “spirituality invades all of their lives”, as a man I discipled stated it. All legitimate work finds a home in this creation mandate perspective, therefore everyone, from Sanitary Engineer to Brain Surgeon, find that God smiles on their work. Therefore, seeing myself as an image bearer makes a great difference.

If a discipler is not conscious of this distinction he runs the risk of reinforcing a limited view of spirituality. When we truly disciple people all for all of their life we become a “vocational discipler”. Dorothy Sayers tells us that failing to disciple believers for all of their lives results in a perception that the Gospel is irrelevant because, as she says,” it only applies to 10% of one’s life”. When believers enter their workplace, not seeing it as a godless desert but as a place where they can enjoy God and glorify him forevertruly understanding that God wants the work done well, for His glory and the flourishing of His beloved creation—then they are doing what Jesus instructs in the sermon on the Mount: let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. When believers work with this motivation the result is as 1 Peter 3:15 suggests, that people will ask for an explanation for the hope that is within us. So, if you are a church leader, one of the best ways to increase the evangelistic impact of your congregation is to teach this image bearer perspective.


"Being. Knowing. Doing."

PHIL >>> How do these terms describe the primary objectives of making disciples?

TOM >>> 

Most religions take their starting point in Doing or Knowing. Your doing determines your being, i.e. you earn your being or you become what you do. Or secret knowledge determines your being; you become what you know. Christianity is unique in that God first changes our being and then, and only then, can our mind be renewed resulting in God-honoring behavior. It is essential that, as disciplers, we begin with the need for heart change. Only after the disciple has been “born again” can the discipler begin to shape their thinking and acting. When people have been renewed by Christ, they can more fully grasp what it means to be created in God’s own image, as God’s beloved children, and then to live out of that awareness of who they are.


"Structure. Style. Substance."

PHIL >>> Instead of a set program, why do you offer disciplers a range of options to build effective formats?


Both Tom and I come from a coaching perspective, which probably shapes this approach. I’m not anti-program. I just think the people who read this book will come up with far better ways of implementing the core ideas in their own context than we could prescribe.


"Who Are You? What Is Your Purpose? How WIll You Fulfill Your Purpose"

PHIL >>> How do these three questions equip disciplers?

TOM >>> 

Since these questions make up the majority of the book, I’m hard pressed to give a short answer! But maybe to put it simply: Who are you? defines your essence, your why are you here”? This is the foundation for all you do, that will get you out of bed in the morning. The answer is you are a beloved image bearer of God, redeemed by God, to whom has been given the charge of causing the flourishing of the world God loves. Pretty compelling stuff. Once the disciple has grasped this defining self-concept then we explore What is your purpose? We might also use the word your mission. In other words, what part are you called to play in God’s kingdom? This has both a broad sense in the overall biblical story and the specific way each individual is called to contribute to the flourishing of God’s world. Finally, we can refine it down to How will you fulfill your purpose? In other words we get down to details and tactics of how best to accomplish the compelling work the disciple is called to do.


PHIL >>> How do these three questions empower image-bearers?


When we start with “who are you as an image bearer?” we build on the foundation that God created people to be “very good,” and empowered them to develop and sustain a world of beauty and abundance. As image-bearers who work in God’s kingdom, we’re not just treading water in a fallen world, waiting to be delivered to eternal rest in heaven. Every day we can get up and tackle our work knowing that it has a good purpose. Even the struggles we face in the workplace are part of how God is forming us so that we can better fulfill that purpose. There’s a thread that connects our mundane daily work all the way back to the garden, through the cross and all the way forward to the heavenly city.

"This is not discipleship for the status quo. Inviting people to follow Jesus in their work may lead to radical shifts in how believers see themselves (and others) ... and how their work connects with the Gospel story. This calling requires people who have the courage of their convictions as well as openness to ongoing renewal in their own lives."


PHIL >>> It takes courage to reimagine discipleship. What reward awaits those who take the risk?

TOM >>> 

If you have a discipler’s heart you love nothing better than seeing a disciple make big jumps into areas of greater spirituality. People are often skeptical of this message. Mostly because all their lives they have heard that what is spiritual is what happens at church. But be persistent and you will see God grow amazing fruit. It’s like being a boss developing future leaders as you see several of them step up into great company responsibility. We help our disciples get promoted into greater Kingdom participation and the immense satisfaction that comes from knowing that they are productively doing work that God wants done.

HEIDI >>> 

Well, consider the story in Acts 16 when Paul rebukes the evil spirit that had long possessed a woman. The evil spirit had led her to do work as a fortune teller, which distorted her purpose because this is not work that honors God. As a slave, her owners defined her worth only as a tool for their profit, not as their equal endowed with God’s image. When Paul and Silas upended the status quo by freeing her from this oppressive, blasphemous work of fortune-telling, their reward was to be attacked by a mob, beaten and thrown into prison. But from that came the greater reward of seeing this woman freed to live out what God had created her to be and to do. This also led to bringing salvation to their jailer, his household and other witnesses, as well as strengthening the new church.

Long story short: the path of vocational discipleship is costly but leads ultimately to joy and glory. And when we disciple others to make tough choices in pursuit of their kingdom purpose, this often has long-term ripple effects beyond what we can see.


" __________"

PHIL >>> Anything else you want to say?

TOM >>> 

Thanks for allowing us to share about our passion for vocational discipleship with your readers.


HEIDI >>> 

Coming alongside Tom on this book has transformed my perspective on work in many ways. For example, I think differently about youth ministry. How are we helping our young people to affirm who they are as image-bearers, and to discover how God has designed them with gifts to apply to their education and career plans (Eph. 2:10)? Along with the usual virtues we try to instill in our youth, I see a need for youth discipleship to include teachings about God’s plan for work with integrity, generosity and justice. In addition to involving youth in volunteer service projects, youth leaders can affirm that they also serve God when they do their schoolwork and household chores with diligence. Help them see how they make a difference to the flourishing of the world, not just when they go on mission trips, but in their daily tasks. Raise up this generation to lead the way with vocational discipleship!


"In Jesus name ..."

PHIL >>> Please lead us in a prayer we can make our own as we pray with you.

TOM >>> 

Lord, take this offering of the work of our hands (and brains) and use it to bring Kingdom flourishing to this world you love.

HEIDI >>> 

May we spur one another on to do good work in a good way.


Tom Lutz (DMin, Covenant Theological Seminary) brings decades of entrepreneurial experience to his work coaching marketplace leaders as a Convene CEO Roundtable chair and through his consulting company, Vision Planners. Tom also teaches biblical studies at Metro Atlanta Seminary and leads workshops to help Christians work with purpose. 

Heidi Unruh is a ministry consultant, trainer and coach who specializes in helping the people of God care well for neighbors and work toward the flourishing of their community.

Heidi Unruh interviews on The Reimagine.Network

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    Excerpted from Chapter 3 of "Equipping Christians for Kingdom Purposes in Their Work" by Tom Lutz & Heidi Uhruh

    Case Study

    Melissa took a deep breath and prayed for wisdom as she opened her
    twelve-year-old son’s door. “Let’s talk about the garden,” she said calmly as
    Derek looked up from his iPad.

    “Yeah, I kind of forgot about weeding,” he said, his attention going back to
    the screen. “Sorry. I’ll finish it later.”

    Melissa sorted through her thoughts. It was his third time “forgetting”
    tasks that week. Should she yell at him? Impound his iPad?

    “Derek, you are God’s unique creation and our beloved child, and you
    are a vital part of our family.” Melissa could see Derek’s expression was wary.
    He wasn’t sure where his mother was going with this. She continued speaking
    calmly. “Everyone in our family has their work to do. What makes your job of
    weeding the garden important?”

    “It . . . helps the plants grow better, I guess.”

    “Fewer weeds, more produce! Every time we eat a tomato, your work
    helped put it on the table. So we depend on you doing it well. Here, read this.”
    She handed her son her Bible, open to Genesis 2:15. He read aloud, “The
    Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”

    “See,” she said, smiling, “assigning you to weed the garden is not just my
    idea. You inherited the job from Adam, who got it from God. You are just the
    right person to do it.” There was a pause. “NOW.”

    As Derek scrambled out the door, Melissa thought: “And my assignment
    from God is tending this kid as he grows.”

    Core Discipleship Questions

    Vocational discipleship invites people to reclaim their identity as redeemed image-bearers and to discover their kingdom calling so they can fruitfully enact God’s purpose through their work. In this book, we lay out  a model of spiritual growth anchored in three core questions:

    1. Who Are You? Disciplers help people regard themselves as God’s redeemed image-bearers.
    2. What Is Your Purpose? Disciplers help people understand the kingdom purpose of their work.
    3. How Will You Fulfill Your Purpose? Disciplers walk with people to carry out the kingdom purpose of their work more faithfully and fruitfully.

    Parts two, three, and four of this book are organized according to this discipleship model, equipping disciplers to engage with people around these three core questions. Part five examines how disciplers can enable this model to sink in and produce change, including confronting false narratives about work. The appendices and the resource pages throughout the
    book provide practical tools to help carry out this approach to vocational discipleship.

    Being, Knowing, Doing

    One cannot be an authentic follower of Jesus and not experience change (Mark 8:34). Disciples experience transformation in three arenas: our being, our knowing, and our doing.

    Christians often have a vague sense of how they’re supposed to behave at work, but not who they should be at work. The first role of discipleship is to open their eyes to claim who they are as God’s redeemed image-bearers. Disciplers help people discover this powerful, foundational truth in a biblical context and how it relates to faithfulness in vocation. Disciplers support reflection on what it means to be an image-bearer on the job.

    At the end of my (Tom’s) class, one student wrote:

    I am always convicted, humbled, and encouraged by remembering that I bear God’s image. It is both a simple concept and a deeply moving concept, because remembering that you bear the image of God himself changes the implication of your entire life. It allows me to read the Scriptures in a new light, it allows me to work in a new light, and it allows me to be a believer in a new light.

    As this student discovered, seeing ourselves as God’s redeemed imagebearers can be a starting point for further growth.

    We’re immersed in a secular culture that drives people to seek success defined by profit, prestige, and comfort. Christians are also typically steeped in a religious culture that defines the aims of spiritual maturity in terms of being church-centered and other-worldly. In this context, discipleship searches the Scriptures and invites the Holy Spirit to help people to know
    God’s kingdom purpose for image-bearers.

    This transformative process involves more than sharing a few key verses or principles about faith-based work. Discipleship is rooted in a story that gives image-bearers purpose. Disciplers help people locate their specific vocational calling within the biblical “Big Story” (the gospel told in four chapters—creation, fall, redemption, restoration). From start to finish, from
    creation into new creation, the Bible points to four kingdom purposes for work:

    1. Glorify God
    2. Bless people
    3. Draw people to Christ
    4. Enable the world to flourish (build abundant community, establish order, develop potential from creation, and restore brokenness)

    Vocational discipleship takes these big ideas and zooms into the specific things people do every day to restore the goodness and cultivate the potential of God’s creation.

    In God’s kingdom, it’s never enough just to have spiritual insight or a pure heart—faithfulness is always revealed in action. Jesus declared, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt. 7:24). As people grasp that they are made in God’s likeness, equipped and empowered by loving grace
    to serve God’s kingdom purpose, they can dedicate themselves to pursuing it effectively. Disciplers guide people to faithfully and productively live out their calling, doing good work in a good way.

    How people work matters to God. Since work carries out God’s agenda, God wants to see it done well, and in a manner that reflects his image. Vocational discipleship cultivates Christ-likeness in people’s attitudes and actions in the workplace. A discipler must be prepared—like the prophets and like Jesus—to address tough issues of productivity, wealth, ethics, excellence, generosity, and fairness. Encourage people in practicing disciplines that will “keep [them] from being ineffective and unfruitful in [the] knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:8).

    Characteristics of Discipleship Built around Being, Knowing, and Doing

    Vocational discipleship in this model possesses four characteristics:

    (1) Relational; (2) Contextualized; (3) Integrative; and (4) Transformational.


    Vocational discipleship cannot be just a program or a curriculum. It requires a personal investment of time, transparency, and mutual accountability. “Disciples are made in relationships through personal, eyeball-toeyeball invitation.”

    Relational investment allows the discipler to customize to the person’s personality, needs, questions, and unique work situation. A relational approach also means that people will learn from your life as much as from your words. “The key to equipping is modeling. Most of what we learn is observed—caught, not taught. Jesus said, a disciple is not above his teacher but when he is fully trained he will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40).”

    Above all, discipleship requires you to authentically, self-sacrificially care for those God has entrusted to you. Work in this world is hard, and people are hurting. Sometimes a listening ear and affirming word is worth a hundred principles.

    Because the essence of discipleship is relational, this means you don’t have to wait for your church to start a faith and work program. Launching yourself as a vocational discipler is as simple as setting a time to connect.


    Vocational disciplers should seek to go to their workers’ turf and focus on their issues. Timothy Keller observes, “Many churches do not know how to disciple members without essentially pulling them out of their vocations and inviting them to become heavily involved in church activities. In other words, Christian discipleship is interpreted as consisting largely of activities done in the evening or on the weekend.”

    Learn as much as you can from the people you disciple about the jobs they do. Discipleship doesn’t consist simply of imparting wisdom; spend a good amount of time asking questions and listening. Whenever possible, vocational disciplers should enter the world of their workers because that is where God is moving. One way to contextualize discipleship is through a “Gospel@Work Day” (see Appendix B).


    Vocational discipleship integrates big ideas into the level of daily choices. Although it is rooted in broad theological principles, it always leads toward practical application in the work world. The focus on who people are as image-bearers also helps connect their work more seamlessly with other roles of their life (see Appendix B for an integrative Life Plan).

    Executive coach Daniel Steere noted after participating in Tom’s kingdom purpose discipleship group, “I’m more consistent now, because I have a better narrative to tie it back to. . . . I’ve done the homework, to go from a 30,000-foot view of my calling down to what do I do today.” The discipleship process gave him a “holistic framework for why I do what I’m doing.”


    I (Tom) had a professor who said the job of a teacher is to create cognitive dissonance: if you walked out of his class and your head wasn’t spinning, then he hadn’t done his job. As disciplers, we follow in the footsteps of Jesus, who sure made a lot of heads spin!

    We aren’t trying to be controversial or flashy for its own sake. But if we’re doing our job, then we’re going to challenge people’s assumptions and the false paradigms surrounding work. We’re going to unmask and confront idolatry and sin in the workplace. Disciplers have to be prepared to generate friction in order to shed light.

    As people grasp their kingdom purpose as redeemed image-bearers, they may be open to reconsider aspects of their working life: what work they do, how they do it, how they treat others on the job, what motivates them to work, and what they believe God expects from them as a worker. A vocational discipler walks with people through these shifts.

    Clear Purpose, Flexible Path

    There is no set program or model for vocational discipleship. To pursue their goal of “helping God’s people work well for him,” disciplers have a range of options for effective formats.

    • Structure: one-on-one, small group, class
    • Style: teacher, coach, chaplain, spiritual advisor, mentor, peer support
    • Substance: Bible study, book study, prepared curriculum, informal conversation

    There is no single correct order for tackling topics, or even a clear starting point, as people will best learn their kingdom purpose out of whatever their working life is throwing at them in the moment.

    Whatever path you walk with a follower of Jesus, you can find your way by returning to these three core markers of spiritual maturity in the ministry of their vocation:

    1. Who are you as a redeemed bearer of God’s image as you engage in your work?

    2. What is God’s kingdom purpose that you are called to fulfill through your work?

    3. How can you work productively, so that God is glorified and his beloved world flourishes?

    Note From Bob: You can order "Equipping Christians for Kingdom Purposes in Their Work"  today by clicking HERE

    Invitation for all of my African, European and Middle Eastern Friends:

    You are invited to join me for a "Leading With Questions" free webinar hosted by "be more Effective" in London, UK.   The time will be from 11 am to 12 noon London time.  Click HERE to register.  Everyone who registers will be sent a link to the recorded webinar!   Of course this means that no matter where you live on the Globe you can register and then view the recorded webinar at your convenience!

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    Tom Lutz (DMin, Covenant Theological Seminary) brings decades of entrepreneurial experience to his work coaching marketplace leaders as a Convene CEO Roundtable chair and through his consulting company, Vision Planners. Tom also teaches biblical studies at Metro Atlanta Seminary and leads workshops to help Christians work with purpose. You can connect with Tom on Facebook 

    Heidi Unruh is a ministry trainer and coach specializing in helping Christians care well for their communities. She develops practical resources to support faith-based outreach, helping leaders walk from ideas to action. She is the coauthor (with Dr. Tom Lutz) of Equipping Christians for Kingdom Purpose in Their Work: A Guide for...Heidi’s other books include Real Connections; Churches That Make a Difference; and Hope for Children in Poverty. She has a master’s degree in Theology & Public Policy from Palmer Seminary, and lives in Hutchinson, KS.



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