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  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.

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Saturday
Nov282015

Beautiful people, wonderful snow, and learning to read the story of Jesus

Yesterday I arrived in Arnoldshain just outside of Frankfurt, Germany. I am staying at Martin Niemöller Haus to speak at a conference on faith and work in a digital age hosted by the Evangelische Akademie Frankfurt.

It has been such a stimulating and challenging engagement so far. Prof Torsten Meireis (from Bern Switzerland) and I presented our papers last night.

I spoke about the importance of recapturing the notion of calling and vocation in work life. Luther insisted that God calls every person into the world daily. Up to the point of the Reformation the understanding was that God only called a few persons, such as nuns and monks, and that they were called to 'leave' the world behind. However after the Reformation the vita activa becomes as important for faithful Christian living as the vita contemplativa. The challenge is that slowly and subtly our attention turned from calling to vocation ('roeping tot beroep'). So we formed identity in our vocation - being the parent, being the teacher, being the worker. The notion of vocation is based on 1 Cor 7.20, we are to be faithful to God first. Our work is to be a means to that end, and not the end in itself. The following quote, translated from Prof Dirkie Smit's reflections on calling captures what I said:

God calls everybody, not only a select few, [according to Luther] and God calls them with a spiritual calling, and this spiritual calling is not a calling out of everyday life, rather it comes by way of everyday life, through the place and task in which persons find themselves. That is where they are called to be faithful and to honour God.  (own translation from Smit, 2003:9*)

By the way, the conference and proceedings are being done in German. ha ha! I managed my way through the presentations and the question and answer section with my very basic German! I learnt how to read French and German when I was busy with my graduate studies and did some work on Karl Rahner (in German) and Henri Le Saux (in French). But spoken German is an entirely different thing! My thanks to the participants for their patience!

It was wonderful to make new friends, Dr Gotlind Ulshöfer, Dr Brigitte Bertelmann and Dr Konstantin Broese among others. Such wonderful people!

The snow is lying thick on the ground! I tackled my jet lag yesterday by going for a beautiful walk in the forest in the afternoon. It was an act of 'holy leisure'.

Well, it is time to continue with the conference today, here is a quote that I came across that that may offer an invitation to a new way of reflecting on the story of Jesus:

When we learn to read the story of Jesus and see it as the story of the love of God, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves–that insight produces, again and again, a sense of astonished gratitude which is very near the heart of authentic Christian experience.

N.T. Wright

 

*2003. 6 Riglyne vir prediking oor Christelike roeping. Burger, C., Müller, B. & Smit, D.J. (eds.). Wellington: Lux Verbi

Monday
Feb072011

The ministry of a chaplain in the contemporary missional Church

For the past 3 years I have been seconded by the Methodist Church of Southern Africa to serve as a Chaplain.  My chaplaincy has been to a number of organisations (which are all connected with the work and ministry of Graham Power, a prominent Christian Businessman and member of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa).

I have served as the Chaplain to the Global Day of Prayer, the Unashamedly Ethical movement, to two of the teams that helped to arrange the Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, and to the 2000 employees of the Power Group of Companies.

I often get asked what a Chaplain is, and of course what a Chaplain does!  In particular people seem to find the concept of 'corporate', 'industrial' or 'business' Chaplaincy quite interesting.  Most people are familiar with military Chaplains, prison Chaplains, and hospital Chaplains.

What is a Chaplain?  A little bit of theology and history.

Before I talk about what I do let me give a little bit of background to the concept of Chaplaincy.  Most scholars trace this history of Chaplaincy to St Martin of Tours, a 4th century Roman soldier who was convereted to Christianity.  He was stationed in the North of France and tradition tells of how he encountered a destitute man at the gate of the city of Amiens one day.  He was filled with compassion for the poor, naked, man and so took his sword and cut his Roman cloak (capella) in half and gave one half to the shivering man.  The legend further suggests that the poor man that he helpded later revealed himself as Jesus (similar to what we read in Matthew 24:34-36).  St Martin was later ordained and allowed to minister outside of the 'gathered Church' in places of great need.  He became known as the keeper of the bisected cloak (the capellanus) - from which we derive the name 'Chaplain'.

It is interesting to note that Martin and his cohorts spread throughout the country meeting the needs of people and establishing places of worship (which where known as Chapels, after those who birthed and nurtured them, the Chaplains).  The Chapel this came out of the ministry of the Chaplain, and not the other way around as it is commonly assumed.

Robert Jones writes in the Journal, Epworth Review:

Here then is the initial feature of chaplaincy, that it first addresses the acute need with practical care. Secondly, it goes to where people are without wating for them to come where we are....  Finally, this story says something to us about status, for at the moment of the inception of [St Martin's] ministry, Martin was still a lay person. He was later ordained... Chaplaincy has had the potential from the beginning to be a ministry of the whole people of God.

I have found this image very helpful in my own ministry.  I am one who is called to meet people at their point of need.  The 'world of work' is often a place of great struggle, hardship, and drudgery.  I have had wonderful opportunities to offer practical and spiritual care in the workplace. Second, I constantly strive to facilitate instances of worship (Chapels if you will).  Sometimes these are places (like the prayer room we have at our offices).  And at other times they are short momemnts either with groups of individuals - for example when I go out onto our building and construction sites to meet with our staff.  Most importantly I have attempted to 'extend' the office of Chaplain to numerous people in our company and in other companies and contexts.  We have numerous 'lay people' who are ministers in their own right, offering pastoral care, teaching, and mobilizing ministry.

What do I do as a 'corporate' or 'business' Chaplain?

My Chaplaincy is primarily characterised by service.  I'm sure that each Chaplaincy is unique in its character and form, attempted to meet the needs of the context in Christian love.

However, since I serve a Christian man, and serve in a Christian organisation, I have many wonderful opportunities for ministry.  Among other things I do the following:

 

  • Offer counselling and care to our staff and their families.
  • Lead prayer meetings and Bible study groups in and around the workplace.
  • I develop and share materials on spirituality in daily life (prayer guides, daily reflections, ideas for ministry and service etc.)
  • I oversee and assist in the ministry of The Global Day of Prayer internationally and perform the same function with the team in our Unashamedly Ethical Office.
  • I oversee the management of our company's Corporate Social Investment and Charitable giving (we have a Charitable Trust for this purpose).
  • I do executive coaching for some of our senior leadership (with a particular emphasis on work life balance, spirituality, personal calling etc.)
  • I sit on numerous committees in the company that have an input into the wellbeing of our employees, that look after aspects of our decisions (particularly in regard to ethics and social responsibility).
  • I travel to lead workshops and retreats on the book that Graham Power and I wrote together called 'Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling'
  • I consult to individuals and companies who are serious about finding God's direction, guidance, and will for their lives and their resources.  I help to reshape both individuals and structures for greater significance in God's Kingdom.

 

Of course I perform a myriad of more mundane tasks that relate to budgest, meetings, planning, strategy, correspondance etc.

What is central to everything that I do as a Chaplain is the understanding that 'work can be worship' (Col 3.23).  And the little phrase I often use which says:

While some are called to pastor congregations, everyone is called to ministry.

I'd love to hear your ideas, feedback!  Do you do something similar?  Do you long to do something similar?  Have you got any creative ideas or inputs that could shape and form such a ministry?

Friday
Oct292010

A life without...

I found the following little poem quite significant.  It reminded me that work is not a curse, but a blessing.  It encouraged me to remember that I have been given strength, creativity, and ability to be God's co-labourer in the wonderful work of renewing and transforming the face of the earth. Indeed, work can be worship (Col 3.23).

A life without work would be a bore.

A life without rest would be torture.

A life without play would be a grind.

A life without reflection would be empty.

A life without God would be pointless.

~ Mark Greene from "Supporting Christians at work (without going insane)" see http://www.licc.org.uk

Monday
Feb082010

21 Ways to Pray at Work

A friend on facebook (H-K-R) shared this great link from beliefnet - 21 ways to pray at work.  

There are some wonderful resources here to add a new level of significance and purpose to your daily work life! Remember that Paul admonished the Colossians saying, “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people.” (Col 3.23).

We spend so much time and energy in our work environment, why not invest that time wisely by taking the hours you spend at work to a deeper level of commitment? 

Here's my input on some of the steps they share:

 

  • The workday doesn’t start when you walk into the office, it starts when you wake up. Start by thanking God for the job you have.
  • Ask God to bless the people among whom you work, and the place in which you work.
  • Pray that God will make you a good steward of your time and resources of your company.  As Christians at work we should offer a clear witness through our commitment to our work.  Mark Twain once commented that you should "live such a good life that when you die even the undertaker will be sorry!"
  • Pray that God will use your communication to communicate God's love and care for the people you interact with (whether that be your manner on the phone, the way you deal with a difficult client, or the tone of an email).
  • A simple exercise is to choose to pray through your 'address book' or phone list. I do this - I take just 10 minutes each day and pray for a few persons on our company phone list.  Amazingly I pray for each of our office staff by name every second week. It changes my interaction with them, and I trust that God uses my prayer to bless and help them.
  • Be willing to pray for those who lead your organisation.  Pray not only for them, but for their family and home lives.  Executives often face great pressure.  God can use you to transform their lives (James 5:16)
  • Before meetings ask God to guide you and give you calm and peace.  Let God guide your thoughts, your words and your interactions.  During the meeting listen for God's guidance through the words and inputs of others.  Be sensitive enough to hear God's voice, and brave enough to speak.  Your voice mayy be the one that God wishes to use to change a situation or bring a solution!
  • It is worthwhile praying that your organisation will be a just and good steward of the resources they have been entrusted with.  Ask God to guide your leadership to make wise and generous choices that will help to transform society.
  • Practice MBWA during your lunch break.  What is MBWA?  It is different from an MBA (Masters in Business Administration), MBWA stands for 'management by walking around'.  Try to connect with as many people as possible in a sincere and significant way during your free time (remember not to steal time from your employer, so use our time wisely!)  Friendships build trust and allow you to offer care, help and prayer to those in need.  I can bet you there are many people in your sphere of influence who are longing for someone to connect with!
  • In God's Kingdom few things happen in isolation - we were made for community.  So, find likeminded colleagues to pray with during the week.
  • When you have to travel for work pray that God will protect your family and give them patience.  Pray that God will protect you and keep you from any form of sin or temptation, returning you quickly and safely to your loved ones.

 If you have any ideas or inputs to share I would love to hear from you!  How do you make the most of your workday as a  Christian? 

 

Thursday
Oct092008

So here's what I'm thinking...

Life can be messy, and I'm glad that it is this way. The sorrow of one moment becomes the joy of the next. Being separated from a loved one for a short while creates an intensity of love and appreciation that breaks the regular ebb and flow of life that can so easily lead one into a position of taking your most precious relationships for granted.

This week has been a truly remarkable week of learning and growing for me. I am pleased that there is still so much to learn about life, loving God, and serving Christ. For some years I was treated as 'a font of knowledge' for others - I was approached for counsel, sought out to teach and preach, and asked to participate in various think tanks and meetings. These things flattered my ego, but they also covered a great truth - the truth is that I don't know very much! Titles can be deceptive, they tools of social engineering, employed to create a perception that may or may not be true (or is true in varying degrees). I have two titles, Reverend and Doctor. The one denotes an office within the Church, the other an achievement within the academic arena. For some time these titles were a cause of secret pride (and sometimes not so secret pride!) However, in recent months they have been the cause of great humility and struggle. You see, with a title comes an expectation - the title Reverend seems to carry the social and religious expectation of Godliness, maturity, wisdom, and care. I am not particularly good at any of these, although I do strive to do my best in each. The title Doctor carries with it the expectation of great learning, exceptional insights, and deep thought. Well, with the exception of a few very esoteric and rather eclectic subjects (neuroscience, applied mathematics, artificial intelligence, quantum physics, African philosophy and certain areas of Christian doctrine) I don't know much at all! Well, at least I don't know much about the things that truly count in life!
I am learning.
Before going further, I am aware that some would dispute that 'The Reverend' is in fact not a title, but rather a style of prefix used to address Christian clergy. The point is, I cannot live up to the social expectation of either of the titles that I have, just as little as I can truly be a perfect husband or father. I do my best, but there is tremendous room for growth.
Well, this week I sat in meetings, conference halls, Churches, offices, and around tables with people who were often much more interested in my titles than in my person. What I am learning is that I need to be as patient with them as I hope they are with me! You see, they too are subject to the pressures of socialization. So I guess I could state it more accurately by saying that this week I was learning to learn. I was having to think not only about what I was learning about people, but also about how I was learning what I was learning - for example when I met the head of the Ugandan Revenue service (she jokingly calls herself the 'Chief tax collector' of Uganda) I had to take time to separate the person from the title. The office that she holds is one of immense responsibility, power, and of course respect. But, when she spoke with me (a minister) she was looking for support, affirmation, encouragement, and prayer. I had to make the distinction between the person and the title and ask God to give me the grace to be sensitive to minister to her felt needs as she felt them, not as I perceived them. I am learning to learn!
Well, this was a good week!
I have learned a lot! I have learned a lot about myself, I have learned a lot about others, I have learned a lot about Argentina, and Uganda, and Japan, and Thailand, and Australia, and Iran, and Spain, and Denmark, and a host of other countries and regions...
The meetings were remarkable, my intellect was stimulated, my heart was touched, and my spirit was renewed.
Amazingly though, the highlight of this week came from a town called Paarl, thousands of Kilometers away. The highlight of this week for me was the gift of a child for my friends Angus and Heather, you can read about that gift here: http://gruntleblog.blogspot.com/2008/10/zachari.html
We continue to learn... That's what I'm thinking!

 

Tomorrow morning I shall be leaving Mar del Plata, driving to Buenos Aires and then catching a boat to Uruguay. There I shall have further opportunities to learn. I do feel that this 'season' of my life is a season of service. I am trying to learn how to serve those that I work with, and serve those that I encounter. It is not easy to serve when almost all of western culture tries to teach one to rule and direct. So, do say a prayer for me. I am learning.