The Kingdom at Work Project: A Communal Approach to Mission in the Workplace, by David Clark. Reviewed by Mike Butterworth
This is a weighty book which contains both theoretical and practical advice on what the subtitle says. It would be a daunting task to read through and I agree with the endorsement of London Business School Fellow Peter Challen, that it is a ‘brilliant work-book for the servant-leader who genuinely starts where others are in their work … to stimulate new approaches to mission in the workplace and offer resources for that task’. David Clark is a member of the Methodist Diaconal Order, has been a college lecturer in community education, and set up both the Christians in Public Life Programme and the Human City Institute. The book is not just another version of Christians at work, all-member ministry or worker priests, etc., but aims to encourage and enable bigger thinking: how can the workplace be transformed so as to be a place where effective mission can take place?
The Introduction deals with definitions, previous initiatives, and the project to be presented. It advocates a ‘kingdom model’ over against a ‘discipleship model’ (not, I think, excluding discipleship as an important feature of missional involvement).
Part 1 Foundations describes six stages (areas of focus?). Stage 1 is fundamental: the kingdom community is characterised by the gifts of Life, Love, Liberation and Learning. Individual ‘communities of character’ exhibit one or more of these qualities. The following stages focus on theology, spirituality, economics and social collectives, concluding with a transitional stage headed ‘the power of the human scale’.
Part 2 goes on to describe Discernment and then Intervention, leading into Part 3, Facilitation and Support (roles of mentors, the gathered church and chaplains/ministers). Part 4 = Stage 12 is Reflection and Review. The whole is described as a work in progress, open to debate and revision.
Stage 7 begins the account of Discernment, i.e. discerning signs, ‘ongoing/recurrent features of the workplace which reveal the gifts of the kingdom community’ (p140). It contains historical examples of such signs, current resources for discernment, and proceeds to recommend a practical process for discernment, namely focus on a particular group within the workplace, use an extensive series of check-lists to point to gifts already present, focus more specifically on one of the four Ls (life, liberation., love, learning), reflect on those features which seem to be most important. Then move on to ‘intervention’. There is a similar procedure with lists and concrete example scenarios for discerning ‘critical incidents’ (pp198-208) and ‘servant leadership’ (pp209-224).
The lists form a very detailed and useful tool (pp178-197) for evaluating the health of the workplace atmosphere. I found myself asking what was specifically Christian about the vision, especially since there seems to be a deliberate distancing from evangelical groups whose ‘ultimate purpose is to convert… to Christianity’ (something of a spun description?).
The section on ‘intervention’ discusses the conditions under which we have the right to intervene and the sort of intervention that is acceptable. The overall ‘mission task’ is to enable Christians to create workplaces transformed by the gifts of the kingdom community: life, liberation, love and learning’. However, Clark does recommend ‘explicit intervention’, i.e. that which ‘involves concepts, language and symbols derived from and informed by communal theology, spirituality, economy and diaconal structures’. Concrete examples of both implicit and explicit intervention are given (pp238-323), including the place of prayer and worship. Dialogue is clearly favoured rather than ‘proclamation’ (which does, however, appear in the diagram on p273).
A useful example is the account of two specific projects, the Bakewell Methodist Church@Work and the bridge building initiative Bakewell@Work. These help to flesh out how the theory applies to a specific situation.
I found the book a helpful and stimulating tool for investigating the situations in which I am involved. I would like to have seen some more explicit pointers to how the Gospel might be communicated – and Jesus named? I have the impression that the author’s viewpoint is that this is not a priority except where an initiative is clearly church-related. The kingdom is already present everywhere and there is no need really to mention Jesus. Is this fair?? Whether readers regard the book as ‘real mission’ or ‘pre-mission’ they should find it provides creative ideas and motivation for their own callings.
Mike Butterworth has spent many years in ministerial training in India and Britain. His specialist area is Old Testament. He has always been involved in pastoral ministry and is now, after retiring, an associate member of a Ministry Team in Bucks.
This review is scheduled to appear in MODEM Matters Issue 34 in April 2017. The MODEM Matters newsletter keeps members up to date with newly published books in the fields of leadership, management and ministry: http://www.modemuk.org/modem-matters. To see other book reviews, visit http://www.modemuk.org/book-reviews