t is one of the hallmarks of evangelicalism that Christians are encouraged to give their personal testimony of how they individually came to Christ. But one milestone in my personal faith journey was of a more communal nature—the discovery of the way in which Christian community not only molds and grows our personal faith, but also our public and professional expression of that faith.
Growing up in an evangelical home, I was blessed from an early age to have been taught about God’s love, the reality of sin, the necessity for redemption, and the grace of salvation. The centrality of a personal relationship with God was both emphasized and modeled, and the fact that one’s faith should be clearly evident by one’s actions was stressed.
However, the churches and Bible studies we attended made no mention of the more public aspects of one’s faith. “Living out one’s faith” generally meant sharing it. Divorced from the discussion were questions of justice, politics, and the public sphere in general.
This tendency was even more pronounced in the campus ministry I joined as a college freshman. There, the focus on evangelism crowded out other aspects of discipleship, and there was a marked disinterest in pursuits outside of the “sacred” (defined then as the work of full-time Christian ministry). In fact, members of this organization were taught explicitly that “kingdom work” (defined as serving in the ministry or on the mission field) was God’s first choice for his followers; those who ignored that call could potentially redeem their less-than-ideal choice by using their office as a platform for evangelism and as a means of supporting those who had gone into full-time ministry. The idea that Christians could be called to, and fulfill God’s plan for their life, outside of “ministry” (narrowly defined) was more likely to be dismissed than discussed.
Slowly, this view is changing. Most churches and parachurch organizations have begun to rethink ideas of vocation and calling. In addition, many churches have increasingly paid attention to the role of community in developing one’s Christian walk. But for me, my biggest object lesson in how a small, deliberate community can help one realize and fulfill one’s vocation and calling, and cultivate a Christian worldview within that calling, came not through any ministry or church, but through friendships forged while working in the U.S. Senate.
Around a dozen years ago, I left the small think tank I was working at to join a fairly new Senator as his policy director. This Senator had wanted to shift many of his policy priorities from focusing on economics to developing a “cultural agenda,” and asked me to take the lead. It was an exciting assignment for a twenty-something, but also very obvious that little could be achieved without partnerships and allies, especially for someone so green in the field.
I soon became part of a small, loose organization called “Faith and Law,” started as a ministry of the C.S. Lewis Institute in 1987, which met regularly to hear speakers talk about living the Christian life in the legislative arena. Soon after, a smaller subset of that group began meeting regularly (and often spontaneously) to discuss articles and ideas, and to pray. What started as an informal reading group blossomed into something more active and strategic, as several of us began to work together quite deliberately on various culture-changing initiatives.
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