At Work

"My First Hope Is That We Can Change the Default around Work": An Interview with Missy Wallace of the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work

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It is my pleasure to introduce Missy Wallace on the blog. Wallace is the head of the forthcoming Nashville Institute for Faith & Work, a role she will formally step into later this summer.

The Institute ministers to professionals by providing them with resources to integrate their faith and work. With rich experience in the marketplace, Wallace has a heart for gospel flourishing.

Today, she shares some of her insights into the subject of faith and work and why she is so passionate about their integration in the church.

How is your understanding of the Gospel motivating you as you’re starting the Nashville Institute for Faith & Work?

Honestly, God motivated me in an unusually clear fashion. I was in a masters level Bible class writing a plan to launch a ministry effort of a slightly different type when I read Tim Keller’s and Katherine Alsdorf’s Every Good Endeavor. I was not nudged but slammed with the realization that God was calling me to focus my efforts on faith and work.

The beautiful part is that my presence in that class was a direct outcome of a painful time in my personal life watching a child struggle through a great and long illness. God is so gracious in how he connects goodness to suffering if we pay attention.

Understanding the Gospel not as an individual salvation story, but as a part of God’s whole story to redeem all creation has been crucial to helping me communicate the need for the integration of faith and work.

Of course, we all find it challenging to integrate our faith and work partially due to our sinful, messy natures. By seeing myself in the mirror day in and out and by identifying my own false idols in my work, I have learned the importance of this message and how lost I am without it. Because what we all want is “thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” right?

You have lived all over the world: from Chicago to New York and Singapore to Bangkok. How has this international experience shaped your vision for the Nashville Institute for Faith & Work?

That is a great question. I am not sure I know how the international work directly shaped our Institute’s vision, but I can certainly comment on its indirect influence.

While working in numerous countries, I was at times on teams with people from up to ten countries and from three or four religions. In retrospect, I see one great pattern: the longing for meaning in one’s work is universal – not American, not Christian, and not bound by a socio-economic class.

Correspondingly, work is broken, and we often seek identities in work. Our Institute will address each of these issues by equipping, connecting and mobilizing Nashvillians to integrate their faith and their work more seamlessly with theologically sound underpinnings.

Last year I attended a seminar on launching faith and work efforts, and I was inspired by participating with leaders from five continents. God is stirring hearts around the globe on this topic, as initiatives similar to ours are popping up all over the world.

What challenges do you anticipate in the coming months as you work to build the Institute?

I expect manpower and financial resources to be challenges. But that will be part of the fun. We are blessed with the leadership and support of a visionary pastor who understands this concept and is motivated to birth something magnificent.

Another significant challenge will be prioritizing where to start. We want to equip people, connect them to each other, and mobilize them to make change for the good of Nashville and beyond. Those are lofty goals.

We will start with a year-long leadership curriculum, some speaker series, and perhaps a well-funded business plan competition.  The effort will be decidedly Christian but intentionally ecumenical. It might be difficult to encourage the participation of many churches, but we want this to be for all of Nashville, not just our congregation and its network.

As I look at our particular context of Nashville, I can envision that suburban travel times and busy family life will make it hard for some interested parties to fully engage. I am trusting that God will put just the right people in our path to make a difference in the lives of many. I am hoping for the domino effect.

Here at IFWE, we talk a lot about the false sacred/secular divide in the church. We can worship God as much on Monday morning as on Sunday morning. I know this is something you have considered as well. Why do you think this is so important for the church to grasp?

I was talking to one of the members of my church about this concept and he said,

I don’t mean to be rude, but why the focus on faith and work? This is nothing special; it’s living life as a disciple. It’s what we should be doing every day.

And the truth is, he is right.

This is not a radical new message or one that the church does not understand. But it is one that the church may not communicate well to congregants.

Written in the 1800s, the following quote by renowned British essayist, Dorothy Sayers, still holds true today:

In nothing has the Church so lost her hold on reality as in her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation. She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as a result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world’s intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion.

The average American will spend over 80,000 hours at work over his or her lifetime. Some adore work while others deplore it; some see it as only a source of income while others see it as a source of self-definition and glorification.

Understanding and embracing that all good work, not just ministerial work, matters to God is fundamental to joining him in his redemptive plan for this world.

What are your hopes for the coming years? How do you see the city of Nashville transformed by a biblical understanding of faith and work?

My first hope is that we can fundamentally change the theological default many have around their work.

I frequently talk to people who see their secular work as lesser than that of a minister or missionary, or even a doctor or an educator. Or, they are lost in their work, defining their worth by it.

If we can have a sea change in the way each and every Christian starts to view his or her work, we may have more opportunity for cultural renewal in our city. If every Christian could see all work as important to God and part of each person’s role in God’s unfolding story, imagine the changes could happen over time.

And I don’t mean evangelism, though that is a likely fruit. I mean real estate developers taking care of families displaced by their gentrification. I mean fashion designers and media honoring the true female physique. Really, the opportunities are endless; my imagination is too small for what might happen.

But my first hope is that we equip a legion of Christian leaders with the view that God cares deeply about their work, and that their work matters.

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