The International Theology of Work Grant Team Reflects on the Panama Conference

playa_beach.jpgI’ve gone to lots of conferences.  Sometimes they are tailored for inspiration, sometimes for information, sometimes for indoctrination, sometimes for integration---of peers and ideas. 

The ICETE Conference held on the plush beaches of Playa Bonita, Panama, this November, had some of all of this, but with a supreme purpose of struggling with one singular theme---“How do we address the ‘secular-sacred’ divide that has seduced many evangelical Christians into posturing a religious bent on one day of the week, or consigning Christian professionals into the metaphoric airline “first class” of evangelism while lay people are relegated to the “economy class” of so-called “secular occupations”

ICETE, deciphered, is the International Council of Evangelical Theological Education that brings together hundreds of bible colleges and seminaries that are networked into a dozen or so formal accrediting associations, that extend around the world   The conference itself meets every three years to tackle a contemporary theme.   This year, 460 theological academics, book publishers, and Christian trainers gathered, representing 75 nations, and over 200 institutions to tackle this very contemporary theme.

Drs. Oladotun Reju and Fletcher Tink - TOW Team
Dr Oladotun Reju of Jos, Nigeria and I, a North American, teaching in the Philippines, shared the key address on the first day to introduce our commission to teach “Theology of Work” and “Business Ethics” in many venues in Africa, Asia and beyond, thanks to the financial grants of Mustard Seed Foundation.   Using the metaphor of “Left-Handed Warriors” (Judges 20:16), as a motif similar to “lay people”,  we reviewed the theological premises of “work”, noting that God introduces Himself as a worker, and then creates human beings to expand on His work as the meaningful basis of worship.  We talked about the “Creation Mandate” of Genesis 1 and 2, that stands equal with the “Redemptive Mandate” of the New Testament.   We discussed the profound influence of the Theology of Work initiative as presented by Mustard Seed Foundation, noting that it is now eleven years old, and allows us to teach in some of the most restricted countries of the world.  Within the joint presentation, a theological framework was offered, and numerous resources referenced.  Our own participation from many countries fed case studies into the address. To see our presentation, click here.

We noted that the MSF TOW program has awarded 414 grants to institutions that have engaged 59 lecturers and professors, in sessions have exposed 55,000 participants to the themes. 

However, a new major shift in the allotment of grant funds was introduced, encouraging local ICETE-related organizations to find qualified teachers who would be mentored by core MSF-assigned professors, tutored through a formal course, in an arrangement that would credentialize them to receive scholarship funding, and a commission to formally teach these courses under Mustard Seed auspices.   A detailed description of this new initiative was made available to all participants and can be downloaded here.

Overall, there were ten “take-aways” for me from the five days in Panama.

♦ The secular-sacred divide is most apparent especially in Western cultures and increasingly elsewhere and vitiates the evangelical witness considerably.  If God is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all.


♦ The reflections on the topic were intense, honest, thorough, and first class.  The plenary sessions, the devotional thoughts, the seminars, group discussion and resources were of the highest caliber and should be made available to the general public both in electronic and printed form.  There was not a weak link in the entire program.

The delegates were top quality.  For me, it was a kaleidoscope of my own history.  My dissertation mentor was there.  The presidents of Bakke Graduate University and City Vision University (both where I have served) were there.  The President of Gordon-Conwell Seminary and Ambrose University represented stages of my life.  The leaders of accrediting associations which have passed scrutiny on institutions I have served sat at tables with me.  And many others. 
♦ The theological content was heavy, but practical.  A theology that doesn’t walk, is a theology entombed.  Topics such as “Is Proverbs secular or sacred?” or “Teaching Christian Ethics without Western Trappings” moved me forward.  Ruth Padilla deBorst’s presentation on “Living Vocation: Theological Formation from Life and for Life” came directly out of her communal experience in Costa Rica

Some themes stirred the pot.  Gordon Smith of Ambrose University in Canada offered six things that he never learned at seminary:  1. To preach for Monday mornings (not just Sundays)  2. To preach hope in a context of lament;  3. To offer a Gospel that unites Word and Deed;  4. To engage in principled compromise;  5. To be a peacemaker in the midst of conflict;  6. To work with engaged ecumenism.  The last three are sure to create push-back. 

Whole new images presented themselves.  One Caribbean speaker used the metaphor of the “ant” as seen in Proverbs, as a compelling understanding of our role in ministry.  Another, from Guatemala, led us in a prayer that celebrated the simple concrete underpinnings of his culture---the foods, the animals, the arts.  You see, if God is Lord of all, He celebrates the practical beauties found all around us. 


♦ For four days, we lived in the lap of Caribbean luxury, isolated from the outside world.  However, we were given access to forays to the Canal.  What a wise thing that President Carter did to release the canal to Panamenian control!  One does not hear of the caravan of poverty being in Panama as it thrives in a way that the rest of Central America does not.  But we also had occasion to walk around the old Panama, in Casco, and see the colonial structures some rehabilitated, others dilapidated.   For most of us, the pleasure of beach front were secondary to the spiritual and intellectual stimulation afforded us.


♦ It was my great pleasure to room with my colleague, Dotun Reju, of Nigeria.  We had spent months speculating on our presentation, then pulled it together in PowerPoint and script, and will be finessing it into print in the near future.  We bore our soul mutually, shared our common purposes, and bonded together in spirit.

I was proud to represent both Mustard Seed Foundation that has served at the forefront of the themes of this conference---way out front.  I thank the Bakkes and others for anticipating the hunger and providing the resource that was so appreciated here.  It is hoped that the new initiative will diversify and extend its vision and life, way beyond the dollars invested. 

For me, this conference honed my own teaching materials, and reaffirmed to me that the message that I have carried for the past nine years, has both life and longevity and an audience that is hungering to see all of life as sacred and all peoples as part of the mission of God.    

Photos provided by Dr Fletcher Tink

Dr. Oladotun Reju's reflection: “I discovered that TOW has become very popular (though described in different ways) and the need to connect Sunday to Monday is now much appreciated by many scholars, but the challenge for me is still the journey of the content from seminary and college classes, to the pulpits and ultimately to the street.

 Mustard Seed Foundation, in conjunction with Bakke Graduate University, has made the decision to focus a significant part of the TOW grant program to resource and train ICETE School faculty to integrate TOW (Faith and Work) concepts into their curriculum. 

The course: How to Teach Marketplace Ministry in Your School offered by Bakke Graduate University and the International Theology of Work Grant Program for Seminary professors will help facilitate this transfer the knowledge of TOW from the classroom to the street.

 The pilot class will begin January 14, 2019 and conclude on March 10, 2019


 TO ENROLL IN THIS BGU COURSE, go to contact-us/ to fill out a short application. When you get to the message box at the end of the application type in: 

  • The name of the ICETE School where you are teaching. 
  • The country where that school is located. 
  • The discipline of study you currently teach at the school. 

The class is limited to 25 people.


We invite ICETE Schools to participate in sending their faculty members to take part in the course.

See details about costs and MSF granting here.

The plan is to work with three regions a year for each of the next three years. In 2019 we would focus on: 

  • ACTEA-The Association for Christian Theological Education in Africa 
  • ATA-Asian Theological Association 
  • E-AAA-Euro-Asian Accrediting Association 
  • Schools from other ICETE regions are welcome to take this course as well if there is room in the course.

If they have any question, contact

Lowell Bakke - Director International Theology of Work Grant Program
Phone Number: 703-524-5620 ext. 114