In her latest book, Agents of Flourishing: Pursuing Shalom in Every Corner of Society (InterVarsity Press, 2022), Dr. Amy L. Sherman writes:
God created a world of flourishing, and even now, in the age before the final kingdom, he desires that people experience a measure of shalom. God created us with legitimate desires (e.g., for sufficient nutrition, warm and safe shelter, meaningful work, and physical health) and delights in giving good gifts to his children. God knows that we want to play, to read, to connect, to belong, to matter, to feel, and to rest. In short, we want to live and to live fully. Jesus has no problem with that; in fact, he says he came to bring us abundant life.
Sherman’s words ring true to the desire we have to live life as it was meant to be lived. This desire speaks to God’s design and how he created us. God created us to flourish and experience a full and abundant life (John 10:10). He also created us to live in relationships with others in communities that flourish in all the ways that Sherman describes above.
THE CHURCH’S MISSION
How does God see a flourishing community? In Isaiah 65:17-25 God gives his people a vision of a future day when our desires and hopes for flourishing will become reality. This vision of a restored creation looks forward to a time of peace and prosperity, a time when everyone gets to live life as God originally intended for it to be lived.
Until that day comes, God has a mission for us, his Church — to pray for and seek the welfare of the city. To work together for the common good and blessing of our communities. To be salt and light to those around us (Matthew 5:13-16). To help people see how truly good, beautiful and loving God is. To show others that Jesus and his gospel have the power to change individual lives and entire communities.
In the selected passages below, Sherman speaks to the mission of the Church and the purpose of her book:
MY HOPE IN THIS BOOK is to help pastors and Christian leaders live deeply and wisely into the call of Jeremiah 29:7: “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.
I rejoice that God has raised up a movement of exile-aware Christ-followers who are seeking to enact God’s call to seek the peace and prosperity of their communities. At the same time, though, I’m concerned whether the movement has a sufficiently rich understanding of complex society and how to seek shalom in its every corner.
In this book, I try to bring together a vision of the church’s missional identity—including its rich, two-thousand-year legacy of advancing the common good—with a holistic, biblical, and sociological understanding of the dimensions of societal flourishing.
My purpose in this book is to encourage and equip congregations to seek the flourishing of their communities—based on a conviction that this is a central mission of the church in our time.
SIX MARKS OF GENUINE FLOURISHING
In Chapter 1, Sherman defines six biblical marks of genuine flourishing:
- Communion with God
- Beauty and creativity
- Learning and discovery
- Peace, justice and unity in diversity
- Wholeness and health
- Prosperity and abundance
As believers, we have been called to serve as a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9) and part of that vocation is to seek the welfare of others. Our efforts to build communities that flourish cannot be achieved by human effort alone but only through our connection to and total dependence on Jesus, our great high priest (Hebrews 4:14-16).
SIX ENDOWMENTS OF COMMUNITY FLOURISHING
Later her book, Sherman compares the six biblical marks of flourishing with six endowments of community flourishing identified by the Thriving Cities Group. According to this group:
Thriving Cities Group uses a framework we call “human ecology” to help us envision a city. The human ecologies of a city contain and depend upon an array of different, but fundamental endowments. The first three of the six endowments build on the classical ideals of “the True,” “the Good,” and “the Beautiful;” the last three are what we might call the modern ideals of “the Prosperous,” “the Just and Well-Ordered,” and “the Sustainable.”
In the remaining chapters of her book, Sherman focuses on these endowments.
- She defines and explores the endowments and their connection to biblically-defined human flourishing.
- She reflects on what Scripture teaches about God’s intent for each endowment.
- She identifies ways the endowments have been corrupted by the Fall and opportunities for believers to restore them.
- She shares stories of how churches and ministries are practically contributing to flourishing with each of the endowments.
There isn’t space in this review to share stories from every endowment, but I want to highlight one. In Chapter 3, “A Strategy for Cultivating the Good: Strengthen Marriage,” we learn about an initiative in Jacksonville, Florida that helped lower the divorce rate by 24% in just three years! Healthy Marriages are essential for flourishing and I am thankful to report that the Arkansas Marriage Initiative — in partnership with CityChurch Network’s Vital Families Initiative — is working closely with the leaders of Live the Life, the organization that led the way in Jacksonville.
BECOMING INFLUENCERS FOR CHANGE
In the final chapter, Sherman writes:
In short, the saints who have gone before us contributed in major ways to the peace and prosperity of their cities. Notably, they did it from a variety of social locations, from the margins to the center of culture and places in between. They did it sometimes with sparse resources and other times with plenty. At all times they did it through rigorous thinking, fervent prayer, strong leadership, long-term commitment, and a willingness to sacrifice and suffer. With the same ingredients we too—as individual believers and corporate churches—can be used by God to influence significant, positive change in our communities.
For those who believe that a united and thriving church can best display the beauty of this future reality, Agents of Flourishing will both inspire and encourage you with compelling stories and practical ideas. The book is well-researched and offers clear action steps for leaders in the church, the business community and beyond who are committed to working together to bring about God’s shalom. Together we can build a flourishing community!
Ray Williams, Co-Founder and Network Coordinator, CityChurch Network