Greg Cootsona/Science for the Church: Flourish Through Your Work - An Interview with Luke Bobo
Luke Bobo is Vice President of Networks at Made to Flourish (MTF), an organization that seeks to empower pastors “to better engage, equip, and encourage each other as they integrate a more robust theology of faith, work, and economics into their churches.” Luke has graduate degrees in electrical and computer engineering (M.S., University of Missouri-Columbia) and Christian ministry (M.Div., Covenant Seminary) as well as a Ph.D. in Judaic studies/rabbinic andragogy from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. I particularly love his introduction on LinkedIn: “Educator, Strategist, Curriculum Developer, Consultant, Author, and Practical Theologian.”
Before attending seminary, I spent many years managing a retail business, and so the intersection of faith and work is vital for me, as it is for scientists in churches. That’s why we have enjoyed collaborating with Made to Flourish. Tell us about your work.
If I had the freedom to change theological education, I would require seminarians to spend six months to a year in a secular workplace because, like you and like me, we come to this discussion of faith and work differently because of our prior work experience. Science, in particular, is one of the most difficult fields in which to bring your faith to the workplace. Scientists are often told in so many words: “Leave your faith at the door, or leave it in the car… once you park it.”
My work as Vice President of Networks at Made to Flourish is to help create a pastors’ network. These networks are led by what we call city network leaders, and essentially their job is to be our ambassadors with other pastors across the country. Like one of those Verizon maps of the United States, we hope to populate the entire United States with this faith, work, and economic wisdom theology so that it gets into the DNA of churches.
You worked as an engineer for 15 years. What was that like?
There were moments when I was the only African American in an engineering department. I had to balance that reality with the reality of being a Christian and doing good work. I listened to the voice in my head of my mom, who had said, “You have to do twice as much.” But I also was driven as a Christian to do things with excellence. I wanted to be ethical. For example, when it came to expense reports for business trips, I wanted to be accurate with my accounting.
As part of my work, I supported a manufacturing department in one of my engineering jobs. That meant getting up from my desk and walking to the manufacturing section of the plant. It meant serving and respecting union workers in the manufacturing department. Why? Because sometimes union people can be mistreated. Many were older, and so it meant respecting them as if they were my grandparents.
This was when I was beginning to formulate a theology of the imago Dei—the image of God. I tried to do my best in both engineering positions to treat others with dignity and respect and I did my darndest to do good ethical work. I wanted everything to be above reproach.
I probably carried an extra burden of being African American because I also wanted to do my very best in order to pave the way for other African Americans. For me, it boils down to this: treat others how you want to be treated.
I often get the question: What’s the relationship between ministry and engineering? Well first, curiosity. And there’s always a people element. We have to communicate in both fields—oral and written. Communicating respect and dignity to other human beings is a leadership principle that transcends race or socio-economic status. It transcends the field of engineering. Those principles should be universal.
...Learn more about Made to Flourish. Their Common Good Conference is coming up October 1.
...Here are some of Luke’s books.
...We’ve done some collaborative work with Made to Flourish, like this interview with MTF’s executive director, Matt Rusten, about the work of SftC.
...We’re also building our resources on science as a vocation.
I was interested your book, Race, Economics and Apologetics: Is There a Connection?
It really circles back to the workplace. We live in a culture that is pretty noisy. Everyone is vying for our attention. Everyone says, “I have the truth.” I think the best apologetic, the best defense of the gospel, is to live out the gospel. In other words, people would rather see it lived than hear it spoken.
In that little book—which was from a lecture I gave in October 2018 at the Faith at Work Summit in Chicago—I trace what is known as a “racialized economy,” where there’s housing discrimination and hiring discrimination. Those things persist.
The apologetic to help dismantle this racialized economy is to live out justice. Yes, to live out loving one’s neighbor and what it means that every person is made in God’s image. It requires the church to live out her identity.
To borrow words from David Clyde Jones, my ethics professor, whom I miss dearly: “God has ordained three institutions for the sake of human flourishing: the family, civil government and the church.” The church is called to live out her God-ordained identity for the sake of human flourishing.
That’s the gist of the book. We do have a racialized economy, but God has equipped the church, through the Holy Spirit, to tear down those strongholds.
Do you have a final message for the church?
I encourage congregants to support scientists and those in STEM fields because we’re often considered outliers. A lot of Christians in STEM fields find themselves as nomads. They find themselves homeless in between a church that doesn’t understand them and a workplace that doesn’t understand them. Sometimes even family members don’t understand them. We wonder, “Where do I belong? Where’s home?”
For the church—both pastor and congregants—my prayer is that they cultivate the virtue of curiosity. As educators, we ask believers to cultivate the virtue of curiosity and become lifelong learners. That means a curiosity about book knowledge, but also about people.
Luke, I really appreciate these insights in making the connections between our faith and the call to be a scientist. Thank you!
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Strengthening the church through engaging with science
We believe that churches are strengthened by engaging with science. Science for the Church looks to a day when science accompanies Scripture as a tool for discipleship, catalyzes expressions of worship, illustrates sermons, elucidates biblical teachings, and supplements theological wisdom for the life of the world. We even wonder if wrestling with science might draw some of the “nones” (those who affiliate with no religion) and the “dones” (those who have left the church) to Christian communities once again.