All posts by Dr. Charlie Self

Letters to People of Influence Part One: To Religious Leaders

This is the first in a four-part series of “Letters To…” that will address concerns and insights touching on vital issues of our day.

Here in Part One, I address pastors in general and Pope Francis in particular. Please enjoy and add your insights to the conversation.

Dear Pastors (of every Christian tradition),

Thank you for your sacrificial love and service as you nurture communities of faith of all kinds.

As I pray for you as a fellow pastor, I have three requests as you carry out your holy calling:

One: Remember that it is the Triune God who calls God’s people together and is the object of worship. As Eugene Peterson says, our primary pastoral task is keeping people attentive to God.

Two: Please commission and empower all vocations as important to God’s kingdom. God’s work in the world takes place through people that work, whether paid or volunteer, labor or leadership, home or office.

Three: Please take time to nourish your soul and care for your “first flock” – your family (if married). If single, take time for healthy relationships that build you as a person. Eat well, exercise and rest…your health will help you inspire health in others.

Pastors, I am grateful for all you do – seen and unseen – that Christ uses to transform others. My prayers are offered not as a perfect practitioner, but as a fellow-learner trying to gain wisdom from mistakes and victories. 
Thank you!

Dear Pope Francis,

Thank you for caring for the poor and beginning to redeem the financial and sexual scandals in the church.

Thank you for reminding us that the deepest problems are spiritual and that our selfish/sinful hearts need change.

Thank you for reaching out to the “outsiders” in dialogue and well as showing compassion for the faithful afflicted by divorce.

I do, however, have deep concerns. 
Without judging your motives or sincerity, I beg you to…

…Avoid being manipulated by the agendas of global elites using climate change to unjustly redistribute wealth.

…Stand for the persecuted church and all dissidents that oppose totalitarian regimes, especially in Cuba.

…Use your office as a prophetic peacemaker, calling on Muslim leaders to affirm the dignity and equality of all persons.

…Support Israel’s right to exist while actively working for a peaceful solution, not just the protection of holy sites.

…Affirm that economic freedom, when rooted in value creation and virtue, is the best pathway out of poverty.

I pray you will use this moment to help millions envision a life rooted in Christ and serving the common good.


Nurturing Life: Pastoral Insights for Parents

The spate of Planned Parenthood videos raises many issues – almost none of which I am addressing here. The one issue germane to this essay is nurturing the life we (or our community members) have had a hand in conceiving, adopting and welcoming into our homes.

Nurturing discipleship in our communities includes biblically and theologically informed insights for parents as they express faith, hope and love in welcoming children into God’s world.

The following are insights from 35 years of parenting and pastoring in churches large and small, financial and geographic upheaval and more divine grace than my wife and I deserve.

Our aim: partnering with the Holy Trinity to make disciples that are neither anarchists not automatons, but passionate and principled volitional followers of Christ. We are parents of adult children ages 31, 28 and 25 and enjoy good relationships with each of them. They are each in different time zones, unique places in their journey and bring us no end of delight and concern.

Recognizing the diversity of family circumstances and structures, these reflections are not culled from a one-size-fits-all-prescription-laden text. Here are some thoughts for discipling parents in our communities:

  • Welcoming a child (or children) into our home is an act of faith that changes everything. I often tell parents, “Marriage changes your world; children change your universe.” Parents are divine subcontractors and stewards of life and must cry out for divine strength and wisdom hour by hour.
  • There are timeless biblical principles for nurture, but no one method of child rearing. Context and culture, personalities and particularities create opportunity for listening to God and learning from community members.
  • Do not compete with other parents for how early your children walk, read, play an instrument or enjoy fishing. Within very wide boundaries (do listen to a good pediatrician), you can chill a bit and raise more secure children.
  • If you are married, let children see (with discretion) your mutual love and respect and welcome them into family decisions as they mature. If you are a single parent, work with healthy opposite-gender congregants so your kids have a healthy view of themselves and both genders.
  • Create an environment of aesthetic, intellectual, social and spiritual growth, modeling lifelong learning and childlike wonder.
  • Teach the integration of faith, work and economics early, communicating that adding value through good work is more important that mere material wealth. Help them see work as worship to God and service to others, from the simplest of chores to the most complex occupations.
  • Nurture potential with hopeful realism. Do not offer untrue platitudes such as, “you can be or do anything you want!” Better to say, “Let’s discover how God has made you and what unique gifts you bring to the world.” The power of Ephesians 3:20 includes the wisdom of Ephesians 2:10: The Lord can do more than we imagine…and God has designed good (general and specific) works for us. By the way, when I was 12, my father wrote in Harvard Alumni Journal, “Charles is a fiery humanist and repressed basketball star (too short).” By 15 I knew the NBA was not my future!
  • Please help your children eat healthily, exercise often, turn off the computers and television and enjoy being alone with a book and comfortable with people. Respect their temperamental differences. Do not force extended solitude for extraverts or constant socializing for introverts. The aim is Christ-formed character and the blossoming of their person, not vicarious fulfillment of the parents.
  • Above, below and around all other precepts: pray and praise God together, joyfully singing and dancing. Lament together and explain that our God sheds tears as well. Without being oppressive, let your life with Christ be “Spirit-natural” and your children will never be religiously inoculated.

Joyous lament

At least once a week, my wife and I say to the Lord, “Thank you for the gift of freewill. We just wish our kids would use it better sometimes!” Every good decision makes our hearts swell with joy. Every poor one brings pangs of agitation and guilt. What an amazing window into the heart of Abba Father, the Almighty. We worship a Lord of great pathos, beaming and singing over his children (Zeph. 3:17) and longing for a desert place to weep when they rebel (Jer. 8-9).

For leaders, these insights for parents apply to our nurture of the spiritual children God entrusts to our care. May we see the Bible inform and the Spirit empower our nurture of maturing, responsible and loving children of God.


Podcast: Why Does Work Matter for the Flourishing of the Human Soul?

Dr. Charlie Self is an author, minister, professor of Church History, and co-founder of Discipleship Dynamics. He’s also a senior advisor for The Acton Institute of Religion and Liberty, a board member for the new Missio Alliance and an advisory board member of the Oikonomia Network. Charlie’s passion is in biblical-historical-and theological approaches to economics and work and the integration of faithful churches that create flourishing communities.

Key Thoughts and Questions Discussed

  • When we elevate everyone to their full vocation, we bring God’s reign and the common good together.
  • Why does work matter for the flourishing of the human soul?
  • Is to be human to accomplish?
  • If God’s mission is reconciliation, every sphere of human activity matters to God.
  • The great commission takes place through people who work all day.
  • What’s the difference between vocation and occupation?
  • If you provide jobs, you are integral to human flourishing.

Listen To ThePodcast