Glenn Lucke of Common Grounds interviews Flourish’s Rusty Pritchard

This interview with Flourish’s co-founder and president, Rusty Pritchard, was conducted by Glenn Lucke and appears on Common Grounds Online.

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GL: What is Flourish?

RP: Flourish is a new collaborative ministry that helps churches care for creation in ways that honor God and help people.

We work with local churches and partners to share ideas about how to integrate creation care with ministries of evangelism, compassion, missions, and community service. We help churches sort through the static of environmental information to find the stewardship actions that will build their work and multiply their witness.

And we provide materials to help families raise kids in ways that are safe, healthy, rooted in God’s word, and aware of the natural world around them.

GL: I’m going to anticipate the eye-rolling criticism of some evangelicals and ask you to source your work in a Scripture passage. In other words, what passage(s) of Scripture provide a solid source for your work?

RP: My eyes used to roll too, especially when you hear environmental advocates proof-texting from our Scriptures. I think it’s better to build a case from a broad, disciplined understanding of the revelation of God’s project in the world, from creation, through the fall, redemption, and restoration; but you can start with the environmental stewardship mandates in Genesis 1:26ff and 2:15.

For me, however, there are two passages that stand out: one is the commandment Jesus gave in the Gospels, to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves—and in the Luke version Jesus gives a pretty expansive explanation of how to be a compassionate neighbor. Environmental problems are almost always problems of neighboring.

The other passage that I think means a lot for our churches at this time in American history is Jeremiah 29:7: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” There’s a lot wrapped up in that strategy, but again, it’s thinking like a neighbor. When we do good for our neighbors, we ourselves benefit, as the verse states. But I think in seeking the common good we also are a witness to the general providence of a good Creator who made a dwelling place that we are able—indeed commanded—to tend and keep.

GL: Tell me about your upcoming conference. What are the dates, where is it, who is speaking?

RP: Some of the most insightful speakers in the evangelical movement are gathering in Atlanta May 13-15 for the Flourish 2009 conference, to talk about the intersection of the Great Commission with the Great Commandment, and how creation care weaves into that conversation. There are actually folks who are rarely on the same stage together, but who all agree this is a priority issue for the 21st century church—folks like Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who has argued that the church has a big role to play in reconnecting kids to the outdoors, and Rick McKinley from Imago Dei in Portland and Chris Seay from Ecclesia in Houston, who are the movers behind the Advent Conspiracy, taking on the empire of materialism in their efforts to rediscover Christmas.

Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making, is going to be the Chief Integrator for the conference, taking the disparate perspectives and theologies of the speakers and trying to help us hear what God is telling us.

Margaret Feinberg, Gabe Lyons, Ed Stetzer, and Joel and Becky Hunter will be speaking, as well as Tri Robinson, Matthew Sleeth, and Ken Wilson. The full list of speakers is at www.flourishonline.org/Conference.html.

The evenings are devoted to interactive sessions, Q&A with the speakers, and a workshop with energy efficiency and church facilities experts to provide practical advice on improving the performance of church and ministry buildings.

We feel like in the past (and the present) there have been attempts to “green the church” that started from outside the community of faith, and that have been too closely connected to politics and to controversial science. This conference is different because it focuses on what unites us as Christians and advances the gospel, and it has the goal of healthy, thriving ministries and families, rather than merely baptizing the environmental movement.

GL: If a church leader attends Flourish, if an ordinary layperson attends, what do you hope will be some of their takeaways when they return home? If your hopes are realized, what will attendees’ lives look like in days to come?

RP: If someone came to Flourish and walked away with a list of rules for “going green”, we’ll have failed. There’s a legalistic, judgmental kind of environmentalism—like Debbie Downer from Saturday Night Live—and there’s another version rooted in fear of the future. Instead we’d like to see churches offer an alternative model of relating to creation, more rooted in grace and in love of God and neighbor. It’s going to look different in every context, but it will include a spirit of thankfulness, a renewed attention to the Sabbath, a generous heart, and a recognition of the connections between human flourishing and healthy environments. But people will leave with plenty of practical and creative ministry ideas for making church buildings energy efficient, saving money, getting kids outdoors, doing innovative outreach to the unchurched, and communicating the gospel to people who may care about creation but don’t yet acknowledge the Creator.
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Dr. Rusty Pritchard is a resource economist, and the co-founder and president of Flourish, a ministry that inspires and equips churches to better love God by reviving human lives and the landscapes on which they depend. Prior to coming to Flourish he was a full-time faculty member at Emory University in  Environmental Studies, a program he helped create in 1999.

Dr. Pritchard holds degrees from Duke University (B.S., zoology) and University of Florida (Ph.D., resource economics; M.S., environmental engineering sciences). He lives in inner-city Atlanta with his wife and three children, where they serve in a multi-racial church doing church-planting, neighborhood evangelism, and community development.

CGO readers get a 25% discount off Flourish 2009 Conference registration. Enter in discount code “pca25″.

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