How Whole Life Discipleship Changes Cities (Part 2)

Read Time: 10 minutes
By: Amy Sherman
October 17, 2017

What happens when literally hundreds of people in a city make the connection between conversations on faith and work and the conversation on community transformation? Well, we actually have some data. Because this is just what the Surge School initiative in Phoenix has accomplished. And its ripple effects have been very impressive.

In 2007, pastors from four different churches in Phoenix came together to brainstorm about what it could look like to launch a citywide discipleship and leadership initiative that would be based on the idea that “All of life is all for Jesus.” Since work is a major part of most people’s daily lives, discipling people in a biblical understanding of vocation and helping them practically connect their Sunday to Monday became a major emphasis of the program.

The initiative these leaders eventually launched was called Surge. The name was based on a text from the Jesus Storybook Bible from Acts, about how the disciples responded to Pentecost by “surging” out into the streets with passion and joy.

The main components of Surge are a monthly luncheon gathering for pastors throughout the city and The Surge School, a 9-month, intensive discipleship ministry that helps participants understand God’s big Gospel story. Surge’s mission is to help participants find their place in that Grand Story, and to consider how every aspect of their lives—especially their work lives—can be influenced by the Grand Story of the Kingdom coming and growing.

The Surge School curriculum follows this basic arc of learning. In Quarter 1 the focus is on the Grand Story of the Bible: creation, fall, redemption, and consummation. In Quarter 2, the focus is on applying the Gospel story to our own personal lives, allowing the gospel to transform us from the inside-out. Quarter 3 takes up the topic of the missio Dei: the picture of what God’s doing in the world and what his Body’s role is. And then Quarter 4 digs into the specifics of how individual believers take what they’ve learned and apply it practically in their vocations and neighborhoods.

Today, more than 1,000 believers have gone through the Surge School. And this initiative has brought about both a newfound joy for the Surge graduates, as they understand more clearly how to live missionally for the Kingdom of God in and through their daily callings, and an invigorated, highly positive witness of the gospel in word in deed in Phoenix. Surge participants see “all of life, all for Jesus” and this includes new ways of thinking about and acting in their vocations.

This has led to all kinds of exciting ripple effects. Here are five (5) examples.


Participation in Surge is helping people to see their work differently. For instance, a few years back Brian Brown inherited his father’s painting company. Brian wasn’t particularly proud of his work as a painter. To him it felt like a necessary but not particularly important profession. Surge helped him to see that his company was participating in bringing beautification to neighborhoods. Now, as head of Joseph’s Coat Painting, Brian articulates a whole new perspective about the value of his company. He talks of how it increases property values, gives businesses better visibility, and expresses homeowners’ pride in their neighborhoods.

Participation in Surge not only changed Brian’s perspective, it also modified some of his business practices. He started investing more in his employees, raising wages, and helping them become excellent, skilled tradesmen. He also started a corporate charitable fund that the employees help direct, deciding where the company should offer pro-bono labor and what charitable initiatives to invest in financially.


Oye Waddle is another Surge graduate. He grew up in the very tough neighborhood of Watts in South-Central Los Angeles and watched many peers take the road of drug dealing, often out of sheer lack of other opportunities and the need to put food on the table. Oye personally escaped the ghetto’s clutches through a full athletic scholarship to play football at the University of Washington. After graduating, Oye earned two Master’s degrees, in public administration and in education, and moved to Phoenix thinking he’d get involved in the charter school movement. His participation in the Surge School led him to envision a different way of giving back to the community. Oye saw that the inner city was full of hustlers—creative, hardworking, entrepreneurial risk-takers. Some needed a change in focus. Others needed business training and access to capital. So Oye launched Hustle Phoenix to provide these urban entrepreneurs with intellectual, social, and financial capital. Today the nonprofit offers classes and mentoring to urban entrepreneurs, letting “the hustlers hustle for the common good,” as Oye likes to say.


Surge alumni from six different churches banded together last year to form The Payday Lending Taskforce. Throughout 2016, they fought against legislation in Arizona, SB 1316, a bill that would have brought back legalized payday lending, and won. One of their campaign tactics involved publishing a public letter signed by 35 Surge pastors in the Arizona Republic newspaper, stating opposition to the bill. The letter argued: “Predatory lending positions individuals to be in a perpetual state of debt all for the sake of personal gain and impedes human flourishing.”

Now the Taskforce is studying models of alternatives to payday lending that could assist the working poor when they face emergency financial needs.


Silas Kyler and his fellow filmmaker David Hildreth both participated in Surge. Since Surge teaches that “all of life is all for Jesus,” Silas began wondering how his avocation, as a wood-working enthusiastic, might be directed toward the common good. He ended up learning about a small but growing movement in America’s cities: the urban lumberjacks. These are city residents who go around after bad storms and salvage felled trees, keeping them from the landfills, and taking them to mills to create wood products that can be made into beautiful furniture.

With a grant from one of the Surge “anchor churches,” Silas and David decided to tell the story of this great movement through a documentary film. Felled has been making the rounds in film festivals throughout the country.


When a group of angry, anti-Islamic protesters called for a massive rally in front of Phoenix’s main Islamic community center, printing up black “F### Islam!” T-shirts and sending out many announcements via social media for people to come “expressing their 2nd Amendment rights,” Surge participants responded. Some 250 Christians from 15 Surge-affiliated churches showed up that day to form a wall of solidarity in between the angry mob and the mosque and its members, many of whom are refugees.

The Surge School story illustrates the powerful ripple effects of solid discipleship on work. When Christians see their work as worship; when they understand that their work matters to God and that their work can participate in his Kingdom work; that through their work God can do His work of revitalizing broken places, then all kinds of amazing things can happen.


About the Author

Amy L. Sherman is a Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute and author of Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (IVP).

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