May 15, 2013
by R. Paul Stevens
Eugene Peterson has affirmed that “the primary location for spiritual formation is the workplace.” If this is true, as I believe, it means that church leaders could have a major role to play in the character and spiritual development of the people in their communities that are working in the world. In our book, Entrepreneurial Leadership: Finding Your Calling, Making a Difference, Richard Goossen and I explore many of the practical and biblical dimensions of entrepreneurship in both business and not for profits, including the church. But we do so in a way that could be a major resource for pastors and church leaders wanting to empower the whole people of God for their “full time” service to God and neighbor in the workplace. But before we ask how, we must ask why.
People go to work as whole persons, not just mind or body, but with that inner yearning and expressiveness that links us with God. We gain this perspective from biblical theology and the narrative in the Bible, for example, Romans 12:1-2. What Henry Ford famously lamented—“Why do I always get a whole person when all I want is a couple of hands”—is indeed a wonderful gift. As soul persons with capacity to relate to God, people are given ideas, visions and perspectives that can be implemented through entrepreneurial activity. These may be in the area of church life but also in family life and enterprises in the world. An example is Nehemiah in the Old Testament, who had the difficult job of rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem and rebuilding the people. He said, “My God put it into my heart to …” (Neh 7:5). Bright ideas come from God. So here is where you as a church leader come in, not only with the why but the how.
First, church leaders can encourage the “mixed life” of action and reflection. Jesus lived this way: engaged in a major way so that sometimes he was too busy to eat, but also dismissing the crowds to spend time with the Father in prayer. The mixed life phrase comes from the biblical story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10. A superficial reading of the story puts Mary on the top of the heap as the one who listens to Jesus and gets his approval, with Martha busy in the kitchen and being criticized for fussing about making a gourmet meal for Jesus and his friends. But the story is better understood this way: Martha’s actions were not wrong in providing a meal, but her attitude was wrong. She was so anxious to produce a supermeal for Jesus that she didn’t even bother to commune with her most important guest, Jesus. And that, Jesus says, is even more important than making a fine meal. Martha was anxious about many things. But the point is not that Martha should become Mary. Rather, Martha and Mary should be doing the same thing: working but communing with Jesus. That has led people throughout church history to say we need to embody both Mary and Martha in the same person, sometimes at different times. Sometimes we will be busy at work (in the kitchen or the corporation), but at other times we withdraw from these pressures to attend to God wholeheartedly.
Second, the warp and woof of everyday business becomes an arena of growth. The workplace is where people get revealed, their strengths and weaknesses, their dysfunctionalities, the soul-sapping struggles that emerge day and night as they undertake to get an enterprise going and growing. And every one of those areas of struggle becomes a nonverbal cry and a prayer to God to please reveal in us some aspect of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5). This is especially true of the so-called Achilles’ heel, that point of vulnerability. For most of us the point of vulnerability is one of three things: the need to be needed, the need for status, or the need to be in control. John Calvin said that true religion is knowing ourselves and knowing God. We cannot have the one without the other. Church and marketplace together can become a school of spiritual formation. Church leaders have a key role in interpreting life experiences from God’s perspective and growing through them. This is doing theology “from below,” from the reality of life, something which Martin Luther did so eloquently. This can be done from the pulpit, from adult education classes and in personal conversations with people in the workplace. Why not visit some of the members of your church in their workplace and “job shadow” them for a few hours and over coffee or lunch, listen to the issues and discoveries?
Finally, church leaders can do something that is both revolutionary and wonderfully empowering. They can affirm publically that what entrepreneurs (and other people working in society) are doing is their ministry, the main part of it. This can be done by interviewing someone each week, or even once a month, for five minutes, “What do you do for a living? What are the issues you face in your daily work? What difference does your faith make to how you address those issues? And how can we pray for you for your ministry in the workplace?” That simple public and symbolic role can do wonders for the ministry of entrepreneurs. But, at the same time, it will change the church culture from one in which only so-called full-time pastors and missionaries get noted and prayed for to the practical embodiment of the priesthood of all believers.
Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 11:32 AM