IVP - Online Pulpit - May 2013 Archives

May 15, 2013

Ministering to the Soul of Entrepreneurs in the Church

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.

97.jpgR. Paul Stevens is professor emeritus of marketplace theology and leadership at Regent College, Vancouver, British Columbia, and a marketplace ministry mentor.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 11:32 AM

May 1, 2013

Relational Ministry, the Pastor, and Inception

by Andrew Root

I have the hardest time turning the channel when it is on; I always watch even just a few minutes before reminding myself that I’ve seen it dozens of times. I can’t help it—I just find the Christopher Nolan movie Inception, starring Leonardo DiCaprio captivating.

I’m sure nearly everyone reading this blog has seen it; it was a smash hit during the summer of 2010. It is a movie about spies that have the technology to enter your dreams so they can extract your idea or secrets. Using a machine, DiCaprio, the lead sexy spy, can enter, say, a CEO’s dreams, seeking to discover the future plans for a business and then take the information and sell it to rivals. The movie has so many creative layers of psychology, consciousness, philosophy and espionage that it keeps my remote trigger thumb from moving past it.

Yet the real hook of the plot surrounds a distinct step outside the regular opportunities for these spies. DiCaprio and his team are actually asked to go inside another man’s dreams not to extract information but implant it, to do what they call an inception. Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character encourages DiCaprio to pass, reminding him that an inception is of great difficulty, for if in any way the dreaming individual feels him- or herself being manipulated, the person’s consciousness will revolt and the mission will be lost. Yet Dicaprio has his own reasons (which I won’t divulge) to take this risky step of inception.

Pastoral ministry lacks the technology to do dream espionage, though we sometimes imagine that it would be great if we could enter our people’s consciousness to drop in new ideas—ideas like coming to church, reading the Bible, giving a tithe or more. The truth is that we often see people as independent self-enclosed conscious beings. We tend to see people as individuals, and individualism defines people as their interests. In other words, we tend to assume that people are what they are interested in. Especially in a consumer society, we act as though people are what they want.

But of course this makes pastoral ministry particularly difficult, for people are interested in so many things that have very little to do with church. People seem more interested in the NFL than Sunday morning worship, gossip magazines than the Bible, beach vacations than tithing. We assume that people are their interests, and it is despairing for pastoral ministry to have to admit that people seem uninterested.

So what do we do to convert people’s interest? To implant in their consciousness new wants? While pastoral ministry hasn’t developed the technology to jump into dreams, we have formed the ministerial technology that we believe has the power to enter people’s consciousness and convert their interests and wants. This ministerial technology is relationships.

We’ve imagined relationships as the device that can help us enter another person’s consciousness and replace one interest with another. People aren’t interested in going to church, but if we get relational with them we can implant the new idea of church membership or religious devotion. We’ve used relationship as the technology to convert people’s interest, doing our own inception by using the relationship to implant an idea that wasn’t there before. It is relationship, as ministerial function (technology), that weakens another’s consciousness so the pastor can incept a new interest within it.

I know this may sound overly dramatic, but we’ve tended to talk about relationships in ministry with this technological language of means-to-ends. It is relationships (means) that convert (ends); it is relationships (means) that grow churches (ends). Pastoral ministry then uses relationship (as means-end technology) to encounter people for the sake of inception. We’re told to take on relational dispositions (like knowing names, stories, etc.) not really for the sake of sharing in people’s lives but so we can use a relationship as a doorway into their consciousness to incept a new idea within it. And maybe the biggest problem with such a ministerial perspective is that it turns Jesus into an idea we’re called to incept into someone’s mind as opposed to the living One who encounters us in and through relationship itself (but to get further into this conversation you’ll have to read The Relational Pastor).

If it is not obvious already, there are great problems with this. Just like in the movie, if the person senses the inception, he or she will revolt against it. And this has happened often in ministry. In using relationships as the technology to convert people’s interest—to influence them toward the wants we have for them—if in any way they sense that our relationship with them is not for them (not to be with them and to share in their humanity) they will revolt, feeling manipulated and used … feeling (and legitimately so) that something dehumanizing and impersonal was done to them, and done in the name of ministry.

It is my desire, and the reason I wrote The Relational Pastor, to challenge such a technological, inception-like view of relationships in ministry. In the book I try to push us past such risky (and theologically bankrupt) perspectives of (relational) ministry. And I want to convince you that relationships in ministry are not for inceptions but for sharing in each other lives as a way of sharing in Christ. I want us to see relationships not as the technological function of converting people’s consciousness but as the very location of Jesus’ presence in the world. Relationships are not ministerial technology to get to the ends we want; they are the sanctuary of sharing in each other as the way of sharing in God (Matthew 25).

The time has come, and many of us feel that we need a deeper conception of relationship in the context of the ministry of pastors and churches. The Relational Pastor seeks to take some strides in this direction.

6218.jpgAndrew Root (Ph.D., Princeton Theological Seminary) is in the Baalson Olson Chair as associate professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary (St. Paul, MN). A former Young Life staffworker, he has served in churches and social service agencies as a youth outreach associate and a gang prevention counselor.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at 9:27 AM | Comments (2) are closed