Business as a Holy Calling?
This post is related to our upcoming business forum “Taking Your Soul to Work.” Join us Thursday, November 19, 6-9 p.m. as we explore how our spiritual lives can grow in the midst of workplace challenges.
By Tim Dearborn
One Sunday, our church was commissioning its youth group to go to Tijuana to build houses. Professional carpenters and an owner of a construction company were commissioned with them. It occurred to me, “Why were we commissioning them for this volunteer ministry, but we’ve never thought of commissioning members in the construction business for their work building and remodeling homes and offices in our own city?” Was the same work they did in their daily business now “mission” because it was an “official” church program?
As a pastor, I realized that I was more interested in people’s volunteer time and their charitable giving than in their professional lives. I focused on people’s personal lives, family life, and spirituality — and on recruiting them to volunteer in church sponsored ministries. When it came to serving Christ, I called people either to change what they were currently doing or to add more on top of their already full lives. Give more, do more, care more, serve more were my constant themes. The financial fruit of their work interested me more than how they made that fruit. Like many pastors (and Christian businesspersons), I could value business as a means to other ends: earning an income, expressing gifts and abilities, creating employment, building caring relationships, maybe doing a little Christian witness, and certainly contributing to charitable causes (like my church). But intrinsically, I wasn’t clear how business contributed to the purposes of God.
No wonder the vast majority of Christians in business feel unsupported and unvalued by their churches for their actual work in business. The tragedy of this intensifies when we realize that, according to recent surveys, most employed Americans indicate that they “hate” their work (“State of the American Workplace,” Gallup, June, 2013). Even many respected Christian leaders in business experience fear, loneliness, and envy as their dominant work-life emotions. This certainly isn’t God’s will. In spite of all our good sermons, classes, and service projects, churches aren’t touching the driving professional realities of their members. For the past 30 years, I’ve had the privilege of working with businesspersons and students around the world to discover more fully God’s broad purposes of business. Often, business has a far deeper impact on human well being than churches or NGOs ever will.
I believe we are entering into a new reformation of the church’s vision for its ministry. Rather than being the center of ministry, the church is a resource for its members’ ministry in daily life. Rather than focusing primarily on people’s personal, family, and spiritual lives — and on recruiting people to serve in church programs — churches are focusing on supporting and encouraging people for their ministry in society. It’s easy to see how our work in education, health care, social and community service relates to God’s kingdom. Jesus did all those things. But business is more complicated. To participate in God’s kingdom purposes in business requires special support and skill.
Business isn’t “automatically” a “holy calling.” There is a question mark attached to the phrase. To assist in this, I’ve created a workbook to guide conversations between businesspersons and their pastors to explore God’s purposes for business. It is designed as a discussion starter for use by individuals and small groups, and includes personal reflection and group discussion questions.
It’s purpose is to contribute to a new reformation in our understanding of lay ministry — not lay persons volunteering in church work — but lay persons participating in the coming of God’s kingdom in every aspect of life. Through this, Christians in business can align their work with God’s purpose to make all aspects of life right in our world. And as a result, instead of facing work with fear, loneliness, and envy —they can approach their day with joy, fulfillment, and satisfaction. More information about the workbook can be found at Business as a Holy Calling?
Tim Dearborn is one of the featured speakers at “Taking Your Soul to Work.” We hope you and your pastor can join us on Nov. 19 for this challenging and inspiring event.