Business People 7 (Michael Kruse)

I’m so grateful for this excellent series by Michael Kruse. Hope you all appreciate his fair-minded summaries. I believe one of the biggest issues in what Christians say and hope about politics and economics rests upon flimsy understandings of how economies work. Michael Kruse has been a teacher for many of us.

How do we create coherence between faith and work? John Knapp has explained how important rethinking vocation is, and how important it is that we carefully consider a moral theology of work. Today, Chapter 7 of How the Church Fails Businesspeople (and what can be done about it), Knapp describes a workplace awakening.

Knapp suggests that an awakening to faith and work issues has emerged in the past ten to twenty years. But even prior to that, there were people who were surfacing the issues. Lutheran steel company executive William Diehl was writing books on this topic in the 1980s. Peter Hammond, connected with Diehl, became influential in Intervarsity with their Ministry in Daily Life work. There were people like Howard E. Butt, Jr., originally connected with the Billy Graham Crusades, who founded the Laity Lodge and an online ministry to businesspeople called TheHighCalling.org.

Knapp lays out several ways people are trying to integrate faith and work. Which ones do you find hopeful and which ones give you concern? Why? Are there other avenues of finding coherence that you did not see mentioned here? What do you think the institutional church might learn from the faith-at- work movement?

My sense is that a move toward more serious theological reflection began about this time. Miroslav Volf published “Work in the Spirit: Toward a Theology of Work,” in 1991, David Krueger published “Keeping Faith at Work,” in 1994, and R. Paul Stevens began publishing a string of books on work and faith, most notably for me, “The Other Six Days: Vocation Work and Ministry in Biblical Perspective,” in 1999. Other authors have emerged in the past decade but I still have the sense that interest in this topic in the theological academy is relegated to a small minority. The real change has been coming from Christians outside the institutions of the church.

Knapp highlights some examples of lay-led ministries that have emerged to hold conferences and retreats, offer resources, and to create networking opportunities. He mentions Kevin Latty’s Souly Business, Chuck Proudfit’s At Work on Purpose, Aric Renicke’s Christian Business Roundtable and Christian Professionals Worldwide, and Richard Boxx’s Integrity Resource Center. There are countless websites and social media initiatives from a variety of and organizations.

Also emerging are attempts by Christians to form groups that meet for study and prayer within the workplace. This is easier within private companies, but some public companies accommodate this, and even some government entities permit this as well. Knapp devotes a section of the chapter to pointing out that this is not without controversy. EEOC requirements and concerns about creating a hostile work environment for people who are not Christian is a challenge. Yet the walls between work and private life have been lowering and many employees want more integrated lives, whether Christians or people of other faiths. Knapp sees this as an area that is likely going to lead to more controversy and the business world is really not ready to reckon with it.

Another response to the faith and work divide has been for companies to openly embrace faith. There has been a rise in the number of “Christian-based companies,” firms that have a Christian vision as part of their business plan. Interstate Batteries, Hobby Lobby, Chic-fil-A, ServiceMaster, Amway, and Covenant Transport, are just a few prominent examples of a growing trend. Many of these businesses network through organizations like the Fellowship of Companies in Christ (FCCI).

Another growing phenomenon is the idea of corporate and industrial chaplaincies. Companies employ or contract with chaplains to be onsite and available for employees. Businesses have organized to provide these chaplains, the largest being Marketplace Chaplains USA, with 2,400 chaplains serving 418 companies.  There is formal and ongoing training required to qualify as a chaplain. Chaplains are not involved in overt evangelism but rather offer spiritual support, hospital visitation, and possibly an occasional funeral or wedding.

Finally, there is Business as Mission, or BAM. Here, businesses are established (usually in emerging nations) to evangelize, create jobs, and to apply the profits to various types of community development. Traditional mission models are often not welcomed in some regions in of the world and they are harder to sustain. BAM has somewhat of a tent-making quality, while being more agreeable to authorities, and with the additional benefit of sometimes creating jobs.

What Knapp is pointing to in this chapter is an explosion in the effort by businesspeople to make connection between public life in the business world and faith. For a more comprehensive look that reviews the past century of faith and work developments, read David Miller’s God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement, published in 2007.

Some Thoughts

Whether reading Knapp or Miller, I have a conflicted response of both hope and disquiet. The hopeful part is that people are working at finding coherence in their lives. There are hundreds of organizations rising up as Christians help each other navigate the challenges. That is a good thing and there is a role for this type of service.

But the disturbing reality is this. We already have thousands of communities all over the nation that should already be offering the kind of integration and support that these disciples are craving. They are called congregations! From what I can tell, virtually none of the ministries being described are congregation based or are about equipping congregations to be more effective at addressing the faith and work divide. Concerning the movement to address the divide, Knapp writes:

“… Today the movement is flourishing, aided greatly by social media and globally networked organizations, yet without much involvement by the institutional church. Indeed, many of today’s most successful work-related ministries were born out of frustration with the church and its failure to respond to and obvious need and opportunity.

The rise of this trend is well-documented by Princeton University’s David W. Miller in his book God at Work. He concludes, “The church and the theological academy have a choice: they can sit on the sidelines, ignore the movement, and let it pass them by, or they can learn from it, engage it, and help shape the theology and practice of faith at work.” (123)

A few paragraphs later Knapp writes:

“Diehl, Hammond, Butt, and others like them erected a platform of ideas that has allowed a multifaceted movement to thrive through the initiative and leadership of laypeople. The institutional church, meanwhile, has been less than enthusiastic about these ideas, preferring to redefine lay ministry as more active involvement in existing church programs. ‘Whether church professionals never fully absorbed that, by definition, the location of lay ministry was extrinsic to the gathered church or whether they were threatened by a loss of power and control is open to debate,’ writes Miller.”

As someone from a Mainline Protestant perspective, I confess that many sectors of the movement are not all that comfortable for me. It often feels very white, very male, very Republican and deeply entrenched in conservative Evangelical and Pentecostal milieus. I worry that some of what I see too heavily equates Christian faith with patriotic American civil religion. The theological reflection, at times, strikes me as much less than adequate.

Still, these folks are making the effort to find coherence, even if the effort is being made from outside the institutional church. The Mainline churches have vacated the arena altogether. In fact, I sometimes wonder if rather than seeing the daily world of business as something that needs attention from Mainline theology and institutions, there isn’t an ethos that says that business is “conservative” and that isn’t what we do. With so many people in Mainline pews from business backgrounds, and with declining numbers of people involved in these denominations, it is quite remarkable to me that the movement to find coherence between work and faith is virtually nonexistent in Mainline tribes, except possibly in the case of a few isolated congregations here and there.

Questions:

Knapp lays out several ways people are trying to integrate faith and work. Which ones do you find hopeful and which ones give you concern? Why? Are there other avenues of finding coherence that you did not see mentioned here? What do you think the institutional church might learn from the faith-at- work movement?

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Edward Holm

    Some years ago I had a ministry of spiritual direction aimed at teachers for the purpose of exploring and deepening their sense of call and vocation in the activity of the teaching profession. Things have happened very recently in my own life and process of discernment that it may be time to once again re-engage that ministry. Social media gives some new avenues for getting out the message that did not exist before and a renewed sense in the culture of searching for meaning in our work seem to support this. Your article this morning is a further proof that I need to continue to look at this work. Thanks

  • Richard

    “As someone from a Mainline Protestant perspective, I confess that many sectors of the movement are not all that comfortable for me. It often feels very white, very male, very Republican and deeply entrenched in conservative Evangelical and Pentecostal milieus. I worry that some of what I see too heavily equates Christian faith with patriotic American civil religion. The theological reflection, at times, strikes me as much less than adequate.”

    Yes. It’s unsettling to me as well. As we’ve been working through the Olivet Discourse recently I’ve been pondering the integration of work and faith in modern capitalism pretty often. We have congregation members involved on both sides of collections, foreclosures, etc and it’s extremely hard to reconcile the participation in such businesses with the teachings of Jesus. Multi-level marketing is often wrapped with some layer of spiritual greasing (often prosperity gospel lite) to help it gain traction but at the same time my family started going to church again because of our involvement in Amway.

    Wheat and tares… let them grow together

  • http://azspot.net Naum

    A big disconnect here — author is ensconced in academia. Sure, he touts his consultancy and work with business folk. But the directors and leaders that take this stuff to heart are not congruent with the mechanics of how a public corporation operates. I know because I have experienced it first hand.

    Bottom line is the goals of a publicly chartered corporation and the Gospel of the Kingdom are not compatible.

  • http://http//downatthecrossroads.wordpress.com Gary

    I haven’t read any of the books you mentioned, but one comment I’d make having read your article – as someone who has worked in the software industry for 30 years, often running companies – Christians getting together in the workplace to pray seems to me to have limited value and, as you suggest, may even be a negative thing. Of far more importance, it seems to me, is the way Christians model the radically alternative kingdom of God in business and the workplace – taking seriously questions like:
    am I prepared to do business with this company that’s in, say, the weapons industry, e.g.?
    do I pay my employees a fair wage, even though that’s not what my competitors do?
    what sort of concern do I or my company have for the environment, in terms of waste, toxic emissions, etc.?
    do I treat colleagues and employees with respect at all times, even if technically they are junior in rank to me?
    am I prepared to work all the hours of day and night just to build my business or please my company, and disregard my other responsibilities – e.g. spouse and children?
    how do I treat my customers? – again with respect, giving exceptional value and so on.
    The answers to some of these questions are often likely to be costly in terms of $ or status prospects. But if we don’t face them, we’re just playing a game of Christianity.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    I don’t have time to participate much today, but I want to offer this observation.

    Over the past 30 years I have seen the ebb and flow of the business cycle. One of the things that happens in the good times is that employers start going to greater lengths to increase employee satisfaction for retention and productivity. But during recessions, like now, many of the large companies have too many people so they cut back.

    In the last couple of up ticks, notably late 80′s and late 90′s and less so in the mid ’00s I saw companies attempting to accommodate people as whole beings. They said don’t leave a big part of you at home, bring your whole self to the table and us all of you.

    But now, most companies are not doing that because they have their pick of employees. The last thing they want is someone using some spurious thinking in their business.

  • Percival

    Here’s a little heads up for you. Keep an eye on Christian business models coming from our brothers and sister in China. You heard it here first.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    #4 Gary,

    I want to use your comment as springboard to make a point. I agree with everything you say. But I have a concern.

    When we in the church go to talking about business, we nearly always turn it into a conversation about sin management rather than discipleship. Charles North and Bob Smeitana in “Good Intentions” tell about survey work Laura Nash did with pastors and businesspeople. They write:

    “Pastors and church leaders talked in restrictive terms about the need to limit greed. The businesspeople in their congregations had a different view.

    ‘Business people took a positive, additive view: faith was about expanding economic opportuntity for more people through business success,” says Nash. “For the business person business was about solving problems and creating prosperity, and it centered on specific activities.” (37-38)

    Rather than beginning with sin management, what if we begin with the first great commission? We are called to dominion. We are called to create a shalom-filled abundant world in service to God. You, Mr. or Mrs. businessperson, have a such a vital role as you go about trying to coordinate the factors of production that will transform matter, energy, and data from less useful forms to more useful forms. We praise God for the gifts you have and the calling you have accepted. With this grounding, we then move into the discussion about the great good that business does and the profound challenges that are faced.

    When it comes to initiating constructive conversations about complex ethical issues it is a bit like a conversation Winston Churchill had with his staff during WWII. Churchill suggested the answer to the German U-Boat problem was to boil the ocean and when the subs surfaced they could be identified and sunk. The staff asked how he proposed to do that. He replied that his job was to identify the solution and it was their job to implement it.

    In church circles, we use language like “fair wages” or “common good.” The businessperson/economist requests specificity, offering examples that illustrate the challenges of applying such concepts. Rather than beginning a constructive conversation the implicit/explicit answer back very often is that, motivated by greed, the businessperson/economist is just trying to skirt moral responsibility. They have been given the answer. There job is to implement it. A few experiences like this in the confines of the church and the businessperson learns it isn’t even worth raising the issues. As Knapp reported at the beginning of the book, the perception quickly becomes that the church either doesn’t understand or doesn’t care about the issues that are faced.

    Again, I’m not laying all this on you. You comments just got me thinking in this direction.

  • Richard

    “Bottom line is the goals of a publicly chartered corporation and the Gospel of the Kingdom are not compatible.”

    Anyone in this thread willing to engage this comment. I tend to agree with Naum on this and would be very interested in a counter-perspective.

  • http://krusekronicle.com Michael W. Kruse

    #8 Richard I don’t agree with the statement and I didn’t want to get sidetracked away from the basic content of the post to respond to it. With 12 hours having elapsed I’m more willing to go there.

    But before addressing the issue I would be interested in your thoughts on something. Nearly everything we buy is touched by corporations to one degree or another. Most people in most congregations work for a corporation in some capacity. You are the pastor of such a congregation. What is your pastoral counsel to the congregation? Are there practical alternatives you would offer?

  • paj

    “The real change has been coming from Christians outside the institutions of the church”

    Unfortunately, the stuff that interests people in the workplace are not on the radar for the institution church of more liberal leanings. I’ve given up, they are not interested. Within the evangelical community it is better but will still a way to go. Some signs of hope because they are more used to working with para-church type entities.

    In an environment of indifference (more so evangelicals) or hostility (more so liberals), its no accident the movement is outside the mainline churches.

    The only way to change this is via people working in the marketplace and knowing some theology to actually educate the church (if they care to listen), otherwise the two will continue in parallel universes.

    Its a gift and a privilege to work/service/worship in God’s creation. Its my hope this movement(s) will continue to grow.

  • Richard

    @ 9

    I agree that everything is wired together in our system and I counsel wisdom and awareness to our congregation – we need to know what we’re endorsing through our purchases and investments. I also teach that many capitalist structures and theories have allowed us to all have indoor plumbing (in our congregation), affordable cars, etc. But I don’t shy away from the flip side that large corporations are inherently detached from the communities that they impact (positively or negatively). I encourage our congregation that they have a charge as servant leaders and stewards to improve and refine the areas they have influence over and that they have been blessed to be a blessing. (there’s a long ramble on my pastoral counsel in these areas). One of my best friends works in collections, another is the President of a local bank that sells its mortgages to big international debt holders. Another works on the Chicago Board of Trade. A fourth works for the in the benefits program for PNC Bank. I need all of them to be wrestling with business that honors Christ, especially in light of a church history that adamantly opposed charging interest and building large asset bases.

    If I recall correctly, at one point corporations weren’t infinite organizations. I also wonder about the corporation being beholden to the investors and profit not only primarily, but exclusively in many cases. These seem to be very counter to Jesus and his Kingdom. Ironically, I wonder if Yunis’ advocacy of “social businesses” is a redemptive model for the corporation.

  • http://www.compathos.tv John L

    (3) “Bottom line is the goals of a publicly chartered corporation and the Gospel of the Kingdom are not compatible.”

    Richard (11), good thoughts. WRT the common definition of corporation, I generally agree with (3′s) statement. Corporate directors are required by law to do everything within their power to maximize shareholder wealth (“greed” by any other name) and can be sued by stockholders if they don’t. The autonomous and self-interested nature of corporations needs re-balancing. Changing the nature of corporate law is an issue I’m engaged with.

    In a very short time, over 500 corporate CEOs and boards (US$3B represented) are now voluntarily experimenting to see if we can change the legal definition of “corporation” to a more accountable element of society. The experiment may ultimately fail, but so far we are flourishing, and have passed new corporate law in 7 states (flex corp, “b” corp, etc.). At current trend, over 1000 corporations should be formally on-board in a relatively short time.

    A growing number of us (CEOs, boards, policy makers, etc.) see fundamental problems with the way U.S. law defines the “corporation.” We’re not trying to reboot capitalism or find an economic cure-all, but we are attempting to reform the laws that govern corporations and corporate citizenship. The recent “Citizen’s United” SC ruling is one example of this imbalance, IMO.

    Richard (11), Yunis is one example among thousands globally who are attempting socially-engaged business models. It’s our hope that, in 1 or 2 generations, such corporate models will the norm, not the exception.

  • Richard

    @12

    It also seems that if they’re to be classified as “persons” and “citizens” then there are a number of regulating issues that could be applied to corporations that aren’t benefitting their community/society


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