Business People 2 (Michael Kruse)

Business People 2 (Michael Kruse) March 8, 2012

This post is by Michael Kruse, and deals with how the church and business people need to work together.

The business world frequently hinders our integration of faith with work but the church creates its own obstacles as well. We continue today with John Knapp’s How the Church Fails Businesspeople (and what can be done about it). The previous post looked at how the business world contributes to the divide between faith and work. Now we are looking at Chapter 2, “The World of the Church.”

Do you agree that Knapp’s dualisms figure prominently in the life of the church? If so, what is the antidote for escaping them? For pastors, do you sense a divide from businesspeople or are these survey findings a surprise to you? Are there things you’ve found helpful in bridging the gap?

Knapp begins this chapter by supplementing his survey findings with other research. In short: there is a deep divide between businesspeople and the church. He finds some businesspeople have internalized the idea that Christian ethics have little to do with work life. Work is accepted as a separate sphere of life. Quoting Helmut Thielicke, Knapp describes work for many as “… a temporal sphere in which the radical commandments of the Sermon on the Mount do not seem to apply, a sphere which consequently cannot be called into question.” (27)

Still, many businesspeople do seek integration of work and faith but they do so apart from pastors and the church apparatus. The widespread perception is that pastors don’t know their circumstances and don’t care (or frankly, pastors may even be hostile toward them). Furthermore, Robert Wuthnow believes that many pastors are fearful of addressing issues because they don’t understand peoples’ lives, or maybe because they feel that work is a “neutral zone” where they should not be meddling.

Knapp identifies three dualisms that contribute to the divide. The first is the sacred and secular split. A perceived hierarchy of occupations is pervasive in the church. At the top are sacred professions like clergy, missionaries, and church professionals. These are followed by the helping professions with nurses, teachers, and social workers. At bottom are businesspeople and a number of other professionals.

Yet we find no hierarchy in the New Testament. Knapp suggests the gradation emerged in the church in the generations after the New Testament era. Greek culture elevated contemplation above physical labor. As the church became more integrated with the Greco-Roman world, a hierarchy of work took hold. The Protestant Reformation pushed back against this idea with the “priesthood of all believers” but it left intact the idea of paid clergy as the “real” priesthood.

Knapp writes:

“We should ask ourselves what is being communicated when a church allots time on Sunday morning to commission a short-term mission team for ten days in Mexico, yet does nothing to commission new college graduates for their careers in business or government or education. The crippling and unambiguous message is that ten days of volunteer work are more important to the church – and, by implication, to God – than a Christian’s lifelong occupation.” (29)

(In fact, why not have periodic commissioning services for people as they take new jobs? As a bit of shameless self-promotion, I’ve written a sample commissioning liturgy for Presbyterians. Click here.)

The second duality is the eternal and temporal divide. For most of the New Testament era, Christians expected an imminent return of Christ. On balance, the New Testament is focused on how to live in the turbulent last days before Christ returns. Little focus is given to the “first great commission” of tending and caring for creation, “… real work that is at once both temporal and sacred.” (35) The bias is still in evidence today, particularly in evangelical and pietistic traditions, with an inordinate individualistic focus on personal salvation to the detriment of a more full orbed view of mission in the world that includes the first great commission.

The third duality is the public versus private divide. Here Knapp is critiquing the reduction of the church into a refuge for therapeutic healing in our private lives with no sense of equipping people for transformative work in the world.

Knapp rounds out the chapter with two more dynamics that contribute to the work and faith divide. He points first to theological education. He includes a quote by Laura Nash and Scotty McLennan summarizing their findings from a survey of 154 seminary students from 14 diverse seminaries about their preparation to minister to members of the business community:

“When we probed for a particularized connection between faith and work, the response showed little depth or experience. When asked what business books or journals they studied, very few had any experience at all. When asked, “Have you discussed or been given any scripture passages to study with the explicit purpose of understanding God’s message with respect to business or the responsibilities of businesspeople?” respondents offered a range of passages that tended toward  portraying bad business behavior.” (37)

Knapp reviewed the 2008-2009 course catalogs of eighteen leading seminaries and divinity schools from across the Christian spectrum. He found:

“Only a few electives at a handful of the schools are described as addressing vocational or work-related issues. Several more focus on broader economic topics, such as social justice for the poor. Yet these institutions collectively offer dozens of courses on marriage, family, children, hospital visitation, psychological counseling, and other topics most relevant to the private sphere.” (38)

Theological scholarship, where it touches on business at all, is more oriented to macroeconomic critiques than to economic life at the micro (individual) or meso (organizational) levels. Here I would interject a quote from Miroslav Volf’s , “Work in the Spirit: A Theology of Work” (1991):

“Theologians are to blame for the former negligence [of studying work]. Amazingly little theological reflection has taken place in the past about an activity that takes up so much of our time. The number of pages theologians have devoted to the question of transubstantiation – which does or does not take place on Sunday – for instance, would, I suspect, far exceed the number of pages devoted to work that fills our lives Monday through Saturday. My point is not to belittle the importance of a correct understanding of the real Presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper but to stress the proper perspective on human work is at least as important.“ (69)

While there has been improvement in the last twenty years, Volf’s critique is still substantially true.

Some folks note the rising number of second career seminarians. Some of these people have come from business backgrounds. Might this help bridge the gap? Possibly with some, but Knapp notes that a majority of these folks are going into theology precisely because they disliked the business world and view their seminary experience as pursuit of a “higher calling.”

Another alternative is for seminaries to do continuing education classes or Doctor of Ministry programs that will help pastors bridge the gap. Knapp researched this option as well. Very few seminaries offered any options dealing with work, with Columbia Seminary (Decatur, GA), where he has been an adjunct, being an exception.

A final issue Knapp raises is the way churches conduct their own business affairs.

“Whether or not we are comfortable with acknowledging it, business management is an indispensable facet of ministry. Churches hire and pay staff, own and manage property, invest money, keep accounting records, file financial reports with government agencies, hire management and fund-raising consultants, comply with employment laws, own fleets of vehicles, purchase goods and services, and advertise their own services to the marketplace.” (41)

Larger churches may own recreational facilities, childcare facilities, or even for-profit businesses. Yet studies of accounting in church organizations consistently show resistance to well-accepted business practices for non-profit organizations. Somehow, bringing these practices into the church is perceived as bringing secular influences into sacred space.  Personally, I have sat in board meetings for our denominational mission board where editorial amendments were made to reports that used language like “entrepreneurial leadership” or “stakeholders,” not because people disagreed with the underlying intent of the words, but because the specific words were language from the “corporate” world … they were not “spiritual” enough. And guess what each businessperson in such conversations hears indirectly (or maybe not so indirectly) being said about their work?

The net result is that businesspeople frequently see churches and church leaders who do not act with integrity and prudence with their own business affairs. Why would they seek out ethical advice for their own struggles from such people? Why would they take to heart whatever business/economic correction church leaders might preach to them?

A whole book could be written on portions of this chapter alone. What I present here is a condensation of an already condensed presentation of the issues. Yet taking the first two chapters together, I think Knapp has pointed us to the essence of the problem.

One thought came to my mind for further reflection.  What does a healthy relationship between businesspeople and the church look like? It seems unrealistic to me that we could expect pastors to become experts in the world of business. So what is the pastor’s, or a congregation’s, role? Knapp will have more to say later but it is a critical question.

Suggested discussion questions:

Do you agree that Knapp’s dualisms figure prominently in the life of the church? If so, what is the antidote for escaping them? For pastors, do you sense a divide from businesspeople or are these survey findings a surprise to you? Are there things you’ve found helpful in bridging the gap?


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  • Nate

    I would say that Knapp’s dualism figures into the life of the church, however, it is sometimes prominent, sometimes subversive, and sometimes openly hostile. I think the biggest problem is not necessarily the “vertical” of the sacred and the spiritual dualism (i.e. the hierarchy mentioned above), but the horizontal, the division of the “over there” (i.e. “othering”) that occurs between the work that people do 5-6 days a week and their time together on Sunday. While some pastors definitely lord over their congregation (hierarchy), many do not understand, engage with, or can really empathize with everyone else (cf. the three dualisms). I don’t think that there’s necessarily a big problem with authority. Business women and men know what it is to be hierarchy (cf. Mt. 8 and the centurion). However, because the divide supposedly exists between the sacred and secular, there is constant “othering” of the business person and/or the pastor. Until there are bridges built, and work is seen as sacred and the church building is a place that values work and business folks, I believe there won’t be the reconciliation that Knapp is hinting at.

    On a personal note, I am a student at North Park, graduating in May. I will be receiving an MBA and an M.Div. I plan on going overseas to pursue business as mission, tent-making, discipleship and church planting, or what I like to call “sustainable economic and faith community development”:-). I have found myself fairly alone in this arena at North Park and in my denomination, the ECC. There is so much room for growth here, and I think people (clergy and lay) are starting to catch the vision. This keeps me hopeful. I will (hopefully) never be a full-time pastor (much to the chagrin of some), but I will pastor people. I will (hopefully) never be employed by the church, but I will work to make disciples, bring in the least, the last and the lost, and further the ministry of reconciliation that we’ve been given, precisely because all my time will be spent outside the four walls of the church building….

    I am excited to see what happens.

    Grace and Peace.

  • Nate

    I should also add that “othering” happens not just to business people, but to teachers, to sanitation workers, and everyone under the sun… The disconnect horizontally is amazing…

    Grace and Peace…

  • DRT

    I hope to write more later, but as a quick note I think the anti-intellectualism in some churches comes into play. Faith is not a reasoned position for many, it is something that just take on, When that notion is present then there is an inherent contempt for disciplines that are supposedly based on fact.

  • Susan N.

    My initial reaction is somewhat disappointed. I think I must have been expecting too much to begin with.

    I’m also somewhat surprised at the issues the author has identified as being the root of the problem. I don’t think the author has drilled down far enough to the source of the conflict.

    Perhaps I have failed to understand that the particular focus of this book/series of posts is exclusively “businesspeople.” I hesitate to comment further, because my thinking deviates so far from the path that the author is laying out.

    The first moment of cognitive dissonance hit me when I read the bit on sacred and secular dualism, perceived hierarchy of occupations with businesspeople and other professionals at the bottom. Really? How about non-professionals in the workforce? Less than zero?

    Then, re: Miroslav Volf’s ‘Theology of Work,’ I question whether “work” is taken to encompass *all* work: Paid, unpaid, skilled, unskilled, mental, physical, etc.?

    As an aside, in pondering this topic, a related question occurs to me. Do you think that if businesspeople are supported more in the idea of their vocation as mission that even fewer men (probably many women too, though women tend I think to be programmed biologically and culturally to a caretaking/caregiving duty) will be active in “church?”

    So much hand-wringing has gone on as to lack of participation, and attendance even, among the male segment of the church. When business is recognized as not only a necessary, integrated, equally important component of faith and evangelical mission, maybe the church had better be ready to radically redesign its own business (e.g., programs, format, marketing pitch)?


  • Susan #4

    “Work” is an incredibly slippery term to define. Volf spends considerable ink working to define it and wrestles with the issues you raise and more. I don’t want to divert into an detailed discussion of the various nuances of this. I just simplify it to say that daily activity of transforming matter, energy, and data from less useful forms to more useful forms on an ongoing basis for remuneration or exchange (call that “work” or what you will) has not been well addressed by the theologians.

    As to hierarchy, I think the point is that there shouldn’t be a hierarchy, not how to rearrange people on it more accurately. I have been in churches where businesspeople are given undo deference. That is true. But what we typically hear in the church and from the pulpit is that work in the church is the pinnacle. The helping professions are next (nurses, social workers, teachers, emergency responders, etc.) And actually I think not far behind this are non-professionals who work with their hands and make products. At the bottom are businesspeople don’t help anyone. They just want to make profits and that is counter to the Kingdom. That is my sense of what Knapp is getting at but I speaking for myself.

    To be honest, I not that interested in whether more integrated lives gets more people active in the programs of the church. I far more interested in seeing the presence of Christ and his Kingdom at work in the world. That is the primary locus of mission for most of us.

  • Richard

    I think where this gets tricky for me (with a heavy dose of anabaptist perspective) is that much of the church fathers and theologians prior to the Reformation had very little good to say about profit-maximizing businessmen and merchants, especially those that made a living via capital investment. What does a more redemptive model of economics look like?

    The problem of dis-integration between faith and practice is hardly unique to the world of business and I agree that the church has often been guilty of promoting it through our language of “this earth is not my home.” If anything, I would agree with Rollins that too often churches and pastors provide convenient pressure releases that allow congregation members to do very un-Christian things during the week as long as they receive cheap grace on the weekend or give their 10%.

    How do I pastor my close Christian friend (a PK) who makes a living via repossessing and litigation for debt repayment? Jesus’ teachings seem pretty crystal clear on such practices but he needs to provide for his wife and kid.

    In short, I don’t think Jesus has been unclear, I just don’t think we want to sacrifice to obey.

    And as a pastor, half of the conflict within my church council that I’ve dealt with in three years has been “That’s not ethical and we’re going to do better” – I had one leader ask me if we needed to report a faulty meter to the utility company or wait for them to notice… And these are the “elders”!

    Being holistic in applying the good news that Jesus is Lord is hard, prophetic, and challenging but so much more rewarding in the end.

  • Albion

    At the bottom are businesspeople don’t help anyone. They just want to make profits and that is counter to the Kingdom. That is my sense of what Knapp is getting at but I speaking for myself.

    I would sharpen this statement up a little.

    In the current ethos, it’s not businesspeople who produce a good or service that are relegated to low man on the totem pole so much as businesspeople in the financial sector who produce nothing but more money for people who already have plenty of money. Nothing of value is added to society; moreover, these guys took enormous risks, ended up wrecking the economy and then 4 years later are making more $ than ever before.

    A simplistic critique perhaps but it’s the one I hear much more than one that thinks businesspeople as a group are not “helpful” to anyone.

    So an ancillary question, not perhaps germane to your post, is this: Is making $ with $ work?

  • Richard

    “So an ancillary question, not perhaps germane to your post, is this: Is making $ with $ work?”

    As I understand church history and practice, the first 1600 yrs of the church explicitly banned this; hence the development of the reputation of Jewish bankers in Europe; Christians were banned from charging interest and that void was filled by Jewish merchants.

    It seems that the theological foundation was an explicit denial of private property in the vein of “it’s God’s money, not yours, so stop moonlighting with it to the disadvantage of others”

  • Susan N.

    “But what we typically hear in the church and from the pulpit is that work in the church is the pinnacle.”

    That is interesting, Michael. In my former evangelical church, that isn’t what I heard from or perceived to be the attitude of the senior pastor. My spidey senses of him were that of an extremely ethical, in a Kingdom sort of way, individual. I heard him say, “We the people…are the church. Our mission is not to profit materially from a business perspective, but to reach outward as the Body of Christ.”

    It was so many of the people in the Body who were apparently operating from a completely different paradigm (church mission and fellowship based on a business model) that ultimately became discouraging, defeating, and spiritually draining to me. IMHO, the business model will only take the evangelical mission so far, and then it falls miserably flat — as in, epic fail, in embodying Christ in the church, let alone the world. Businesspeople need not be scapegoated as the lowest of the low, but neither do we need to elevate or overly glorify their work, imho. The businesspeople, I think, are caught in the larger systemic evils, oftentimes. Christians all struggle with that in the good ol’ USA, regardless of vocation.

    You’ve no doubt heard this popular business adage: “Time is money.” What are the implications of conflating that with Kingdom work?

    Secondly, I think of Mother Theresa’s famous quote: “In this life, we cannot do great things. Only small things with great love.” Does that ethic have any place anymore in the business world or in the church?

  • Richard #6, how the churches view of money and wealth has changed over time is the subject of the next chapter.

  • paj

    One Australian’s reflection on the first dualism: Sacred vs Secular.

    First, to begin with we need some biblical evidence that this a false dualism and not just something we in business should complain because we feel subordinate to another’s more “sacred” work/ministry. That is, if we are indeed “the saints” as Paul calls us (Eph 1:1), created for good works (Eph 2:10), called to clothe ourselves in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 5:24), then it becomes difficult to argue we should act differently in a so called “sacred” or “secular” space. Indeed, Jesus continuing work doesn’t appear to support a long term structural dualism between the two. If we really believe a. Jesus is truly gathering up all things in heaven and things on earth (Eph 1:10), and b. has all things under his feet (Eph 1:22).

    Second, does it really matter if even within a world view that sees all Christian work/service as sacred that some is more primary than others. Again, the evangelists, prophets, pastors and teachers are to equip the saints (Eph 3:12) and lets celebrate that fact. Furthermore, Jesus in Luke’s gospel puts great emphasis on people listening to him (Lk 6:17-49; 10:38-42), so as a person in business I can rest on the fact that I have good work to do which God has prepared beforehand but also be a grateful receiver of God’s words.

    Frankly, I would love to see the day when both short term mission and long term mission possibilities in the workplace are honoured. But I may have to wait a long time, so I think its time for workers to step up and act as missionaries in such setting. As God’s image bearers in what we do and what we say.


  • MatthewS

    paj, Eph 2:1-10 also came to my mind – it was cool to see that someone else was thinking of it as well. Indeed, the Ephesians passages are intended to permeate everything whether we are translating Greek or hitting a nail with a hammer.

  • tim a

    Michael, thanks for the two interestings posts.

    Sorry if i missed it but, how are business and business persons defined in this book and discussion?

    Also work seems a topic obviously overlapping but much much bigger. (Depending though on defs)

    In our small rural methodist churches there’s little vertical or social hierarchy in church. Not saying none, but little. The community values small d participatory democracy a lot, and what we think of what we and others do depends on how they do it. Our not-yet-retired businesspeople include a coffee shop owner operator, a beautician, two home-based computer businesses (one of whom is also involved in home-pasta company)… Others work in business (a large computer comp 40 miles away, as a home-based editor, in computer systems)… Probably at least as many work in teaching, nursing, post office, town government… We also have about a third retired…


  • Paj

    Matthew #12 I’m glad you were also thinking about Ephesians.

    In a city with a large temple that’s used for banking amongst other things I think it’s fantastic that Paul calls the real temple all the people of God.