Michael Kruse: Business People 2

Michael Kruse: Business People 2 February 19, 2019

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 Business People (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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