Michael Kruse: Business People 7

Michael Kruse: Business People 7 February 27, 2019

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 Business People (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?


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