Why Don’t We Pray for Business?

Why Don’t We Pray for Business?

by Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2011 by Mark D. Roberts

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Why Don’t We Pray for Business? Part 1

In 2010, churches were urged by the National Day of Prayer Task Force, an evangelical group, to pray for seven centers of influence: government, military, media, business, education, church, and family.

As I reflected on this request, it occurred to me that Christians often pray for most of these centers. At least that has been true of my experience in church. When I was pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, for example, we regularly prayed in worship services for government, military, education, church, and family. But we rarely, if ever, prayed for media and business.

That got me thinking. Why had we – had I – been so selective in praying for certain institutions but not others? I particular, I began to wonder why we neglected to pray for business?

The New York Stock Exchange. Now there’s a business institution that could use a little prayer, don’t you think?

I’ve been participating in church worship services for fifty years. I’ve heard or offered thousands of prayers in the context of congregational worship. Yet I cannot remember either hearing or offering a prayer that focused on – or even mentioned – business. In my pastoral prayers at Irvine Pres, I would regularly intercede on behalf of government officials, members of the military, teachers, police officers, firefighters, parents, grandparents, pastors, churches, and mission partners. But I cannot remember offering prayers for bankers, lawyers, realtors, salespeople, and the like. Nor can I recall praying for business institutions: banks, law firms, corporations, small business, brokerage firms, etc. This seems especially odd to me now, given the fact that the majority of working people in my church were in business settings such as those I just mentioned. Why didn’t I pray for them in the activity that took up so much of their time and meant so much to their lives? Why didn’t I pray for the companies they worked for or, in many cases, owned?

The title of this post, “Why Don’t We Pray for Business?”, assumes that I am not unusual in my failure to pray for business and business people. I believe that this is the norm for Christians, both in their private lives and especially in their corporate worship. Now I’m sure that individuals pray about their own businesses and jobs. And I would sometimes pray for people’s jobs when they came to seek my pastoral advice about situations they faced in their work life. But, for some peculiar reason, or set of reasons, these private prayers did not impact my public leadership of prayer in worship.

Thus I continue to wonder: Why don’t we pray for business?

As you read this question, you may be feeling a bit defensive. You may be thinking, “Hey, we do pray for business in my church! And I pray for business and people in business in my private prayers as well.” If so, that’s fantastic, and I’d like to hear about it. How does your church include business in its life of corporate prayer? What is said? How often? In what context(s)?

But if your experience is like mine, then you might also be wondering why we don’t pray for business. What are your thoughts about this? Before I get too far into my suggestions, I’d like to hear you ideas. If you have a moment, please add a comment below or email me.

Before I finish today’s post, I’ll offer one reason I believe Christians don’t pray for business.

Reason #1: We don’t pray for business because we don’t pray for business.

Yes, I realize this sounds so obvious as to be silly. But I am serious about this answer. Our particular way of praying, both form and content, is governed to a great extent by our practices, traditions, and habits. This is obviously true if you operate in a tradition of structured prayer (such as using the Anglican Book of Common Prayer). But even if you are most comfortable with spontaneous prayers, how you pray is, to a significant extent, shaped by your past experience of prayer. How you pray is how you pray.

For example, I grew up praying every night before I went to bed. In these prayers I always asked God to bless my family members by name: God bless Mommy and Daddy, Gary, Julie, Nancy, etc. etc. I did not think, nor was I taught, to pray specifically for my Dad at work, for his boss, for his company, etc. His work life was simply not something I ever mentioned in prayer. Thus, even today, it is much more natural for me to pray for people in their personal lives than to pray for them in their professional roles. How I pray has been molded by my practices of prayer.

If Reason #1 has in merit, it also suggests a way to help people begin to pray for business. Do it. Model it. If pastors and others who pray in worship services, for example, began on a fairly regular basis to pray for businesses and business leaders, for bosses and employees, for church members in their professional roles, that example would have a powerful impact on the prayer practices of the congregation, both in corporate and private prayer.

Tomorrow I’ll offer up some other reasons why Christians don’t pray for business.

Why Don’t We Pray for Business? Part 2

Yesterday I began a short series on the question: Why don’t we pray for business? In particular, I’m wondering why Christians don’t pray, in the context of corporate worship, for business institutions, business leaders, and those who work in businesses. We do tend to pray for other institutions (government) and people who work in the public or non-profit sector. But, at least in my experience, we don’t pray for business in its many facets.

Yesterday I suggested one reason for this curious omission:

1. We don’t pray for business because we don’t pray for business. Our prayers are shaped by our experience of praying, so if we don’t pray for certain needs, chances are we won’t pray for those needs.

Today I’ll offer a second reason.

2. We don’t pray for business because those who lead us in prayer have not been trained to do so.

Trinity Church, Wall Street, in New York City. To the left is the New York Stock Exchange. I imagine they pray for business at Trinity Wall Street.

In most churches, pastors offer prayer in corporate worship services. In some churches, this responsibility is shared with others: members of staff, lay leaders, etc. Usually the pastors are responsible for training and encouraging those who lead in prayer. So, one way or another, the content of prayer in public worship is shaped by pastors. And pastors, by and large, have not been trained to include business among the topics for corporate prayer in worship.

Pastoral training generally happens in two contexts: in seminaries and in churches. Here is where pastors-to-be learn how to pray and to lead people in prayer. Neither context, in my experience, emphasizes prayer for business. And this is not just my own personal experience. It is common to almost all seminarians and pastors who are seminary-trained. The lack of pastoral training related to business is documented by David W. Miller in his outstanding book, God at Work: The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement (Oxford, 2006).

If praying for business is worth doing, then seminaries and churches should train pastors and all who lead in worship to pray in this vein. David Miller offers a number of recommendations for churches so that they might encourage people who work in business settings to live out their faith in the workplace. Among these suggestions we read:

A logical starting place for change is the place where clergy are trained. Seminaries and divinity schools should recognize anew the theological, practical, and pastoral importance of the workplace with a view toward training pastors to minister more intentionally and effectively to their parishioners in the business world and other workplaces. (p. 144)

This training would include prayer:

Clergy who wish to equip their people to integrate faith and work will also need to develop a ministry of public preaching and prayer that intentionally and constructively addresses all dimensions of [faith at work]. Sermons and pastoral prayers play a vital theological role as part of a ministry of integration to those in the business world, helping people to discover their vocational identity, resist splitting the sacred from the secular, navigate difficult ethical questions, and gain comfort for personal needs and hurts. (p. 147)

Of course the lack of previous training doesn’t exempt those of us who lead in worship from learning to pray for business and business people. If we believe that we should be praying in this way, then we can surely teach ourselves to do so. Better yet, we can work with others, including the business people of our churches, so as to pray in ways that connect to the real-life challenges of those who work in business. I can imagine pastors sitting down with people who work in business and asking, “How might we as a church pray for you in our worship services? What are the concerns, needs, and challenges you face in your professional life?” Not only would the answers to these questions be helpful, but also the conversations would be encouraging to those who have often felt as if their work really didn’t count for much in church.

But, before seminaries begin teaching future pastors to pray for business, and before we develop this focus in our leadership of prayer, we need to overcome another hurdle. I’ll explain and try to surmount this barrier tomorrow.

Why Don’t We Pray for Business? Part 3

In the last two days I have begun to consider why it is that Christians do not pray for business, at least not very often in the context of corporate worship. So far I have suggested two reasons:

Reason #1: We don’t pray for business because we don’t pray for business.

Reason #2: We don’t pray for business because those who lead us in prayer have not been trained to do so.

Today I offer a third reason, one that helps to explain Reason #2:

Reason #3: We don’t pray for business because our worship leaders have been trained in settings that are indifferent or negative to business.

For the most part, seminaries, divinity schools, and pastor-training churches do not teach students to pray for the marketplace and its people. This seems odd for many reasons, including one of the most obvious: Churches are filled with people who invest a major proportion of their lives in business. Sure, our sanctuaries include plenty of people who work in the public or non-profit sectors of the economy. But a high percentage of church members work in business. If churches are seeking to help people be disciples of Jesus in their daily lives, and most churches would say this is central to their mission, then it seems only natural for churches to address marketplace concerns, in teaching, preaching, and prayer.

Yet this is not happening on a regular basis in most churches. David Miller, in his book God at Work, summarizes research that shows, for example, that “one can sit through a year’s worth of worship services and seldom hear a connection (let alone a constructive connection) between one’s faith claims and one’s workplace reality” (Kindle Location 1263-66). This lack of connection impacts worship in addition to preaching, according to Miller: “While sermons are often the most visible form of liturgical indifference to the workplace, other aspects of worship (including prayer, confession, pardon, music, commissioning, and benediction) contribute as well” (KL 1269-1270).

Moreover, Miller explains, in many mainline churches, the basic pastoral stance vis-a-vis business is negative:

While clergy may retain strong personal relationships with businesspeople at a personal level, socializing and indeed, courting their financial pledges to the church, many unwittingly perhaps continue to transmit anticapitalist messages to their congregation. The perception being sent from the pulpit is that businesspeople are greedy, captive to the values of an oppressive system, and insensitive to the plight of the poor. (KL 1258-60)

Evangelical and Pentecostal churches sometimes exhibit a friendlier attitude toward the marketplace, and some even try to help members live out their faith at work. But this is not the norm, as Miller’s research demonstrates.

Why do so many pastors regard business with indifference, if not outright negativity? David Miller lays the blame on the shoulders of the seminaries and divinity schools. I should mention, by the way, that Miller is himself a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, an ordained minister in the PCUSA, and a former seminary teacher in addition to an international banker. Moreover, his book, God at Work, is based on extensive empirical research. Here is some of what Miller observes about seminary education and business:

[Most] seminaries do not equip pastors in the local church to reform their marketplace perceptions or shape their liturgy, vocabulary, and other theological presuppositions with a view toward intentionally ministering to the needs of the business community. (KL 1344-45)

There are several likely reasons that the academy has exhibited an indifferent to pejorative stance toward the workplace and those in the corporate world, including a lack of business expertise among theologians; doctrinal and ideological differences; the residual effects of Christian socialism and liberation theology; . . . a reluctance of faculty and administrators to embrace interdisciplinary topics . . . . (KL 1314-17)

Closely related to the absence of seminary teaching on [Faith at Work] issues, the evidence suggests that the overarching presuppositions among theological faculty about capitalism, business, and marketplace issues range from indifferent to negative. The evidence suggests that seminary faculty tend to portray the business community and its underlying dynamics as simplistic (ignoring the moral and ethical complexities); sinful (as if capitalism and its participants were prima facie theologically incorrect); unsympathetic to social justice concerns (wanting merely to maximize profits with no sense of social responsibility); harmful to and exploitative of people (where people become disposable assets); interested exclusively in profits (and not how the profits are earned); and disinterested in the common good of society (leaving that to government and others to address). (KL 1347-1351)

Thus influenced by their faculty, the result is that seminary students’ attitudes toward business and religion, as well as to FAW [Faith at Work], are “overwhelmingly negative.” Students are often left with a one-note song, “lecturing, not listening,” concluding that the best way to address business and FAW issues is by proclaiming a prophetic voice. . . . The danger, in the end, is that seminary education biases future pastors against the structural and contextual world of business, without any appreciation of its constructive and co-creative possibilities to help society and promote the common good. (KL 1352-1356)

Miller does see glimmers of hope, however. He documents several initiatives in seminaries that seek to prepare students for pastoral ministry to the marketplace and its people. He notes a number of leading theologians in seminaries and divinity schools who are addressing the relationship between faith and work in a positive way. And he observes that theologically conservative seminaries tend to be more helpful in this area:

Theological schools that are generally considered to be evangelical or conservative are increasingly more inclined to see the relevance of theology to the workplace and, in various ways, are trying to teach and think theologically about the issues surrounding the Faith at Work movement. In contrast, institutions typically considered to be mainstream or liberal range from being silent to being negative about FAW issues. (KL 1320-1322)

Andover Hall of Harvard Divinity School

What David Miller documents with scholarly precision fits with my own experience. I attended Harvard Divinity School. I have taught at San Francisco Theological Seminary and Fuller Theological Seminary. I have an above-average awareness of what is going on in many seminary settings. For the most part, seminaries and divinity schools do regard business with indifference, and often with disdain. This seems ironic, given the extent to which these institutions depend on the generosity of people who have made their fortunes in business. But the anti-business voices are usually those of the faculty, not the administrators or development officers who have to raise faculty salaries. Consistent with Miller’s observation, I have found more openness to a positive approach to business at Fuller Seminary, which is theologically evangelical.

If it is true that seminaries are not training pastors to minister to the marketplace and its workers, and if such ministry is valid (which I am assuming, at the moment), then the way forward is obvious: Seminaries and divinity schools should make an effort to prepare pastors for ministry to the marketplace. The obstacles to this approach are many, however. If those who are teaching in seminaries truly believe that business is mostly bad, then they will be unable to train students for anything other than a negative-prophetic stance with regard to business. So, it seems that what is needed is not just a refocusing of curriculum, but rather a recasting of a theology of work and business. I’ll have more to say about this later.

Why Don’t We Pray for Business? Part 4

So far in this series I’ve suggested three reasons why we don’t pray for business in the context of Christian worship services:

Reason #1: We don’t pray for business because we don’t pray for business.

Reason #2: We don’t pray for business because those who lead us in prayer have not been trained to do so.

Reason #3: We don’t pray for business because our worship leaders have been trained in settings that are indifferent or negative to business.

Reasons 2 and 3 are connected, in that Reason 3 explains why so many seminary-trained pastors are disinclined to think positively about the marketplace and its Kingdom potential. They’d be hard pressed to pray for an institution they consider to be morally bankrupt and generally opposed to God’s purposes. For many pastors, the impact of their seminary training leaves them to think of business more or less as they might think of organized crime. And you wouldn’t expect most pastors to pray for God’s blessing on the mob.

But there are pastors and lay worship leaders who regard business in a more balanced perspective, seeing its Kingdom potential as well as its tendency, in many cases, to serve Mammon rather than God. For example, had you asked me while I was senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian church, if I thought business could be a vehicle for God’s grace, love, and justice in the world, I would have said “Yes.” I expect this would be true for many of my pastoral colleagues. Yet we rarely pray for the marketplace in our worship services. What might explain this? Today I want to suggest two possible reasons, one that is rather obvious, one that is less so.

Reason #4: We don’t pray for business because Scripture does not command us to do so.

Though I believe you can make a strong biblical case for praying for the marketplace and its workers, you cannot turn to one biblical passage that commands prayer with this focus. Thus, we are not dealing with a situation that is just the same as the case of prayers for political leaders. A passage from the New Testament book of I Timothy reads:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity (1:1-2)

While we don’t have many kings left in our world, we do have presidents and prime ministers, as well as legislative bodies that play the role once filled by royalty. And we certainly have plenty of people in positions of authority. They regularly receive prayer in Christian worship services, not only because they need it, but also because the Bible requires it.

Reason # 5: We don’t pray for business because we don’t have a vision for how business could be part of God’s business in the world.

Prayers in church often touch upon obvious ministries and the ministers who serve within them. Thus we pray for facets of our own church’s ministry (youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, etc.) as well as our mission partners (mission organizations, agencies that seek justice, other churches, etc.). We might even pray for people who work in secular jobs, if these positions are clearly service oriented (teachers, police officers, social workers).

But we don’t pray for those who work in business because we don’t tend to see business as, in potential, part of God’s work in the world. Business seems to be, at best, a means to other ministry ends. Thus, a successful entrepreneur can make money to support churches and mission organizations A worker in a company can share her faith with her colleagues or lead a Bible study for them during the lunch hour. But business itself is not seen as something honoring to God or useful for redemptive purposes.

At this point I am not prepared to present a full-scale case for seeing business as central to God’s own business of saving and renewing the world. This must wait for another day, But I think it’s pretty obvious that if pastors and lay leaders were to see business as integral to God’s work, if they were to see business as ministry, then they would be much more inclined to pray for business institutions as well as for those who work in such institutions.

In my next post in this series, I want to suggest another reason we don’t pray for business, one that has to do with broad patterns of thinking in the church today.

Why Don’t We Pray for Business? Part 5

Today I want to delve into what I believe is one of the most profound reasons why we don’t pray for business. It has to do with how we think as Christians, a fundamental element of our worldview.

But first, to review, so far I’ve suggested five reasons why, I believe, we don’t pray for business in the context of corporate Christian gatherings:

Reason #1: We don’t pray for business because we don’t pray for business.

Reason #2: We don’t pray for business because those who lead us in prayer have not been trained to do so.

Reason #3: We don’t pray for business because our worship leaders have been trained in settings that are indifferent or negative to business.

Reason #4: We don’t pray for business because Scripture does not command us to do so.

Reason #5: We don’t pray for business because we don’t have a vision for how business could be part of God’s business in the world.

Today I want to consider the following:

Reason #6: We don’t pray for business because we divide reality into the sacred and the secular, with prayer falling on the sacred side, and business on the secular side, and never the twain shall meet.

According to Reason #5, we don’t pray for business because we don’t have a vision for how business could be part of God’s business in the world. This lack of vision substantially reflects a lack of a biblically-informed understanding of the world and God’s mission in the world. But it also derives from a pervasive tendency in out culture and in the church to divide reality into two, distinct spheres, the sacred and the secular. For most people, including most Christians, these separate spheres of life do not overlap or influence each other. In the classic phrase of Rudyard Kipling, “never the twain shall meet.”

Most of us intuitively grasp what we mean by “sacred” and what we mean by “secular,” even though there’s plenty of fuzziness around the edges of our definitions. Sacred has to do with religious stuff: God, church, synagogue, mosque, prayer, Bible, worship, mission, belief, etc. Many of us would put things like family and marriage in the religious column as well. The sacred is spiritual, having to do with ultimate reality and ultimate meaning.  Though the sacred might touch upon tangible things (like church buildings), it has to do mostly with that which is intangible, with the ideal rather than the real. Secular, which comes from the Latin saecularis, which means “worldly” or “belonging to this age,” refers to this world, to material objects and endeavors. The secular is transient, corporeal, practical, and real. It’s “down to earth.”

Even faithfully religious people often refer to secular reality as “the real world.” I can think of conversations I’ve had with leaders in my church. In one case, we were considering whether or not to embark on a bold capital campaign to raise money for a new sanctuary. Though the economy was struggling mightily in the early 1990s, I believed we were to move ahead with the campaign. But one of my elders responded negatively, saying something like this: “Well, having faith is just fine when it comes to spiritual things, but in the  . . . .” Business was more real because it dealt with things like money, economic forecasting, and “the bottom line.”

It would be an interesting to debate whether, in the end, the secular is actually more real than the sacred. C.S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce, was the first one to challenge me to think about the reality of the spiritual world. But such a debate assumes the very point I wish to challenge. It takes for granted a fundamental difference between the sacred and the secular, a difference in thinking that keeps us from seeing life as it is. (To be clear, I am not suggesting that Lewis divides sacred from secular.)

It also keeps us from praying for business, for obvious reasons. Prayer is sacred, profoundly so. Business is secular, profoundly so. Or so most of us would assume. So prayer and business simply don’t get on well together. They’re as separate from each other as oil and water, or NASCAR and Valentine’s Day. (Note: The Daytona 500 fell on Valentine’s Day this year.) We don’t pray for business because it’s just not something we pray about. To do so would be a category confusion, rather like taking your wife on a romantic date to a WWE steel cage match. Wouldn’t be prudent.

As you can probably guess, I believe that the division of life into sacred and secular is a mistake. It perceives the world wrongly because the world is not actually divided into sacred and secular. This way of thinking has come to us through Christian tradition that was saturated in classic Greek dualism. Plato and his chums saw the physical world as fundamentally different from the spiritual world, with the spiritual being vastly superior to the physical. Ideas trumped matter.

The biblical worldview, on the contrary, sees all of life as part of God’s creation, as something about which God cares and in which his glory is to be revealed. The fact that God created matter establishes its sacred character. And what was God’s first command to the first humans: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Gen 1:28). The first humans were not told to make an altar and offer sacrifices, or to sing songs of praise, or to have their daily quiet times. Rather, they were to honor God by caring for the stuff of creation. And if you think about the most literal sense of “be fruitful and multiply,” you’ll realize that our physical bodies and their function have everything to do with God. The so-called secular is enveloped and permeated by the so-called sacred, which comes to life in the stuff of the so-called secular.

If we take seriously God’s creation of heaven and earth, as well as the command of God to “be fruitful and multiply . . . and have dominion,” then we’ll begin to see the world as inescapably interconnected, rather than as fundamentally divided into sacred and secular. Business will be seen, not as secular work with little spiritual impact, but rather as part and parcel of God’s business and our business as God’s creatures. Thus it will become natural, one might almost say, spiritual, for us to pray for the marketplace and those who work within it, just as we pray for churches and pastors and missionaries and families and sick people.

I believe that the church is called to an essential task in our time of history: proclaiming that all of life matters to God, and that the division of reality into sacred and secular is biblically mistaken and practically unfruitful. Increasing numbers of people, indeed, business people, are sensing the inadequacy of a life divided into sacred and secular. They are yearning for a way to integrate their lives, to find genuine meaning in their work. This is true of Boomers like me, but even more so of folks 30 and under. According to the recently released book, The M-Factor: How the Millennial Generation Is Rocking the Workplace, the most distinctive feature of Millenials in the workplace is their desire for meaningful work. Biblical theology provides a rock solid basis for finding meaning in every part of life, since it is all part of God’s creation and ultimately embraced in his redemption.

Before I wrap up this series, I want to suggest some practical ways we might begin to do pray for business in a way that is theologically sound and relevant to the marketplace and its people. I’ll get into this on Monday. Meanwhile, have a great weekend. Remember, even weekends matter to God!

Praying for Business: Some Practical Suggestions

Last week my blogging focused on the question: Why don’t we pray for business? I was especially concerned with the absence of marketplace related prayer in the context of corporate Christian gatherings for worship and prayer. When we get together for these purposes, we Christians often pray for government and political leaders, for   and pastors, for soldiers and missionaries, perhaps even for teachers and police officers. But rarely, if ever, do we pray for businesses and their employees. I have offered several reasons why this happens in last week’s blogging.

But, in increasing numbers, Christians are beginning to think about business in a new light. We are seeing the potential of the marketplace to be a context for and even a vehicle of God’s work in the world, God’s business, if you will. Thus, those of us who lead people in worship and prayer are beginning to want to pray for business in our worship services and prayer meetings. Yet we struggle with knowing how to pray. What should we do?

In this blog series I want to offer a few practical suggestions for one who wants to start leading people in prayer for business. In my comments, I will speak specifically about pastors, since I am a pastor and I have served in a parish for twenty-three years. But what I’m suggesting here would also be relevant to lay worship leaders.

Where do we start?

If pastors want to pray for the marketplace and its workers, where should they start? One starting place would be the Bible. We need to return to Scripture for a fresh understanding of God’s creation, of the call to man and woman to be fruitful and multiply, of the breadth of divine calling, of the ministry of all of God’s people, and of the concern of God for every facet of life The more we grasp the scope of God’s business in the world, the more we will begin to discover how to pray for human business.

Another starting point if one wishes to pray for business is such an obvious one that it scarcely needs mentioning. But, as you might expect, I’ll bring it up anyway. Let me approach this starting point with an analogous example. One of the classic “pray-for “scenarios in a worship service involves missionaries (or, better, mission partners). In churches throughout the world, mission partners take two or three minutes in a service to share with the congregation a snapshot of their ministry. Then, as if following a divine scripts, the pastor asks: “And how can we pray for you?”

Now there’s a fine starting point if you want to pray for business: Ask! Ask business people the same question asked of mission partners: “And how can we pray for you?” Suppose a pastor knew of a church member who owned a business and sought to honor God in that business. Almost every church has at least one such person. Many churches have several. Suppose further that the pastor took two or three minutes in a worship service to allow this business owner to explain how she integrated her faith in her business. What more natural way to conclude this mini-interview than with the standard question: “And how can we pray for you?” Of course I recognize that what this second starting point assumes may be a bit too radical for some churches and pastors. We may not be quite ready to begin thinking about our business leaders and workers as missionaries. So, is there a less threatening way to begin?

You betcha, to borrow a phrase from my Midwestern friends. In tomorrow’s post I’ll suggest another way pastors can learn how to pray for business and for the business lives of their church members.

Praying for Business: Some Practical Suggestions (Part 2)

Yesterday I began to offer some practical suggestions for pastors (and other worship leaders) who want to start praying for the marketplace and its workers. These suggestions were:

1. Look to Scripture for new insight into how business might be an essential element of God’s business in the world.2. Allow someone who works in business to share in a worship service how she integrates her faith into her work. Then ask the classic “missionary question” – “And how can we pray for you?”

I recognize that these two starting points are not easy ones for many pastors and churches. The first seems to require a considerable investment of time, while the second might push the edge of the envelope too far, too fast. Isn’t there an easier starting point?

Indeed, there is. It involves one of the most obvious and basic of ministry strategies. Let me begin with an illustrative analogy. A new youth worker is hired by a church to serve the high school age students in the church and local community. What is job one for that youth minister? Get to know the students personally! Visit them in their world on campus (if possible), at ballgames, and at school plays. Meet with them one-on-one or in small groups. Don’t preach to them in these personal meetings. Rather, ask questions and listen! Find out their thoughts, dreams, feelings, and fears. Get to know them!

This is exactly what pastors can and should do with the business people in their churches. Visit them in their worlds, their workplaces. Meet them for lunch or coffee, if at all possible on their turf. And then ask lots of questions and listen. Ask things like: What do you do in your work? How do you like it? What do you find rewarding about your work? Challenging? Frustrating? Exciting? What would you like me, as your pastor, to know about your professional life? How does your faith impact your work? How does your work impact your faith? Can you think of any ways I might be able to help and support you in your work? Can you think of any ways our church might be able to help and support you in your work? And, last but not least, how can I pray for you in your business?

If pastors were to have conversations with their members that involved questions like these, soon the pastors would be equipped to pray in worship for the marketplace and its workers. They would understand the challenges and opportunities faced by their members. But this would be only one sweet fruit of such pastoral visits. Other benefits would include: members feeling understood and valued by their pastors, pastors actually “getting” the real, day-to-day experiences of their members, members feeling freer to share their lives with their pastors, pastors knowing what issues to address in preaching, and so on and so forth.

There’s one other benefit I would mention here. Pastors would have fun! I’m not kidding. During my sixteen years as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, I made dozens upon dozens of visits to the workplaces of church members, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. My parishioners seemed to enjoy themselves as well, by the way. They took pleasure in showing me their offices and boardrooms. They were glad to introduce me to their colleagues. I loved seeing my people on their home turf, in their places of struggle and victory, the places where they spent such a considerable percentage of their waking hours. I got the “feel” of their lives in a way that was much harder to obtain when they were only on my turf at church.

Though I visited many of my members in their places of work, and though I inevitably enjoyed these visits and benefited from them, and though they strengthened my effectiveness as a pastor, in retrospect, I wish I had done many more such visits. As my pastoral life got busier and busier with the incessant demands of leading a growing church, I began to make fewer field trips because it was much more convenient to meet folks in my office or Tully’s (my favorite coffee place near the church, in photo to right). I still asked folks about their work lives and I still learned plenty, but I missed much of the non-cognitive learning that comes from being in a certain place, seeing the sights and smelling the smells. If a busy pastor cannot imagine how to make time for workplace contact work – and I realize that most pastors already have more on their plates than they can handle – at a minimum, the pastor should begin to ask church members (and others) about their work. This alone will lead pastors to a new depth of understanding and effectiveness in ministry, including praying for business.

Praying for Business: A Dream

When it comes to praying for business, I have a dream that I’d like to share with you. No, it’s not a fast-asleep kind of dream, but a vision, a hope, perhaps even a game plan.

In the last couple of weeks I have been blogging on the topic of praying for business. I began by asking the question: Why don’t we pray for business? I was thinking especially of prayers shared in corporate worship or prayer meetings. After spending a few days trying to answer this question, I shifted to offering some practical suggestions for pastors and other church leaders who would like to pray for the marketplace and its workers, but aren’t quite sure how to do it.

Today I’ll finish up this series by sharing a dream of how we might pray for business in the context of a church worship service. This dream could have many variations. And I fully expect that some visionary churches have already done something like my dream. (I’d be most eager to hear about this, by the way.)

During my sixteen-year tenure as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church, we often prayed in worship services for various configurations of members. We prayed for Sunday School teachers and youth leaders, for folks going on mission trips, for public school teachers, for parents, and for elders and deacons. (I’m sure I’m missing many groups for which we prayed.) But, to my knowledge, we never intentionally prayed for people who worked in business or for the institutions that employed them (or that they owned).
The congregation of Irvine Presbyterian Church in a worship service.

This was an unfortunate oversight. And, since I am no longer a parish pastor, I can’t rectify it. But I can share my dream with others in the hope that some might pick it up and run with it.

What I envision is simple: a time in a church worship service to offer public prayer of dedication and commitment for those who work in business. This prayer would be quite similar to what happened at Irvine Pres when we prayed for people going on a mission trip. Only, in this case, the mission field would be the workplace.

Here’s an outline of what might happen in a worship service:

1. Ideally, the pastor would preach a sermon that explained how business can be a context for God’s people to serve him and their fellow human beings. The sermon would provide a theological foundation for seeing business in a kingdom perspective as well as some practical examples. The sermon is not an essential part of this process, but it would be helpful and encouraging for many.

2. The pastor or other worship leader does a short interview of one (or two) people in the congregation who work in a business context. (I’d opt for two, with one in a major leadership role and the other an employee relatively low on the totem pole.) The interview would center around this question: How do you live out your faith in the context of your workplace? It would also include the question: How can we pray for you? (I would surely choose the people to interview in advance and help them to answer concisely and clearly.)

3. The leader asks everyone in the congregation who works in a business to stand, if they are comfortable doing so and if they would like God’s wisdom for how they can live out their faith in the context of their business environment. I would explain that “business” means, in this case, “for profit enterprises, not public or non-profit sectors.”

4. Once everyone who wished to receive prayer was standing, I would pray on behalf of the congregation (or have someone else lead in prayer). My prayer might go something like this:

Gracious God, thank you for creating the world and all that is in it. Thank you for creating us in your image, calling us to be fruitful and to be faithful stewards of your creation. Thank you for the opportunity to give us to serve you in the context of business, as we seek to fulfill our calling as human beings. Thank you for these who are standing today, for their desire to live out their faith in their workplace.Give them wisdom, Lord, to know what it means to be your disciple at work. Help them as they face difficult decisions, sometimes wondering how to balance the priorities of business and your kingdom. Empower them in their relationships at work, so that they might treat all of their colleagues, including those they supervise and those who supervise them, with respect and love. Encourage them when they feel alone, when they struggle to serve you and be faithful in their jobs. Show these folks how they can bear witness to you at work, in both word and deed. Help them to do so in a way that is appropriate and respectful.

For those in leadership in their companies, may they know how best to implement your call to justice, for those they employ, for their customers, for their clients, and for the larger world. Help them to see how to be good stewards of all you have entrusted to them.

May this church, dear Lord, be a place of encouragement and support for these who seek to serve you at work. May we listen to them, bear their burdens, speak your truth in love, and continue to pray for them. Fill them now with your Spirit, so they might live for you in their workplaces.

We pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.

5. Then I would close this time of prayer with a song or hymn. “Take My Life and Let It Be” by Frances R. Havergal would be a good option.

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee. Take my moments and my days; let them flow in ceaseless praise. Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love. Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for Thee.

Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King. Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee. Take my silver and my gold; not a mite would I withhold. Take my intellect, and use every power as Thou shalt choose.

Take my will, and make it Thine; it shall be no longer mine. Take my heart, it is Thine own; it shall be Thy royal throne. Take my love, my Lord, I pour at Thy feet its treasure store. Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for Thee.