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Part 1 in a series on Work and the Church Today

Why is vocation missing from today's churches?

Have you every heard someone say, “Did you hear about Jim Smith? He quit his job at the bank to go into full time Christian service.”

I would guess many of us have actually said something very similar. In the church today we still believe some jobs are more spiritual that others. And when it comes to understanding the integration of faith and work, in many ways the church is still in the Dark Ages.  Today we start a new series looking at the present state of the church in respect to the whole concept of integrating faith and work.

In her most recent book, Church on Sunday, Work on Monday, Laura L. Nash, senior research fellow at the Harvard Business School, states that many Christian business people experience a “radical disconnection between Sunday services and Monday morning activities, describing a sense of living in two worlds that never touch each other.”

Nash suggests that these disconnected business people receive little or no help from their pastors and clergy. She has found “a seismic difference in their worldview about the meaning of capitalism and profit. For the clergy, profit was a clear sign of ‘me-first’ self-interest, materialism and therefore not Christian. To the businessperson, profit was a result of actions that were partially others-oriented combined with a legitimate pursuit of self-interest, such as serving a customer, creating jobs, or donating part of the proceeds to charity.”

The disconnect between business and clergy probably explains the experience of William Diehl, a former Bethlehem Steel executive, as told in The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective by pastor and business professor R. Paul Stevens. Diehl shared:

In the almost thirty years of my professional career, my church has never once suggested that there be any type of accounting of my on-the-job ministry to others. My church has never once offered to improve those skills, which could make me a better minister, nor has it ever asked if I needed any kind of support in what I was doing. There has never been an inquiry into the types of ethical decisions I must face, or whether I seek to communicate my faith to my coworkers. I have never been in a congregation where there was any type of public affirmation of a ministry in my career. In short, I must conclude that my church doesn’t have the least interest whether or how I minister in my daily work.

Diehl is left with the same frustration which nags at many Christian business people today.  And as the chairman of the department of Philosophy of Religion and Ethics at Biola University Scott Rae suggests in a recent article, they feel they are in a support position for others who are “in the ministry,” and though they play an important role, they are not really where the action is for God’s Kingdom.

The integration of faith and work is misunderstood not only by the church members who sit in the pews but by those who stand behind the pulpit. Our vocation should be, as Tim McConnell, formerly of the Center for Christian Study, writes in a letter, “an element of Christian discipleship; a habit of the mind and heart of listening for and responding to the voice of the Lord.”

Yet this concept is noticeably missing from most of today’s churches.

Question: In your life, do you notice a disconnect between business and church? Leave a comment here.

Hugh Whelchel

About Hugh Whelchel

Hugh Whelchel is Executive Director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics and author of "How Then Should We Work?: Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work." Hugh has a Master of Arts in Religion and brings over 30 years of diverse business experience to his leadership at IFWE. Read More...

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  • JWIsaacs

    Ministry is the work of all Christians. Those who are pastors and teachers are in those roles primarily “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4.12). The pastoral staff (in a large enough church) primarily helps oversee the work the members are doing. Many pastoral roles can be delegated to lay members of the Church- teaching, visitation, administration, and sometimes even counseling. This is particularly true in an elder-led church, where a board of elders function essentially as lay pastors, providing pastoral care to the Body, since a small team of full time pastors can not provide pastoral care to a larger congregation.

    People working in business will often find it difficult to relate to people whose vocation is less market- profit- customer driven. There is a perception that other work (church, academia) is less market driven, customer based, etc. Whether or not this is true is a whole other discussion; however, an advantage of having lay people (elders, overseers) provide (supplemental) pastoral care is that these are men who are likely to have vocations outside of the church. If a person in a church finds it difficult to relate to the pastor, there could be a half dozen other people providing pastoral care who they may find much easier to relate to about any number of issues. An elder board may be made up of a doctor, a carpenter, an insurance salesman, a CEO, an electrician, or any other job.

    The more the work of the ministry is decentralized from a single pastor (or small team of full time pastors), the more people are served- and a wider angle of perspectives and backgrounds are represented.

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