An Author’s Perspective on Reading the Bible with Workplace Eyes
This article, originally titled "Bridging the Marketplace Gap" by Andy Stanley comes from The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, edited by Haddon Robinson and Craig Brian Larson, Zondervan 2005. It is used with permission from Christianity Today International who first published this article.
How can we church insiders get a hearing from our people—the marketplace experts—about bringing Christ to work?
Most of us spend the majority of our waking, productive hours at work. Even our students think about careers and getting into the marketplace. It’s so incredibly relevant and there is so much material to draw from, I feel this is a theme I need to address annually.
There are only a few passages of Scripture that deal specifically with work, but rather than focusing only on those, I ask myself, What biblical principles are challenging to apply in the work environment? The issue for most men and women is not, “What do I believe?” or, “What ought I do?” but, “How do I do it in an environment hostile to my Christian values?” It’s hard enough to live consistently at home, where everyone is pretty much on the same page spiritually, but how do you walk into a neutral or sometimes hostile environment and live out Christianity?
So I preach the passages that deal with basic Christian principles and apply them specifically to the marketplace. I talk about competence, doing your best, character, and how to work under authorities you disagree with. There are many principles we need to take into the marketplace, but without handles on how to do that, the tendency is to leave those values in the car.
The texts I preach on I have used before in different contexts, but viewing them again through the lens of the marketplace gives them new application, fresh relevance. When you force the old principles through a specific grid, in this case the business world, they take on new life.
In every such message, usually in the middle, I show a five-minute video interview with someone in our church whose life and stories from work illustrate the principle being taught. For instance, a woman in our congregation owns a real estate firm. I interviewed her about how to be a Christian employer and how to evangelize without running off your business or employees.
One of the reasons I use those videos is because most business people look at a pastor and think, What do you know? Pastors don’t deal with stockholders, market share, economics. We don’t answer to a boss nine hours a day.
I feel I have to build credibility early. And I cannot make the mistake of saying, “I understand what it’s like,” because I don’t. So I take the other approach and say, “I don’t understand. I don’t work in your world, and I won’t pretend. But here are some people who do—CEOs, small business owners, middle management.” The video testimony brings credibility to what I am saying.
SEEING MARKETPLACE AS MINISTRY
In those interviews, I want to make sure I have women and men, middle management and executives. I wanted to show that these are principles that apply across the board because we’re to live out our faith with the same honesty, diligence, and so on regardless of where we work or fit into an organization.
I’ve learned that we need to remind people constantly that they are ministers, with a calling and opportunity to minister at work. For most people, their neighbors are no longer the people who live near them, but the people they are intimately acquainted with at work, people they’re with day in and day out. It’s not necessarily the guy next door anymore, but the people at work who are the mission field. When men and women begin to see their marketplace responsibilities as ministry, it energizes them. Any talk of the professional ministry being a unique “called ministry” in contrast to everybody else destroys motivation.
One of the topics we talk about is how to leverage your influence in your company for ministry. One of my interviewees, for example, pays for his coworkers’ lunch if they’ll come to the conference room and watch a DVD of our worship service. He calls it “Life Lessons over Lunch.” That sparked all kinds of creative thinking in our congregation.
I’ll do a whole series on the fears of the marketplace. I’ll focus on the tension between work and family. We need to preach annually on prioritizing family over work, because the longstanding trend in our culture is to make work number one.
I have a good friend whose employer wanted him to move, but he didn’t want to because of his wife. His boss said to him, “Well, get another wife!” In other words, you’re only going to get one opportunity like this, but there are lots of wives out there. That’s the kind of pressure people are under.