– David B. Doty © 2013
The complexity of the ministry to which I have been called is exacerbated by the attempt to press the integration of its numerous aspects, especially theological research and education, and direct business practice. As I have shared with others that I am trying to raise capital funds to launch a new business, the question I most consistently hear is, “How is that related to your ministry?” The queries are honest simply because those asking have not made the logical connection from what looks like to them the two disparate activities.
A consistent foundational concern of maturing in Christian faith is the holistic re-integration of all areas of life – business, education, the arts, family, ideology, etc. – into their rightful spiritual significance. When God placed Adam in the Garden (Gen 2:15), He did not command Adam to till and tend the Garden. Rather, those functions were inherent in the created design of being human. Nor did God ask if Adam wanted a co-worker (a helpmate) and the material, intellectual, and spiritual exchanges that would occur within that relationship.
Over time, and especially the last few hundred years and in the progression of Western individualism and pragmatism, many of the various aspects of human life, described above by their institutionalized modeling, have fallen prey to the dis-integrating influence of the increasing complexity and specialization within human cultural and social development. Given that work is inherent to being human, as we have just seen, the influence of specialized work on the human psyche lends itself to compartmentalization of these various aspects of life and even of activities and disciplines within them. For example, specialization calls worship leaders to focus on the execution of music ministry but their time committed to perfecting their talents may undermine their commitment to reflect on the deep theological significance of the lyrics in the songs chosen since they may not necessarily understand their role as also being that of theologian and teacher. The hymnists of old understood the unification of these roles very well and the evidence is in how the lyrics are framed and shared through music.
But to answer the quizzical before me when I present the idea of starting a ministering business, I would begin with the assertion that “business is ministry.” I make this claim in Eden’s Bridge: The Marketplace in Creation and Mission but have found few other voices joining the chorus. More often we hear of business as mission (a means of ministering to specific needs in the world, as witness to God’s glory, or advancing God’s Kingdom in the world) or business for ministry (as a means to generate funding to support the work of churches and missions organizations). I find no fault in either of these concepts other than, perhaps, they fall somewhat short of understanding that business is ministry (as a means of our “being Christ” in the world).
Let me unpack that just a bit. I make an additional claim in Eden’s Bridge that profit should not be the aim of Christians in business. The argument goes that, first, there would have been not need of profit in the overt abundance in the Garden of Eden, and, second, the aim of Christian life is intimacy with God, that is, spiritual prosperity. The material and intellectual prosperity that comes by way of cooperation and collaboration in the marketplace are outcomes of that intimacy. That is not to say that everyone who prospers in the marketplace is intimate with God. Human beings have been bestowed with great strength of both imagination and endurance and can often produce great results, despite the thistles and thorns, by those strengths. But those successes, more typically oriented toward self indulgence, aggrandizement, and glory, are works without faith, just as dead as the futility of faith without works – an obvious theme in the integrative nature of the Gospel message.
So, how exactly is it that business is ministry? The answer lies in the nature of creation itself, which emanates from the nature of the godhead. The central focus of God as God and of creation as a product of God’s nature, character, and will, is relationship. Ministry is simply the mediation of the relationship between God and humankind, and business, as a vital institution in human society, is fundamentally about the facilitation of relationships. It is not the only institution that mediates the relationship of the divine and the temporal but it is perhaps as significant as any simply by the fact that it is the institution by which we survive and even thrive. Notice Jesus often fed people when he preached because 1) he knew they were hungry, but also 2) he knew people with grumbling stomachs are distracted people.
The core function of business is service through relationship. All gross domestic product is ultimately a function of labor, and labor alone. All the materials (and energy) used in production have already been provided by God for the abundant blessing of humankind. We simply manipulate what already exists. Therefore, the only real concern of business is relational stewardship – how we care for others. If we treat our vendors, customers, employees, and communities with the due respect and dignity of being created in the image of God, the outcomes are to be left in the hands of God’s determination. That is not to say we do not exercise due diligence to sustain the business and “give away the farm,” but it places the emphasis on what is not seen rather than what is seen. That is living by faith, or walking in the Light, or according to the Spirit, whichever descriptive phrasing we prefer.
God reveals himself to creation by 1) the order of creation (things tend to work consistently in certain ways to allow us a predictability of seasons and a stable environment, etc, as created by an unchanging God), and 2) in the character of the behavior of His people. We see Christ in another when they behave in godly ways. In the Old Testament, the term holy, when God says “be holy; for I am holy” (Lev 11:44), in Hebrew is qadosh a derivative of qadash which means to be clean, pure without defilement or sin. Sin is always framed as being an act committed against the interests of someone else (see Gen 39:9 or Ps 119:11). Sin can most simply be described as a(n unrighteous) violation of relationship.
Perhaps Micah 6:8 captures best what righteousness, the opposite of sin, looks like: “[God] has showed you what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” In other words, right relationship toward humankind (in justice and kindness) and toward God (in humility) are the echo we hear in Jesus’ words to “Love God and love others” (Lu 10:27, paraphrased).
The point is this: business is a place where we can live according to our relationship with God, that is, in holiness, as witnesses to the very reality of God. As I have argued before, holiness occupies empty space. It cannot be practiced in isolation but only exists within how we interact with others, whether on our behalf or theirs or both. Therefore how we steward every relationship is of vital importance to our spiritual transformation. We lean into our life in Christ by knowing him (in intimacy) and living according to God’s will and ways (in obedience). That can sometimes lead us to face and make decisions that seem irrational to the world (because they are irrational to the world). But that is because godly behavior introduces a bit more of God’s Kingdom which countermands the world.
In the end because business is fundamentally about serving others, and so is charged with a myriad of relational obligations – business is ministry. Without that understanding, we might retain the idea that it is only ancillary to our faith and fall short of all that God intends for it, or us, to be.