Just how often do we pay close attention to workplace, the world of business, the arena of economics, as a place for theological reflection and intentional discipleship? Over the last few years I have begun wrestling with the workplace as a primary arena for discipleship. Too often ministry has lived on one side of a chasm between “church on Sunday” and “work on Monday.” This post tracks some of the reasons and early efforts… but it also suggests a new starting point for a theology and economics conversation over entrepreneurship.
The issue began simply enough in a discussion over “service” at my local church in Nashville. While most people in the small group checked off their level of “church” service, one lady (who was active in the local congregation) listened pensively and finally lamented “I just wish someone would tell me that my work as an elementary school teacher was Christian service as well.”
I was struck by that lament then… and haunted by it today. I am a big believer in a missional God calling us to be a missional church. How could we ever discount the local workplace (school, business, factory, farm, etc.) as a place where God might be shaping Christians and validating vocation?
Next week NTS is hosting a lecture & luncheon on Theology & Economics (Tuesday, January 29, 2013) featuring Dr. Jeff Van Duzer, Dean and Professor of Business Law & Ethics at the School of Business & Economics at Seattle Pacific University. Dr. Van Duzer’s opening lecture (10:00 – 10:45am; open to the public; NTS Chapel) is titled “Business, Markets and the Kingdom of God.” In it, he will explore several questions, including:
- What might a “theology of business” encompass?
- What are the strengths and limitations of the free market system relative to the kingdom of God?
- How should Christians in business view the role of profit?
- How can pastors effectively equip Christians to function as salt and light in the marketplace?
My colleague Dr. Doug Hardy is hosting this event and it is part of what has been a three-year, ongoing conversation around vocation, economics, and theology at NTS.
The bulk of this conversation has been sponsored by the Kern Family Foundation’s Oikonomia network, an organization dedicated to promoting “economic wisdom” and an appreciation for the contribution of work to ministry. Their support of projects at NTS include a current course on Vocational Discipleship (designed to help pastors enter into the “work spaces” of people and discern how they positively contribute to discipleship), the “Labor’s Day” preaching project to help pastors explore sermons stressing the importance of work, and a follow-up class on preaching workplace faith (taught by Dr. Dan Boone and Merritt Neilson). All of these efforts have served to close the gap between work, economics, and theological education.
So what will be next?
I am beginning to believe that perhaps we need a theology of entrepreneurship. The closer I look at this concept, one that remains crucial within economic theory, the more I believe entrepreneurship may serve to provide “transitional language” that can speak both to creativity in ministry as well as in the workplace.
I had a recent and stimulating conversation with Dr. R. Graydon Dawson Director of MidAmerica Nazarene University’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership part of the Kauffman Foundation’s Fast Trac Initiative.
The MNU Center has engaged efforts to both stimulate economic renewal locally but also championing the place of entrepreneurship for ministry. The Center already offers workshops and courses for people who have an entrepreneurial vision and want to ground that vision in sound business practice. Dr. Dawson thinks the principles could translate not only generally in the non-profit world, but also in church planting. As more and more ministers enter into non-traditional forms of ministry, entrepreneurial thinking may be needed whether that ministry is in the local church or marketplace. I suspect Dr. Dawson and I will continue to unpack this idea in the future.
Could there be a theology of entrepreneurship? My hunch is that this idea may provide a bridge to future conversations, on work, theology and economics. An early definition for entrepreneurship might be “a grounded vision,” a truly “creative” view of God’s mission but one grounded in a deep sense of stewardship… knowing exactly how that vision of God is “grounded” in the missional context and stewarded resources that God also provides. Looks like a new research agenda, I will be looking for ideas and suggestions as I move forward.