Business is Ministry — The Worship and Love Inherent in Fair Exchange

Business owners can be just as pastoral and missional as paid ministry staff. When you run your business with integrity, your work is an act of worship to God. It is also an act of love to your neighbor (or customer).

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men… — Colossians 3:23 (ESV)
The work we are called to do every day is an important part of our image-bearing nature and stewardship. As human beings, we were created to do things. In this sense we are not only human beings, but we are also human doings. — Tom Nelson

This post comes out of a conversation about two years ago with my dad. As I was struggling to describe my long term goals, I was using terms like

  • business of ministry
  • business and ministry
  • business as ministry

I was even writing them down and using a Venn diagram to try to describe what I was getting at. Finally, dad just said, “Okay, so business IIIS ministry.” Loudly emphasizing and drawing out the word, “is.”

How did I miss that? It had been right in front of me the whole time. I think that I missed it because I was afraid. I often hear things like “selling is stealing.” (Bernie Sanders supporters, anyone?) Even in circles where people would deny that claim, it is common to fear to charge fairly for what you do.

I think that fear is what kept me from seeing what was right in front of me. Once I acknowledged the fear and got past it, I felt more comfortable charging fairly for what I do.

What is Business

In modern English, the word “Business” means many things. It can be a euphemism for bodily functions. (Skylar and I had just loads of fun potty training Keaton, now we’re in the diaper phase again with Sawyer.)

It can refer to what some of us do to bring home a paycheck. It can apply to things we do at home like keeping a calendar or a budget.

In this case, I am using it mainly in the economic sense. What we do to bring home a paycheck.

What is Ministry

Some people think that “ministry” is only done by religious professionals. People like pastors or rabbis. Some people think “ministry” is only done by religious leaders. They add elders or deacons to the list. Others think that “ministry” is only done when it meets basic needs. Like food, shelter, or the spiritual need for a Savior.

Others recognize that all Christians are to be doing some sort of ministry. Everywhere. At all times.

In this case, I am using it in a way that recognizes that spiritual and basic physical needs can be met…

  • by unexpected people
  • in unexpected places
  • at unexpected times
  • in unexpected situations

I think that ministry is preparing to meet people’s needs. Not just spiritual, and not just the basic physical needs. Ministry meets people’s needs in a way that leads to human flourishing, in this life and the next.

Business of Ministry

“Business of ministry,” usually refers to business aspects of running a church or nonprofit. Thinks like accounting, leadership meeting agendas and minutes, filing taxes, etc. In this case “business” is more like what we do at home with our calendars and budgets. It is less like an exchange based economic issue. It’s mundane and routine, a necessary evil.

This term is somewhat helpful. It acknowledges that there are necessary business functions in any ministry. Yet, it is problematic because it creates an artificial separation between business and ministry. It conveys the idea that ministry can never overlap with business.

Business and Ministry

For some absurd reason, we put little economic value on vocational ministry. Pastors, missionaries, church staff, nonprofit executives and nonprofit staff are obscenely underpaid. Because of this, bivocational ministries are increasingly common. “Bivocational” just means having two vocations.

Bivocational ministry is not new. It’s what Paul did (he built tents for people so that he could be a missionary).

There some great things about bivocational ministry:

  • It provides for the financial needs of religious workers
  • To outsiders, it breaks down the sacred/secular divide
  • It keeps ministers connected to culture outside of the “Christian bubble.”

There are also some not so great things:

  • It excuses and perpetuates low pay for ministers, missionaries, and nonprofit workers
  • To some insiders, it highlights or reinforces the sacred/secular divide
  • It’s hard to excel at more than one thing
  • It divides attention

Business as Ministry (or Mission)

Now we’re getting warmer.

Sometimes Missionaries need a cover story to go places they could otherwise go. A business provides an easy cover story that is difficult for governments to turn away. It’s a great way to get the gospel into places where missionaries aren’t allowed.

The problem is this. Business as Ministry perpetuates the sacred/secular divide in closed countries.

Business IS Ministry

To avoid being misunderstood, Ministry IS NOT Business. It doesn’t work the other way around. Evangelism and missions are done to save souls and glorify God, not make a profit. But making a profit does not exclude evangelistic or missional activities. Making a profit does not preclude caring for souls and basic needs.

In business, we have opportunities to serve people that may not attend a church. We set a positive example when we:

  1. Are open about our faith
  2. Run our business with integrity

The internal ministry of a business

Business leaders can care for souls by having meaningful relationships with their teams. Business leaders can care for basic needs by investing in their teams, not just by paying them. To invest in their team, leaders must have meaningful relationships with their team members.

To have meaningful relationships with team members, leaders must:

  • Know their team members on a personal level
  • Know, at least generally, the home or family environments of their team members
  • Know, at least a little, the personal growth struggles of their team members
  • Be willing to support team members’ personal growth
  • Be ready to provide support in ways other than with money
  • Be prepared to provide financial aid at unexpected times

The external ministry of a business

Businesses can care for the souls of their customers by caring for the souls of their teams. Customer interactions may not lead to salvation. But they must not lead away from it. When you care for the souls of your staff, they will have a much easier time doing their work as unto Christ. If they are not Christians, they will still have an easier time keeping a good attitude. Customers will notice the real attitudes of your staff.

Businesses meet the basic needs of their customers by … doing business. It’s easy to see how any business that sells food or shelter meets basic human needs. Whatever you sell helps to solve a problem, or you would not get paid. Solving problems leads to human flourishing.

The fundamental principle of a fair exchange is that both parties place a higher value on what they get than what they give. The apple I just ate from a local farmer’s market was worth more to me than the money that I paid for it. The money was worth more to the apple grower than the apple.

A few weeks ago I heard an interesting spin on the Lord’s Prayer on the radio. It went something like this:

Father in Heaven, may your name be made Holy.
May your Kingdom come, and your will be done in my life, as they are already in Heaven.
Give me today my daily bread. And thank you for the grocery store cashier, water, and electrical utility workers, that work to provide for my daily needs. Help me to see opportunities to provide for the needs of others.
Forgive me as I forgive. And thank you for the pastors, counselors, and mentors that help me work through the process of forgiveness. Give me a hand to see the hurts that I haven’t forgiven.
Lead me not into temptation.
And deliver me from evil — and thank you for the police, EMTs, and firefighters who will come to help if I need them.

Further Reading

Add Your Voice (comment below)

  1. What divide or unity do you see between business and ministry?
  2. How are you keeping a ministry mindset in your job or business?

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