Monday, November 19, 2012

Preachers as Workplace Laymen?

I used to be a church employee.

I've also spent years working in the private sector.

There are similarities, of course, between working in a church office, and working at a for-profit company.  But not many.  Even as modern churches have adopted a professional business mindset in the way they manage ministries and administer funds, being a pastor is still - and, if you're a good pastor, should always be - different from being a corporate CEO.  And church offices, no matter how many efficiencies are adopted from the for-profit sector, will likely better serve their congregations the more they remain distinct from corporate America.

So why are so many pastors these days writing books on how Christians should model Christ in the workplace?

It's not that they don't have a Biblical mandate to exhort their congregants in applying Biblical truth to every part of their lives.  But do they have the practical expertise?

Very few evangelical pastors are bi-vocational, working a 9-5 corporate job, and then preaching from a pulpit on Sundays.  Granted, the number of pastors who've entered the ministry after a career in corporate America is probably larger than their bi-vocational peers, but that's not saying much, since both groups are still pretty small.  Relative, at least, to the number of preachers who've spent their entire lives in Christian colleges, seminaries, and the professional Christian world.

I've only ever read one modeling-Christ-in-the-workplace book by these pastors, and I can't even remember if I finished it.  For the record, I also tried reading a modeling-Christ-in-the-workplace book written by a corporate CEO who professed faith in Christ.  But both books, written as they were by authority figures who were authorized to exercise control over their domains, inevitably crumbled into executive coaching manuals.  Maybe not the worst thing, of course, but hardly applicable to a broader audience - mainly, the people who work for these guys at the top.

Applying Faith to Business, or Applying Business to Faith?

America's celebrity pastors are churning out so many books these days, one wonders if this prodigious publishing is truly the leading of the Holy Spirit, or simply reflective of ambitious efforts by Christian booksellers to keep their product pipelines full.  This plethora of titles on a wide range of subject likely includes the workplace out of an obligatory - if not misguided - assumption that since most congregations spend the bulk of their weeks at work, pastors are the ideal expert to address the topic so the lives of their congregants are covered 24/7 by at least one applicable book.

Unfortunately, these celebrity pastors and their publishers assume being in charge of a large, influential church or parachurch ministry qualifies them as expert any subject, like marriage, or poverty relief, or home groups, or urban outreach.

Then, too, maybe it's because so many laypeople in their congregations who don't have any seminary training feel qualified enough to tell their pastors how to preach?  Maybe these pastors figure life in corporate America can't be any harder than it is for them as they run our modern megachurches.

If that is indeed the case, then either some pastors are very delusional, or our modern megachurches are pits of iniquity.  Either way, isn't it safe to say that, without naming any names in particular, our favorite preachers are likely no experts on the American office?

For one thing, most evangelical pastors are Type-A men.  Men who are used to pursuing objectives, persuading people, and influencing outcomes.  And churches overwhelmingly accord credibility to that mindset.  After all, the corporate types who own and run prosperous commercial enterprises are Type-A people.  But think about it:  don't men in an equivalent role in corporate America usually experience greater levels of success as women?  How well can preachers relate to women in the workplace?  Can people of either gender who are less assertive and charismatic in their personalities expect the same types of successes and challenges?

Consider, too, that while the church as an organization may be run like a business, hardly any modern business is run like a church.  A church may strive for efficiencies, and pastors may be beholden to church leadership committees, but if it's a good church, the metrics of "success" differ greatly from the bottom-line metrics in most corporations.  Church leaders are almost expected to be more gracious and model their faith in a manner befitting professional servants of God, whereas in the corporate world, even the most Christian-saturated organization likely has many unsaved employees from whom grace can't be perfunctory.  In business, expectations are different, outcomes are more quantifiable, and tolerances for extenuating circumstances usually much shorter.

Then consider the role of pastor compared with a CEO.  Many pastors, whether they're senior ministers, associates, or youth interns, are allowed a pretty flexible schedule.  Things come up during the course of a day within a robust church's office that can - and should - overrule predetermined schedules.  For example, it's expected for pastors to drop everything to rush to the bedside of an ailing parishioner.  In corporate America, unless it's an immediate family member, workers are expected to things like that after working hours.

Generally, with pastors, the flagship event for any church is the Sunday worship service, and their whole week revolves around that.  Very few pastors get called by the head of their elder board on Saturday night with an order to fly to Phoenix to attend a sales meeting tomorrow.  In the real working world, very few employees have much control over their schedules.

Business Should Operate on the Golden Standard

Now, I'm no expert in modeling Christ in the marketplace either, but here's a simple idea that will save you a ton of money on books written by people who've likely never spent a full week chained to a cubicle in their lives:  do unto others as you'd have others do unto you.

It's called the "Golden Rule," and various forms of it exist in many religions texts.  In Christianity, we can find it spoken by Christ Himself in Matthew 7:12:  "So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you."

It's not a hard concept to understand.  And it's an applicable concept for any employee, whether you're the custodian, the CEO, or even a retiree.  The hard part is living out this maxim in ways that truly honor God.  Sometimes, we treat others nicely simply because we don't want to give them an excuse to treat us badly.  At other times, it's easy to forget that we need to treat our supervisors the same way we'd want to be treated if we were in their shoes.

For the most part, God has designed His people to use the skills and abilities He's given them in ways that provide economically for their families and others in need around them.  Sometimes that work is compelling and satisfying, while at other times, it can be sheer drudgery.  But if you're living for Christ, and not your paycheck, you should be able to ask the Holy Spirit for - and expect Him to supply - the tenacity to ply your trade in ways that glorify Him.

Maybe some people need to pay $20 to buy a book and have a famous preacher tell them the same thing in 200 pages of clever stories.  And it's not like preachers shouldn't have a voice on the subject.  But how many of them really do?

Indeed, if a lowly clerk who's worked for any of these pastors ever comes out with a book describing how well those pastors ran their church's administrative departments, that's a book I'll want to read.

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