Using business giftings in (and out) the church

Our passion is to see business-people inspired and equipped in God’s work in their lives, particularly crossing barriers with the gospel. Whilst that can happen in Mauritania or Mongolia, it appears to be just as relevant in Manchester and Milton Keynes.

How can we see this worked out more in our churches? How can we see the gifts and experience available in the Body of Christ bringing their fullest fruit?

A straightforward answer might be: “But our church’s business people are deacons, elders, funders, prayers, bassists and bible study leaders. What’s the issue?”

It neglects a trend that relatively few business and trades people are stepping up in ministry and “front-line” gospel service. An anecdotal survey we did of UK evangelical mission (churches and parachurch) suggested that around 5% of those being sent by their churches would self-identify as business or trades people. Yet what percentage of those in our churches would be in business or the trades? Perhaps 30-40% of the working age congregation?

The reality is that our churches sometimes struggle to cross barriers in the communities around us, barriers which people in business and the trades cross daily in their vocation. In the workplace, people are learning how to build authentic relationships across ethnic, cultural and class barriers in pursuit of (mere) business objectives. Could we do the same with (much more important) gospel objectives?

A focus on roles, not employment

Across the history of the church, the division of clergy and laity has been stark. Work, income, economy and profit are often considered secular. Employed roles in the church are thought to be set apart by God, or “sacred”. It plays out even in “low church” settings, where cultural norms are followed without explicit consideration.

Yet the Bible talks of roles and functions rather than employment. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers… called to equip the saints for works of service (Eph 4:11-13). The result is maturity and unity in Christ.

Elsewhere in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, he shows how the Body has a number of God-appointed roles (1 Cor 12). Again, these are not employed job titles! They are roles and gifts, given by God to the church. This list includes teaching, administrating, helping etc. The whole Body, corporately and individually, is set apart in Christ.

There is an emerging change in our churches. Done well, business and trades people are discipled, get themselves trained in biblical knowledge, identify their gifts within the body, are intentional with the gospel, and serve Christ whole-heartedly in all areas of their life.

So change 1: can we get better at recognising the roles of the Body in our business and trades people, discipling (equipping) and encouraging them to fulfil those roles? This is more than “whole life discipleship”, which recognises that all of our life is in Christ and with Christ and for Christ. It is churches having eyes to see potential, recognising a mandate to equip the body, and working it out in practice with activities which use the skills and competences God gives us in our churches.

Building on this, change 2 suggests new routes and methods of equipping business and trades people. Can we look at vocational-type training, modelling best practice in discipleship, evangelism and cross-cultural engagement? There are an increasing number of training routes available to those in the workplace, blending distance learning and mentoring techniques, for example Crosslands, Union, and the C of E (with CMS). We’re in the early stages of developing new courses with other providers. A question is whether they properly train praxis, or whether there is solely an aspirational notion of it being done in the local church (which may not know what to do with business-types).

Change 3: is there a culture gap in our churches which needs attention? Evangelical churches have pastor-teacher leaders who most likely will have gone through bible college. Business and trades people will probably have different backgrounds, different language, and different ways of seeing things.

But underlying, surely we desire to have similar foundations of Biblical knowledge (ie moving past “the milk” mentioned in 1 Cor 3 and Heb 5), similar aspirations for spiritual gifts and maturity, similar core identities as children of God, adopted into His family?

There is a challenge here for our church leaders. Why aren’t more business and trades people seeing gospel fruit? What needs to change?

  • Do we need to change how we are equipping the saints for works of service? (ie methods of discipling, setting expectations)

  • Can we encourage and celebrate “models” of Godly service by business and trades people who use their skills and experience for the Kingdom?

  • (provocatively!) Do we need to be “in control” before we will endorse something?

  • Does the increasing flexibility in vocation give rise to new models? Could this be to the church’s advantage (rather than being seen as a “bug-bear” to manage sustainable financing)?

  • Can we release the innovative spirit of business and trade in solving issues with reaching and loving our cross-cultural neighbours in sustainable ways?

Moving into 2019

As we move into 2019, we see an increased emphasis on the place of work and gospel fruit. LICC is one of the leaders of the conversation on whole life discipleship, building on great material such as “Fruitfulness on the front line”. We’re hearing of discipleship tutorials taking place in our corporate firms, backed by practical experience (modelling) to see how it can be translated into action.

In the middle of 2019, there’s a key gathering in Manila as Lausanne bring together hundreds from across the globe for a Global Workplace Forum. In Lausanne’s own words: “There has been tremendous global growth in the number of people actively involved in the proclamation of the gospel in workplaces. GWF will bring them together to witness what God is doing and to share best practices in order to accelerate witness in workplaces around the world.”

We’re looking forward to being there, and helping to share what we learn across the communities here in the UK. As usual, we will focus on those tools and practices which help people in workplaces cross barriers with the gospel.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to work with partners from across the UK evangelical scene to catalyse initiatives with business and trades people. We want more people to know Jesus, to the glory of God, and pray that the business and trades people in our churches can be on the frontline of that work.