Five Ways Churches Are Not Wasting The Resource of Church Members in the Marketplace

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Surely there’s nothing worse than wasting a valuable resource which is right in front of your eyes.  Nothing worse than having a potential solution to an intractable problem at your fingertips, but failing to reach out and use it.  Yet, I wonder if there are some very valuable resources sitting in our church congregations each week, which pastors and church leaders are failing to utilize.

I’m thinking specifically of people with business expertise: entrepreneurs, marketers, human resource experts, and so forth.  My own experience has been that churches often “utilize” such people by occasionally asking them to arrange spreadsheets for the church finance committee.  This seems to me akin to “utilizing” a computer programming genius by asking her to arrange the pastor’s power point slides for Sunday sermons.

Whatever the community a church is called to serve, there will be those in that community who need jobs, who face discouragement in the jobs they do have, who need help in charting a different career path, who need sound counsel in reversing previous financial mistakes.  Those with business expertise in our congregations comprise a pool of potential mentors, collaborators, and accountability partners to those who desperately need the Church’s help.  Surely we can be more imaginative than to automatically relegate those with business expertise to finance committees!

Happily, some churches are taking advantage of business experts in compelling ways.  Kevin Brown in a recent post noted how the marketplace provides opportunities for the Church to help the poor among us.  Building on some of Kevin’s general points, here is a list of 5 practices which churches have engaged in, to very positive effect.

Some church leaders have planted businesses as they’ve planted or revitalized churches.

Julius Wallshas served simultaneously as pastor of Metropolitan A.M.E. Zion Church in Yonkers, NY and as CEO of Greyston Bakery, a $7 million dollar social enterprise with an “open-hiring” policy (“the first person to apply for a job gets the job, regardless of their background.”).  Larry Wardis pastor of Abundant Life Church in Cambridge, MA and also a certified trainer for the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship, helping others create their own businesses.  The Asbury Projectis a great way to hear first-hand how Christian individuals and communities are addressing social needs through business ventures.

Some churches include business ventures as part of mission outreach.

Many American churches already focus their wider mission outreach on a particular area within a poorer country, perhaps taking a yearly mission trip to that same area.  Some of these churches are beginning to think seriously about how to assist local people in starting or expanding their own self-sustaining businesses.

Such efforts require us to become familiar with local resources and to identify opportunities and key personnel.  Daunting tasks.  But here’s the good news.  There are entrepreneurs in many of our congregations who are gifted in understanding markets and seeing opportunities; and there are personnel experts who are gifted at picking out individuals capable of excelling in various business roles.  If a church in America takes repeated overseas mission trips to the same area, why not rally around the idea of a mission team comprised of entrepreneurs and personnel experts (as well as marketers and finance experts)?

If the first two practices on this list seem too far out of reach for your own church at present, the next three practices are ones any church can implement right away if it wants to.  If the practices seem simple and easy, they are.  But who knows where they might lead…

Some churches conduct interviews each week as part of the Sunday service.

I recently spoke with someone whose pastor interviews a different member of the congregation each week as part of the Sunday service.  The 2-3 minute interview always starts with: “So tell us what you’re doing Monday through Friday each week.”  The parishioner is not always in business of some kind.  The parishioner may, for instance, be a stay-at-home parent.

But whatever the type of work, the pastor then asks: “What are your challenges and opportunities?  And how can we pray for you?”  The simple practice in this church allows the congregation to learn about one another and to gain insight into how to pray for one another.  By regularly including marketplace workers in these interviews, the Sunday service brings to light the struggles and thought processes of those in our midst trying to live Christian lives in the sometimes very worldly environment of business.  For others in the congregation in similar situations, the pastor’s prayer becomes a prayer for their own struggles at work as well.  Their life at church on Sunday becomes connected to their life at work on Monday.

Some pastors are visiting parishioners at their workplace.

All new pastors quickly recognize that their parishioners tend to be much more open and forthright in conversations at home than they are in conversations at church.  And so home visitation is important for most pastors.  But what about work visitation?  For many people, the vast majority of their waking hours Monday through Friday is spent at their workplace.

I have talked with enough people over the years to know that many of them long for their pastors to understand the particular difficulties and dilemmas they face at work.  For pastors scheduling the next home visit, why not ask if there is good time to visit at work?  After all, if a pastor is seeking to minister to a person, it seems helpful to have an idea of the environment in which that person spends most of his or her waking hours!

Some pastors are required (by audacious seminary professors) to preach on the difficulties of life in the marketplace.

In some seminary classes, students who are already pastors of churches are mentored by professors as they engage in various aspects of their ongoing church ministries.  I know of an enterprising seminary professor who requires student pastors to visit at least one church parishioner in the workplace, and then to preach a sermon on the daily struggles faced by that parishioner.

I’m told of one student in class who was absolutely filled with dread upon receiving this assignment.  As he prepared the sermon, things didn’t get any better.  Not being able to start with the biblical text and expand on it in the sermon, he confessed to his professor that he was just never able to get comfortable with the shape of his sermon.  The student pastor delivered the sermon on the fateful Sunday morning.  It was a disaster, so the pastor reckoned…until multiple people told him after the service, “Pastor, that’s the best sermon you ever preached!”

The lesson here is not that pastors should do away with all expository preaching.  Still, I think there’s a valuable lesson about listening to the struggles, the insights, the opportunities that those in the marketplace have to share with church communities.  Effective ministry to parishioners and to people around the world is a daunting task the Church is called to undertake.  People in our midst with business experience are, for a variety of reasons, a valuable resource–and one not to be wasted.

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Kevin Kinghorn serves as editor of the Faith and Work Collective blog. He is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Asbury Theological Seminary. His undergraduate work (Emory) was in economics and political science. His graduate work (Asbury; Yale; Oxford) and current teaching has focused on topics within philosophy of religion and moral philosophy. He lives in Mt. Sterling, KY, where he and his wife Barbara work toward community transformation, providing music and art opportunities for children.

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