Acton Institute Powerblog

Business as a Form of Christian Ministry

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In a recent Acton Commentary, Stephen Grabill and Brett Elder reflect on the tension that often exists between conceptions of ministry in the church and in the world. They point especially to the Cape Town Commitment, which on the one hand identifies a “secular-sacred divide as a major obstacle to the mobilization of all God’s people in the mission of God.”

But on the other hand, write Grabill and Elder, “The gulf between economics and theology in evangelical social engagement and missionally informed action is a momentous barrier that must still be overcome before we can truly embrace all legitimate vocations as sacred and worthy callings.”

There are some positive signs on this front, however, and the workplace section of the Cape Town Commitment is one of them. A piece by Rob Moll in today’s Wall Street Journal highlights this hopeful trend, as he writes, “Not only does the church tend to privilege church and missionary service over business, but it often condemns business practices and implies the guilt of any participants. Yet there are signs that this dynamic is changing—not least because churches rely on the donations of business professionals.”

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.


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  • Not sure where these two articles get their info but I’ve worked in churches for years and I’ve never seen this happening — most churches (and pastors, for that matter) understand very well that business is important and – unless they’re completely unconnected to their local community – that strengthening and supporting business can be a legitimate social concern alongside missionary efforts.

    Moreover, most churches realize all to well the importance of economics for their own well-being and it’s naive to posit some divide between “theology and economics” as if any barrier can actually exist in a functioning religious community with bills (and staff) to pay.

    Finally, the advent of “social enterprise” and the realization that economic and social concerns are just as important as “getting folks saved” has significantly changed the scope of missionary efforts among church folks who are even moderately awake to the economic / social problems faced by the folks we serve. In this way, strengthening local economies and helping people develop marketable skills and useful goods becomes as much missionary activity as spreading the Gospel. This, it seems, is a positive development both for the church and for business — people learn that they are connected to a system that must function for them to be successful and, hopefully, they also learn to practice their trades and run their businesses ethically and with a greater degree of charity.

  • Christianity misses the fact that The Apostle Paul was in fact a Tent making entrepreneur:-)

  • Patrick

    I own a small business. There may be a conflict between the religious community and business, but I suggest that they both have a common need for a moral society. A part of business is performing notary services. In the last week, I have notarized a release of fertilized human embryos for destruction, and the emancipation of an unwed pregnant teenager so she can qualify for state aid. As a business owner, there is little that I can do to avoid or even become a part of these horrors, short of contributing to organizations, such a Priest for Life. I need the active work of the moral authorities in our society to help me be moral in my business.
    Last week a young man, who is between jobs, came to me looking for a job because he was on unemployment. I turned him away without interviewing because he would lose his Unemployment payments, which exceeded what he could reasonably expect to earn with a part time job with me. He had a good work ethic, but with a wife and small child to care for, would I have done him any good by hiring him?
    I don’t think I can count all of the unwed mothers who have passed through here, or sought employment here, assuring me that they have no child-care issues. One woman assured me that since her boyfriend, and I assumed father of her children, was unemployed, child-care was not a concern.
    Frankly, I’d like to see our religious leaders take a bold stand and tell the people that sex outside of marriage leads to poverty and death. I don’t want to be an accomplice to homicide, or endorse dependent life styles.