This is the second installment of a two part series. Click here to read Part One.
Why do pastors need to know all that much about work and economics? Last week we introduced this subject and suggested that there are very few areas of our lives that have nothing to do with work and/or economics. Remember that even the notion of our eternal salvation has something to do with economics, since the Bible actually describes the elements of our eternal salvation in economic terms. In addition, life on this side of eternity matters greatly. If we refuse to separate out the sacred from the secular, and thus affirm that all of life is spiritual, then there are few, if any, areas of our spiritual lives that are not impacted by economics.
We also suggested that economics is fundamentally about how we as communities, order our lives together. Much of how we order our lives together in community has significant moral overtones. How we decide and on what basis, the distribution of the benefits and burdens of a society—those are principally moral issues. We reflected on the general ineffectiveness of general statements like that to encourage the next generation of pastors to connect the life of their people and work/economics.
We argued that connecting the dignity of daily work with pastoral ministry is an obvious starting point. Since the term “ministry” (diakonia) is most commonly translated “service,” then all believers are in full time service, having entered it as the moment they came to faith. Paul affirms that what goes on in the workplace as service to Christ (Col. 3:23-24). He’s affirming the work itself is part of one’s service to Christ, or part of one’s ministry.
We also suggested that one of the most obvious ways specifically to connect economics and pastoral ministry comes out of the economic context of the Bible. The Bible directly addresses economic life in numerous places in both Old and New Testament. In addition, much of its teaching is set in the specific economic context of the ancient world. We maintained that one of the most important reasons for pastors to be economically literate is so that they can preach/teach the Bible accurately.
A second reason economics is important is that economics is part of the doctrine of creation, specifically the dominion mandate of Genesis 1. Sir Brian Griffiths suggests that the dominion mandate suggests “responsible wealth creation.” That is, human beings using the wisdom of God that is engraved into His creation and made available by means of general revelation and common grace, exercise the creativity, innovation, and the entrepreneurial traits that are part of human beings made in God’s image. For example, I have a long time family friend who’s the Chairman of the Board for a tech company with Nobel Prize winning technology invented by a Cal Tech professor, and the professor wants to give the technology away. My friend’s primary task with this full-blown academic is to show him that the most productive way to get the technology into use is through the mechanism of a profitable company. This provides the best, most efficient way of distributing the technology to the people who can best put it to work. There are economic conditions that are more conducive than others to human flourishing, to the effective exercise of human dominion and to the dignity of work being realized. The Bible does not directly address economic systems per se, but rather, gives important principles and virtues that govern economic life. One of our ongoing theological tasks is to more fully spell out the implications of the dominion mandate for economics.
A basic understanding of economics is further important so that churches can productively help the poor. In the best selling book on this, When Helping Hurts, the authors Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, maintain that an understanding of economics is important to insure that help given by churches and NGO’s actually helps the poor become self-supporting instead of more dependent. One of the reasons why the trillions in foreign aid have been so ineffective to the poor around the world are because of neglect of basic common sense economics—that incentives matter, that work and exchange are fruitful and there are conditions that must be met before there is fertile ground for the poor to become self-supporting (such as the rule of law, encouragement of creativity and innovation, and access to capital).
Finally, pastors need to pay attention to the marketplace because it is a primary crucible for spiritual formation. Most of the people who attend our churches spend the majority of their waking hours in the workplace. God is forming them spiritually in profound ways there, if we can help them be attentive to it. God is working out virtues of service, perseverance, dealing with adversity, diligence and discipline, to name a few. For example, God used the marketplace to draw one executive into a deeper, more dependent relationship with Him. He put his experience like this:
"Through that painful experience, God completely reoriented my perspective of time. He showed me that my call was not to live in my plans for the future or memories of the past, but to be fully present to the present moment. I began to see each moment as a sacrament. It became a kind of second conversion for me. The remarkable part was that after coming into this recognition and confessing that I had made achievement my god (which took months to recognize), I came into a place and profound joy and freedom. The truth was I HAD made achievement my god. I lived for the adrenaline rush of success, but I had been blind to this truth for decades. As God revealed this reality to me through the pain and the failure, it set me free. As much as I pleaded for him to do otherwise, God didn’t deliver me from my circumstances. He delivered me through them... But through our surrender to him, Jesus draws us into this profound intimacy with Him and a freedom and joy I had heard about but had never really tasted. Out of a darkness that grew blacker than black for me, God brought me into a freedom and a lightness of soul I didn’t know were possible. It is a country I’d only rarely visited before, and, if I had it was only for brief periods. I experienced God through the pain of Brazil (his failed business venture in Brazil). Nothing the world has to offer compares to the inexpressible joy that comes from experiencing the tender intimacy with God for which we are designed."
He calls the workplace the crucible God used to shape his soul. If pastors neglect the workplace, we are missing one of the principal avenues for spiritual formation for God’s people. God is meeting men and women in the workplace and shaping their souls. Work and economics matter deeply to the life of the follower of Christ, and our task in equipping the next generation of pastors is to enable them to help the people to whom they minister be attentive to how God is at work in the workplace to mold the person to become more like Christ.