Business Leaders Need Pastors

The Common Good Forum Business Leaders

A couple of months ago, I met a high-powered, highly influential businessman and discovered that he’s been visiting my church. After trading niceties about the sanctuary or something, the man told me the pastor had learned he’d been there and approached him about “getting to know each other.” The businessman replied: “I like you and I like this church, so I’ve got no interest in getting to know you.” It was more or less a joke, and we more or less laughed. But the episode also reflected this businessman’s real sentiment. If you ask around, you’ll find he’s far from alone.

A week or so later, I worked with Greg Leith, CEO of Convene, an organization supporting business leaders, to gather a few business people and pastors to discuss this dynamic. What follows is that conversation. —Aaron Cline Hanbury


What do you wish pastors understood about your Monday worlds?

Stephan Tchividjian: The pressures I deal with as a business person in the workplace are probably more significant than you may realize as a pastor. Sometimes, in a church world, things can be a bit more black and white, but I have to live in the gray. I’m probably in a constant state of doubt as to whether I am really living out my faith.

Shelette Stewart: I believe, intuitively and intellectually, that pastors realize this, but I believe it needs to be reinforced: Really close to what Stephan was just sharing, our careers consume over half of our lives. We spend more time at work than we do with our loved ones, and certainly more time at work than we do at church. So it’s imperative that what we spend most of our waking hours doing, for most of our lives, is also spiritually edifying. I share with leaders around the world that we don’t have a personal life and a professional life. We have one life that we have to make count. Pastors are in a unique position to reinforce that among their congregations.

Marcus Bigelow: I’m struck by how much business owners have at risk. Something like 90 to 95 percent of their families’ legacies are tied up in the business. They’re living in VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity), and they’re scared. They feel isolated and alone. You know, the number one reason business owners join Convene is because they say they don’t have anybody to talk to who is safe and competent. Their Bible study is probably safe, but it’s not competent; there are other groups that are competent, but not safe.

Greg Leith: I’d want my pastor to know that sometimes I feel lonely, as Marcus indicated. Sometimes I feel unspiritual. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. Sometimes I feel worried. And I think pastors feel the same way. But if we’re both posturing, we don’t meet each other in the real world, we meet each other as two avatars. And that’s crazy, because I’m sure pastors feel like they need to deliver a great sermon or they might get fired, or that the deacon board might do something silly. And I think CEOs feel like they’re posturing sometimes, and I think when we can meet each other and be transparent and real, then there’ll be better understanding. We’ll understand that we’re both feeling some of the same things.

Tom Lutz: If I were king, I’d make one rule: Every member of a church staff has to spend half a day on the job site of a member of their church every month. Why is there an impact in visiting someone’s workplace? The first time I suggested this to some pastors, we had nine Convene group business leaders visited by their pastors.

By the way, what did Jesus do? I counted 132 places Jesus visits in the Scriptures, and 122 are someone’s workplace.

Do you feel that God values your work Monday through Saturday?

Shelette Stewart: The description that Marcus shared about feeling beat up as a leader: I hear that constantly. And I see it, and I discern it. What I share with leaders, and I would even encourage the pastors with, is when God created Adam, he created a job for him, right? Adam’s job, as we all know, was cultivating and managing the Garden of Eden. And Adam and Eve had jobs before they sinned, right? Work is not the result of a fallen world. Work should be a blessing. That’s why I encourage leaders to really be intentional and prayerful about connecting their career with their calling, their profession with their purpose. But oftentimes that sense of dis-ease and dissatisfaction is because they have not connected career and calling. I believe that business is ministry and should be treated as such.

Tom Lutz: I’ve heard it said before that Christianity is the only religion where work is part of paradise. In every other religion, paradise is about getting away from work. In Christianity uniquely, we’re created as workers.

Greg Leith: Today, at 66 years old? Yes, I feel like God honors my work. But 25 years ago I bought a ServiceMaster franchise, fired all the staff because they were not performing, and ended up having to clean carpet myself. So I’m cleaning carpet at 2 o’clock in the morning, double-dog tired, slipping and falling on the wet floor, listening to Chuck Swindoll sermons in my little cassette-tape player. In my thinking, I bought this company to make money mostly. Did I understand that God honors my work? No. Why not? Because nobody told me that doing everyday work was part of what Shelette just said and what Teresa just said: that work is valuable to God. I knew that intellectually, logically, and theologically. But when I was cleaning carpet at 2 o’clock in the morning, I thought I was wasting my life.

What could your pastor do to more clearly speak into your Monday world?

Theresa Motter: It would be great to have some examples in sermons from the boss’s shoes or the owner of the company’s shoes. Most of the sermons I hear use examples just from the perspective of the employee.

Greg Leith: I have a story that has to do with my son, Carson, and his boss, Matt. They lead an Anglican church, and when Matt was doing his theology training in Scotland, he was interning at a church in a tiny village called Methlick. He gets to this little church at the end of the middle of nowhere, and he says to the rector of the church, “Where’s my office going to be?” And the pastor points out the door and says, “Your office is in the parish, laddie.” It really struck me that not only was Matt’s office in the parish for the people who attended the church, but his office was in the parish for the offices and businesses represented in the church.

Tom Lutz: I have a super powerful discipleship question, which, if pastors would ask every church member and listen to their answers, could be transformative for both parties: What would happen if nobody did what you do? For example, if nobody collected the trash, we’d all be dead. Is that important? Very important. What if no one made fasteners to hold buildings together? We’d all be living in caves cooking over stokes.

If framed correctly with a listening ear, asking “What would happen if nobody did what your company does?” is mind-blowing both for the hearer and also for the pastor, both of whom will begin to realize that God’s world holds together because we all play our little parts in the mosaic. The pastor can honor that congregant with that perspective.

Stephan Tchividjian: We know the church is not a building. We preach it all day long, but then we treat the church like it is a building. I remember once going to visit a gentleman at his business. It was one of those days where my appointments were back-to-back-to-back, and I was seconds away from canceling this meeting. Just thinking I’d reschedule because I was running behind. But I didn’t, and when I pulled up and went into his office — it was humbling — he had been waiting all day for me. He was so excited to show me his office, to show me his awards, to introduce me to his colleagues and employees. I was taken aback because I saw this as just a task, but because I went and visited him in his house, it made a significant impact on him.

Theresa Motter: I had a separate faith life and a separate work life. As an owner of a private business, I was afraid to talk about God at work. I was afraid we would get sued, and a lot of our staff were Buddhists, and I didn’t understand how to navigate that. But once I realized that God wanted all of me, and I really started understanding that I could be my full self at work, what was important for me was intentionally incorporating biblical principles in our core values and vision. I’m Catholic, and every time we had something new, we would have our priest come out and give us a blessing, and walk the floor, talk to people on the line and really try to understand. That was really instrumental in building our company culture.

Marcus Bigelow: I think back to when I was pastoring: We started the church, and about three years in, it was tough sledding. God happened to bring to our church an executive vice president, who became the CEO of what was a Fortune 500 company. One day I went to his office in San Francisco, right across from the Transamerica Pyramid. I just asked him how to be a better leader. He taught me for probably 45 minutes, and it cemented our relationship that exists to this day, some 45 years later, because I respected him enough to let him speak into my world as a pastor.

On the business side, how can company leaders connect some of these ideas?

Shelette Stewart: I’m a firm believer that if you truly identify your purpose — if you’re prayerful and intentional and thoughtful; start with God, understanding your purpose and your calling — you can find an occupation, a vocation, an entrepreneurial venture, a nonprofit endeavor that matches your strengths and then you can’t help but excel. So you flourish as a result of connecting career and calling, and not only do you as an individual flourish, but your organization flourishes, as well as your family, your community, the economy. It’s a broad trickle-down effect, if you will. I think part of the challenge in our society, particularly in the Western world, is that we tend to think of holy calling as a calling to be a full-time pastor, or a missionary, or a minister. I would encourage pastors to really be strategic in helping to reframe that misconception. It’s a mindset shift that will help their members understand their own assignments, wherever they are in society.

Theresa Motter: Before I was the CEO, I was the CFO. A lot of what I did was focus on KPIs. What are our metrics? When we do that, it becomes harder to think of people. So what we did is come up with what we called impact metrics. What does it mean to empower people? In my world, that meant asking things like: How many people became citizens? How many people were able to buy a home? Buy a car? Got their kids through college? We looked at specific metrics that we could celebrate instead of only metrics that indicated whether we hit whatever million-dollar figure or whatever net profit. That not only made our leadership team feel better, but it also celebrated each of the employees.

What can the business leader who wants a richer engagement with his or her pastor and church do?

Stephan Tchividjian: The business person needs to be intentional and reach out to that pastor, to simply to get to know that pastor with a listening, teachable ear. I’ve seen it, because I live in both worlds, where business people will come to the pastor and apply their business skills to whatever they perceive the pastor’s problems are. In some cases, they’ll oversimplify a situation,with a pompous sense of “I run a business. I know how to do this.” When they get immersed in the work for a few weeks or months, they realize that pastoring is a lot harder than they thought. But I find that if you come in to listen, learn, and create a safe space for that pastor, that pastor will begin to see you as an ally.

Increasingly so, pastors are very discouraged. We do a ton of work in the area of soul care and leader care for pastors, and it’s profound the number of pastors who are at a breaking point, financially, maritally, emotionally, even spiritually. But they have no out, because this is their only source of income, and they don’t know if they can do anything else. And if a business person can come in and take the humble approach of a listening ear and intentional connection, that would speak volumes.

Shelette Stewart: I would encourage pastors and Christian corporate leaders to be intentional about collaborating, because there are needs on both sides. Here’s a major gap that I see: I see Christian corporate leaders who know strategic planning, but they have no idea how to apply the Word of God to it. I see pastors who know the Word of God, but they have no idea how to develop a strategic plan to grow revenue or to grow their congregation. Be transparent with your needs and collaborate. It could be informal, it could be formal, but there are needs on both ends that could be addressed.

Greg Leith: I’d say, no matter who you are — if you’re a pastor or if you’re a business leader or if you’re a worker in a business, a nurse, a street sweeper, or a ditch digger — if you’re a churchgoer, call your pastor and say you want to get together.

If you’re a pastor, figure out a plan with your team to call some business leaders — once a month, once a week — and talk about the questions that we’re talking about here. We don’t have all the answers, but at the local level you can figure it out. And I think the world will be better for it.

“Increasingly so, pastors are very discouraged. ... And if a business person can come in and take the humble approach of a listening ear and intentional connection,
that would speak volumes.”

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