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Bridging the Marketplace Gap

How can church insiders get a hearing from marketplace experts about bringing Christ to work? An interview with pastor and author Andy Stanley.

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PreachingToday.com:Before preaching your "Taking Care of Business" series, you had never done a series on the workplace. Why did you choose this topic?

Andy Stanley: Most of us spend the majority of our waking, productive hours at work. Even our students think about careers and getting into the marketplace. It's incredibly relevant.

And while most of what I preach would be relevant in the workplace anyway, addressing those principles specifically to marketplace environments was well received. It was fun, too, because there is so much material to draw from and because people are so interested in it. I now feel this is a theme I need to address annually.

What material did you draw from to build the series?

There are only a few passages of Scripture that deal specifically with work, but rather than focusing only on those, I asked myself, "What biblical principles are challenging to apply in the work environment?"

For most people, their neighbors are no longer the people who live near them, but the people they are intimately acquainted with at work.

The issue for most men and women is not, What do I believe? or, What ought I do? but, How do I do it in an environment hostile to my Christian values? It's hard enough to live consistently at home, where everyone is pretty much on the same page spiritually, but how do you walk into a neutral or sometimes hostile environment and live out Christianity?

So I didn't preach the "work" passages so much as preach the passages that deal with basic Christian principles and applied them specifically to the marketplace. I talked about competence, doing your best, character, and how to work under authorities you disagree with. There are many principles we need to take into the marketplace, but without handles on how to do that, the tendency is to leave those values in the car.

The texts I preached on I had used before in different contexts, but viewing them again through the lens of the marketplace gave them new application, fresh relevance. The only unfamiliar passage I preached was the situation when Moses finally delegated responsibility for judging the people, rather than doing it himself. When you force the old principles through a specific grid, in this case the business world, they take on new life. It was easier to do than I expected.

How did you illustrate the series?

In every message, usually in the middle, I showed a five-minute video interview with someone in our church whose life and stories from work illustrated the principle I was teaching. For instance, a woman in our congregation owns a real estate firm. I interviewed her about how to be a Christian employer and how to evangelize without running off your business or employees.

I hesitated to draw from my own experience as a church leader. I wasn't sure how much of it would apply to the business world. Eventually, though, I did preach on figuring out what you're good at and focusing on it. I used the Scripture where the apostles in the first century church finally said, "Look, we can't keep serving tables. We've got to focus on what we were designed and called to do." In the workplace, this translates to focusing on what you're good at, and thereby increasing your value and influence in your organization. The less you do, the more you'll accomplish.

What other obstacles did you face?

One of the reasons I used those videos is because most business people look at a pastor and think, What do you know? I have a big church and staff, but for the average pastor talking to the average businessperson, he won't have credibility. Pastors don't deal with stockholders, market share, economics. We don't answer to a boss nine hours a day.

I felt I had to build credibility early. And I couldn't make the mistake of saying, "I understand what it's like," because I don't. So I took the other approach. I said, "I don't understand. I don't work in your world, and I won't pretend. But here are some people who do—CEOs, small business owners, middle management." The video testimony brought credibility to what I was saying.

In those interviews, I wanted to make sure I had women and men, middle management and executives. I wanted to show that these were principles that applied across the board because we're to live out our faith with the same honesty, diligence, and so on regardless of where we work or fit into an organization.

Did you have to switch back and forth between talking to bosses and talking to other workers?

I remember specifically preaching on being a good manager. But do you know what I found? There was interest across the board. There wasn't any I'm just the $5.95 an hour guy when I was talking about management. It seems even people on the lower echelon of their companies know they could use this if they get the opportunity. As a leader, it's good to play to those things, to cast the vision for those men and women and say, "When you get your chance, do it differently. Honor God. Invite God into the marketplace with you."

What things did you preach on that motivated people?

When men and women begin to see their marketplace responsibilities as ministry, it energizes them. Any talk of the professional ministry being a unique "called ministry" in contrast to everybody else destroys motivation.

One of the topics we talked about was how to leverage your influence in your company for ministry. One of my interviewees, for example, pays for his coworkers' lunch if they'll come to the conference room and watch a DVD of our worship service. He calls it "Life Lessons over Lunch." That sparked all kinds of creative thinking in our congregation.

When you preach on work again, what will you do differently?

I'll do a whole series on the fears of the marketplace. I'll focus on the tension between work and family. We need to preach annually on prioritizing family over work, because the long-standing trend in our culture is to make work number one.

I have a good friend whose employer wanted him to move, but he didn't want to because of his wife. His boss said to him, "Well, get another wife!" In other words, you're only going to get one opportunity like this, but there are lots of wives out there. That's the kind of pressure people are under.

I've also learned that we need to remind people constantly that they are ministers, with a calling and opportunity to minister at work. For most people, their neighbors are no longer the people who live near them, but the people they are intimately acquainted with at work, people they're with day in and day out. It's not necessarily the guy next door anymore, but the people at work who are the mission field.

Andy Stanley is pastor of North Point Community Church in suburban Atlanta, Georgia.

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