Over the years, one of the most common questions I am asked by career professionals who find themselves on spiritual journeys is, how does God and the bible relate to the world I function in on a daily basis? It is often their perception outside of moral or ethical issues, there is very little written which is practically relatable. Sitting in church on Sunday mornings listening to sermons can be equally confusing for many professionals from all walks of life. After spending a week in the trenches at work, church can feel like visiting a foreign country with its own language and culture. There is a religious paradigm which is often presented that creates a great deal of confusion; what happens in the church world is spiritual and what happens outside of it is considered secular. It is further delineated; all things within the church world are hallowed, while all things outside in the secular world are considered carnal or worldly. A great spiritual divide is presented and one has to decide on which side they are going to stand. It’s a Good vs. Evil scenario. Who wants to be on the side of evil?
The word “Holy” gets thrown in there a lot as though holy means its superior or more significant. One hears frequently “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (I Timothy 6:10) or if one truly wants to serve God, they need to leave the marketplace and join the staff of a church or religious organization. Case in point; a few years ago I had the head of a division of one of the largest banks in the world confide in me his pastor had asked him when he was going to leave his high profile position at the bank in order to join the church staff so he could start “serving God”.
Over time I have discovered how common of an experience this is for those who achieve success in their careers. It not only creates confusion; it creates a great deal of internal conflict. Who wants to be that person viewed as self-centered and greedy, whose only path to redemption is a generous donation to the church building fund. It is perplexing when your skill sets produce wealth and you find yourself feeling guilty because of it. With the shame culture so prevalent in religious circles, many successful people, if they attend church at all, sit in the back where they can get out fast. They live with the sigma of somehow being second class carnal citizens in the Kingdom of God. This concerns me deeply as in my view the scared/secular divide doesn’t actually exist when God is involved. It’s a false paradigm.
WHO CONTROLS THE NARRATIVE?
In dealing with this confusion on a very personal level, one of the questions I ask my clients is “Who is controlling the biblical narrative and what is their perspective?” Understanding the diversity of perspectives people have and how they were produced is extremely important. One has to first ask the question “where are they standing to see what they see?” This is crucial in order to put their statements or paradigms into context. The futurist Isaac Asimov wrote in I Robot;
“It is the obvious which is so difficult to see most of the time. People say ‘It’s as plain as the nose on your face.’ But how much of the nose on your face can you see, unless someone holds a mirror up to you?”
While we all live in societies with a culture, those cultures are further sub-divided into sub-cultures. Each sub-culture has its own worldview, hierarchy, language etc. One finds acceptance as long as they remain faithful to the sub-culture’s point of view. Any deviation of thought or perspective is potentially hazardous as it threatens the cohesiveness of the sub-culture. One is threatened with expulsion if one does not toe the line. One of the potentially disastrous results of this dynamic is we end up living in echo chambers of thought and perspective. The irony here is that most all the significant advances in human history came from “rebellious” people who challenged norms, assumptions and group think. History vindicated them but only after the religious hierarchy persecuted them.
SPIRITUAL TABLE WAITERS
The Church world is overseen by people we call priests or ministers. It is interesting to note the original Greek word for minister diákonos was used by every day Greeks in the context of being a table waiter or someone who served a king or master. While today it denotes status that wasn’t the case originally. Over the last 2,000 years the word has morphed into being interpreted as a religious term but its roots are not. In fact, most all of the original Greek words used by Paul of Tarsus, the Jewish tent maker/businessman as he spread his message across the Roman world, were secular cultural words. Paul found himself in trouble at times with religious leaders because he didn’t observe the false great divide. There was no “Christianise” religious language such as we have today. More on that later.
From the perspective of many whose daily responsibilities are within the institutional Church, the single most important thing God is doing is building His Church. From their point of view, when God does something significant, He does it through people from their particular walk of life and the vehicle He uses is the Church. Why do they see it that way; it’s where they are standing! It is their worldview and the glasses they look through when interpreting the bible. Their perspective is “normal” to them. Like we all do, they can’t understand how anyone else could see it differently. I want to be clear here that I am not in any way wanting to denigrate those who serve others faithfully from a ministry paradigm. They play a very significant role in God’s greater plan. What I do want to propose is that we look at familiar things with a fresh perspective and in doing so we just might see things we have never noticed before. I suspect that the Church world is just one of many sectors God is at work in and the bible may show us a more expansive view of God and who He works in and through than we might have otherwise suspected.
WHO ARE ‘THE HEROES OF FAITH?”
For many people, the bible is viewed as strictly a religious holy book revered worldwide. While it certainly contains a great deal of religious theology, it is not limited to it. Depending on whether you are reading a Catholic or Protestant bible, at least 15 Old Testament books are historical in nature. In other words, these books cover 4,000 years of human history and tell the story of how people related to the God of creation. The first 2,000 years of this history is covered in the first 11 chapters of Genesis. The last 2,000 years start in Genesis chapter 12.
Something which has always intrigued me is a chapter recorded in a book found in the New Testament which reflects on this period of time. Hebrews Chapter 11 is an overview of men and woman who lived during this 4,000-year period who were not only God seekers, but in some form or fashion God worked through them in significant ways to impact the world. What captured my attention was outside of one guy, none of the others accomplished what they did through a religious ministry context. In other words, they would not have been on staff at any local church or in the case of Judaism, been priests!
In looking at the chapter we discover Abel, Enoch, Noah were farmers. A significant portion of the chapter focuses on Abraham and Sarah who were cattle ranchers. Moses while he is seen by many as the father of the Jewish religion, actually functioned more as a governmental leader establishing both a political system and legal system. He was more akin to the Founding Fathers of America than any ministry model we currently have. Rahab ran a small business catering to travellers. Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah and David were military leaders and some of them also functioned in governmental roles. These are the people who we commonly refer to as Heroes of Faith and yet where their faith was exercised was outside the world of institutional religion. Samuel, the last person mentioned was the only one who actually functioned in a traditional ministry role. Moses put his brother Aaron in charge of all functions of ministry. I think it is important to recognize that God was quite active out there in the “secular” world using men and woman some of whom we would not ever chose due to the religious paradigms which have been handled down to us.
SO WHAT’S CHANGED? ACTUALLY VERY LITTLE
As we move into the AD period of history which is recorded in the New Testament, I think it is important to note chronologically it only covers approximately a 100-year period or .025% of the whole story of the bible. It was a significant period of time though. One of the distortions which has been handed down concerns the Apostle Paul and who he was . Given that copies of his personal letters survive us and a significant portion of what’s in there is theological in nature, Paul is viewed by those in ministry as the first great Christian theologian. Given our modern paradigms our causal assumption becomes Paul was a full time ministry guy and yet that is not the case. In actual fact, he was a businessman making and selling tents so he could pay his own travel and living expenses. In his letter to those living in and around the Greek city of Thessaloniki he wrote “nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, labouring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.” (II Thessalonians 3:8) Paul spent most his life working a secular job and being an entrepreneur. As we know from his other letters he wasn’t a dynamic crowd gathering preacher. On the weekends he would visit various gatherings meeting in homes to share his perspective on who Jesus was and how his teachings mattered. Being Jewish, it was back to work on Sunday.
As one ponders why God would pick a guy like Paul to bring these revolutionary ideas to a culture unfamiliar with them, one can’t help but wonder about his Myers-Briggs personality assessment and his skill sets. In much the same way Jesus bypassed those with ministry skill sets when selecting his team of independent thinking small business owners, God did the same with Paul. He picked someone with entrepreneurial business skills for the mission. In our modern church vernacular, the word Apostle is revered and within some circles viewed as a hierarchal position. Paul though would borrow the Greek word apostolos when describing his function, not necessarily his status. Again, at the time the word had no religious connotation but was the secular word for an Ambassador or envoy commissioned to represent a government or someone in a position of authority. As the Roman Emperors sent representatives to other rulers speaking on their behalf, Paul was doing the same representing the Ruler of the Government of God. When Paul was warned in Acts 21 not to go to Jerusalem or he would be arrested, the reason he wasn’t worried about being detained was he knew should that happen he would have the opportunity to gain audience before various significant political figures while his case went through the Roman court system. From his perspective it was an opportunity to be an Ambassador of the Government of God through rather unconventional means.
GOD RECRUITS PEOPLE WITH BUSINESS SKILLS
In his letter to the community in Ephesus Paul would write “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12) Due to our religious conditioning, our notion when we read this is to assume he’s talking about building institutional churches when in fact he’s talking about developing skills sets in people. In the business world it’s called apprenticeship, mentoring or talent development. If one can step back and move over slightly and look at this from a different perspective, one sees familiar skill sets in the business world.
Prophet (Greek profetes) means “forward speaker” as they are typically proclaiming a forward looking prognostication. Every ancient culture had them. They are people who often see something others don’t and exhibit their talent in innovation. Leonardo Di Vinci was centuries ahead in his thinking. In our lifetime men like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did the same in the technology world. They changed the trajectory of our world and our daily lives. Other prophets speak through the literary arts or music challenging us on means and motive. Bob Dylan has been a reluctant prophet for decades. Evangelist (Greek euaggelistes) are the bearers of good tidings and function as salesmen. In the early 1980’s when Apple hired Guy Kawasaki he recognized they weren’t just selling a product but an experience and a new worldview. He didn’t hire salespeople he called them evangelists. They preached the Apple gospel of Good News. Those who pastor and teach in the business world most often find themselves working under the heading of Human Resources caring and educating people.
My point in all this is we often perceive the church world as fundamentally different from what God does in the marketplace. Its “sacred”. That wasn’t the case originally; it’s something which has developed over time. God picked business people when he needed to get the job done! As we continue on together in this journey I will share more stories with you about how when God was ready to impact humanity, while the religious voices have received the credit historically, it was business men and political leaders who actually made it happen. One always has to ask the question “who’s telling the story” because whoever is doing it is telling you their version.