In my first article in this issue of the 9Marks Journal, I described the tension that often arises between pastors and businesspeople. Pastors grow frustrated because businesspeople seem overly fixated on the church’s numbers and structures and budgets, and businesspeople feel like their pastors don’t understand them or care about their work.
And I suggested that the analogy of trellises and vines provides a way forward. Vine work is disciple-making, and trellis work is building structures to support disciple-making. Pastors are typically strong on the former and weak on the latter, and businesspeople tend to be the opposite. So, in my first article, I encouraged pastors to encourage businesspeople in their work, teach them how to do vine-work, and use their trellis-building powers for the church. This article provides a game plan for businesspeople in the church.
THE BUSINESSPERSON’S GAME PLAN
The Businessperson’s Game Plan: Your pastor is better at growing vines, not building trellises. Realize this, learn from him, and build supporting trellises in the church.
1) Build trellises—but remember that trellises are for supporting vines.
First, build trellises—but remember that trellises are for supporting vines. I’ve heard too many businesspeople complain about their churches and how the church “doesn’t get them.” I’m sympathetic to this, but I want to challenge you back: How much time have you spent trying to “get” your church? And, more importantly, how much time have you spent trying to serve your church?
A church is different from a business. Sure there are some similarities, but fundamentally, a church is to “go and make disciples...baptizing them...and teaching them to obey” (Matt. 28:19). In essence, a church exists to preach the gospel and to make disciples.
This is the primary work of the church. This work can take many forms, but a church has got to keep this main thing the main thing. This isn’t to say that a trellis is unnecessary or unimportant. But it does mean that the trellis—in some cases proceeding in others following—is always there to support the vine. The point of a church is not to have a great trellis, but to have a healthy vine.
Very practically, this doesn’t mean your church has a license to have shoddy trellises. It does mean that trellises are a necessary but not sufficient part of your church. On the other hand, to business people, the vine does not always seem a necessary part of your church. Here’s the point: preaching and teaching the Bible produces fruit, fruit that is visible in the lives of the people at your church. This is the great goal of the church: people who reflect the glory of God!
This is the vine. This vine needs to be fed, watered, cultivated, counseled, disciplined, and poured into. This happens on Sundays through the worship services of the church as the Word is read, sung, prayed, and preached. It happens throughout the week in Bible studies and other gatherings. And it happens through “one another” relationships as members disciple, encourage, and exhort each other.
If you’re a businessperson reading this, let me encourage you that this is actually very similar to the business or company that you’re in. What’s the most important thing you do? You provide a product or service for your customers. This is the point. How you build, support, deliver, strategize, bill and collect for it are all in service to that goal. In other words, the product or service is the main point—the vine. Everything else is trellis. And there is a clear link between the two: in business, if you don’t create a great product, you don’t have customers. But if you don’t bill, you don’t have money to build a great product. And if you don’t strategize, you may not have the ability to service customers a few years from now. They all work together, but are in service to the great goal.
What does all this mean practically? If you are a businessman, realize that above all, your pastor is a vine worker. By God’s grace and through Word ministry, he wants to build disciple-making disciples. To do this, he needs to know and be committed to God’s Word and to sound doctrine. He needs to pastor by correcting, counseling, and disciplining. And, to some extent, he needs to think practically about how to organize the resources of the church to do this. But very often the preaching and pastoring will come much more naturally to him than the practical. And this is okay. In fact, you’d rather have this than the opposite.
So encourage your pastor not by trying to fix his attention on practical structures, but by freeing him to pursue the vine work. For all those gatherings and meetings to happen, trellis work is needed. So if you see trellis work that needs doing, do it. And, it’s important for you as the businessperson to bring strategy and process skills to bear on improving those trellises. Just have the humility to do this in support of, not at the expense of, the vine.
In fact, start by asking: What is the church already doing that I can lend my trellis powers to? And how can I humbly use my gifts to build up the church?
2) Care more about vine work—discipling others with the gospel and sound doctrine—than about efficiency and “getting things done.”
Second, care more about vine work—discipling others with the gospel and sound doctrine—than about efficiency and “getting things done.” I praise God that he’s given those with administrative abilities as gifts to the church (1 Cor. 12:28). Praise God that the body isn’t a bunch or mouths or eyes. We need hands and feet and hearts as well. But but be careful to use your administrative gifts to fan the Word into flame, not to throw water on the fire.
How can do this? Realize the biblical role of the elders of your church: to give themselves to teaching and praying. Understand that the pastor of your church likely cares more about teaching and theology than he does about administration because that is what he’s called to prioritize. And this is what God uses to build a church: the preaching of the Word and prayer. The ability to understand, exposit, and apply the Word to the specifics of the life of the church is crucial for helping a church grow in depth of knowledge and insight (Phil. 1:9-11).
As a businessperson, think about how you can either help or hinder your church’s Word ministry by applying—or misapplying—vision, motivation, systems, and processes. Realize that if you are a businessperson, your disposition and gifting likely leans towards efficiency and “getting things done.” While in some cases this is a huge asset, it can also undermine the teaching and praying ministry of your church. So be humble and realize that your tendencies towards efficiency and can actually harm the ministry of the Word.
What can you do practically about this? First, pray that you’d grow in love for God’s Word and desire to see the gospel held up as ultimate. As you grow in love for God’s Word, you’ll increasingly see how the gospel is the power of God for salvation and sanctification.
Second, pray that you’d grow in wisdom so that you can be helpful, intelligent, thoughtful, and practical in the best sense of the word as you apply your administrative abilities to supporting, pruning, cultivating, and nurturing vine work.
Third, grow in your ability to do vine work. As you grow in doing vine work, you’ll begin to grow in your appreciation for how so much of Christian ministry is the “hand-to-hand combat” of marriage counseling, discipling, walking through difficult circumstances with others, leading Bible studies, teaching a Sunday school class, practicing hospitality, and more. And as you grow in your ability as a vine worker, you’ll also likely grow in your appreciation for your pastor’s gifting and your own shortcomings. So join the great work of disciple-making, and supplement it with your trellis powers.
3) Be diligent, patient and long-suffering in serving your church.
Finally, be diligent, patient, and long-suffering in serving your church. Don’t make church optional, assumed, or an add-on to your life. Make it the central place in which you live out your Christian life.
The New Testament assumes that every believer will be meaningfully connected to and committed to a church. Paul says to the believers in the local church at Corinth, “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it” (1 Cor. 12:27). A local church is a body, and each person committed to it is a member of that body and contributes to its well-being. Hebrews 10:24-25 makes clear that it’s not enough just to be theoretically committed to a church, either. We should “not neglect to meet together,” it says, and we should be active in “stirring one another up to love and good deeds” and “encouraging one another.” So commit to a local church. Meet together regularly with your church. Encourage, love, and stir up the other members of your church.
Of course, there’s a flip side to this as well. While I agree that pastors can work harder to connect Sunday worship at church to Monday worship at work, responding negatively or selfishly is not a godly, appropriate response. Businesspeople can grow insecure or indifferent because their needs aren’t addressed. Do you feel like the church—specifically the pastor—isn’t doing enough to equip you in life? Do you think he should emphasize different things and spread out the love? Do you think the church doesn’t care about you?
If this is you, I have three things to say. First, you may be right. Your pastor is a fallible, limited sinner who may not do enough to equip and support you. But he’s trying.
Second, you’re probably not alone. Have you ever thought about how many people and groups are represented at your church? How many others feel that they could use more help and encouragement? How many other members are there who have tough lives and confusing circumstances and need to understand how to apply God’s Word to them?
Third, you’re either going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. So you have a limited, fallible pastor and lots of unmet needs, including your own. What are you going to do about it? You’re either going to pray for wisdom and strength to help meet the needs of others, or you’ll simply join the chorus of people whose needs aren’t being met.
If you truly do have specific, acute needs, obviously you should approach an elder or pastor at your church. I’m not insinuating that you do not really need encouragement. Also, it’s a good thing to be part of the solution while also providing measured critique and specific ways that your pastor can encourage a group in the church. So do think of and propose ways that your pastor can encourage business people. Just be kind, patient, and realistic in how you do it.
THE GOAL: UNITY IN CHRIST
The goal of every church is to reflect the glory of God. And one of the keys ways a church does this is through its unity in Christ. A healthy church will have both the disciple-making and practical administrating functioning well together. To this end, both pastors and businesspeople are going to have to fight for unity.
Unity only works if there is mutual humility and mutual service. If you are a pastor, be humble and serve your businesspeople. If you are a businessperson, be humble and serve your pastors. Christians are to be reconcilers, but it’s hard work. It’s not something we get for free. We need to pray for and work towards it.
Sebastian Traeger is an elder of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, a tech entrepreneur, and the author, with Greg Gilbert, of The Gospel at Work: How Working for King Jesus Gives Purpose and Meaning to Our Jobs (Zondervan, forthcoming).
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