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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Pastor, Teach Your Businessperson to Be a Vine Worker

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Scene 1: Over lunch with a pastor of my church, I asked him how things at church were going. After mentioning some encouragements, he expressed frustration with a member whom he described as “overly concerned with process.” This member wanted to spend a lot of time on the details of buildings, benefits, and budgets.

I’ve heard this type of frustration from quite a few pastors over the years.

Scene 2: I was at a “Christians in Business” meeting. There were probably 700 or so in attendance, mostly men. They came from a variety of church backgrounds, but the conference leader and overall content was mainstream evangelical. In many ways, it was a helpful conference, and as a “Christian businessperson,” it was encouraging to be around other like-minded friends. However, one theme kept coming up both from the front and in hallway conversations: “We need this conference because our churches don’t understand us.”

I’ve heard this sentiment repeatedly over the years, normally from business guys who are functionally independent from any church.

My guess is, the longer you pastor businesspeople, or the longer you’re a businessperson in a church, the more likely you’ll experience something similar to one of these two scenes. Let’s call it the Pastor-Businessman Divide.

THE TRELLIS AND THE VINE: A PLAN FOR PASTORS AND BUSINESSPEOPLE

So what’s going on here? You could come up with several reasons for this tension, from personalities to polity, from structures to sin and super egos. But as both a pastor (I’m a lay elder in my church) and a businessperson (I’ve been an internet entrepreneur for the past 12 years), I think the simplest explanation can be found by considering the analogy of a trellis and a vine. Yes, I am borrowing from the excellent book The Trellis and the Vine by Colin Marshall and Tony Payne.

Vine work is the Great Commission: making disciples through teaching the Word, whether publicly or one-on-one. Trellis work is creating and maintaining the physical and organizational structures and programs that support vine work. Trellises are important, but are limited and supporting. On the other hand, vine work is the fundamental role of every member of a church. All the members are to be disciple-making disciples who hold one another accountable, encourage one another, exhort and love one another and so on.

So how does this relate to the tension between pastors and business-people? Simply this:

Businessman: Your pastor (generally) is better at vines, not trellises. Realize this, and help to build trellises that are limited and supporting.

Pastor: Many of your businessmen don’t naturally take to vine-work, but are naturals at building trellises. Teach them to grow vines, but also take advantage of their trellis power.

To oversimplify, the day-job of a pastor is to do vine work and train others in it. And the day-job of many businesspeople is to build trellises—organizations and structures. When each is doing their day-job in their own spheres, things go swimmingly. But when they come together as members of a local church and their vines and trellises start to overlap, there can be tension. Why? Because in those moments, they both emphasize what they are good at and deemphasize what they are not.

In this article and its companion, I lay out a game plan for averting these tensions and building unity. The rest of this article addresses pastors, while the other article addresses businesspeople. Both answer the question: how can we fight for unity and leverage the gifts of both pastors and businesspeople?   

THE PASTOR’S GAME PLAN

Pastor, many of your businesspeople don’t naturally take to vine-work, but they can build trellises. So your game plan is threefold: encourage them in their daily work, teach them to grow vines, and take advantage of their trellis prowess.

1) Encourage businesspeople by caring about their daily lives.

First, encourage businesspeople by caring about their daily lives. I think some of the tension between pastors and businesspeople comes down to love, or at least the perception of it. If you’re a pastor, I wonder if you might be sending the message that you don’t care about the businesspeople in your church. How? It’s not theological; you love everyone in your church. It’s emotional: you might get really excited about those who are pastoring and are missionaries but show far less excitement for what your businesspeople are doing. In response, businesspeople might be tempted to check out of church and invest entirely in their work.

Imagine a dad who has two sons. It’s clear he loves them both very much, and they both know it. One son, though, loves the Washington Redskins while the other son is an artist. The dad really likes the latter son’s art, but he loves the Redskins. You could see how over time the artist son will feel like his dad loves him less, even though he knows objectively that’s not true. And the more he feels this way, the more he may struggle to prove himself to his dad, or simply look elsewhere for approval.

What’s the solution to this? Should we cater to the feelings of everyone in the church who feels less valued? Should we esteem pastors less? I actually think it’s easier than pastors think. Consider a few practical ways that you can care for businesspeople in your church.

First, pray publicly and specifically for different occupational concerns in your church. Pray for the more “earthly” concerns such as

  • relationships with coworkers;
  • using time well on commutes;
  • the grace and strength to respond in godly ways to frustrations, bureaucracy, and seeming meaninglessness;
  • God’s kindness in providing jobs in the first place;
  • the ability to fight our tendency to idolize work;
  • the ability to fight our tendency toward laziness, procrastination and idleness;
  • an increasing vision for what it means to be salt and light in the workplace;
  • wisdom in navigating raises, internal politics, disappointments, and career planning;
  • ability to know when to take promotions and when not to;
  • an increasing sense of freedom in choosing a career and setting the appropriate hours for your family.

Consider asking a mature businessperson in your church to speak publicly about what he’s learning in the workplace and how God is at work in his heart, his relationships, and his circumstances. Don’t reduce the value of your people in their workplace to how frequently or how well they’re doing in evangelism. Instead, work to build them up, not just through your preaching, but through your prayers and concern for their specific work-life.

Encourage them, especially on Mondays. It can be hard to go to work on Monday. It can be even harder when you’ve just had a family feast on Sunday and now you’re heading out to what can be an uncaring, competitive, and disappointing work environment. (Ironically, I think the healthier the church, the bigger the gap can be between the Sunday high and the Monday low). Recognize this. What can you do to try to counteract this? I don’t think the answer is to make Sundays less encouraging and God-glorifying. But you can avoid giving the impression that worship happens only in church, not at work, and that the only work that matters is paid ministry.

2) Give your businesspeople a vision for, and teach them to do, vine work—in their families, in their workplaces, and in the church.

Second, give your businesspeople a vision for, and teach them to do, vine work—in their families, in their workplaces, and in the church. It is easy for pastors to neglect teaching the businesspeople in their church. It is possible to assume that because your businesspeople are successful and talented, they already have the gifting and ability to do vine work. Or, perhaps the businesspeople in your church are at the other end of the spectrum: they are so worldly that you cannot imagine them doing vine work, so you ignore them.

What is needed is for you to give them a vision for the work of the church and then train them to do it. I have three suggestions for how you can do this.

First, teach them what it means to be a Christian in the workplace—which is really just what it means to be a disciple. Help them see that their discipleship to Jesus is not just one more ball flying around in their life. It is not in competition with other responsibilities. It is their first responsibility, and all others are defined by and find their place in service to that one overarching assignment of following Jesus.

Think of Colossians 3:24. Why are we to work with all our heart at whatever we do?  Because we do whatever we do “for the Lord!” The great first responsibility, discipleship to Jesus, organizes and defines all those secondary “whatever you do” responsibilities. Church life, family life, work life—those are the “whatever-you-dos,” the secondary responsibilities we have as humans and Christians. So we ought to understand all of them as arenas in which we strive to follow Jesus and bring him honor and glory.

When our businesspeople start to understand that we have one and only one first responsibility, and that all our other responsibilities are defined by that first responsibility, a good deal of the chaos they often feel is relieved. All of a sudden, their various callings and duties in life stop being in competition with one another and instead begin to point in the same direction.

Second, equip them to be vine workers—disciple-making disciples—in their callings to the workplace, family, and church. Most business-people’s day-to-day work is very different from vine-work. In fact, “vine-work”—things like mentoring, building into others, and managing well—is normally not appreciated or rewarded in the marketplace. Why? Because it takes a long-term commitment to build into others, yet most businesses want quick and efficient results. So not only are most businesspeople not sharpening their vine-making skills in their jobs, but the system is normally set up to discourage it. Recognize this and take the time to train them up in vine-making.

Third, give them a pattern to follow. Give them a vision to do vine work, but also help them see practically what it looks like. Initially, discipling people was very foreign to me. What really helped me was learning to watch others do it.

I put this into practice by starting to meet up with a friend from church bi-weekly for 30-45 minutes at a local coffee shop to talk through key areas of our lives. We walk through 5 key assignments in life: our personal discipleship, our marriages (or other key relationships), parenting (if applicable), ministry, and work. We each take 10 minutes and think about these areas in terms of how our past weeks went and what our goals are for the upcoming week. We go over each of these with the other person and give them permission to ask us hard questions about any of them.

Normally what happens is there is one box where we spend the majority of our time. For example, my friend was trying to think through how to best disciple his young children. I thought about it with him, applying Scripture and giving him practical wisdom, and over a few weeks he tried different strategies and books that eventually helped him make real progress as a parent.

Here’s the point: Don’t assume your businesspeople know how to do vine work. Do assume that, if they’re Christians, they want to learn how to disciple others.

3) Take advantage of your business people’s trellis powers.

Third, take advantage of your business people’s trellis powers. While things like strategy, planning, process, and efficiency aren’t needed for everything in the church, they are useful for some things. As a pastor, you will be well served if you can see where “trellis powers” are needed, and who can wield the particular tool you need.

So what are some areas in which trellises are useful in the church?  There’s a whole host of things:

  • how to organize member care so that needs are met;
  • how to do small groups;
  • how to steward your buildings and property;
  • staff reviews and compensation;
  • legal issues;
  • recruiting volunteers for nursery;
  • budgeting and income projections;
  • websites and branding;
  • launching new ministries to reach students or internationals;
  • overall strategic planning;
  • streamlining elders meetings;
  • and doing specific outreaches for your community.

The list could go on and on. There is a lot of trellis work to be done at your church.

So who should you be on the lookout for?  How can you put trellis powers to work in your church? The answer is, learn to understand the differences among your “businesspeople” and the tools they wield. Businesspeople actually have fairly different skills based on their personalities and what they do. Here’s a quick overview:

  • A “generic businessperson” builds organizations, systems, and processes and is a strategic thinker. They understand how to allocate resources in order to accomplish a goal.
  • An inventor/entrepreneur sees broken things and wants to fix them. They see opportunities and want to do something, but might not necessarily think about all the details and trade-offs. They can move in the approximate direction and need little guidance.
  • A sales professional is deal-oriented, convinces people of ideas, and works towards agreement.
  • An analyst/attorney/accountant analyzes, studies, is data-centric, and is normally an expert in a narrow topic.
  • An operator/manager “keeps the trains running on time.” Not typically very creative, he or she is likely a good people person and can keep something spinning for a long time.
  • An engineer (software or physical) thinks in terms of systems and processes, understands how things fit together, and, normally, is thorough and a planner.
  • A designer knows how to communicate abstract ideas in concrete ways and can bring aesthetic order.

By God’s grace, your church may be filled with people who have various gifts. Get to know them and ask them to serve the church in ways that align with their gifts. It’s amazing how many businesspeople get discouraged because they are not asked to help. So encourage the various members of your church to function like a body.

THE GOAL: A BODY

Just as God didn’t design the physical body to be just one part, so he didn’t design the body of Christ to be just one part, either. He designed it so that there would be, yes, pastors and missionaries, but also policemen and teachers and carpenters and all kinds of other “parts” who would function together to keep the church body functioning smoothly.

All the various gifts in the church work together to create one well-functioning body. If you take any out, or if you make the whole body just one part, you ruin the beauty not only of the whole, but of all the individual parts as well. They are only beautiful when they complement one another and work together. None of them stands alone and all of them are ordered by God to create one well-functioning body. The roles we all play complement and support one another. They all work together to help the church reflect the glory of God.

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).

February 2013
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Topics: Discipleship