Book Review: How the Church Fails Businesspeople, by John Knapp
In How the Church Fails Businesspeople, educator and business consultant John Knapp argues that the church has largely failed businesspeople. Despite the fact that weekday occupations are the context in which most Christians serve others and develop their God-given abilities, “…church priorities continue to tilt heavily toward private faith and away from ministries that might equip believers for a robust public faith” (xii).
If Knapp’s assessment is accurate, then church leaders will want to listen carefully to his analysis of this failure (which is based on a survey he conducted) and his proposals for rectifying the situation.
FAITH AND WORK: UNEASY COMPANIONS
The book has two parts: “Worlds Apart,” and “Toward Coherence.” Knapp begins by evaluating the chasm between the worlds of business and the church. While businesses are increasingly squeezing faith out of the public sphere, churches are neglecting to disciple their people in vocation and business ethics.
This failure partly owes to a “theology that elevates an ecclesiastical elite while subtly devaluing the rest of the body” (29). Knapp traces the roots of this theology back to the Reformers. Even though they did much to attack the abuses of ecclesiastical hierarchy, Knapp believes they didn’t go far enough, and the effects of their shortcoming still felt. In addition to the clergy-laity divide, the church has widened the gap between faith and work by its tunnel-vision focus on the “private sphere.” From the things the church prays about (illness, deaths, births, etc.) to the things preached about, “the church’s preoccupation with the private sphere of life is evident in many ways” (36).
There is also the problem of the Christian community’s ambivalence about money. Knapp provides an excellent, though brief, survey of biblical teaching on wealth and poverty and of historic Christian positions on it. He concludes that today, “little serious attention is given to the practical concerns of working people struggling to apply their faith to questions of money in their own lives” (66).
All of this has led to a “loss of authenticity” as Christians learn to live with divided worlds and divided lives. “For Christians, places of worship and places of employment offer identity-defining narratives that may at time be hard to reconcile with each other” (80).
FOUNDATIONS FOR RESOLVING THE RELATIONSHIP
In response to these struggles between the church and the business world, Knapp constructs a theology of vocation rooted in the Puritan distinction between a primary calling to follow Christ and secondary calling to do so in a particular context. He also draws from Paul’s instruction, “Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him” (1 Cor. 7:17). He notes that Paul’s larger message is “that all belong to Christ, whatever their station in life, and that they should allow themselves to be used by God in the places where they live and work” (91). Thus he concludes that all Christians must view their vocation (i.e., their “calling”) as a disciple of Christ in whatever context they find themselves.
This theology of vocation leads to an ethical framework that “calls us to the hard work of being salt and light…in a world where God’s justice and love are urgently needed” (99). Knapp emphasizes the goal of wholeness, an authentic Christianity that does not bifurcate the values of a disciple of Christ. This wholeness rests on the simple but exceedingly demanding principle of love. The ethic of love extends beyond mere duty and compliance into demonstrating love and mercy toward others in every situation. Knapp finds this ethic of love most clearly articulated in Micah 6:8, “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
THE LANDSCAPE OF CHANGE
In the final two chapters, which attempt to point a way forward, Knapp first provides a panoramic view of what he calls “a workplace awakening” (121). Although the church has failed businesspeople, Knapp observes how businesspeople across the United States have taken it upon themselves to bridge the gap. The resolution has come not through the institutional church making up its deficit, but rather through individuals, parachurch ministries, and lay-led networks. He also points out that many “Christian companies” have institutionalized the marriage of faith and work by writing it into their mission statements. Some companies have hired chaplains or encouraged faith-based affinity groups.
Although Knapp seems encouraged by progress being made outside the church, he is apparently less certain that any progress is being made from within. Thus he suggests that pastors schedule “regular appointments with parishioners to visit their workplaces and learn more about their daily lives” (146). In addition to this, he recommends four dynamics the church should seek to develop: collaborative leadership, courageous conversations, relevant worship, and a more inclusive narrative (149-156). While these points are of some value, a more insightful section is “The Necessary Role of the Church,” where Knapp encourages the church to be a community of moral discernment, moral discourse, moral influence, moral encouragement, and moral example (113-120).
WHAT’S THE SOLUTION FOR THE CHURCH?
The book’s title well reflects its content. However, the first part of the title, regarding the church’s failure, receives more attention than the recommendations for change. Further, Knapp’s general assessment that the church has failed businesspeople seems to be an overstated generalization. This claim focuses on two dynamics. First, Knapp sees “the church and its clergy as preoccupied with the private sphere of life—family, health, and individual relationships with God—and disinterested in the spiritual and ethical stresses of weekday work” (xii). I’m sure this accurately characterizes many pastors, but it seems like an unwarranted generalization. The second dynamic he explains is that the church has perpetuated a clergy-laity distinction that emphasizes the dignity of the clergy’s work and has less regard for other vocations (27-33). This charge is likely true in many churches, but again, seems like too broad a stroke.
Perhaps rather than sounding the note of failure, especially as the title claims, Knapp should have taken a more nuanced approach. Many churches have likely failed businesspeople, but many have not. There may be churches and pastors that are “disinterested in the spiritual and ethical stresses of weekday work,” but there are likely far more instances of pastors who care deeply about the spiritual and ethical concerns of those they shepherd. Knapp could give many examples of businesspeople who feel their concerns are not sufficiently addressed, but those cases would not prove that the institutional church has generally failed businesspeople. The book might more accurately reflect reality if it addressed these matters as challenges to be taken up rather than as failures to be corrected.
A HELPFUL START
Nonetheless, Knapp provokes the reader to consider a theology of vocation, and the importance of this theology for the life of the church. Pastors and other church leaders will want to listen to many of Knapp’s recommendations. The book includes questions for discussion at the end of each chapter, which would make it a useful tool for a group study. Pastors and other church leaders will find the book helpful in pointing out room for growth as they seek to help their sheep live out their faith all week. This would be a good starting point for pastors wrestling with how to equip their people to live as disciples of Jesus around the clock.