What does it mean when someone refers to business as ministry?
When you come into the lobby of Biola University’s business school you’ll see a banner that reads, “Crowell School of Business: Business as Ministry”. I am often asked, “What do you mean by “Business as Ministry”? Here’s my short/not so short answer.
The Greek word used for ministry in the Bible is diakonia (service) or diakonos (servant). Ministry means “to be of service” or “to serve.” So, we believe that business is an effective tool for serving others, from macro-level serving society to micro-level serving an individual client, customer, or work colleague. For believers in Jesus, all of life can be lived as service, including our business lives.
One might ask, “How do you get this business as ministry (or service) approach from the life and teachings of Jesus?” Great question. In two similar passages in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, Jesus is teaching his disciples about the role of leadership and greatness, and he tells them this:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (diakonos), and whoever wants to be first must be your slave- just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. ~ Matthew 20: 25-28.
Jesus turns the organizational chart upside down and says that those who want to lead must serve or minister to their followers rather than be served by their followers. And this is not an isolated teaching of Jesus. In Mark 9:35, Jesus is again addressing an argument among his disciples about who is and will be the greatest among them. It’s reassuring to see that human nature hasn’t changed much is 2,000 years! Jesus tells the twelve of them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant (diakonos) of all”.
In Luke, the gospel writer records a conversation between Jesus and the disciples that happened literally during the Last Supper (imagine the painting and this conversation), again regarding which disciple was considered the greatest among them. This time, Jesus contrasts traditional leadership with servant leadership, and uses an illustration very appropriate for sitting around a table to eat supper. Speaking of a traditional leader, Jesus says,
“But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules, like the one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” Luke 22:26-27
Again, turning the organizational chart on its head, Jesus puts the leadership emphasis on the one who serves rather than the one who is served.
But is it Relevant for Today?
Okay, but how is business activity and management decision-making service or ministry? What is the connection between Jesus’ teaching 2,000 years ago and your business today?
Well, let’s return to the idea of business at the macro and micro levels. At the macro level, business serves society, it’s organized activity that meets the human needs of the many, and if done in a proper, sustainable way, it serves the common good. Stated another way, business enables human flourishing by stewarding all of God’s resources to meet the needs of the created world. When viewed in this way, it isn’t hard to see business as a high calling and management as a true “ministry” (diakonia) to all.
At the micro level, business affords the opportunity to impact for good many individual lives. This is done when we meet the needs of a single customer, a single client, or an individual colleague or employee on our staff. Meeting the needs of others through our business is a tangible expression of Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself”. The ripple effect of a business or organization that provides an income that sustains a family and provides the building blocks of a thriving society connects the micro to the macro levels. Business can simultaneously serve all of society and provide for the individual needs of many.
While it is significant that conducting business in a Christ-like way can provide global goods and services that meet the needs of society, there is more to the Crowell School’s vision of Business as Ministry. As we conduct our business and management roles as service to others, we believe we are serving as the “hands and feet” of Christ in our local context.
A quote from Saint Teresa of Avila who lived in the 16th century has come to poignantly express this.
“Christ has no body on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion for the world is to look out; yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good; and yours are the hands with which He is to bless us now.”
An Expanded Role for Business in the Created World
It is through our organized human energy that God meets the needs of the world today, and if our businesses and organizations do not rise up to the challenge of meeting these ongoing human needs, quite literally it won’t get done. Or, more accurately, it won’t get done in a just and sustainable way. We together are the hands and feet through which the Creator is providing for the creation.
Yet, beyond the provision of “our daily bread”, the eternal message of Christ to a fallen and broken world is that he came to redeem and heal the world and to offer grace and peace to those who will accept it. When Jesus came to serve, he also came to “give his life a ransom for many”, that is, to give the ultimate sacrifice of service. Conducting business as ministry gives followers of Jesus the opportunity to both demonstrate the love of Jesus through service, but also to share with others how to know the God who turned creation’s organizational chart on its head and sent his son to serve and save a broken world.
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