In Doing God’s business, author Paul Stevens (2006) aims not to write “a ‘how-to’ book on leadership or management,” but “a ‘how-come?’ book” that helps the reader discover the answer to the “why” questions (2010)(2006, p. 12). “We deal with meaning and motivation rather than method,” writes Stevens, “If we have a ‘why,’ we can easily find a ‘how’” (2006, p. 12). Following this frame of thought, the book is divided into two parts: Meaning being the first and Motivation the second. The book addresses themes such as marketplace theology, understanding and creating corporate culture, the faith-work relationship, spirituality as a source for creativity and entrepreneurship, motivational ethics, and contemplative life amidst career’s demands (Stevens, 2006, p. 13).
As I first approached the book, I was misled by the title, thinking the content was meant for business people only. The scope is much wider, in fact, and is applicable to all work environments. True to his aim, Stevens explores biblical thought and historical theology to provide meaning and motivation for the working life of all Christians. In Chapter 3, The business side of ministry, Stevens goes back to the ancient Greek World and the Middle Ages to reveal the roots of current negative predispositions towards work. Stevens then not only reviews Luther’s teachings on vocation, but continues the journey through Calvinism, the English Reformation, and Puritanism. Luther liberated the term vocation to apply specifically to every person’s call of service through work, despising the Catholic papal hierarchy. Calvin took it one step further by endorsing trade and commerce, which Luther could not embrace. The Puritans, however, went one step too far. As Lambert explains,
“Luther and Calvin sacralized the secular by liberating vocation from the monastery, their later followers secularized the holy. The term ‘vocation’ now has only traces of a religious meaning, and its English equivalent, ‘calling,’ has been largely exiled to an ecclesiastical ghetto” (as cited in Stevens, 2006, p. 50).
This historical perspective clarifies why today the term vocation is liberally used outside the church world, particularly in reference to manual labor, whereas the term calling is confined to church-related ministry. Ministry, however, is a “call to enter into the creating and saving work of the Creator, a work initiated, empowered, and completed by God” (Stevens, 2006, p. 53).
Another helpful insight from history is the etimology of the word company, which “come from the Latin – cum (with or together) and panis (bread)” (Stevens, 2006, p. 61). Stevens argues “that the modern business corporation follows the model of the early church,” and that “the church was the first ‘trans-ethnic and trans-national corporation’” (2006, p. 61). To quote two examples, “the leader of an organization is in some sense the ‘minister of culture,’” while “[r]unning a business is best understood as nurturing a system” (Stevens, 2006, p. 71, 74).
Stevens is a prolific author with a range of resources related to the theology of work topic. This book in particularly helpful to me in thinking beyond the theology itself and delve deeper into the meaning and motivation such theology provides for every Christian in their work life. It reminded me of the chasm between church and the workplace and inspired me to bridge the gap with intentional action steps. In particular, it causes me the think more creatively about how to celebrate the workplace ministry of our church members during Sunday services and how to equip them with the meaning and motivation for such service outside of Sundays.
By Jacob Bloemberg
Stevens, R. P. (2006). Doing God’s business: meaning and motivation for the marketplace. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.