Work or Ministry?

by FCS on

by Bob Lupton

He is a real estate developer – not a minister.  He does his deals, takes his risks, and when they pay off, he gives a generous portion of the proceeds to his church and the other worthy causes he believes in. His business produces the income that supports his family, buys his home, educates his children, pays for vacations, provides for retirement, and yes, funds important ministries.

He enjoys his work – the rush of risk-taking, the challenge of problem solving, the satisfaction of a successful deal. He is wired for it. And over time, he has created enough margin in his schedule to allow ample room for personal involvements in his church and on the boards of some significant non-profits. His work enables him to do ministry.

“Do you consider your work ministry?” I asked him. We were having a discussion about the divide between the secular and the sacred. He loved his work, he said. But did he see it as ministry?

No. Not really. Ministry to him is pro bono involvement, like when he uses his connections and business savvy to help an inner-city non-profit structure a housing deal. Or serves on the elder board of his church. But his real estate career he views as his secular job. In his mind, there is a difference between his work and ministry.

But is there really a clear divide between the secular and the sacred?

Perhaps my friend was not looking deeply enough into the redemptive value of his real estate deals? Is there something sacred about building a skyscraper that he had missed?

Admittedly, contentious negotiations with lenders and investors – each posturing for economic advantage – did not seem like a very spiritual exercise. Nor did the political maneuvering to secure zoning. Nor the “value engineering” trade-offs with architects and general contractors. Such necessary shrewdness did not feel particularly spiritual to him. Rather, this treacherous world of real estate development often felt more like dealing with the devil than advancing God’s Kingdom.

Even so, when a deal-maker has successfully navigated a host of ethical challenges while skillfully negotiating a win-win-win agreement, has he not demonstrated what Christ affirmed as being "wise as serpents and harmless as doves?"

When the lawyers have drafted the documents and the deal is finally signed, then the real benefits begin to flow – hundreds of working people begin to earn paychecks. Architects and engineers crank out their blueprints, heavy equipment operators start moving dirt, concrete workers start pouring and finishing cement, steel workers erect structures, electricians run wire, plumbers install pipe, interior designers create beauty, marketing professionals sign leases, and on and on it goes.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ready workers, from truck drivers to boots-in-the-mud laborers to hard-hat supervisors to suit-and-tie executives, all benefit from this “secular” real estate deal. And when the construction is finally completed – when the glass is gleaming, the picture-perfect landscape adorns the streetscape, the leased-up offices are abuzz with activity – the project takes its productive place in the economic life of the city. “Secular?” Or is this the very sort of activity from which Shalom emerges?

Shalom. Peace, harmony, prosperity. Is this not the Creator’s desire – design – for humanity? Shalom can flow most freely when the wellspring of a healthy economy spreads its life-giving energy out upon society.

And business, for-profit business (the type my real estate developer friend is engaged in), is the very kind of activity that stimulates the economy, creates jobs, and is the wealth-creating source that funds education, insures safe streets, provides health care, supports churches and social services, and enables a host of other societal benefits to thrive. Shalom cannot fully flourish without honorable business. My friend’s “secular” occupation has spiritual significance after all. It is indeed ministry on a grand scale.       

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