Serving God in business and commerce
Mark Roques reports on a recent conference which affirmed business as a sphere of life that God is very concerned about
The fourth "Business and the Kingdom: The Big Picture" conference organised by Bradford Cathedral and Thinking Faith Network (TFN) took place last Saturday (9 November).
David Hanson of TFN reminded us that the kingdom of God is the central theme of the New Testament. This kingdom is focused on the redemption of all things and this includes business and economic life.
Cal Bailey of TFN has worked as the Sustainability Director at N G Bailey, the UK’s leading independent engineering business. Cal talked movingly about the shame and guilt he experienced as someone who felt called by God to work in business. Some church leaders were appalled by this decision and they urged Cal to shun the ‘grubby’ world of commerce and enter a more ‘spiritual’ arena of service. Cal explained that this tension between business and serving Jesus betrays an impoverished understanding of the Bible.
Cal outlined a theology of business that can be summarized in terms of Creation/Fall/Christ and the Kingdom of God. Cal pointed out that this world belongs to God and this creation is very good. Humans image God by faithfully unfolding and serving the good creation. This includes making, selling and buying manufactured goods and services.
Tragically humans have rebelled against God and the poison of sin has corrupted all areas of life. We know that business can be greedy and destructive but it doesn’t have to be like this!
The antidote to the impact of sin is not to ignore business as a distraction (pietism) but to locate economic life within God’s kingdom. God, through Jesus, is in the business of redeeming and rescuing business from human rebellion.
To illustrate how business can be redeemed, Cal told a delightful story about a director at Unilever who was challenged to design a single use shampoo sachet that would biodegrade within six months. This commission brought the director so much joy that he decided to postpone his retirement!
In the afternoon Matthew Frost, the former CEO of Tearfund, developed many of Cal’s insights in very concrete ways. Matthew focused on how a company can embrace God’s kingdom. Matthew shared with us ‘Ten imperatives to redeem our organisations’. He suggested that metaphors are key to the redemption of business. Too often businesses are spoken of as efficient machines and this is reductionist. He urged us to reimagine economic life in terms of ‘living systems’.
This was an inspiring conference and as an employee of TFN I would like to thank Karen Williams for her hard work and administrative gifts in making the conference so good.
Mark Roques preaches in Cragg Hill Baptist Church in Horsforth, Leeds. He is the director of RealityBites which is part of the Thinking Faith Network based in Leeds