At a recent conference in Texas I was asked two questions: 1) Where do you see the Holy Spirit at work in the realm of business? 2) What are one or two intriguing trends where you see this taking place? I like these questions because they already assume that the realm of business matters to God and that the Holy Spirit is actively at work in business. They also invite us to ask the question: How can we participate in what God is already doing?
It’s an exciting time to be asking these questions because there are several intriguing trends occurring both inside the church and within the marketplace that are creating a window of convergence. I suggest two for your reflection.
First, Christians all over the world are dissatisfied because they live most of their working lives as “practical atheists” (to borrow from Craig Gay). There is a movement of the Holy Spirit to breakdown our deep vocational dualisms and impart Christians with a desire to see their faith integrated across all aspects of their lives. All around the world increasing numbers of people are asking how can our work be an act of worship and blessing?
Second, within the 21st century marketplace, it is “the best of times and the worst of times” (to borrow from Dickens). The 20th century marketplace delivered phenomenal growth in productivity and wealth. Never in history have so many people enjoyed such a high standard of living. Yet, people are disillusioned and concerned about the costs involved: socially, economically (e.g. recent financial crisis) and environmentally. Increasingly, there is a deep sense of fragmentation between the marketplace and the rest of life. For most people, work has been reduced to a means to an end, with no intrinsic worth. “Real life” is to be lived out during evenings, weekends, vacations and retirement. Note the phrase “work-life balance” as if work wasn’t a part of life.
As more and more people become aware of the costs involved in modern economic life they tend towards two reactions. Some are moved to apathy and determinism, i.e. what we have has faults, but it’s the best we can hope for (often called TINA: There Is No Alternative). Others have a new openness to explore the meaning of business and discover new options for humanizing work.
Christian dissatisfaction and fragmentation within the marketplace create an exciting opportunity for us to offer hope within an alternative story and vision for business, as well as helping people find creative and new ways of doing it. I often wonder what it would look like to nourish, evoke and enact alternative new creation workplaces in Western culture.
So, where do we start? There are many opportunities to influence business in a variety of ways, but three specific areas that interest me right now are the story of business, creativity, and finance.
1. Shaping the narrative as to the purpose of business. Many organizations are plagued by fragmentation and individualistic utilitarianism. Helping organizations to retell their story within a larger story brings coherence and meaning. If businesses can understand themselves in an alternative narrative, rooted in the gospel, this will create fruitful ways for the organisation, their owners, leaders, and employees to re-imagine their roles and activities within a larger purpose.
2. Fostering creativity. There is an increased interest in the marketplace around “innovation and design.” Operational efficiency and analytical thinking is powerful, but limited. The shape and practice of a business is not determined, which means organizations should start asking, “what could be?” These questions are the domain of imagination, innovation and design, which in turn require conversations about purpose, beauty, goodness and truth – all of which breakdown public/private secular dualisms.
3. Rethinking finance. There may not be a more powerful, and difficult, area for Christians to be prophetic. The recent financial crisis is part of a longer trend and story around institutional and consumer debt financing. Serious questions are being raised around how financing should be undertaken. Christians can play a big role in the discourse around these questions.
So what is Regent College and its work through the Marketplace Institute (MI) doing in relation to these questions? In fact, what does the MI do as a whole? Are we Regent’s own branch of the British secret services MI5 and MI6? Well not quite, although engaging with capitalism – arguably the globe’s most dominate ideology – is not without its risks and adventure! The MI is born out of a desire to see Christians engaging in the public arena, or, to put it in the language of the MI’s vision statement: To see Jesus Christ and His gospel blessing society through the embodied witness of the church in all spheres of life.
It accomplishes this through work in our four program areas: Missional Communities, Leadership, Social Enterprise Incubator (SEI), and Research and Projects.
The Missional Communities area focuses on developing groups of Christians who are working towards a shared vision for change in the world within a particular geography or industry. The SEI area operates an incubator that trains individuals to reflect and act theologically in the business sphere by equipping people to start up Christian enterprises and supporting those running existing enterprises. The Research and Projects area focuses on knowledge creation and synthesis across our other program areas. Finally, our Leadership area focuses on equipping both emerging and existing Christian leaders to become agents of change in society. The Leadership area accomplishes this goal with emerging leaders through its Internship program.
We complete work in these areas through a variety of activities. For example, in the SEI area, this past Tuesday we held a one day seminar consisting of Regent faculty and business practitioners that focused on how theology influences the nature of business design and praxis. Similar discussions are also happening in a Regent course offered this term called “Business as Mission.”
In the Missional Communities area we are working alongside Regent faculty to develop a course that uses the Biblical narrative to teach groups of Christians from a local church, or other intentional group, how to integrate their faith into their daily lives. In the Research and Projects area we have started a blog called The Capitalism Project that aims to foster a dialogue on what a Christian perspective on economic life might look like.
So why am I sharing all of this? Hopefully, it will encourage you that business matters to God, invite you to the conversation about where the Holy Spirit is working in the realm of business, and spark ideas for helping us imagine what business in the 21st century could look like.
For more information on the MI and what we are currently doing please visit our website at http://marketplace.regent-college.edu, or come and see us downstairs in Room 2.