woman on bench

The Spirituality of Professional Skills and Business

by Peter Shaukat

This short and surely inadequate article on the place of professional and business skills in spirituality and mission is essentially a plea for Christ-followers to demonstrate and proclaim a wholistic gospel and to pursue authentic whole-life discipleship. In many respects, it reflects one element of my own pilgrimage in mission, which might be described as a long pursuit of an answer to the question: “How do we integrate our Christian faith with our vocational talents and training in a life committed to the global mission enterprise of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?”

My journey thus far is still for me most memorably crystallized when, as a young engineer-in-training experiencing the breakout of Jesus in my personal world, I approached a mission agency leader with the question: “What should I do to serve Christ globally?” The answer I received then was to go to seminary for four years and then come back and see him. His answer may just possibly (but probably quite remotely) have had to do with his perception that perhaps I had certain “ministry gifts” needing development. However, with the passage of more than four decades since that conversation, I am inclined to believe that it had more to do with a pervasive, dichotomous, sacred-secular worldview rooted in Greek Platonic (and Buddhist/Hindu) thought than with the biblical, integrated notions of shalom, holiness, and service. Since then, by God’s grace, through observing the modeling of Christ’s virtues in the lives of hundreds of fellow-travelers, imbibing five decades of studying Scripture on a personal devotional level, embracing divinely appointed circumstances, and following personally chosen pathways on five continents, some progress in answering that question first posed in the 1970s is slowly being made. 

How do we integrate our Christian faith with our vocational talents and training in a life committed to the global mission enterprise of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

Having set the stage so readers will know where this layman with a background in engineering, education, and business is coming from, I propose to address the issue at hand under the following three broad categories: hazarding a comment on the global and ecclesiastical context of our time, offering a rough and ready theology of work, and outlining a few suggested essentials of a working spirituality with a missional worldview for the professional or business person.

Our Global and Ecclesiastical Context

Our times are profoundly influenced by global economic factors, to a degree perhaps never before seen in history, on account of sheer numerical size and geographic scope and our digital age with its rapid democratization of information to the masses. From the anarchic and disparate “Occupy Movement” to the trigger point of the so-called “Arab Spring,” in which a young Tunisian selling vegetables from an unauthorized push-cart set himself on fire in frustration at the insurmountable challenges of eking out a simple living for his family, across the world protest movements have their roots in a disenchantment with status quo economic systems. It is worth noting that these systems are interconnected with and have an impact upon multiple professional disciplines and that they are constructed, developed, and led by professional and business people. It is also disconcerting to realize that we are all, everyone, involved in some manner or other in the very marketplaces we find, by turns, enthralling and galling—whether we be producers or consumers, buyers, or sellers.

The World Economic Forum, in its Insight Report on Global Risks in 2015, cites the following as the five most likely risks in our world: interstate conflict, extreme weather events, failure of national governance, state collapse or crisis, and unemployment or underemployment. In terms of impact there is not necessarily a direct correlation risk to risk; nevertheless, interstate conflict, the failure to adapt to climate change, and unemployment or unemployment are in the top ten.Jim Clifton, Chairman and CEO of Gallup, in a similar vein writes that “a global jobs war is coming,” because what everyone in the world wants is a good job. The breakdown of families, municipalities, and countries is directly and progressively linked to the masses of unemployed and underemployed. Gallup reckons that the world presently has a shortfall of some one to two billion good jobs.

What is immediately evident is that all of these risks reflect the dark side of the human spiritual condition to some degree or other, and conversely, require remarkable and diverse professional and business skills to mitigate and overcome. If one believes that peace-making flows from the very wellspring of genuine spirituality, then surely anything that contributes to the diminishing of jobs-related conflict and brings dignified employment in redemptive relationship settings qualifies as a Himalayan peak of mission endeavor.

We are all, everyone, involved in some manner or other in the very marketplaces we find, by turns, enthralling and galling—whether we be producers or consumers, buyers, or sellers.

In the light of this context, the questions “What is our mission?” and “How do we live our spirituality?” are pressing ones which cannot be ignored. I propose that the most relevant spirituality is the most practical and that the mission of the people of God must certainly include participation in the kind of issues cited above. It has always been thus.

This leads us to a brief consideration of our ecclesiastical context. Traveling on the London Underground, one cannot miss the incessant audio and visual warnings to “Mind the Gap”—the dangerous space between train and platform, which apparently leads to hundreds of serious injuries every year. A similar, deadly gap exists in the church. It is the gap between “full-time ministry” and everything else. It is the gulf between “those called into ministry” and those who “pay and pray” for these ministries. It is the chasm of ignorance and misunderstanding of what the professional and business world entails that leaves so many searching for any nurturing relevance at all in so much of the churches’ teaching, hymnology, and programs. Decades of informal polling on the question in dozens of countries turns up the same result: most Christians have never heard a message on work in their life, the vast majority of business people have never been explicitly confirmed in their calling into business as a ministry, and for reasons still largely inexplicable to me, troubling numbers of Christians leave professions of significant relevance to serve in the church.

Of Jesus’ 132 public appearances, 122 were in the marketplace. Of 52 parables Jesus told, 45 had a workplace context. – Os Hillman

A young man in his thirties recently confided to me that he had felt a “reluctance to enter business due to concern about mission drift” and that nothing had been offered to him as a Christian disciple to disabuse him of that feeling. Another now retired businessman recently come to Christ acknowledged that he could not connect Sunday to Monday and that he was therefore essentially resigned to living a sort of schizophrenic spirituality. The lingering legacy of the “social vs. evangelical gospel” war, to the extent that it continues to influence the landscape of the global church, in some cases with renewed animation, is an issue which must be resolved.

Addressing this issue, Os Hillman states that the church has a major task before it of “rethinking Jesus.” He explains:

Of Jesus’ 132 public appearances, 122 were in the marketplace. Of 52 parables Jesus told, 45 had a workplace context. Jesus spent his adult life as a carpenter until age 30 before he went into a preaching ministry in the workplace. And 54% of Jesus’ reported teaching ministry arose out of issues posed by others in the scope of daily life experience. Saint Bonaventure said, “His doing nothing ‘wonderful’ (his first thirty years) was in itself a kind of wonder.”

We live in a world characterized by widespread protest, with many objects of complaint— multinational business, globalization, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, and a host of other issues. Some acts of agitation are more legitimate than others; all are tinged with the reality of sinful human nature. One of these demonstrations of discontent, the so-called “Occupy Movement,” got its name from the “Occupy Wall Street” rally which began on September 11, 2011 in New York City as a protest against the financial industry’s perceived rapacious and unethical behavior and bloomed into a larger global movement directed against rising social and economic inequality.

It may come as a surprise to our protesting world and to those who claim to be followers of Christ to discover that it was Jesus in fact who was (and is) the true Founder of the “Occupy Movement.” For in his enduring words recorded in Matthew we are told to “occupy until he comes”—and to do so with justice, mercy, and humility. The context of his words (and in fact an alternate rendering of them being to “make money”) is a clear trumpet call to the church to embrace the missional spirituality of the professions, including, notably, the missional calling to business. We must take note of the fact that there can be no “wealth redistribution” for example, without “wealth creation” in the first place, and it is intrinsic to the nature and practice of business to create wealth. It is intriguing to contemplate that a full embrace of all that Jesus said, did, was, and is may enable us to find more common ground with more of our fellow man, including protestors we might not naturally identify with, than we at first imagined!

 

 

Read Part 2 on Transformational SME: Towards a Practical Theology of Work

Read Part 3 on The BAM Review: Four Essentials of a Working Spirituality

 

This article was originally published as part of a chapter in Spirituality in Mission: Embracing the Lifelong Journey; editors John Amalraj, Geoffrey W. Hahn, William D. Taylor and was first posted as a Blog on the Transformational SME website.

Peter Shaukat was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. With a professional background in chemical engineering, education, and business, he is cofounder and CEO of a global investment fund which has invested in dozens of kingdom-focused companies across the Arab world and Asia. Having served in cross- cultural mission for over forty years on six continents, Peter has given leadership to a variety of for-profit and not-for-profit entities, including a satellite television media company in the Arab world, a maternal mortality reduction program in Africa, an engineering company in South Asia, and major international mission agencies.

More from Peter Shaukat on The BAM Review:

What Makes a BAMer? Identifying and Deploying the Right People for BAM Companies

The Right Ingredients: 10 Essential Characteristics of a BAMer

Am I a Business Builder or Entrepreneur? Identifying Your Place in a BAM Team

Four Essentials of a Working Spirituality

 

Book - Spirituality in Mission

Spirituality in Mission: Embracing the Lifelong Journey

Edited by John Amalraj, Geoffrey W. Hahn, and William D. Taylor

Authors from eighteen countries give us their perspectives on biblical principles and cultural expressions of spirituality particularly as the church engages in God’s mission. This anthology enriches our understanding of the depth and the meaning of being spiritual and the diversity of forms to live out the Christian faith.

Mission without spirituality will only be a human effort to convince people of religious theories. Spirituality without a missionary involvement of the church will not express God’s desire that the transforming gospel reaches every person. This book will help you rethink your understanding of what is spiritual, revisit your own spiritual journey, and appreciate the different forms of spirituality as they are described and performed around the globe. More Info