What Does the Sacred-Secular Divide Look Like Around the World?

We asked people engaged with BAM around the world to share how they see the sacred-secular divide affecting thinking in the Church in their country – and how this influences engagement of Christians the business sphere. Here are some of their responses and we will be posting more in the coming two weeks.

Patrick Kuwana – South Africa

In South Africa there is a church on almost every street in residential areas (especially the poorer township areas) and in fact in some areas it’s two to three in the same street. The latest statistics show that about 80% of the population profess to be Christians and yet South Africa is listed 67th on a list of 175 countries/territories on the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. So why would a nation that claims to be 80% Christian have this prevailing situation that more resembles the fruit of darkness in society? It is because most of the 80% claiming to be followers of Christ have compartmentalized their Christianity into a “church box” and have left their “business and workplace box” void of the principles and practices they adhere to while in the “church box”. The missing link is that there is a huge void in understanding that God’s statutes and ways are the foundation of every area of life and hence we see almost no biblical influence in determining the culture of business and the overall structure of the economy.

Gea Gort – The Netherlands

Dualistic thinking has a long history in Europe. It seems that the Church embraced more the Greek worldview where life on earth was viewed as unworthy, while the real worth was in the spirit, and in the thinking. This was quite contrary to Jewish holistic thinking; embracing all life as worthy. The historical context in Western Europe is that the Church initiated and was involved in social care, until (secular) governments took over. This then caused even more that faith was considered ‘private’ and ‘spiritual’. Meanwhile, especially the Evangelical part of the Church, focused on “saving the individual soul” and on spiritual discipleship of its members, but lost connection with society.  The Church as a whole– as well as her business people – became comfortable and affected by materialism. Or business people felt the only thing they were good for was giving finances. Now the tide is turning. While former generations were “building Europe” after the Wars, and focused on the material. A new generation is looking for meaning in work. They want to integrate the spiritual and the material.

Tun Cheng Ong – Singapore

There is a view of life that separates the business and work domain from the family and personal domain to the extent that promotes and even justifies a schizophrenic existence of dual persona, values and behaviors. The morals and affairs of business and commerce lies in world outside, and those that pertain to the family and the individual are internal, distinct and apart from the outside, separated perhaps by the threshold of the front gate. This ying/yang worldview is so deep seated within many of the ethnic Chinese believers that it casts a long shadow into their Christian walk. I have observed believers who profusely profess faith and passion for evangelism and outreach and yet their lives and conduct at the workplace is so incongruous and incompatible even with the message of the gospel. Another perspective is perhaps that the “real work” is ministry, and that supersedes all else in the workplace. The work that we do at our workplace is thus of a lesser quality and importance as compared with those that we do in “ministry”.

Joao Mordomo – Brazil

My day-to-day experience in both mission and business has convinced me that the sacred-secular divide is one of the greatest challenges facing not only Latin American missions, but the Latin American Church at large. The misguided focus on the “supremacy of the sacred” and relegation of the laity as “second class citizens” stifles and restrains. This way of thinking marginalizes and demoralizes the laity, relegating them to “mere secular” work and teaching them that their dignity is based on their ability to give tithes and offerings and teach Sunday school classes. Most Latin American Christian business professionals do not realize – and, research indicates, are not taught – that the “you” in 1 Pet. 2:9 (“you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation”) includes them! They do not see the sacred and missionary value in their business activities, nor do most of them ever consider that their businesses in and of themselves could and should be missionary instruments.

Mike Baer – United States of America

Just how badly has the sacred-secular divide damaged the Cause of Christ? Ministry is severely limited to and focused on the professionals. Faithful followers of Jesus with a heart to honor Him find themselves feeling trapped in “non-ministry” jobs. They can’t seem to wait to get off work so they can go serve the Lord in something “sacred”. They feel guilty for not being in “full time Christian work” and discount or even ignore 10-12 hours of every day in which Jesus longs to use them…in their job. Many bright, talented and committed Jesus’ followers end up in a “ministry career path” because, after all, that’s what you do if you love God. There is no way of imagining all the good that could have been done in the world had these folks pursued other equally godly paths in business, research, medicine, education or politics. In the end it comes down to this: Jesus is not glorified in the world as He should be, the Gospel does not go forth in power as it needs to, and most followers are relegated to the stands rather than the playing field of the Kingdom.

Rod St.Hill – Australia

The sacred-secular divide is alive and well in Australia. A common complaint from Christians business people is, ‘My pastor does not understand me’. Pastors rarely visit their business people at their place of work. There is anecdotal evidence that perhaps 40% of Christians in business are not engaged in their local church because they don’t see church as being relevant to them. Christians in business often feel that the church has a somewhat cynical attitude toward them – ‘You make the profit and hand it over to the church’ as if that will somehow sanctify it. There are also Christians who show hardly any evidence of Christian belief in their business practices. Yet all is not doom and gloom. Last February, the Global Marketplace Exchange was launched with a consultative meeting near Melbourne. Some 170 leaders from ten domains, including church and business, gathered to begin working together to transform our nation. There is much to be done to break down the sacred-secular divide, but there are positive signs that God’s people are moving as they are in other nations.

Read more:

How the Sacred-Secular Divide Influences Attitudes to Business in Asia and Australia

How the Sacred-Secular Divide Influences Attitudes to Business in Europe and Africa

How the Sacred-Secular Divide Influences Attitudes to Business in the Americas