How the Church Fails Business People

How the Church Fails Business People

by John C. Knapp

Wm. B. Eerdmans. Grand Rapids, Mich. 178 pages


reviewed by RICHARD RIDGE


The ranks of second-career pastors are rapidly growing. They bring with them decades of experience in the secular workplace. The church should be increasingly well prepared to offer help for dealing with ethical issues in the workplace. This book by former businessman John C. Knapp says it’s not happening. We continue to leave job issues at the church door. The book is an exploration of the possible reasons.

Knapp offers the findings of a survey of 230 working people throughout the U.S. They had little difficulty listing ethical challenges in their daily work. Most felt their church could have done much more to prepare its members to deal with them.

What more could be done and why isn’t it happening? Sharing workplace issues within the church between pastors and laity and among parishioners is a starting point. A congregation can guide and support individuals struggling to do the right thing. As a group we have more leverage to change unfair labor practices and hazardous work conditions. We can set a better example in the treatment and guidance of our own employees and the competent management of church resources.

The author provides a long list of obstacles to a more supportive church. The most common and pervasive one is the tendency to leave personal values at home and accept group and professional values in the workplace. We often tend to deal with the conflicts between our own norms and workplace standards by compartmentalizing our lives. Raising work or career issues in church threatens this separation and makes people uncomfortable.

His most in-depth discussion focuses on the role of money in the church and the tension that surrounds it. One root cause is the conflict between the New Testament emphasis on direct giving to the poor and suffering and the financial needs of the institutional church. He also points to the accommodation of wealthy members as the church settled into its role as part of the social and political establishment. He is scornful of the central role of tithing, calling it a “biblically questionable concept” for defining our charitable obligations.

A chapter titled “Rethinking Christian Vocation” also ranges widely. Knapp is suspicious of people who claim to have left secular careers on the basis of God’s call to a higher purpose. He cites Martin Luther’s argument that all socially useful occupations are equally valued by God because they serve the common good.

Finally he wades into problems facing today’s mainline churches and tries to draw a connection between declining membership and the apparent separation or irrelevance of church teachings to workplace behavior. He notes that young people today want closer integration of their personal and professional lives, both religious and secular.

This thin book is packed with timely topics and provocative opinions. Unfortunately what the modern church most needs are workable solutions to longstanding problems. Connecting the dots between Christian theology and how we actually live is difficult. Listing and exploring attitudes that inhibit pastors and congregations from doing so doesn’t make them go away.


RICHARD RIDGE is a ruling elder at Saint Mark Presbyterian Church in North Bethesda, Md.

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