This Sunday in the rows of every church in North America sit influential business leaders and marketplace professionals. Yet often, we pastors are so occupied with the ins and outs of ministry, church growth and our own lives that we fail to recognize the vast potential of these individuals.
In 30 years of ministry, I can't imagine how any of our multinational church plants or gospel-led initiatives would have been possible without the strategic involvement and leadership of this marketplace demographic.
When it comes to understanding the unique needs and potential of these individuals, my teams and I have made many mistakes, mostly those of omission. At the same time, we have had lasting success that falls under the following three headings: Pulpit, Presence and Participation.
From the pulpit we shape lives, callings and destinies. Jesus asked Peter if he loved Him, calling him to "feed my sheep" (John 21:17c), and a pastor's primary feeding place is the pulpit.
Ephesians 4:11-13 instructs God's representatives to "equip the saints for the work of service." "Work" in this passage is the Greek word ergon, meaning business, employment, enterprise, any product or thing developed or accomplished by hand, art, industry or mind. Part of the pastoral job description then, is to help lead people to discover their purpose so they can find their most gratifying work to glorify the Lord and benefit the common good. Preaching messages full of life, laughter and, most importantly, truth, is what helps and equips those on the frontlines Monday through Friday.
Most in the business world are fighting for their families and livelihood. However, there are also those shaping the cultural trends that flow into our classrooms, boardrooms and living rooms.
Last month in New York City, I was invited to a book launch for David Green, where I heard the humble beginnings of his business story as founder of Hobby Lobby.
David came from a family with a long history of preachers. Although he received pressure from his mother and others to be a full-time preacher, he knew that was not to be his path. His five siblings had all responded to that call, yet he could not do the same.
With only a $600 startup loan, he launched a home business that would change the world. Today, Hobby Lobby is a multibillion-dollar corporation that models biblical values in every aspect of the work. They've helped fund gospel and philanthropic projects around the world, including the extraordinary Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., which will open this November. So I don't think Momma Green is rolling over in her grave wondering why David missed it because he never became a preacher.
Through business and the marketplace, culture is being created. From the pulpit, we influence many of those shaping the culture around us.
So often, the best we have to offer those in the business community is ourselves.
"You are our letter written in our hearts, known and read by all men," Paul says (2 Cor 3:2). It's hard to improve on that. People can be the message, and that's why our encouragement to business leaders is so important.
Twenty years ago, I read a newspaper article about an NHL team, The Carolina Hurricanes, relocating to Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, where I was leading King's Park International Church. It fascinated me that we were getting a professional sports team in our research- and academic-focused area.
As I read this news, the Holy Spirit put in my heart that I'd have a ministry to this team. I found the idea both dramatic and hysterical. I did not believe it at the time, but I kept it in my heart.
The next week, a friend from California told me about one of the players, Adam Burt, and encouraged me to reach out to him. He gave me his cellphone number, and I was too nervous to call because of my limited impression of hockey players as tough and profane, just waiting to punch the lights out of someone.
Expecting to get a voice recording, I finally gave Adam a call, stunned when he actually answered. I stammered for words until I finally blurted out, "I just called to say, 'Welcome to Raleigh, and I'd like to know how I can serve you.'" For two or three seconds, there was absolute silence on the other end, and then this pro hockey player yelled out to his wife, Susan, "You're not going to believe this, but there's a pastor on the phone, and he's saying he wants to serve us." At the moment I called, they were inundated with guests, stressed out and needed immediate help.
Within hours, I was doing an airport run for them, an act that became the start of a relationship of service and friendship. Not long afterward, the Burts started attending our church. They established biblical foundations in their lives, and he asked me to disciple him so he could become the man God intended.
Today, after retiring from 14 years as a pro hockey player, Adam is a treasured friend and lead pastor in our New York City church in Manhattan. He has also planted a church in New Jersey, where he serves as chaplain of the New York Jets. Adam has led hundreds to Christ and has seen key leaders in every sphere of society come to serve Him.
Our simple presence makes a difference in lives, even lives which, at first glance, have little apparent need. The homes, cars and lifestyles of many CEOs and business leaders can be intimidating, but the love of God can knock down walls and penetrate stony hearts. Sometimes our help is practical and, at other times, spiritual. God has an entry point for us into the hearts and minds of key individuals who are now or one day will be living extraordinary lives for Jesus.
Those who view business people as mere tithers are missing the point. These great people God sends us are far more important and valuable than their tithes.
A good friend of mine started what he refers to as the "Holy Smokes Club." No, he's not a Levitical priest but a cigar aficionado. When I visited his city for ministry, he invited me to their meeting. In the garage attic of a major CEO's house, about 10 men were smoking cigars. One after the other, they shared stories and heartaches. The net worth and bios of these men were staggering, but their hearts were just like the rest of ours.
Success comes with a price tag, which is sometimes a broken home or a lost relationship with a child. It doesn't matter if you're in a crack house, the White House or your house, pain is the same all over the world. I heard it all that day in a place that was safe to share stories, tears and prayers.
My friend, the founder of that club, is himself a marketplace leader who pastors other leaders, helping them make it through their valley of weeping to the other side. This is an aspect of being an effective Christian: to be present, absorb sorrows and celebrate victories. Being present helps us to do what pulpits alone cannot.
My regular plea on my high school baseball team bench was "Coach, let me in!" Virtually all athletes on the bench want in the game.
Business leaders are much the same in their disposition toward the church. They're not bent to sit still. Many of them are just waiting for the right moment to invest and get involved, and often, they're waiting on us to send them in to minister.
John Luppo, an investment banker and deal maker in New York City, wanted in the game. I was visiting him in an iconic building on Park Avenue with an active financial trading floor. There, trades are made that shape and change businesses and lives. It's not uncommon to hear expletives flying on that floor during trading hours. I heard a lot that day.
"Pastor Ron, I'm in a place here where these finance guys need some encouragement," John said. "Why don't we start a Bible study?" He showed me a room they could use just 10 steps from the floor.
Now, twice a month, two of our church leaders host a Bible study for brilliant financial leaders. When John and our team started, there was only one other believer involved. Less than a year later, many have been reached by the gospel.
It all started when one man said the equivalent of "Coach, let me in the game."
As business leaders and ministers work together, great advances can be made for the kingdom of God. Paul and Barnabas were an early apostolic duo—Paul, the extraordinary apostle, and Barnabas, a new believer who literally sold out for Christ as he gave away the proceeds of his land deal to the church of Jerusalem. The two of them made history together by taking the gospel from Antioch to the nations.
It's my conviction that aligning business leaders and pastors leads to innovative advances for the gospel.
Consider Bobby. An excellent business leader, he was also faithful in his local church. He volunteered by playing keys for the worship team. Every weekend and special service, Bobby was there and added value to his church. Although this was potentially the end of a very good story, God had much more in mind. Not long after Bobby sold his business, Jerry, a leader in his church, read about the sale in the local paper and remembered him as the guy who played the keyboard. Brilliantly, Jerry asked him to lunch to inquire about his future plans, and at the end of the conversation, asked if he would ever consider taking a staff position at the church.
Bobby recalls the conversation.
"I loved serving my church, but the work I did in technology and business seemed vastly different from anything I could imagine doing in ministry. ... So there I was, deeply connected to our mission and our leaders, and yet I didn't have the vision to see how my business experience could be used at church."
Bobby Gruenewald got the vision and took a staff position at Life.Church. There, he used his business and tech savvy to develop a Bible app that has changed the world: YouVersion.
To date, the YouVersion app has been downloaded nearly 300 million times in more than 1,000 languages. Think about it: A business leader had an encouraging lunch with a pastor, and now much of the world is being engaged with Scripture. It's mind-boggling and inspiring.
On the other side of this is the compelling question Bobby asks: "How many people in your church might be sidelining their gifts because they don't see a way to use them in ministry?"
My frequent prayer is: "Lord, let me see beyond the obvious in my flock, to recognize who is ready, whom You are calling and who can bring the gospel to the marketplace." God is moving in the marketplace, and most of the unevangelized of the world are within reach of Christian business leaders. On the wings of business, the gospel will flourish.
I'm reminded of the early church, of how the gospel spread like wildfire and historians like Tertullian recorded: "We are but of yesterday, and we have filled every place among you—cities, islands, fortresses, towns, marketplaces, the very camp, tribes, companies, palace, senate, forum—we have left nothing to you but the temples of your gods."
Ron Lewis has helped start 65 churches, launching hundreds into full-time ministry. A board member of Every Nation Churches, Lewis is founding pastor of King's Park Church in Durham, North Carolina, and Every Nation New York City.
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