Wineskins Archive

February 6, 2014

An Open Letter to the New Clergy (Sep-Oct 2001)

Filed under: — @ 4:51 pm and
Author and preacher Lynn Anderson asks, “Can Christian business leaders influence our culture as the New Clergy?”

by Lynn Anderson
September – October, 2001

Boarding Flight 286, a somber-faced stranger in a dark blue suit slid into his seat bside an innocent-looking matron. She eyed him discreetly, then gushed, “Oh. You must be a minister.”

“No ma’am,” he explained, “I’m with IBM. It’s my hemorrhoids that make me look so sincere.”

Humor aside, business people and ministers may have more in common than pained expressions. In fact, I believe that today’s Christian business leaders have actually become the world’s most influential ministers! So, from this “old minister,” hats off to you, the “new clergy”!

Track it with me. Up through medieval times the church stood watch over western morals and ethics through the “clergy.” When the church lost clout during the Renaissance and Enlightenment, universities came to replace the church as “keepers of the moral and ethical flame” and professors served as “clergy.” Eventually the torch was handed on down to the public schools, where teachers played “clergy.” But, in today’s North American pluralistic culture, all views must be heard, so no view can be taught as “absolute moral and ethical truth.” Consequently, public school teachers are forbidden to teach Judeo-Christian morals and ethics in the classroom. This leaves a vaccum. Now that church, university and public school have either lost clout or gone AWOL, who will shape tomorrow’s values?

Enter today’s “new clergy”: the Christian men and women of business excellence! While one could argue that idols of the media now shape popular values, I believe their impact is relatively cosmetic compared to the less conspicuous but far more profound influence of business.

I believe that today, the market place holds the clout, and it is business leaders who most broadly and deeply influence our values. So, this means that authentically Christian business leaders are strategically positioned to perpetuate our ethical, moral and spiritual heritage. You who are Christian business persons may not wear the title comfortably, but in significant ways you are the “new clergy.”

Of course, Biblically speaking all of us Christians are “clergy,” a “royal priesthood” ministering to the world. But business “clergy people” carry special influence and can minister in unique ways.

First, you are the “new clergy” to young persons entering the business world. Every year, thousands of graduates flock from the campus to the city, following the Pied Piper who smiles at them from the Wall Street Journal. They desperately need to be mentored by business people who are authentic disciples of Jesus Christ. At least some of these young people who come with stars in their eyes, dazzled by your visibility and achievements, may stay to emulate your values – possibly, even your faith. Without your Christian presence, long-range consequences could be disastrous.

Second, you are the “new clergy” to the business community itself. The free enterprise system began on two basic assumptions: 1) common moral and ethical standars and 2) common concern for the community. However, in today’s competitive environment, these moral and ethical values often get shoved aside by the bottom line. Additionally, concern for community easily capitulates to an environment of “every man for himself.”

Years back, when Eli Black, a rabbi who was also CEO of United Brands, committed suicide, the Wall Street Journal observed, “He believed he could straddle the two worlds – business and sensitive social conscience. In the end the pressure from the two worlds split him apart.” The Journal went on to ask, “Can a sensitive person with high moral standards survive in an uncompromising financial world?”

Behind the Journal‘s query loom two larger questions for us to consider: first, can the free enterprise system itself survive the absence of high moral and ethical standards? And, far more importantly, will America “lose its soul?” Such questions have led some major corporations to retool their leadership styles and corporate values. Some ar including values training as part of their corporate cultures. Recently I participated in a nine-day insitute sponsored by Memorial Hermann Healthcare Systems on “Spirituality in the Workplace.” Most of the faculty were business leaders of exceptional character, with vibrant spiritual commitment. The “new clergy” belong in this picture. Who is more credibly and strategically positioned to preserve the values and redeem the culture?

Third, the “new clergy” plays a major role of witness in the marketplace. You have access to the ears and hearts of people whom the rest of us will never know. And you have credibility with them that “church clergy” can rarely gain. They will listen to peers from their arena who respect people, stay clean, and shoot straight.

In recent years it has been my privilege to explore these ideas in some gatherings of Christian executives, CEO’s, and upper management people. I am impressed by the tough questions being raised. “Did God make me affluent, visible and powerful? If so, why? How do I witness in the marketplace without taking advantage of my position? Without appearing partial to believing employees? Without “guilt by association” with phonies who tout religion for business advantage. You, the “new clergy” who lead in the marketplace, courageously and routinely navigate waters beyond the depth of most “churched clergy.” I, for one, am deeply grateful that God has placed you where you are.

Fourth, you are the “new clergy” to the church itself. Christian business leaders, especially those of high profile, often feel that they must step gingerly through the delicate complexities of their relationship with the local church. “The mice and the elephants make each other nervous,” as someone said. Some mice fear the elephants might trample them. Some elephants remain peripheral to the church lest they frighten the mice. Also some effective and successful business leaders, accustomed to the brisk, efficient pace of the marketplace, grow frustrated with the muddled plodding of a volunteer organization – like a church!

At times it may seem easier to follow the church at a detached distance or to zip past the cumbersome thing toward more vigorous parac-church enterprises. In either case, both the business people and the church lose. I often hear Christian business leaders confess enormous reliance upon a sense of belonging and the spiritual support system in the heart of a healthy church. Facing the chill wind of the secular marketplace alone, without the support and accountability of the church at times threatens to overwhelm even the strongest.

Something else I have noticed over the far journey; in spite of the crisis of trust toward “the clergy,” many of my old buddies in their power suits and European automobiles with mobile fax-phones keep showing up in front of my pulpit. I think they are hoping for a word from God! They often take me far more seriously than I dare to take myself.

You keep telling me that you really do need the church. But some of you ask, “Does the church need me?” One passionately Christ-following visible business leader put it this way: “Am I of any real value to the church, given the mouse and elephant phenomenon? Beyond dropping my generous check in the plate, does the community of faith really expect anything significant from me?”

I reply with a thundering yes, of course it does! You Christian business men and women are profoundly important to the body of Christ. No, not merely to pay her bills, nor to prop up her sagging self-esteem. No, you are primary colleagues in ministry. You enrich our “church clergy” understanding of the faith. And “business clergy” help keep “church clergy” in touch with the marketplace and help rescue our souls from the “stainless glass ghetto.” And you call us to accountability and excellence. Personally, I cannot imagine attempting to function as a balanced Christian person withut a circle of spiritual confidants from the marketplace.

Christian business leaders – today, as we face a vacuum of character and the vertigo of change, we look to you. This is your hour. Thank God for the “new clergy.”New Wineskins

Lynn Anderson is an author, well-known speaker, and founder of the San Antonio-based Hope Network Ministries, a ministry dedicated to coaching, mentoring and equipping church leaders.

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