Sixty years ago Dorothy Sayers in Creed or Chaos? described work as "the gracious expression of creative energy in the service of others." Some, though, see work only as a way to make money, with the result of work merely a byproduct. Lawyers who take the money-first approach practice not out of a passion for justice but to garner billable hours; some doctors practice medicine not to relieve suffering but to have affluent lives; the same sadness inhabits some in every occupation.
That's not the way it has to be, two business leaders tell us. John Beckett grew up in Ohio and at one time was thinking about the pastorate, but instead grew his family business into a $100 million-plus company. He is the author of Loving Monday: Succeeding in Business Without Selling Your Soul, and Mastering Monday: A Guide to Integrating Faith and Work.
Why did you go to MIT and major in engineering? I had applied to a school with an adjunct seminary and was pleased but not overjoyed to be accepted there. But when I was accepted at MIT something got released in me, the hopeful idea that I could have a calling and a purpose outside the ministry.
You believed that "full-time service" meant becoming a minister? I had this gut feeling that if I were going to do anything worthwhile it had to have a religious frame around it. My experience of fully surrendering my life to Christ actually came after college, so I was wrestling through the idea of secular vs. sacred before I had any clear understanding of what these distinctions meant.
We're still affected by the ancient Greek worldview of higher and lower occupations, with the realm of philosophy on top. Whenever the Greeks looked at the world they put what we would call "work" in the lower sphere. Common occupations were always second-class-inferior to that which was more noble and more highly valued. Terms have changed, but that bifurcation of higher and lower has remained right up to modern times.
We talk about "secular" and "sacred." The whole concept of secular work being full-time service is not a common view in churches today. This idea of dualism is totally pervasive through Western culture, including the church. If you were to go to a typical pastor and say, "I want to serve the Lord. How should I do it?" his immediate mindset would likely be, "Well, what kind of ministry do you want to go into?"
A few pastors understand the importance of nonministerial callings. Very few pastors, perhaps 5 percent, would say, "Let's look at how you're wired. Let's look at where your interests are. Knowing that could take you into music, into mathematics, into any number of professions. You can serve the Lord right there." When we come to the point where church leaders are saying that, we will have crossed a great divide.
The Hebrew view of the world was radically different from that of the Greeks. In the Hebrew view it wasn't a matter of an activity being higher or lower but a question of whether that activity was in harmony with or opposed to God's design. With that view I could serve God teaching school, singing an oratorio, or designing bridges. The only question would be, "Can I do this in a way that aligns with God, or is He opposed to it?"
(To hear Marvin Olasky's complete interview with John Beckett, click here.)
Andy Mills went to Oxford but then came to America to work. He attended Harvard Business School and became CEO of the Thomson Financial and Professional Publishing unit of the Thomson Corporation; he is now active in education and philanthropy in the United States and Uganda.
Could you speak to the clichés about the need to leave the secular world and be in full-time ministry to live a complete Christian life? That dichotomy between the sacred and the secular today is wrong. Christians need to be engaged in business life, up to the CEOship, but they need to be prepared for it. Two different Greek words for ambition are used in the New Testament. One is translated as "selfish ambition" and the other is translated as "goals." The goals are good; the selfish ambition is bad.
What's the Theology of Work Project? It's about bringing all our gifts and skills to bear in the workplace. Theologians, workplace practitioners, and workplace ministry people are compiling the major themes from the Bible about work and are developing 20 topical questions to see what does God say about calling, compensation, Sabbath, all those kinds of things. Over the next three years we'll get the whole thing completed and make it available in public domain for everybody: theologyofwork.org is the website, and on the bottom of the first page you can see the progress we've made. Some of the research is already available for people to access.
Why Uganda? Uganda has a GDP of $9 billion-$13 billion. It has 30 million people. Two million orphans. Incredibly verdant, but sub-subsistence in agriculture. You look at it and you say, "This place needs economic development." There's no infrastructure. Most of what goes on is at a very low level, with not really any growth of the economy. On a per capita basis more money has been dropped into Uganda by NGOs than almost any other place, and very little has changed.
You used the concept of Elijah and the widow's oil (1 Kings 17). I wanted to ask people, "How can I help you?" and "What do you have in your house?" There's no good saying, "We should build a high-tech plant here in the middle of West Nile." It doesn't make any sense. But asking, "What do you have in your house?" and offering to help you take that a little bit further is a very important question. We work with people making a rice market for farmers by providing milling facilities, supplying the town with hygienic meat supplies, providing medical testing facilities, and planting forests to meet future timber needs. We want people to produce for themselves what they currently have shipped in on trucks from Kampala.
What about another clichéd expression: "Give a man a fish and feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime"? It's obviously better to teach a man to fish, but what you've left the man with is a fish diet for the rest of his life. He's still poor. Microfinance lifts people to a certain level and is good because it helps him eat, but it doesn't solve the overall poverty problem: It doesn't typically create the sustaining businesses that can create wealth. Starting businesses is hard work, it's a villager-by-villager combat to train each person to use his own skills. The NGOs are pulling out of Africa because they've discovered an unintended consequence: They've created a culture of dependency. A good business is a multiplier: Buy the man a boat so that he can build a fishing business.
(To hear Marvin Olasky's complete interview with Andy Mills, click here.)