Jubilee is the standard for both business and pastors

By Dick Benner

November 21, 2012 | God at work in the Church | Number 23
Editor/publisher |
Niagara Falls, Ont.

Proclaiming Jubilee is the mission and vision of both the congregation and Mennonite-owned business, David Miller told a workshop of business leaders and pastors when Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) met here for their annual meeting focused on “Business as a Calling.”

While both parties can ascribe to the vision outlined for the children of Israel by Moses in a very agrarian society—the command to return ownership of land and the forgiving of debts—applying it to a developed economy in a technological age can be complex and daunting, requiring new imagination, Miller, associate professor of Missional Leadership Development at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, acknowledged.

The relationship between pastors and business leaders can be tense, at times, because the pastor, in the business of doing spiritual formation, can reflect on the seductive nature of wealth and call into question the priorities and ethics of business practices while congregants in business often feel misunderstood, judged and not listened to as valid members of the community of faith.

The two groups sat around tables together, hearing the struggles both have in working at this tension, pastors often confessing they have said things they later regretted and business persons calling for a new level of understanding when they, too, face serious issues coming from a downturned economy—the ethics of what to do about smoking in the workplace, whether or not to be open on Sundays, even facing bankruptcy.

In a session of caucusing with their own kind, pastors and business persons shared common affirmations, specific struggles and what they would long for in this sometimes tenuous relationship. “I would want pastors to understand my business, first and foremost,” said Jim Erb, co-owner of Erb’s Funeral Home in Kitchener, but in his 47 years in the business, spawning several pastors, he always “felt cared for.”

“To what extent can I share the details of my business,” another asked of his peers in the business caucus. And “how much do I share with the congregation about my business,” asked another, wondering how it can be shared?

In the “what do I long for” segment, one person called for more support of “my calling into business, more acceptance of my purpose.” Another called for better listening on the part of pastors, more empathy, and making conversation with businesses a part of the church’s agenda.

In his opening remarks, Miller asked the question of both groups: “pastors, how many businesses in your congregations have you visited” and conversely: “business leaders: how many of you have invited your pastor to visit your business?”

Part of the dilemma, said Myrna Miller Dyck, pastor at Steinman Mennonite Church, is the difficulty we have talking about money. This is especially hard, she said with the Mennonite emphasis on simplicity—how much money is enough, what to do with our wealth in regards to sharing it with those less fortunate. “Let’s face it,” she said, “we are all in the one percent when it comes to having enough money and resources, so how do we talk about this issue as one body in Christ?”

Miller called for a new look at both Jubilee and what Moses called the essence of the law in Deut. 10:17-19 in that the people of God are called to look after the widow, the orphan and the stranger. He said this calls for a greater imagination and a calculating of our resources as not only capital in terms of money and assets, but also “people capital”—the combined resources of education, skills and the network of relationships.

He also called for the church to “break the cycles” of poverty by combining the counseling skills of pastors and the organizational skills of business persons to address an increasingly prevailing problem in our neighborhoods. “We need to stop these easy divides that have come to characterize the conversations between people of wealth and those of lesser means and start imagining what we can do together to address the problems of the widow, the orphan and the stranger.”

He reminded the groups that as Christians we are a people of “remembering”—remembering that Jubilee is our vision and standard of conduct, outlined by the prophets, then picked up by Jesus and carried on by the Holy Spirit—a biblical standard and solution to the many economic and political problems of our time.

One of the outcomes of the workshop was the suggestion to take a new look at church budgets and see not only financial resources, but people resources that can be turned loose on services and aid that target specifically the needs of low-income, underprivileged persons in our communities.

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I hope the entrepreneurs project will help promote economic development and small stakeholders can benefit from it by getting access to sufficient finance. This is a good opportunity for women particularly in rural areas who are engaged in small businesses to diversify their business.

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