Mark D. Roberts

Mark D. Roberts

Why Don’t We Pray for Business? Part 4

So far in this series I’ve suggested three reasons why we don’t pray for business in the context of Christian worship services:

Reason #1: We don’t pray for business because we don’t pray for business.

Reason #2: We don’t pray for business because those who lead us in prayer have not been trained to do so.

Reason #3: We don’t pray for business because our worship leaders have been trained in settings that are indifferent or negative to business.

Reasons 2 and 3 are connected, in that Reason 3 explains why so many seminary-trained pastors are disinclined to think positively about the marketplace and its Kingdom potential. They’d be hard pressed to pray for an institution they consider to be morally bankrupt and generally opposed to God’s purposes. For many pastors, the impact of their seminary training leaves them to think of business more or less as they might think of organized crime. And you wouldn’t expect most pastors to pray for God’s blessing on the mob.


But there are pastors and lay worship leaders who regard business in a more balanced perspective, seeing its Kingdom potential as well as its tendency, in many cases, to serve Mammon rather than God. For example, had you asked me while I was senior pastor of Irvine Presbyterian church, if I thought business could be a vehicle for God’s grace, love, and justice in the world, I would have said “Yes.” I expect this would be true for many of my pastoral colleagues. Yet we rarely pray for the marketplace in our worship services. What might explain this? Today I want to suggest two possible reasons, one that is rather obvious, one that is less so.

Reason #4: We don’t pray for business because Scripture does not command us to do so.


Though I believe you can make a strong biblical case for praying for the marketplace and its workers, you cannot turn to one biblical passage that commands prayer with this focus. Thus, we are not dealing with a situation that is just the same as the case of prayers for political leaders. A passage from the New Testament book of I Timothy reads:

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity (1:1-2)

While we don’t have many kings left in our world, we do have presidents and prime ministers, as well as legislative bodies that play the role once filled by royalty. And we certainly have plenty of people in positions of authority. They regularly receive prayer in Christian worship services, not only because they need it, but also because the Bible requires it.


Reason # 5: We don’t pray for business because we don’t have a vision for how business could be part of God’s business in the world.

Prayers in church often touch upon obvious ministries and the ministers who serve within them. Thus we pray for facets of our own church’s ministry (youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, etc.) as well as our mission partners (mission organizations, agencies that seek justice, other churches, etc.). We might even pray for people who work in secular jobs, if these positions are clearly service oriented (teachers, police officers, social workers).

wall-street-subway-sign-5.jpgBut we don’t pray for those who work in business because we don’t tend to see business as, in potential, part of God’s work in the world. Business seems to be, at best, a means to other ministry ends. Thus, a successful entrepreneur can make money to support churches and mission organizations A worker in a company can share her faith with her colleagues or lead a Bible study for them during the lunch hour. But business itself is not seen as something honoring to God or useful for redemptive purposes. (Photo: Wall St. sign in NYC subway)


At this point I am not prepared to present a full-scale case for seeing business as central to God’s own business of saving and renewing the world. This must wait for another day, But I think it’s pretty obvious that if pastors and lay leaders were to see business as integral to God’s work, if they were to see business as ministry, then they would be much more inclined to pray for business institutions as well as for those who work in such institutions.

In my next post in this series, I want to suggest another reason we don’t pray for business, one that has to do with broad patterns of thinking in the church today.

  • Michael W. Kruse

    According to economist Brad DeLong, the average worldwide per capita income (using 1990 purchasing parity dollars) was $90 a year 10,000 years ago. By 1750 it reached $180. From 1750 it rose from $180 to $6,600 in 2000, during a time when the world grew from about one billion people to nearly seven billion people. The global GINI Index which measures income inequality has been dropping, not rising, for the last forty years.
    Throughout human history life expectancy at birth was about 30 years. It was about 45 in the U.S. in 1900. Today it pushing 80 in developed nations and 70 worldwide. For an interesting video clip on changes in recent generations see the 20 minute presentation by Hans Rosling at the TED conference.
    Yet many theologians and popular Christian leaders in Mainline traditions talk about the advent of specialized labor, markets, and technological innovation as virtually an unmitigated evil. Brian McLaren calls our economy a “suicide machine.” My point isn’t that these developments are an unmitigated good. They bring some unique ethical challenges we have not had to face before. But they have also unlocked incredible powers of productivity and mass distribution. I think many business people would deeply welcome thoughtful theological reflection on business and the challenges the modern world brings. But as you note in #5, the theological academy and the church, to date, has done a very poor job of exploring how modern economies relate to God’s mission in the world. What reflection is done is all too typically done through a lens of pre-1750 thinking.

  • Ray

    Reason #2 about training makes more sense to me after reading #3 which points out an anitcapitalist bias present in most seminaries. I’m not familiar with seminary environments other than through my work with my presbytery’s committe on preparation for ministry, so I can’t speak to the reasons that bias might exist. But, after interviewing a lot of candidates for ministry, I can say that in my experience most of them seem to be ill equipped to manage the business aspects of running a church organization. To your point, not only are they under-educated in business management and economics generally, they tend to view “spirituality” as a lofty endeavor while holding an attitude toward the “worldy” business community that borders on condescension – almost as though they believe that spirit is good; flesh is bad. Yeah, that statement may be a bit hyperbolic, but I think the point is valid.
    Maybe seminaries and divinity schools have an opportunity to enhance seminary education by including coursework in business theory and adding practical management courses that will help students handle the business matters that they will encounter while leading their future congregations. Not sure what to do about the fundamental bias, if it exists as you described.
    I’m looking forward to more development of your ideas in #5!

  • BAL

    Thank you so very much for bringing this to the public eye and hopefully to the churches, that in our prayers, we include, business, for without business, we have no workplace, or the need for a workforce.
    I visit a prayer website, where you post prayers and have the privilege of responding to the prayers with either a poke or with a prayer note. I have posted several prayers for our business, finances and God’s help, and yes get prayer notes. I have also posted prayers, for Business’, that God would bless them, that employment may continue and employment may grow, to prosper our economy and job force, and it was sad, that no one at all seemed to respond, not a prayer note or even a poke. Yes I say sad, because page after page, the prayer lists are full of people praying for jobs, for employment, to survive in this world that requires money for everything, yet they can not pray that business’ may be blessed.
    Another thought is, that society has taught that being in business, makes you rich, that you have no financial problems, that you are greedy and hoard all the money, and that life is just great. Society would be surprised to see that most business’ are not that lucky, that they get by on hope and a prayer, just like them, that they live paycheck to paycheck, and sometimes no paycheck, so that their employee’s may have one. Society has forgotten that the backbone of our economy has been small to medium business’ and the working class, and neither gets the help from Government to survive ,that is needed, and thus here we are, this crisis. One does not survive without the other, business and employee’s, yet the Government lends no help, the Government looked past their importance and shored up big business, where greed grows the evil of money.
    Some Church’s pray for financial help for their flock, but as you have said, we do not pray for Business’, which is surprising, because if there is no business’, people are not working, and if people are not working, that means they are not tithing, and if they are not tithing, then the church is hurting.
    Again Thank you, and may God Bless.

  • Michael W. Kruse

    I’ve served on the General Assembly Mission Council for the past six years. We occasionally create documents to describe our strategy we are pursuing with various ministries. On multiple occasions words like “entrepreneurial,” “stakeholder,” or “client” have entered the discussion. Usually someone makes the case for striking like these, not because they aren’t accurate in their context, but because they are corporate/business words and business is unseemly.

  • Sheila Isham

    I find that there is a dicotomy in our thinking as believers about business and success in business. The Bible speaks to the fact that it is God who gives the ability to create wealth and yet there is an underlying feeling in the church that success can be equated with wickedness somehow. Ultimately we are a bi-polar body of believers…on the one hand you have the prosperity group that thinks everyone should be rich and on the other hand you have a whole flock who seems to think it is noble to be poor. In the middle somewhere is Enron.
    The sad thing is that the marketplace is where most people spend their time. It is no wonder there is such a scism between what we claim to believe as followers of Christ and what our actions tell the rest of the world about what we really believe to be true.

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