I was privileged to hear President James Nieman from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago talk with graduating students during a retreat. His subject was money and how important it is for clergy to communicate about it. The insights offered are useful for all organizational leaders regardless of the type of organization they serve, and regardless of their religious practice.
As he began, President Nieman pointed out that even though some complain about the church only wanting to talk about money, the complaint usually comes from people spending little to no time in church. Actually, clergy rarely talk about money, and certainly not about the stresses, worries or the dysfunctional money orientation carried by the overwhelmingly middle-class population that fills churches (the poorest and the richest in American society are largely not to be found in church). These same middle class persons, filling service, retail, manufacturing and government positions, aren't talking about it with their supervisors, HR professionals or their families either. In essence, economic assumptions and behaviors are fostering increasing isolation.
President Nieman offered the following points for economic orientation to assist the preaching and public communication of those graduating students who will soon fill Lutheran pulpits across the country. They are also wise words for organizational leaders:
1. Economic Meaning - Who we are -- Rather than, "you are a consumer participating in a marketplace," we can shift to "you are a steward, helping to manage a household." We can choose to function from the spirit of largesse, managing economic resources for the flourishing of others. Yes, we continue to function in the marketplace, but we can do so from the identity of a steward rather than merely as a producer or consumer.
2. Economic Having - What we own -- Rather than "you have to acquire, accumulate and store up--especially new stuff--so that you have it," we can shift to seeing ourselves as a conduit, a way station, with the power to redirect resources toward desired ends and the benefit of others. Instead of owning possessions (or being owned by them), we learn to see ourselves as benefactors who pass along gifts we receive.
3. Economic Doing - How we work -- Rather than "you are what you do, busy is better, and selling your time for money," we can shift to developing a sense of vocation -- glorifying God and loving one's neighbor in whatever work a person chooses. Work, then, can be a part of one's vocation, but it need not be the sum of it. Work can be bounded within one's life instead of taking it over.
This insight also says something to employers about how they construct work for employees. Holding to this perspective makes it wrong for an organization's culture to diminish or harm an employee's sense of vocation.
As a witness to this input from President Neiman to future clergy, I could not help but wish it was also a presentation given to graduates from B-schools!