Charlton church to host simulcast retreat for Christian business leaders

By Laurie Schlatter
Citizen Chronicle Writer

CHARLTON — When Stephen Nordbye, pastor of Charlton Baptist Church, was writing his ordination thesis, he worked as a night security guard on the campus of Harvard University. It was an ideal job in which one could be tempted to read, write and otherwise ignore the security of the library he had charge over. But he will tell you he made it his purpose to treat people with care, to do his job with integrity and to follow a system of checking all of the floors, all of the stacks and shelves, and all of the lighting faithfully.

This way of integrating work with the spiritual exercise of excellence is the crux of a one-day Work As Worship retreat to be simulcast nationwide 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Feb. 23 in participating faith communities such as Charlton Baptist, 50 Hammond Hill Road. The retreat targets Christian business leaders, owners and executive officers with the message from nearly a dozen of their peers to stop compartmentalizing work and spiritual activities and to be living examples of the Gospel at work, according to information from the organizers, Right Now Ministries International of Texas.

The Work As Worship retreat addresses how business owners who are Christ followers are called to care for and invest in the people around them. To attend the simulcast, register at workasworshipretreat.org. The registration cost of $25 per person includes lunch and is to be returned to the participating churches to cover their costs.

In an interview, Pastor Steve discussed some of the dimensions of the retreat’s goals.

In full disclosure, this writer attends Charlton Baptist Church.

Laurie Schlatter photo. Pastor Steve Nordbye, in the sanctuary at Charlton Baptist Church.

The website and information you sent me talks about the retreat serving Christian leaders and CEOs. Is this just for Christian business leaders or is it for others who may qualify themselves as “nones” (no religious preference) or employees?

“That was a question I wanted to clarify, because I saw that as well. The fact that it’s on a Friday means that whoever attends and if they work they have to have a certain amount of freedom to take the day off. And for many people, they just don’t have that sort of freedom. I asked them (the organizers) about it and they really are trying to broaden its appeal to people that wouldn’t be just white-collar upper management. My contact said some of this material is basic on working with people, how you see your life and integrating all of what you do in your faith. So I think they’re trying to do that, because I asked how about somebody like a teacher, would it be wrong for a teacher or someone who works on a machine or for a landscaper, and they felt it would definitely have some relevance for them.”

I didn’t realize it was on a Friday. I didn’t look ahead. I was thinking it was a Saturday.

“I assumed so, too. It was down the road a little bit. Somewhere I saw: That’s a Friday.”

It is school vacation week.

“It is, and so at least for teachers, for those that aren’t traveling, they’ll be able to attend.”

But still many parents have two jobs, are two-job families.

“And hopefully it’s also relevant for people who are working in a church, to get a better understanding since we do work, but it’s in a very different context than what they’re addressing. And so hopefully it will give us more tools and understanding to shepherd those in business in our congregations.”

What factors led to Charlton Baptist deciding to host this online retreat?

“A couple. One is, selfishly, it was really a low demand on us in terms of they do (arrange) all the speakers and the registration. That was attractive. And the whole idea of trying to see our total life as expression of our being disciples of Jesus and since most of the people are in the business world, they spend the majority of their time in their business world. And so if we’re not providing for them resources to help navigate that time, there’s a huge chunk of time, of their waking hours, that is not being addressed to its fullest extent. We felt like this is a way to provide for our church and the church in a broader (sense) for people to come and think more seriously about their faith and how it is expressed.”

What did you mean when you said the broader church?

“That it’s just not only for people of Charlton Baptist Church. We want to make this available for those involved in other churches.”

The press release talks about the retreat’s goal is to stop compartmentalizing life between work and spiritual activities. From your point of view, what does a verbal picture of that, each of those compartments, look like?

“It’s just recognizing the idea of work as worship, which just seems like an oxymoron almost; at least a paradox. I go back to Romans 12:1 — ‘Therefore present your body as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, for this is your spiritual act of’ — and that word in some translations is — ‘service,’ but it’s also the word that’s used for ‘worship.’

“So I think that everything that we do, as followers of Jesus, can be seen as act of worship and that we offer it up as a way to express who God is. Corinthians (1Cor10:31): ‘Whatever you do, whether you eat or drink, do all to the glory of God.’ Another way to say it: Do all as an act of worship to God. And so when we think of worship, we oftentimes think in a very narrow sense that it’s what we do at a particular time of the week, in a particular location, and it’s usually singing, prayer, Bible, Reflection, and coffee, of course.

“But in fact, as Paul says in Romans 12, everything is an act of worship. Everything we do can be an expression and offering to God. And so the challenge is to see what does that mean for me, as a security guard — I worked security for nine months on the Harvard campus. What does it mean for a teacher, what does it mean for a CEO, what does it mean for those who live in the world of ‘Dilbert’? What does it mean for Christians? So it’s not like, this is my spiritual, this is my secular. It’s all spiritual.”

But what does it look like when you forget the spiritual and you’re at work and just doing work?

“I think there can be a double standard, an easier tendency to go with the culture. What does the culture define as acceptable in terms of integrity, of products and services you’re offering, of the treatment of employees and employers? Where somebody might think in terms of  business practices that they, in another context, would see as, well, there’s something really shady about that in terms of product or service integrity. Yet it’s just sort of the standard how we deal with the business culture, how we deal with people. Do I reflect God in the way I do my work?”

In doing some research on this, I was looking for some data. I wanted to know what (the organizers) meant by the compartments of work versus spiritual. A Pew Research (Center) study from 2016 on “Religion in Everyday Life” (pewforum.org) … talks about how “Relatively few Christians see living a healthy lifestyle, buying from companies that pay fair wages or protecting the environment as key elements of their faith. But those who do see these things as essential to what it means to be a Christian are more likely than others to say they live (that way on a regular basis.)” And they gave a graphic in which those things — working to protect the environment; living healthy lifestyle; resting on the Sabbath; buying from companies that pay a fair wage — are in the bottom fourth of the (roughly 40,000) respondents (as a percentage of Christians who regard such practices as essential part of what it means to be a Christian). Am I on the right track here for how they divvy up work versus spiritual activities?

“Well, some of these I see less of, like living a healthy lifestyle, except I would see maybe that come into play: Let’s say you are a person of authority and you recognize that you have a certain stewardship over your employees as a Christian, that you want to watch out for them not just to get the most productivity out of them; you really care for them. And so you know for them living a healthy lifestyle is beneficial for them and honoring to God. As a person of authority, you might say, What can I do to serve them, by providing them opportunities to pursue a healthier life. So if that means I’ll put in a workout gym somewhere, I’ll be very careful about what I expect in terms of overtime in hours. It comes back to family as well. As a Christian in a level of authority, am I making sure my demands are not undermining my employees’ families? That’s where Christian faith comes in, as someone with authority in terms of seeing ourselves as stewards of the people who work under us, to care for them, their health, their families, their overall flourishing in all those categories — physically, emotionally, psychologically.”

From the employees’ point of view, there’s Scripture that says work as if you’re working for the Lord (Colossians 3:23), and there are times when that’s really difficult for people because the person you’re working for doesn’t even come close to following the practices of Jesus.

“Bringing just a general sense of integrity, regardless of their religious convictions. They might just be kind of jerks, generally speaking.”

So that’s why I was curious if they (the organizers) were also bringing in people who weren’t the CEOs and the business leaders, because that’s also a challenge. If you’re not a boss, but you are an employee, how do you be a person of integrity in your walk with Christ when you’re dealing with a boss who is a jerk?

“There are very few bosses who themselves don’t have a boss. You get right to the top of the food chain and there’s that person. I think also that people have fairly high level of responsibility and authority yet they still have someone over them, so even they, the CEO or CFO, still have to do the bidding of a board of directors, so even someone at that level has to deal with an authority that might not be on the surface.”

Do you see this retreat as addressing those kinds of questions?

“I don’t know of all the breakdown of all the topics. I have the speakers listed, but I don’t have the particular themes that each will be covering.”

A couple of years ago you led a study on Russell Moore’s book, “Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel,” and I took part in that. So I’m wondering if this retreat is a continuation of exploring how to engage the culture without losing the Gospel.

“That one, Moore dealt obviously with us as political animals and how we think, how we see the Gospel impacts how we view politics, public policy, politicians and so forth. So there’s that political culture. This (retreat) is sort of a parallel, because I think political and business culture certainly deal in the same sort of idea, looking at what is the culture of my business and how do I remain faithful to the Gospel and my being a disciple of Jesus and yet still can operate and even succeed in this business world and the culture of my particular business that I work for. I would definitely think that they would have very much parallel concerns.”

Do you have anything else that I haven’t asked that is relevant to the topic?

“I think it’ll just be a great opportunity to take this theme that churches sometimes forget that the majority of waking hours are spent at work, yet I don’t think we always do as good a job as to help them understand what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in the workplace.”n

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