Sacred Work

From Top to Bottom, “It’s a Kingdom business”

By Steven Sukkau

When Paul Neustaedter graduated from Briercrest Bible College in 1985, he was fully prepared to enter the mission field, but God had other plans. Instead of the jungles of Africa, he found himself in the urban jungle of the business world.

But while Neustaedter doesn’t spend his afternoons translating the Bible into an obscure tribal language, or pouring over his sermon notes late into the evening, he believes he is still neck deep in ministry as the president of a prominent car dealership. At Steinbach Dodge Chrysler, located in Steinbach, Manitoba, half an hour outside Winnipeg, Neustaedter sees himself actively building the Kingdom of God. Others may not see it that way, but he believes church work and selling cars are not so different.

What we usually think of ministry within a church or non-profit, and living out our faith in a day job are very similar at their cores, he says. “It’s simply helping other people move to God’s agenda.”

At Steinbach Dodge, five employees have left in the past six years, each to enter full-time ministry.

How does a business prepare men and women for the same mission field Neustaedter considered? It all comes back to taking the role of a Christian employer seriously; embodying Christ in everything you do whether it’s in the office Friday afternoon or in a pew on Sunday morning.

Merlin Bartel started Epic Roofing out of a desire to create income to support a church plant that couldn’t pay his salary. It was his “tent-making” endeavour, Bartel says, and now the award-winning Calgary-based business provides the resources to support multiple ministers.

“It’s a Kingdom business,” Bartel says.

To achieve that, Bartel seeks to create a unique atmosphere at Epic Roofing, hiring like-minded people who seek God’s Kingdom. It includes philanthropic efforts like taking teams to build homes overseas, and using money set aside for gifts to buy employees and vendors gifts that support charity.

Bartel invites inspirational speakers to the office over lunch hours, exposing his team to the missional DNA of the company including angel investment, as well as using business and ministry expertise to start missional businesses overseas, especially in places where missionaries are not welcome, but general businesses are.

Bartel says another ministry, BAM (Business As Ministry) Think Tank, embodies these ideas as a networking initiative to bring together the business as mission movement, releasing business leaders involved in God’s mission to the world to share the gospel.

The idea hinges on expanding people’s view of the God-given role of business, and the influence it wields, creating new jobs, driving innovation and increasing resources to address spiritual and social and economic needs around the world.

“We didn’t hang up our pastor hats,” Bartel says. “Just changed location.”

However, the business world also has its challenges in working with employees, people come into a new job with their own baggage.

“People don’t change overnight,” Neustaedter explains. It happens over time through influence and relationship.”

The work place offers those opportunities of influence, work conversations turn into life conversations, employees share struggles, hopes and dreams with their boss and each other. The sheer close proximity and number of hours together creates ample opportunity to enter one another’s lives and offer the hope of Christ.

“It’s a great opportunity to introduce them to my best friend Jesus,” says Neustaedter. “He has the ability to do what we can’t, and it’s exciting to see that, to see the change in their lives.”

One such employee came to Neustaedter six years ago looking for a job. He had been a drug dealer, though Neustaedter said he felt the Lord’s directing to hire him, despite his empty resumé. The man had just become a Christian before being hired, and under Neustaedter’s and his church’s guidance developed the work skills and spiritual growth he needed. When the young man left for full-time ministry the staff at Steinbach Dodge Chrysler threw him a “graduation” party.

When someone asked why he would throw a party for an employee who was quitting, Neustaedter answered simply. “Anybody that comes to our store in the situation that he came in, proves themselves in helping others and leaves to lead a ministry? Yes, you’re going to get a party.”

For Neustaedter it all comes down to the fact that being a minister doesn’t necessarily mean working in a church. It’s common in the dealership for the staff to pray in the lounge or parking lot. It’s informal, says Neustaedter.

“As Christian marketplace leaders, we are all pastors,” he explains. “We are all ministers in our sphere of influence.”

Last summer Neustaedter travelled to China with a group of Christian business leaders, and visited with the pastor of a church of 10,000. He asked the pastor what he felt the difference was between the Church in China and the West.

“In the West, you serve the Lord after you’ve gone to Bible  school and after you graduated you study some more,” the minister said. “In China you pray and then do what God tells you to.”

Likewise, Neustaedter sees the body of Christ as outside the church building. When someone opens up about a problem, that’s his opportunity to help.

“I don’t have to contact someone at my church to pray for someone,” says Neustaedter.

A lot of people who are hurting won’t walk into a church, he says, but they will talk with you at work.

“God keeps opportunities in front of us, if we’re faithful,” says Neustaedter. “And we are the Church, it’s our responsibility. We have great opportunities to share Jesus’ love. It’s life changing, sharing our story of how Jesus made a difference in our lives.”

The staff Christmas party is one of those times where he takes the time to share the story of Christ and challenges the staff and their spouses to consider what Christmas is really about. He also has held a Bible study at the dealership open to staff, even though many asked him, “but who would come?” Turns out a lot of people are interested; they’re just waiting to be invited. Recently one of his employees made the decision to become a Christian after Neustaedter invited him to do so.

“There’s a fear factor in making a stand, in living out church in the workplace,” says Neustaedter. “Afraid of saying things, even if we know God calls us to.”

There is often a gap between sacred and secular lives. The Christian part of themselves serves on a church board, but the secular side is the boss at work.

Bartel says the first step is admitting the divide exists in your mind.

“Far too many business leaders don’t realize it,” says Bartel. “You have to admit the gap exists.” Bartel doesn’t allow any segregation of sacred and secular work. Instead, he lives business as mission 24/7, whether preaching at a pulpit or making decisions about the budget, “both need the holy spirit,” he says.

Too many live as closet Christians, but once the divide between your secular life and your sacred calling is torn down, “the Holy Spirit will show you how to operate within your sphere,” he says.

Neustaedter says it doesn’t require extraordinary courage, but simple prayer. Prayer before the day begins, prayer for the opportunity to serve others as Jesus’ hands and feet. Then when the opportunity invariably comes, it’s another small prayer, and then the most important step of all, opening your mouth and beginning to speak. It’s as simple as that, he says.

“It’s amazing how He is faithful,” says Neustaedter.

He says people don’t tend to get upset after you’ve taken the time to listen to their story, and you offer them the hope and love that you have found in Christ. He may not be a preacher pounding the pulpit, but as a business owner, Neustaedter finds even more influence in building credibility through working together, taking the time to listen and build relationship, treating employees with respect, being the kind of boss that is simply, “not a jerk” he says with a laugh.

“If they respect me, that is a wide open door,” says Neustaedter. “It’s exciting to come to work.”

Jeff Reimer works as a service manager at Steinbach Dodge and struggles with how faith and work intersect. The more your testimony is at the forefront of your life, Reimer says, the more your lifestyle has to reflect your faith. However, without his faith, Reimer says it wouldn’t be possible to work.

Reimer is open about his struggle with bi-polar disorder and depression, something that he says is under control, thanks to God’s grace and a network of support. He says challenges like working and excelling as a service manager, at times a high stress position, is possible thanks to his decision to make God his life’s top priority. Serving under Neustaedter, whom he calls a great man of God, makes it easier. At times they’ve even prayed in his office.

Many times, his faith doesn’t hinder his work, but enhances it, Reimer says. He brings to his job integrity, honesty and treating people fairly, in a position where people are wary of being taken advantage of.

Many times working with integrity means assessing which mechanical fixes can wait, allowing customers to pay for the work as they can afford. It’s a daily decision, Reimer says, to live as if God is watching, and it spills into all avenues of life.

While he may not be a minister, as a man of integrity, other staff are drawn to him, bringing concerns and asking for his opinion. In this way he finds himself ministering to a congregation outside of the church. Together, the staff encourages each other, like iron sharpens iron, and as others have poured time into his life, so Reimer says he now gives to others.

“I don’t consider bi-polar or depression a hang-up anymore,” Reimer says. “I couldn’t do this job if there wasn’t something supernatural. God sets out the course before us, His strength allows me to do this.”

But even more insidious than the temptation to overcharge a customer is simply becoming numb to the day-in, day-out nature of working. Nick Janz is an electrician working in Winkler, Manitoba, and admits work can often become stuck in routine.

“You just do it,” says Janz.

Work is based on productivity and meeting deadlines, Janz says, and it’s easy to look up and realize many days have gone by without even noticing. But, he adds, there are always times when discussions at coffee break turn towards belief, or someone approaches with a deeper question.

“It’s important to take notice of those moments,” Janz says. “And not let them pass you by.” It’s only by learning about where people are coming from and understanding their thinking and life experiences that an atomosphere is created where faith can be shared.

“You have to care about them, and get to know them,” Janz says. “And it’s important to be available, you have to give people space.”

When work becomes monotonous, it presents a big challenge.

“It can take away the sense of living in a bigger story,” Janz says. It’s important, he says, to remember that what matters isn’t necessarily your position or title, but how you act. Part of the reason Janz chose to become an electrician was to make his father proud, but says it is how he conducts himself on the job that makes God proud.

Steven Sukkau works for Golden West Radio and resides in Winkler, Manitoba.