New course, open to all, highlights ways faith informs business

Emily Padula, chief strategy officer at Hill Country Memorial Hospital in Fredericksburg, Texas, once thought she had to become a missionary.

“I thought that every minute I didn’t spend doing ministry was somehow disappointing to God, or not fully living out my faith,” she said.

Christians working in business and industries across the globe say they often share this sense that there is a gap between their faith and their work. They manage offices, lead major corporations, create marketing materials, and start small businesses, but don’t encounter the message that doing business can be holy work. 

This is the gap bridged by Faith & Co., an expansive initiative launched in 2018 by SPU’s School of Business, Government, and Economics and the Center for Integrity in Business. Designed to help people inside and outside the business world integrate Christian faith into their work, Faith & Co. consists of an innovative online course series and a print study guide, both built around a series of original documentary films.

A hand guides coffee beans into a grinderEach short film explores the struggles and triumphs of different businesspeople reflecting the love of Jesus Christ amidst the challenges, risks, victories, and monotonies of the workplace.

“The work done in the marketplace is sacred work,” said Kenman Wong, professor of business ethics and Faith & Co. course instructor. “There doesn’t have to be a difference between business and ministry.”

Redeeming business

The Faith & Co. curriculum takes participants to businesses around the globe, from a smartwatch manufacturer in Vietnam to I Have a Bean, a coffee roaster in Wheaton, Illinois, that employs ex-convicts.

The film Remarkable Always highlights strategy officer Padula’s story. Hill Country Memorial Hospital, where she works, once performed below average, measuring in the 49th percentile of national hospital rankings. Now, it ranks in the top 1 percent and provides nationally recognized health care. Much of this improvement is due to Padula’s strategic leadership and persistent drive to establish excellent facilities, practices, and procedures.

“This desire for excellence is from God,” she said. “We’re made to do our work well. This means my work can be the ministry I’m called to.”

Faith & Co. even reaches high into the ranks of one of the world’s leading companies: Apple. In Faith at a $700 Billion Company, Ron Johnson, the mind behind the Apple retail stores, describes how his faith impacted the very design of the stores: the systems, practices, and physical set-up of the stores are designed to connect individuals and facilitate Jesus’ commandment to love your neighbor.A man and a woman work on a pair of laptops in a modern office space

While the concept of vocational theology — faith-informed work — is not new, Wong said many people do not encounter it in daily life. Faith & Co. is at the forefront of a movement to make such conversations routine.

“We are meant to participate in God’s redemption of the world, not only in the personal sense, but also in a systemic sense,” said Ross Stewart, SBGE dean. “Business is one way to do that.”

Doing work well

Faith & Co.’s roots come from a seed planted during a 2013 retreat at Laity Lodge near San Antonio, Texas, where Seattle Pacific Provost Jeff Van Duzer, then dean of the School of Business and Economics, was a keynote speaker. Van Duzer, who had recently written Why Business Matters to God (IVP Academic, 2010), shared with a small group of businesspeople the important role business plays in God’s plan for the world.

A woman works on a leather project
Film: Not Dead Yet | Dave and Suzette Munson see their business, Saddleback Leather Co., as a mission: creating high-quality leather products and loving people, especially customers and employees.

One attendee was Eric Stumberg, a business leader and entrepreneur who co-founded the commercial WiFi provider TengoInternet. Van Duzer’s presentation gave him renewed purpose in his professional life.

“I had never heard anything like that before,” said Stumberg. “I grew up in a Christian home and served in my local church, but I had never heard of a theology of business or that my work in the business world could have a holy purpose.”

Stumberg, together with Van Duzer, Stewart, and Gene Kim, director of SPU’s Center for Integrity in Business, envisioned an initiative that would empower people to connect their work with faith through powerful film storytelling. The idea fit seamlessly with SBGE’s longstanding mission of teaching business rooted in Christian faith and values.

A woman stands in front of a neon sign which reads "Who runs the world? GIRLS"“SPU is not a film production company, but we are an educational institution that has long understood the importance of educational technology and media,” said Rolin Moe, director of SPU’s Institute for Academic Innovation, which worked with SBGE and the Center for Integrity in Business to develop the films and coursework. “Just recording lectures and putting them online is not innovative nor educative, so we developed this unique approach of blending high-quality film assets, supplemental text material, and an online course.” 

Ethics professor Wong came on board as film producer, content developer, and course instructor. SPU hired the award-winning Seattle-based film company, Untamed. Eric and Keri Stumberg, the primary funders, were joined by other donors. After 18 months of production — sourcing film subjects, filming, post-production, marketing and distribution, and aligning with best practices in educational methods and structures — Faith & Co. was born.

“For more than a decade, SBGE has been recognized as one of the leading developers of a ‘theology of business,’” said Van Duzer. “Faith & Co. represents a quantum step forward in advancing God’s kingdom work through business.”

Since their premiere, the Faith & Co. films have been shown by universities and organizations across the nation, acting as catalysts for seminars and other events on the integration of faith and work.

“Unfortunately, much of the conversation about connecting faith and work in the business sector just scratches the surface,” said Amy Sherman, senior fellow at the Sagamore Institute for Policy Research and thought leader in the area of vocational theology. “Faith & Co. is theologically richer, digging into the implications of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation for everyday business. This isn’t ‘Five Tips for Successful Business.’ This is wisdom for the long haul.” 

We are meant to participate in God’s redemption of the world, not only in the personal sense, but also in a systemic sense. Business is one way to do that.”
— Ross Stewart

Experimenting online

In spring 2018, SBGE launched SPU’s first open online class, free of charge for anyone who wished to participate. Titled “Faith & Co.: Business on Purpose” and facilitated by Wong, the self-paced, eight-week course allowed participants to draw connections between their faith and work through writing assignments, self-reflection in response to the films, readings, interviews with business leaders, dialogue with fellow students, and exercises to put lessons into practice.A man works with a carton of bees

The course incorporates the Faith & Co. films along with more than 70 other short, topical films in a graduate-level curriculum that explores biblical business principles. The stories in the films serve as real-world examples of course lessons.

Living with integrity is illustrated by Steve Bell of Bellmont Cabinets, who vowed to pay back his lenders after a bankruptcy.

The positive impact business can have on a community is illustrated by San Francisco company Dayspring Technologies. In a move many might see as a business-killer, the organization relocated from the downtown core to a low-income neighborhood where employees used their skills to help local businesses flourish.

Film: Driving Trust | Car purchases and repairs are often intimidating and even dreaded experiences. But not at Flow Companies, where customers are treated like neighbors through integrity and transparency.

Scott Friesen, co-founder of multimillion-dollar company Verde Beef, shows the importance of ethical employee treatment, investing in people’s lives rather than treating them as means to an end.

The first time SPU hosted the course, 118 individuals from 13 countries across four continents participated. In January, the course ran a second time, with 280 registrants and two options: a free course open to all, and an option to take the course for credit, applicable toward a graduate business degree at Seattle Pacific.

This desire for excellence is from God. We’re made to do our work well.”
— Emily Padula

For more than a decade, schools have been offering Massive Open Online courses, or MOOCs, which provide readings, assignments, and, often, filmed lectures and student forums, with unlimited participation and open online access.

Faith & Co. harnesses the accessibility of the MOOC format, but takes course design and quality to the next level, Moe said. Rather than providing a predetermined pathway for all students to take, the content meets users where they are. Whether users complete the entire course, participate in part of the course, or simply watch the core films, their experience will still be informative and effective.

Two men talk in the street outside a storefront
Film: Dayspring | In an often-overlooked San Francisco neighborhood, Dayspring Technologies follows Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor” by building strong community relationships and supporting local businesses.

“These are free online classes, but the design is remarkably sophisticated,” said Moe. “This experiment in providing a multitude of educational on-ramps around a topic, while harnessing the expertise of an instructor who connects the source material to learner growth, is our future. Today, education must be multi-modal.”

The Faith & Co. study guide, available on Amazon, provides an instruction and discussion manual for the local church or any group, as well as exercises to help people implement lessons into their lives and careers.A tractor moves down a field

Those involved with the Faith & Co. project are eager to see its impact spread. Production is underway for a second film series and course. With the theme “Redemptive Workplaces,” this series will focus on theologically informed practices that help employees flourish.

“Christians need to hear the message that work does matter,” said Padula, the strategy officer at Hill Country Memorial Hospital. “I’m grateful to be part of sharing this message. It’s such an underserved need in the church: acknowledging and honoring the gritty, day-to-day work people do for God.”   

This article originally appeared in the spring 2019 issue of Response with the headline, “Faith for business and the world.”

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