Todd V. Cioffi is an Assistant Professor of Congregational and Ministry Studies at Calvin College and Peter J. Snyder is an Associate Professor of Business at Calvin College.

Wong, Baker, and Franz’s essay on business education as formation is most welcomed. We have been teaching a first-year interim course for the past three years very much along the lines laid out by the authors, entitled “Faithful Business Practices.” We have done so as professors of business (Snyder) and of theology (Cioffi). Our response to the authors’ work, then, is both supportive and constructive, and seeks to deepen and expand the conversation they have started. Along this line, we want to provide some illustrations from our own experience in the classroom which we think sheds light on how Christian – and especially worship – practices can lead to more faithful business practices. We, too, used James K. A. Smith’s book, Desiring the Kingdom. Our focus was on how Smith lays out the various components of worship practices and suggests how they form or shape worshippers, everything from a Call to Worship, to an Offering, to the Benediction. In the end, we focused on the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and spent considerable time making connections between the practice of the Lord’s Supper and business practices. Given this, we want to provide a more detailed account of the Lord’s Supper as a worship practice and how it might impact our understanding of business practices.

In Desiring the Kingdom, Smith contends, “In some ways, Christian worship culminates in [a] sacrament that is a compacted microcosm of the whole of worship: the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper.”1 This is so, according to Smith, because the Lord’s Supper is “a foretaste of the feast in the kingdom” and as such gives us “a foretaste of how things ought to be.”2 What is it about the Lord’s Supper that is able to display so powerfully the kingdom of God?

In Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating, Norman Wirzba observes that Jesus Christ is the “archetype for what real life looks like.”3 In Jesus Christ we see what human life is about, what life with God and one another is all about. Further, Christians are called to reflect the life of Christ, especially in terms of Christ’s sacrificial love for others. According to Wirzba, “That means creation’s memberships find their correction and perfection in Christological patterns of relationship that feed, heal, and reconcile life.”4 The best example of “Christological patterns of relationship” is found in Christian community or the church. As the church (that is, Christ’s body), Christians are called to love one another in such a way that they become “‘the place’ where the glory of God resides on earth” in a unique fashion.5 Moreover, of all the acts the church performs on a regular basis, it is the Lord’s Supper that seems to exhibit most clearly the church’s “Christological patterns of relationship.”

For Wirzba, the key to the Lord’s Supper is learning to abide with Jesus and others. Turning to John’s gospel, where Jesus claims to be the “bread of life,” Wirzba recalls Jesus’ words, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”6 As we learn to abide with Jesus through the practice of the Lord’s Supper, we also learn what it means to abide with others. Wirzba writes, “Eucharistic eating alters the relationships that make up our lives, gives them a self-offering character, and in doing so changes the practice of life itself.”7 To abide with Jesus in the Lord’s Supper and with others, creates “a new social reality and a new form of life.”8 While many features of this new social reality and life could be identified, we want to point out two, namely, hospitality and reconciliation.9

The Lord’s Supper is a divine and human act of hospitality. With the Lord’s Supper, God welcomes women and men to the Table, offering hospitality through physical and spiritual sustenance. In turn, Christians are called upon to welcome one another and provide hospitality to those with whom they share the meal. Of course such hospitality is not limited to Eucharistic practice, but should be extended one’s neighbors near and far. As Wirzba observes, the hospitality shown in the Book of Acts by the early church (Acts 4:34) was more than likely a result of sharing the Lord’s Supper. So Acts: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42).10 From this Wirzba concludes, “At the table Christ reveals that life is sharing – the giving and receiving of gifts from each other.”11

The Lord’s Supper also points to a life of reconciliation. To welcome “the other” at the Table is to seek peace and fellowship with the other person, extending the reconciliation one has received from God in Jesus Christ to another. This is illustrated in I Corinthians 11.12 Here the Apostle Paul laments the divisions of the Corinthian church as manifested around the Lord’s Supper. Some people used the Lord’s Supper as an occasion to reproduce social divisions found in the wider culture. For instance, prior to eating the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper, which would often transition into a shared meal, some would seek the “best” seating, and the like, relegating others of lesser social means to the side. But, argues Paul, this is completely contrary to the practice of the Lord’s Supper. Commenting on this, George Hunsinger writes,

Christ’s sacrificial sharing of himself, under the Eucharistic forms of his body and blood [I Corinthians 11:23-26], had social implications. It required believers not only to conform to Christ in his sacrificial self-giving (cf. Eph. 5:2), but also to rise above cultural antagonisms of religion, ethnicity, status, and gender: “for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).13

For Christians to partake of the Lord’s Supper is to commit to reconciling one with another and all those whom they encounter.

A life of Christian hospitality and reconciliation, then, flows from the reality and practice of the Lord’s Supper. Indeed, it is to live “Eucharistically.” In order to make the move from Eucharistic practices to business practices in our course, we first turned to St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco, CA. St. Gregory’s is an Episcopal church, rooted in a tradition of “high” liturgical worship. The church is also connected to its neighborhood and provides a variety of “social services” for its neighbors and community. One such service is a food pantry. The church has produced a short video of their food pantry and posted it on their website.14 The video begins with people waiting in line to enter the church for the food pantry. As they enter, it becomes clear that they have entered the church’s sanctuary. On the walls are vibrant paintings of various saints, and they are all in motion, appearing to dance around the sanctuary as people enter. There are no pews or chairs and in the center of the space is a medium-size communion table. In terms of the food pantry, people are warmly greeted and welcomed into the church – a few at a time so that they are not rushed – and asked to circle around the sanctuary, and the communion table, where food is lining the outer edge of the space. At this point, we would ask students to analyze the food pantry based on our theological understanding of what we as Christians believe is “happening” at the Lord’s Supper.

Immediately, students noted how the Table is at the center of the church’s main space, symbolizing how the Supper is central to the church’s life. Similarly, the food pantry takes place around the Table, participating in the central activity of the church’s life. The Supper animates the community and its service to those in need.15 It is not hard to see how worship and the Lord’s Supper moves St. Gregory’s to a life of hospitality and reconciliation.

In terms of hospitality, St. Gregory’s is intentional about its worship space and how that informs and shapes the people. As people enter the sanctuary, whether for worship or to receive food, they move in a circular fashion which allows people to see each other better than, say, sitting in pews back to back. The space encourages interaction and fellowship.16 The food pantry, then, is not simply about getting food, but about engaging other human beings in meaningful ways and thereby reflecting the hospitality of the Lord’s Supper. As the church abides with Jesus Christ at the Table, so too the church abides with those in need – the hungry, the needy, the poor, the homeless.

The food pantry also reflects reconciliation. The food pantry is marked by differences of class, ethnicity, gender, and a whole host of other social divisions. And yet, St. Gregory’s Eucharistic food pantry seeks to overcome such divisions by the fellowship that is engendered around the sharing of food and life, just as is the case in the church’s Eucharistic practices. Stories abound from St. Gregory’s about how the food pantry was an opportunity for people to find acceptance and friendship when they could not find such opportunities outside the church. One such story is about Sara Miles, an avowed atheist, who attended a Sunday worship service at St. Gregory’s out of sheer curiosity. During the Lord’s Supper, Miles was invited to participate and was “struck by grace” and ended up becoming a Christian. Miles now spends her time helping out with the food pantry – she went from Eucharistic sharing to feeding the poor.17

Finally, we are ready to move on to faithful business practices. What would it mean to have a Eucharistically-shaped business? Our efforts included two main tasks. First, we would take the class to a local mall and have students assess a variety of different stores (such as clothing, food/nutrition, sports, technology), and suggest ways in which the stores either did or did not exhibit Eucharistic features. As one might imagine, the students came up with a whole host of interpretations, some more convincing than others. Nonetheless, in the same way they discovered that a food pantry could indeed be more nearly aligned with a “Eucharistic ethos,” so too they discovered that some businesses in the mall more nearly lined up as well. We would conduct this exercise both at the beginning and the end of the course in order to see what, if anything, might have changed for students in their assessments.

Second, we assigned students a group project where they had to put together a simple business model18 and strategy that applied a Eucharistic vision. We assigned groups a variety of start-up businesses, such as an automotive repair shop, a hair salon, a restaurant. No matter the business, what we found is that students came up with several common features. First, students paid close attention to the use of space. Rather than seeing space as merely one of efficiency (that is, taking into account customer traffic and so forth), students tried to create space that would enhance human interaction and even possibly contribute to a sense of community. In one case, students sought to eliminate as many partitions, shelving, and so on, as possible in order to promote human interaction. In another case, students developed restaurant seating that used primarily round tables which would allow those seated to better see each other and possibly engage one another more easily. Even with an automotive repair shop, students sought to create a more welcoming and comfortable waiting area for customers,19 who are often anxious or even angry about having their vehicles repaired or serviced. While not trying to overestimate the value of such efforts, the students recognized that social space contributes to the hospitality of our business practices and is worthy of consideration. Second, many groups sought to promote images, products, and services that reflected a Christian worldview as given in worship and the Lord’s Supper.20 Students developing hair salons were concerned that magazines, images of models, and so forth, reflect the dignity and worth of persons as given in the Supper. For restaurants, students were mindful of providing healthier foods, more locally-sourced foods (a sense of extended community), and more affordable prices (more economically inclusive).21 For automotive repair, groups worked at keeping costs low in an effort to serve those of lower incomes and even considered ways to provide alternative travel service while vehicles were being serviced.22

In the end, our aim was to get students thinking and acting creatively about the connection between worship practices and business practices. Indeed, James Davison Hunter has argued that being an alien in exile can be a source of creativity for Christians as they strive to be in the world, but not of it.23 Christian practices, we argue, can re-form in novel ways existing secular practices as part of everyday life. With their projects, students were able to draw on the Eucharistic practices of hospitality and reconciliation, as well as other practices, as they learned to generate new ideas for standard business practices. In this case, the students combined things that are not typically combined (the Lord’s Supper and auto repair, for example) to allow for the creation of innovative business ideas. Additionally, we asked the students to practice novel team interaction and feedback skills that reflected Christian hospitality and reconciliation, just as they sought to see these ideals reflected in business practices. To help this along, we asked students to provide each other feedback in how they experienced the group (or not) in terms of practicing hospitality and reconciliation with one another.

Our response to Wong, Baker, and Franz’s essay has been an attempt to deepen and illustrate the connection between Christian practices – in particular the worship practice of the Lord’s Supper – and business practices. To be sure, much more work is needed, as such connections are not always easily or convincingly made. Yet, our Christian colleges and universities are well positioned to do the hard work and, to the degree we are successful, can provide our students with unique skills and resources to claim better the business sphere for Christ’s kingdom. We are eager to continue this community conversation and to hear of the various ways in which others use, critique, and forge ahead in these efforts.

Cite this article
Todd V. Cioffi and Peter J. Snyder, “A Response to “Reimagining Business Education as Character Formation””, Christian Scholar’s Review, 45:1 , 35-40

Footnotes

  1. See James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 197.
  2. Ibid., 200.
  3. Norman Wirzba, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 145.
  4. Ibid., 148.
  5. Ibid., 152.
  6. Ibid., 155. Biblical quotation: John 6:56.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid., 165.
  9. The themes of hospitality and reconciliation are identified by Wirzba in terms of Eucharistic practices, but also are themes that we stressed in our course on faithful business practices given our reading of Cornelius Plantinga’s Engaging God’s World. Plantinga identifies hospitality as a feature of God’s “inner” Trinitarian life and thus a feature that should mark the Christian life. He also identifies reconciliation as a key feature of God’s redemptive activity in and through Jesus in the world, and so too suggests that Christians should seek reconciliation in the church and world. See Wirzba, Food and Faith, 165-178, and Plantinga, Engaging God’s World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 20-22 and also chapters 4 and 6 on redemption and Christian vocation respectively.
  10. See Wirzba, Food and Faith, 167-168.
  11. Ibid., 169. Italics in original.
  12. Here we are following George Hunsinger, “The Eucharistic Transformation of Culture” (Chapter 7), in Hunsinger, The Eucharist and Ecumenism: Let Us Keep the Feast (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 253-257.
  13. Ibid., 255.
  14. See http://www.saintgregorys.org/community_service.
  15. As Gordon Lathrop suggests, “the ‘economy of the Eucharist’ is in critical dialogue with all other means of food distribution.” Gordon Lathrop, Holy People: A Liturgical Ecclesiology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1999), 165. Referenced and quoted in Martha L. Moore-Keish, “Eucharist/Eschatology,” in A More Profound Alleluia: Theology and Worship in Harmony, ed. Leanne Van Dyk (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 119.
  16. Donald Schell, co-rector of St. Gregory’s, notes that the architecture is designed to make worship as participatory as possible, and so too the food pantry. See George Hunsinger, The Eucharist and Ecumenism, 326. One of the main influences on the architectural design of St. Gregory’s sanctuary is Louis Boyer’s Liturgy and Architecture (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1967). Also worthy of note is that the design of St. Gregory’s sanctuary is less contemporary than it is ancient. The design is based on the earliest churches in Syria.
  17. George Hunsinger acknowledges that these illustrations could be easily sentimentalized, even seen as trivial. Over the years, some of our students have wondered out loud: Does the space of a sanctuary really make that big of a difference? Does the Eucharist really shape us in these ways? Hunsinger concludes, “The truth in such perceptions can be granted while still allowing that stories like these belong finally to another context – one determined rather by the gospel than the law.” See Hunsinger, The Eucharist and Ecumenism, 275.
  18. To help first-year students from multiple majors understand the basics of a business model, we drew heavily on the Business Model Canvas found in Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur, Business Model Generation: A Handbook for Visionaries, Game Changers, and Challengers (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley Publishing, 2010).
  19. One way to think of such efforts is as attempt to “humanize” such spaces and interactions, recognizing and enhancing the dignity of persons, much like the experience of St. Gregory’s food pantry for those in need. Indeed, for the sake of efficiency, productivity, profits, and so on, some businesses create “dehumanizing” experiences for people. Perhaps, then, one way to think of Christian business practices is to see them as attempts to humanize the customers’ experience.
  20. Smith has an extensive treatment of this in regard to the experience of shopping in a mall in Desiring the Kingdom. See pages 89-101.
  21. One year a fascinating debate arose about whether Christians could own and operate a fast food restaurant, which for some promoted ill health, unethical food production (especially in the meat industry), and went against the grain of how Christian understand the blessing of food and eating together. On this, see Wirzba, Food and Faith, 186.
  22. What was striking is that out of all the businesses, students suggested that the automotive business might be the one that required owners to seek less profit in order to keep costs low and services high. They reasoned that this best reflected both the hospitality and reconciliation apparent in the Lord’s Supper, for transportation is a need of all people, regardless of class or other social divisions, and an attempt to provide service to all seemed more in line with the vision of the Table.
  23. James Davison Hunter, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World (NY: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Todd V. Cioffi

Calvin University
Todd V. Cioffi is Professor of Congregational and Ministry Studies, Adjunct Professor of Religion, and Director of the Calvin Prison Initiative at Calvin University.

Peter J. Snyder

Calvin University
Peter J. Snyder is the business and professions editor of Christian Scholar’s Review and Associate Professor of Business at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, MI.