Taking your faith to work can involve these things
By R. Paul Stevens
The presence of a Christian in a business does not necessarily mean the business is Christian, as some Christians keep their faith and daily work in separate compartments. Here are 10 things that can mark a Christian business.
1. The presence of Christians with a sphere of influence. Owners, managers and employees can “incarnate” their values into every aspect of a business. Clerks, for instance, can draw an imaginary 30-foot radius around their workstation and regard it as their “parish” where all people, structures, equipment and interactions are within their circle of prayer and influence.
2. A product or service in harmony with God’s creational purpose. Adam and Eve were called to be priests of creation, to “work it and take care of it” as trustees and stewards (Gen. 2:15). They—and all of us who are restored to our human vocation through new life in Christ—had three full-time jobs: communion with God, community building and co-creativity with God, the latter including productive jobs and trade. Almost no place in the work world is so demonized that a Christian might not be called to serve there, exceptions being businesses that thrive on prostitution, drug traffic, weapons and the exploitation of the poor.
3. A mission or purpose beyond mere profit. Of course, a business must make money or it will not last. Customers need a value for which they are willing to pay, so profit is a legitimate measure of the value the firm is producing for its customers. But those that exist only to make money are not very satisfying and will eventually fail. A Christian business needs a well-defined mission that is held before all employees—why does the business exist; what does the business want to be; what are its values; what is its vision for its other stakeholders, such as the larger community, the environment and future generations?
4. Product and service excellence suggests the presence of the kingdom. A Christian in business strives to provide excellent services or products that surprise customers rather than leaving them yearning for more or resigned to the minimum. Jesus invited his disciples to “do more” (like loving enemies) than the tax collectors and pagans (Matt. 5:43-48). Extraordinary service and quality invites the question “Why?” On the other hand, unpaid bills, slow delivery, poor quality, dishonest advertising and sloppy workmanship all speak louder than verbal declarations.
5. Customers are treated with dignity and respect. “The customer is always right” is the secular version of this. But there’s more. Christians in business treat every customer as a person to be loved and appreciated whether or not business is transacted. Difficult customers also need love, even when they are wrong. Loving customers as oneself is neighbor love (Matt. 22:39). A salesperson will sell only on three conditions: the customer wants it, needs it and can afford it. Love for competitors is even harder. The Old Testament offers a powerful model of harvesting with the poor in view (Deut. 24:19-22), which means leaving something on the table.
6. Workers are equipped to achieve their potential. It is tragic when Christians are poor workers because their real interest is in evangelism and church activities. Work is part of our calling to live for God’s glory and to share in Christ’s purposeful rule in all creation, a calling that can be expressed anywhere. What makes work Christian is not its religious character or even that it may be visibly “people-helping” but because it is an opportunity to express faith, hope and love and to work wholeheartedly (Eph. 6:7). A Christian employer can see every interaction with an employee as an equipping opportunity to train, encourage and release potential.
7. All aspects of business are potentially ministry. Christian businesspeople do not create a secular-sacred division in business; witnessing is sacred but doing the accounts is secular. All is part of our creation mandate (Gen. 1: 26-28) and is done for Jesus (Col. 3:23) and to God’s glory. English reformer William Tyndale said, “There is no work better than another to please God; to pour water, to wash dishes, to be a cobbler or an apostle, all is one, to wash dishes and to preach is all one, as touching the deed, to please God.”
8. The culture of the business lines up with God’s purposes. The environment or culture of a business “speaks” more loudly than any stated policy. People “get the message” as soon as they walk into a store or a factory. Managers can convey a culture through the values they promote (honesty, dignity, equality and respect) and how failure and mistakes are handled. A Christian manager can be a community-builder in business, a “pastor” in a secular context.
9. The leaders are servants. “Servant leadership” is so commonly used it is easy to forget how these two words cannot normally be brought together. Being a servant leader (Matt. 20:25-28) does not mean being passive—there is room for godly ambition, dreams and visions. Servant managers/leaders want to equip and bring the best out of employees and can be measured by their advancement.
10. The business runs on grace. Business takes Christians into the economic, social and political structures of society that have become broken and polluted by human sin. Christian businesspersons find themselves frequently in situations where there is no easy answer, no “black and white” choices. While they may seek to make difficult decisions prayerfully on the basis of Scripture and in fellowship with other believers in business, inevitable mistakes and compromises will be made and sins committed. These must not be excused but neither must they destroy. There is forgiveness and hope.
R. Paul Stevens taught marketplace theology at Regent College, Vancouver, BC, for many years. This article first appeared in The Marketplace, the magazine of Mennonite Economic Development Associates.
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