For far too long many pastors and churches have conveyed the impression that those working in so called "full-time ministry" are first class citizens and those working in the so called "secular fields of endeavour" are somehow second class.
Putting it more bluntly: pastors, missionaries and others that earn their daily bread from Christian work are somehow better than those that don't.
This is of course not in any way supported by what the Bible tells us from cover to cover, it has however seeped into the mindset and thinking of many that call themselves Christian.
If we look at the statistics we see that over 90% of Christ followers earn their livelihood from things that we commonly call secular. This discussion is primarily aimed at that 90%.
Business - what is it about?
Sacred vs Secular
Firstly let me suggest that for the Christ follower there is no distinction between what is sacred and what is not. Why? - because for the Christ follower everything is sacred. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Col 3:23,24 (NIV)
The context of the above verse is talking to slaves as well as free men about whatever they are busy working at, to do it with all your heart - what else are we to do with all our heart? - the first commandment, to love God! Paul very clearly tells us that we are to have the same attitude, put the same amount of effort and focus into all that we do and states that it is ALL as working for the Lord.
Thus, my job, whatever it may be, is to be looked at and treated as if I am doing for the Lord. Whether that be as a pastor, as a missionary, as a teacher, as a janitor, as a student, as a ........ fill in the blanks - there are no exceptions. (think carefully before you object, what could a slave be asked and compelled to do, even break the law .... a little tough on some of our sacred theological cows?). So having got that out of the way, lets now look at the core parts of our society and lifestyle and see what and how these fit into God's world view.
What is Business?
The spheres of influence and governance outlined in the Bible are (in no particular order): the individual, family, church, government, business, science & technology, education, arts and entertainment, and media / communication. Some folk combine some of these and for the purposes of our current discussion this will not matter. As we introduced this discussion in the context of the church, let us first deal with the church (considered here as the organised regular gathering together of Christ followers) and contrast this with a business or as a family unit. Many of those teaching and instructing church leaders suggest that the church should be run as a business. I believe this is not at all supported by scripture and will cover why shortly. A better analogy is that of church as a family, and there is some support for this view in scripture. However I think that the mandate for the church differs from that of the family, thus one needs to be careful in how one uses this analogy and pushes it to make a point - discernment needed!
Mandate of the church
To reveal the Great High Priest, called by God to minister, typically less than 10% of population, authority comes directly from God, should display the attributes of holiness and mercy, contract is via giving and receiving. As a side note, where ever government and church are combined mercy is always lost - thus the need to keep these spheres distinct and separate.
Church, (as the bride of Christ) consists of all those that follow Jesus, they belong to (adopted) into a new family and are now sons and daughters of the King of Kings and citizens of an unearthly Kingdom. This church i.e. all Christ followers, is to be an example to the world of what the Kingdom of God looks like and how the citizens of this Kingdom live and behave (obviously we have some way to go / grow here).
Mandate of government
Justice: To reveal the King of Kings, authority comes from the people, responsible for law and justice. There are many forms of government, King / Army, Tribal, Money / buy an army, Royalty, Emperor, Republic, Democracy etc. Biblical model shows God's choice is to push power as close to the individual as possible, judges are introduced at times of national emergency, the people ask for a king. Human systems tend to create hierarchy and push power up, the biblical model drives individual accountability. Government from the top will almost always result in tyranny.
Mandate of family
Love: To reveal God as Father, instituted authority of Husband / Wife / Parents / Children, Adult Children / Parents - a harmonious circle where love is the pre-eminent characteristic displayed. This is also where God placed the ability to procreate and the responsibility to educate / train successive generations.
Mandate of Business/Economics
Provision: To reveal the goodness of God, as Provider, contract via buy and sell, free market is described in Deuteronomy 15. The Bible talks a lot about business and economics - see elders at the gates, talk about cities (places of commerce). The remainder of the spheres will not be summarised here. My thanks to the excellent work of Landa Cope see under resources for her works.
- family and church and business, each have a different and distinct mandate - thus making the point that church should be like a family rather than a business muddies the waters and creates likely confusion in regards to the specific role of each. I understand why this comparison is made, and would like to suggest that we need to develop better language around these areas so that we can remedy the murky and culturally driven world-views that we hold. BTW, I do not suggest that I have all or indeed any answers to this, just that an understanding of, and correct functioning of these roles is something we need to grasp in order to further develop into the bride Jesus is worthy of. The study of and definition of each of these spheres is a huge topic and whilst I think Landa Cope probably has some of the best teaching on this that I've heard, I think it needs considerable rounding out by discussion in community.
- a popular misconception is that business exists to make profit, this is often stated and reiterated. While we can be forgiven for thinking this by an observance of most current day business corporations, this in no way represents what the Bible demonstrates and talks about with the business/economic sphere. One of the major problems with this definition - the purpose of business is to make a profit - is that it often turns into something dirty, profit at any cost etc., a less than honourable task - thus those called to the market place somehow feel second class citizens. No wonder so many business men and women in the west stay away from the church! I believe many if not most pastors believe this and thus communicate this ethos.
Briefly, I believe business is designed by God to demonstrate His goodness - Jehovah Jirah - His way of provision to the other spheres. Put another way, business exists to add value, in a way that individuals cannot, but they can contribute to when united in enterprise and thus raise the stakes and potential immensely. Thus when a business operates within the mandates prescribed, it develops and delivers products and services that take into account all the stakeholder communities: Staff / employees, Customers / clients, Suppliers, Government local and national, Owners / shareholders, Environment, community within which it operates etc. Only when all of these are correctly balanced do we have a correctly functioning business that adds value to all the stakeholders.
Thus my definition of business enterprise is not that it is something that exists to make a profit, but rather that profit is a consequence of running a business that delivers a valuable product or service well, taking into account the various competing stakeholder requirements.
Profit is the consequence of doing good in business.
Certainly not an easy task, but done well an incredible means of providing wealth to all the stakeholders. This is a huge topic in itself, you may see that today's implementation of business needs redemption, the devil has been largely successful in usurping this sphere so that we allow the current implementations of business to redefine God's idea of what this should look like.
Thus correctly functioning businesses provide employment, products and services that represent value for money, consume resources responsibly, take care of the environment, sponsor education opportunities, comply with government legislation (government is responsible for ensuring justice for the minority stakeholders or those with little or no voice) and if done well will return a profit for the owners / shareholders.
It is obvious that to survive, business must be profitable, it is the pursuit of profit alone as a goal or purpose of business men and women, that tends to twist the mandate that I believe they carry from God.