As an eighteen-year-old high school student, I was given the task of completing a senior project. It seemed like an insurmountable goal to culminate thirteen years of education and my personal ideals into a thesis paper, related product, and oral presentation. I titled my project “Faith in Business”, an attempt to highlight the idea that these concepts were not oil and water. Contrary to popular belief, faith and business were not only intertwined, they were mutually beneficial. Those who judged my efforts introduced common criticisms, making it clear that America had done a thorough job of placing a dividing line between the two.
For the next sixteen years, as a Christian and a small-business owner, I would wrestle with the same question:
Is there any place for faith in business?
The Business of Faith
The most unusual dynamic of religion is the fact that it functions as a business. A lot of people shy away from that line of thinking, but churches are organizations just like any corporation. This is not only a glaring challenge for the non-churched, but a point of contention for those sitting in the pews as well. And the more we avoid the conversation, the more it becomes the elephant in the room.
Elaborate productions and large-scale buildings raise a question of stewardship for the non-churched. At the same time, those in the pews seem to feel guilty for making money. As if full-time ministry were a requirement of all “true” Christians.
A couple of years ago, I was leading a discussion among college students who had an interest in leadership. This was the best and brightest millennials that the church had to offer. Their eagerness to learn and attentiveness were quite impressive. In closing, I opened the floor for their questions, unsure of what they might ask.
With overwhelming curiosity, they wanted to know how to engage their faith and their business at the same time. It gave me a picture of where the church currently stands on this issue and I attempted to add my insight.
Instead of being quick to segregate the two, we need to truly understand that business development has great application in the church and spiritual truths should be cultivated within the corporate community. The point is, we can’t limit pastors to pulpits and we can’t wedge CEOs in to Wall Street.
The foundational lessons of the Christian faith are of great benefit to business operations. In turn, the Christian community doesn’t need to fear capitalism and corporate culture as the great evil.
So how do we begin to bridge the gap?
The Prudent Executive
Allow me to illustrate my thoughts with a story.
Imagine a CEO who entrusts his organization to a few key executives while he is away attending other endeavors. He holds a board meeting and distributes various responsibilities of the organization to these key individuals, giving them the financial resources needed in his absence.
After some time, the CEO returns to assess his organization. One of his executives made great use of the resources that were left in his care and doubled the business interests in that area. This pleased the CEO. As a reward, the CEO praised this executive and gave him full responsibility over ten new companies.
The CEO then inquired of another executive who produced a fifty percent return in his division. Well pleased, the CEO praised this person as well and put him in charge of five new companies.
Finally, the CEO approached an executive who had stewarded his resources poorly. No growth, no loss. The executive made excuses for his failure. He blamed his shortcomings on the shrewd nature of the CEO and exposed his complacency. The CEO criticized the executive and withdrew any future opportunity.
We can chalk this up to a good business story, but this is a modern-day version of Jesus’s Parable of the Ten Minas found in Luke 19. It brings to light a few applicable takeaways for those who want to bridge the gap between faith and business.
Use What You Have
Many of us who struggle to bridge the gap between faith and business fall into the trap of focusing on what we don’t have instead of embracing what we do have. Too often, we look at our lives and think that we’re not effective unless we’re on a mission trip or digging wells in some third-world country.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Answer these questions:
What unique gifts, talents, resources, skills, and passions do you have?
Have you ever taken the time to create an inventory of your heart’s desires?
Unfortunately, a lot of Christians have been taught that our desires are inherently bad—that if we want to do something, then it probably isn’t right. We have cautiously applied this line of thinking to every aspect of our lives and inadvertently squashed our God-given desires in the process.
We evangelize most effectively when we unleash our gifts on the world. And the incredible thing is, this takes place in both our life and in our workplace.
My father is wonderful with kids and he loves baseball. But curiously enough, Dad is in sales. However, he has leveraged his work life to allow margin to utilize his gifts. In recent years, Dad has volunteered as the head coach for a ten-year-old all-star team at our local Optimist Club. And when his grandsons were old enough to play tee ball, he began coaching them.
The rewards have been tenfold. Dad’s love for the Lord has helped him to touch countless young lives with his enthusiasm and energy for the game. Curiously enough, the impact on Dad’s career has been substantial as well. His reputation as a coach has spilled over into his work and his investment in the lives of others has enhanced his career.
Engage in Business
There’s a great misconception among many Christians that business is somehow bad or evil. Although we don’t overtly admit it, we live like business and faith cannot commingle. As a result, we compartmentalize our faith life and our business life, making absolutely sure that they don’t mix. This only adds to our frustration. The Parable of the Ten Minas provides one of the most striking passages from the Bible as it relates to this:
“Engage in business…” —Luke 19:13
Before leaving, the master encourages his servants to engage in business. God actually wants us to carry on with the business He has placed before us. In fact, that is the primary mission field for most believers today. But if we keep the two separate, how are we going to honor Him in the process?
Here are two questions for you to consider:
What business do you engage in?
What opportunities do you have to utilize your gifts in a business setting?
Your business life should be an absolute reflection of God—where your gifts meet the world and become His expression to those around you. But problems arise when we fail to embrace this kingdom mindset. If we’re not careful, we fall into a what’s-in-it-for-me line of thinking and we subtly glorify ourselves in the process.
Engage in business and cultivate a what’s-in-it-for-Him mentality. It will radically shift the way you engage in your business endeavors as you begin to leverage your business for something bigger than yourself.
Sadly, the third individual in the story above is more representative of how we navigate the dynamic of faith and business. We fail to steward what we have been entrusted with and compartmentalize our faith life and our business endeavors. That segregation leads to frustration which leads to complacency.
Once complacency sets in, we end up doing nothing and find ourselves stuck. If you feel stuck, don’t be discouraged. This is one of the most effective weapons that the enemy uses against us to keep us ineffective. As fear sets in, it causes us to freeze. We become hesitant to use our gifts and hesitant to engage in business. On one hand, we don’t want to disappoint the Master. On the other hand, we’re not quite sure what to do.
Whatever you do, don’t freeze. But be careful, this isn’t a call to busyness just for the sake of being busy. We have to allow our faith to come underneath our gifts and guide our actions accordingly. In the end, faith must inspire and direct our actions.
Living a Well-Done Life
As an eighteen-year-old high school student, God was at work challenging me with the question of professional success versus spiritual growth. For more than fifteen years, I lived as if those two desires were in direct opposition with one another, creating a constant tug-of-war in my heart. It wasn’t until I understood that my spiritual life (my faith) was the navigator and gladly welcomed it into my business that I felt the sense of wholeness and fulfillment I longed for.
I needed faith and business in order to thrive.
Spirituality and professional fulfillment are integral components of a whole, healthy life. However, if professional success and spiritual growth become mutually exclusive, it leads to a one-sided, limited existence that yields frustration, complacency, and exhaustion.
I guess the moral of the story is this : bridge the gap between your faith and your business, and consequently you’ll share the sweet fruit of His blessing, not only in your own life, but in the life of others as well.