Thursday, August 10, 2017
Tuesday, August 8, 2017
Business as Service
An excerpt from The Missional Entrepreneur by Mark Russell
Jesus said He “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). This act of serving is one of the greatest virtues of the Christian faith and is expressed in numerous parables, teachings, and commandments. Paul encouraged his readers to “serve one another in love” (Galatians 5:13). In the context of work, he told employees to “serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord and not men” (Ephesians 6:7). Peter said we should use our gifts “to serve others” (1 Peter 4:10). He encouraged church leaders to be “not greedy for money, but eager to serve” (1 Peter 5:2). John reminded us that our ultimate purpose is to “serve God” (Revelation 1:6; 5:10).
Serving people is a foundational Christian teaching. Jesus taught what has been called the Golden Rule: “Do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). Serving people, by treating them the way we desire to be treated, tends to produce reciprocal action. If you treat people right then they will tend to treat you right. Furthermore, there is an internal liberation that occurs when we serve others that strengthens us and makes us better equipped to deal with the challenges of life.
As previously defined, a business is an organization that creates and/or distributes goods and/or services and relies on financial profit for survival, success, and expansion capability. Although profit is a controversial aspect of business, it is also an indication that business is effectively distributing its goods and services. If society does not want or need these goods and services, then this is reflected in the related loss of profits to the business. This causes the business to respond and adapt, either serving its people in a meaningful way or closing shop. Business cannot survive much less thrive if it is not serving people. Service is a way to imitate the Creator. As C. William Pollard, former CEO of ServiceMaster, writes in Serving Two Masters? Reflections on God and Profit, “We seek to honor God as an end goal and recognize that growing profitably is a means goal.”1
Though society needs many different activities, including many that are not profit-oriented, the profit mechanism ensures that businesses are at least serving some people. Profit should not be the guiding rule of thumb for all organizations, but it is an effective tool in many cases for business. One of the weaknesses of many nonprofit and faith-based organizations is that they do not have internal feedback mechanisms to properly evaluate if they are truly serving their constituents. I have consulted with several nonprofit organizations and churches that had no idea if they were effectively serving their people. They had no built-in system to determine that. Many even rejected the idea that they should develop such a system, preferring to “trust God.” But if we really want to serve people and serve them well, we need to have a means of determining whether or not we are achieving this goal.
However, it should be noted that just because a business is making a profit does not mean that it is truly serving people. It could be manipulating them, exploiting them, or providing them with a destructive product, like drugs, pornography, and the like. There is also the issue of the production of perceived needs through advertising. Unfortunately, many businesses attempt to make consumers believe they need a product that they really do not. This has been a criticism of many pharmaceutical companies. As one medical doctor told me, “The medicine with the most life-saving potential for people over 50 is aspirin. Look through all your news mags and pore through all the full-page ads for expensive drugs, but you will see none for aspirin. If pharmaceutical companies were interested in people’s heath, they would put out big ads for aspirin, but since aspirin is cheaper than dirt, they don’t try to sell it.”
Obviously, businesses need money to survive but to fulfill their spiritual mission businesses should seek to serve the most people as effectively as possible. This means that when inexpensive means exist they should not falsely create the perception that a more expensive and less effective item is needed. This is a disservice to society.
However, for a legitimate business to make a profit, it must serve people. This is beneficial to society and can be an authentic spiritual act. Serving people aligns us once again with the way the Creator designed us to be. Functioning in accordance with our created design not only has personal benefits, but also benefits society and increases the effectiveness of human activity. Service is an inherently spiritual part of business. The benefits of a service orientation for business are widely acknowledged.
Of course, a pastor or theologian may be tempted to critique business in this regard saying that the acts of service are diminished because they are done in pursuit of profit. Clearly the heart’s intent of a person’s actions does have spiritual consequences. If a person habitually engages in seemingly righteous behavior for personal monetary gain, then that person needs to be corrected in order to live an authentic spiritual life. However, serving people to increase effectiveness and the productivity of a business should not be perceived as wrong. Rather it is authentically spiritual because it is a natural way that business aligns human activity with our original created design.
Sunday, July 16, 2017
Friday, July 7, 2017
Excerpt #3 from The Missional Entrepreneur by Mark Russell
The spiritual mission of business is not to establish a kingdom of wealth and power but to bring the kingdom of God into tangible reality. The kingdom of God can be most simply defined as God’s reign. So, the kingdom is the manifestation of God’s ideals, principles, values, and will. It can also be understood as a physical expression of a spiritual reality.
The kingdom of God is not an esoteric, abstract concept; rather it is observable and concrete. When we see expressions of love, generosity, and grace these can be said to be a glimpse of the kingdom of God. This is not to say that everything about the kingdom of God is observable and physical. The kingdom of God refers to God’s reign over all things, both visible and invisible, both physical and spiritual, throughout all of creation. But it is, as Methodist missionary and theologian E. Stanley Jones pointed out, realism and not idealism.
Jesus came preaching the kingdom of God. It is His primary message as well as the message of Scripture. It is something real that has been happening for all eternity and since the beginning of time. Thus it has a historical quality. It is the unfolding story of God throughout creation. It is seen through the Old Testament, particularly in the concept of shalom, which is typically defined and translated as peace. However, it carries a stronger connotation than peace. It is more of a worldview where all things function in harmony.
Like shalom, the kingdom of God is a holistic paradigm, meaning that it covers every area of life. It is not simply about church activities or Sunday sermons, although these are definitely a part. It is focused on God’s redemptive plan of reconciling all things unto himself (Colossians 1:20).
God’s enemies oppose His kingdom. They are attempting to establish their own kingdoms and seek through antagonistic and antithetical practices to bring harm to the kingdom of God. Human Human uman beings choose which kingdom they will promote. Though they may not be aware of the importance of their choices, they are responsible for them.
The kingdom of God is one of grace, mercy, love, justice, righteousness, and judgment. Though these may seem like mutually contradictory aspects, they are not. God in His wisdom and sovereignty rightfully balances these aspects and the tension involved in human responsibility and the results of our moral choices.
Many Christians think of the kingdom of God purely in future terms. However, there is biblical warrant for understanding the kingdom of God as being manifested on earth in the current age, at least in part. Christ prayed for the kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10). Would it not be odd for Christ to pray for the kingdom to come if it were purely a heavenly reality? Failing to understand the present reality of the kingdom of God has caused many Christians to become withdrawn or inactive.
Business can be at the forefront of creating chaos or it can bring spiritual good into physical reality. The integration of economic and social systems transpiring in the world today is most commonly referred to by the term globalization. The reality of globalization means that we are more interdependent than ever before. Now, when we call a customer service line we are likely to be connected to someone in another country. But it is not just offshore call centers. It’s everything. Businesses of all types are integrated around the world. Supply chains spread across continents and wire transfers unite financial institutions just as fiber-optic cables across the ocean floor enable us to communicate broadly and quickly.
Nearly every day I relate with people in several different countries. For the most part I use email, but I also frequently have video conference calls over the Internet. On some days I’ll communicate directly with people in more than ten different countries. Most of it I’ll do through the Internet, without any fees charged to me. We are living in interesting days, indeed.
As the world is becoming increasingly integrated, we are becoming more aware and knowledgeable of various illnesses, injustices, problems, and suffering around the world. The population in developing countries is growing exponentially. Sadly, suffering instead of success is accompanying this increase. Every day, almost 2,000 babies are infected with HIV, either during pregnancy, at birth, or through breastfeeding.1 A sixth of the world’s countries receive two-thirds of the world’s income. For every $1 created through exports, $0.03 goes to low-income countries.2 More than 2.8 billion people live on less than $2 a day, and 1.2 billion people live on $1 or less.3
Business can be a means of bringing justice to the poor and disenfranchised around the world. Or it can be a way to exploit them and/or the natural resources of their land. Jesus called us to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:37–39). In our new global reality, our neighbor can be rightfully understood as numerous people groups scattered around the globe.
This love for God and neighbor needs to be the foundational principle on which the missional entrepreneur stands. Christ said this love for God and neighbor was of utmost importance (Matthew 22:37–39). Paul said that love was the greatest attribute (1 Corinthians 13:13). John wrote, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God…If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:7, 20). We must emphasize the importance of love in all that we do, including business.
Business as mission reflects a desire for the kingdom of God to be manifested in a substantive way in the present age. When business fulfills its spiritual mission it can contribute significantly to creating economic shalom for many of the world’s peoples.
Missional entrepreneurs can have an important and vital role in an age of economic globalization. They can serve as practical extensions of the church to relieve people’s sufferings, and they can demonstrate physically the love of God by loving their neighbor. In doing this they can extend the kingdom of God, God’s reign on earth, and spread the shalom of God around the world.
Saturday, June 10, 2017