Can Business be more than an enterprise for the generation of profit? Is there a higher purpose to this human activity?
Business as Mission, according to the author, is an attempt to “explore how companies can align with God’s purpose and bring him glory.” This journey flows from the realization that there are no independent compartments in our lives. Every aspect, including business, is just a part of one unified story being written by God. As such it is must be practiced in a way that glorifies God. All Christians are called to a project of seamless integration of business and mission; the separation of sacred and secular is futile. Here we discern the sweet idea of Abraham Kuyper.
He begins with a clarification – Christian business vs Kingdom business.
Christian business he understands to be either a business that is owned by a Christian, involved in a ‘Christian’ activity, or one managed by biblical principles. A Kingdom business, however, goes much further. It is a business that is ‘specifically, consciously, clearly and intentionally connected to the establishment of Christ’s kingdom in this world.’ Such a business has 4 vital characteristics:
- It is vocational
- It is intentional
- It is relational
- It is operational
These features constitute the major divisions of the book.
A Kingdom business is Vocational
Business has to be seen as a legitimate calling from God. We need to see that business is a God-given mechanism for the provision of human needs, just as other social units like family or government serve other ends. It fulfills the 2 purposes of provision and relationship. Jeff Van Duzer, Provost of the Seattle Pacific University, has a similar idea of the ‘mission statement’ of business:
- Business exists to create opportunities for individuals to express aspect of their God-given identity in meaningful and creative work.
- Business exists in order to produce goods and services that would enable the community to flourish.
He rightly identifies the sacred-secular dichotomy as a major stumbling block for most Christians. We have grown up believing that to be spiritual is to be immersed into ‘Church’ work. We thereby fail to see all other areas of life as equally sacred. The late Dallas Willard was quoted to that effect:
‘There is truly no division between sacred and secular except what we have created, And that is why the division of the legitimate roles and functions of human life into the sacred and secular does incalculable damage to our individual lives and to the cause of Christ. Holy people must stop going into “church work” as their natural course of action and take up holy orders in farming, industry, law, education, banking and journalism with the same zeal previously given to evangelism or to pastoral and missionary work.’
And the author brilliantly concludes: “All of life is sacred for the Christian, and the realization of that truth sets us free to serve God in all aspects of our existence.” Business is a high calling from God.
A Kingdom Business is Intentional
Every Business has a unique purpose which has to be discovered and lived out. It must identify its role in God’s drama of kingdom history and act it diligently. A kingdom business is deliberate about advancing God’s kingdom. While it recognizes that business is a valid calling from God, it will also seek to affect the world for Christ. Such a business looks beyond profit; it uses its operation as an avenue to reach the world with the gospel of Christ. Michael Baer gives several examples of Christians who started business as a means of witnessing to Christ. I read the story of Mira, a young Christian lady from Central Asia, who launched a handcraft manufacturing business. By gathering other young women into her home as employees, she created an informal network for passing across the message of Christ. We should creatively develop avenues for such interactions with the world.
How can we identify the unique kingdom role for our business? The author recommends a six-point step that should help in this regard:
- Read and meditate on scripture
- Meet and interact with others who have discovered their kingdom purpose
- Expose yourself to what God is doing in the world
- Keep a journal
- Write a kingdom impact statement
As we practice this, our purpose becomes clearer and then we can run with it.
Kingdom Business is Relational
Business is about relationships, and it is increasingly evident in our modern world. The rise in importance of Customer Relationship Management as an aspect of business bears this out. Thus a Kingdom Business has better resources for fulfilling this objective. He has the example of God himself, the revelation in the Bible and the help of the Holy Spirit. According to the author, not only are relationships fundamental to life, they provide excellent kingdom opportunities. He writes:
“History , scripture , and even our own personal experience demonstrates that God’s primary conduit for expresing Himself in the world is through relationships. The influence of the gospel does not come through organizations but comes through human interaction, through a people-to-people process.”
This is true. Most conversions have to do with someone bearing witness to the gospel through personal conversation or through godly character. I was brought to Christ through the faithful witness of an older brother. So the role of relationships is critical.
Every business is about relationships in diverse forms: Shareholders, Employees, Customers, Vendors, etc. For a kingdom minded business, these are opportunities for advancing the kingdom. We have to discern the stage the individual is on the ‘Kingdom continuum’ and know what is the appropriate form our relating should take. For instance, a matured Christian who happens to be a Customer will not require the same form as a Vendor who is yet unaware of the gospel.
The obligation to develop relationships derives from the command to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is really what relationships are about – loving others just as Christ has loved us.
A Kingdom Business is Operational
Finally, a business has to be efficient.It is not enough to treat people right or to understand that business is pleasing to God, we need to strive for excellence in all the operations of the business. He identifies several authors whom I have also found helpful in this regard, such as Tom Peters, Jim Collins, and Peter Drucker. Several principles could be mined from their writings on how to achieve excellence in the operations of any organization. These would include: Developing a ‘core ideology’, setting bigger-than-life-goals (or BHAGs as Jim Collins calls them), and getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off it).
An essential aspect of a kingdom business’ operational excellence is a strong ethical culture. Several ethical systems have been devised, ranging from Pragmatism to Relativism. But these all explicitly or indirectly deny the absolute nature of truth. The business world harbours greed, selfishness and lust, but it is the role of kingdom businesses to bring light into this vital sphere.
He concludes with directives for bringing this vision to life in our various businesses.
This book is a helpful guide in a most crucial sector of human society. For, as the author notes in the epilogue, “Companies, and not countries, will have the greatest impact in our world in the future”.