At Work & Theology 101

Christian, What’s Your Impact in the Business Arena?

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“make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thess. 4:11-12).

If Christians are called to bring about flourishing in all spheres of life, how well are we doing this in the marketplace? Do we even view the market as an avenue for the advancement of God’s kingdom, or can that only happen via more “spiritual” means, such as church and Bible study?

Jeff Van Duzer gives a concise picture of how the market contributes to flourishing in his book Why Business Matters to God:

Business exists in society in order to provide a platform where people can express aspects of their God-given identity through meaningful and creative work and to provide goods and services to a community to enable it to flourish.

The original theories of Adam Smith, which have often been misinterpreted, were based on the firm belief that business would work for the greater good of society. As a professor of ethics, Smith believed markets, by their origin, were about morality and doing the right thing.

Yet, for too many businesses and some business schools, ethics are only about reducing risk or escaping additional regulation. Greg Smith, former head of Goldman Sachs’ U.S. equity derivatives business in Europe and the Middle East, offered his company as a prime example in a New York Times op-ed piece in 2012. He wrote that the Goldman Sachs corporate ethos “is as toxic and destructive” as he had ever seen it.

The reason, he suggested, is that the company had become so focused on money that it routinely sacrificed the best interests of its clients. Goldman’s and much of Wall Street’s obsession to turn as large a profit as possible clouds their vision of what made them successful in the first place: serving their customers.

What if real ethics were built into the mission of a business? What if ethics meant not merely avoiding the wrong thing but instead making a commitment to do the right thing?

This should be one of the major objectives of Christians in the marketplace. Those of us who are called to work in the business world are called to be redemptive agents of the market:

  • In Genesis, God called Adam and Eve to be agents of change and development when he gave them the cultural mandate (Gen 1:28).
  • Jeremiah encouraged the Israelites to be agents of shalom even while living in exile (Jer. 29:4-7).
  • Jesus called his disciples to be redemptive agents when he gave the Great Commission, which some theologians believe is a restating of the cultural mandate.
  • The Apostle Paul exhorted the early church numerous times that they were called by God, “according to his purpose,” to be salt and light in the world (Rom 8:28).

As followers of Christ, we have the opportunity to bring back a moral compass. As we act as salt and light in the marketplace, we will have a transformational influence on those around us.

The producers of the Greater Seas blog suggest there are four ways Christians typically engage the marketplace; as:

1. Survivors:

  • Have a negative view of the marketplace
  • Their goal is survival
  • Their strategy is to create a holy huddle
  • Others have no interest in them
  • They have no overall impact

2. Sleepers:

  • Have a neutral view of the marketplace
  • Their goal is to get by
  • Their strategy is to be liked and rarely share their faith
  • They are generally liked
  • Their impact is minute

3. Influencers:

  • View God as intimately involved in their work
  • Their goal is both to share Christ and create significant value at work
  • They are prayerful about their work and Spirit-led, actively sharing their faith
  • They are generally liked, but others embrace them only tentatively
  • They have a significant impact

4. Leaders:

  • View work as an avenue for God’s work of transforming people, businesses, markets, and communities
  • Their goal is to transform the entire organization both functionally and spiritually for God’s purposes
  • Their strategy is based on actions more than words. They regularly pray for wisdom and the Holy Spirit’s leading
  • They are trusted leaders
  • Their impact is transformational

The moral decline in today’s marketplace would suggest that there are far too many Christians who are either Survivors or Sleepers. We need more Leaders.

Which one are you?

Editor’s note: Read more about the biblical purpose for work in How Then Should We Work?

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