At Work

What Makes a Company “Christian”?

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Some of the largest companies in the United States have been identified as “Christian,” and this occasionally makes news headlines. Chick-fil-AHobby LobbyForever 21 and other companies have sustained scrutiny for being businesses with beliefs.

Some companies have been identified as “Christian” by outside sources because of the convictions of their management. Others have openly branded themselves in this way by identifying with certain causes, printing Bible verses on its products, closing on Sundays, or playing Christian music in stores. This can be a great way to witness as long as the words of these businesses are consistent with their deeds.

Is there more to being a “Christian” company?

What Makes a Christian Company?

What we need to be focusing on is not whether we have Christian businesses, but whether we have Christian businessmen who integrate their convictions and principles with their work.

After all, how do we define “Christian” for businesses? Does it mean that the management or ownership is Christian? Does it mean that all the employees sign a statement of faith? Does it mean that you only sell Christian products? Does it mean that your company plays Christian music or puts Bible verses on its packaging?

Ultimately, it’s important for Christians to remember why they are in business to begin with. We should concentrate on the most important part of owning and operating a company: making our businesses into good businesses. And the best business is a profitable business. It is profitable because it is effectively serving the needs of others.

My friend Steve Garber, founder of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture, serves as a consultant for businessmen in several large corporations. He helps them to weave their Christian beliefs with the way they run their companies, asking,

Can we find our way to seeing the health of business as more complex than simply maximizing shareholder profit, to one that in fact addresses profit, people, and planet at the same time—and therefore a more sustainable profitability?

Garber understands that biblical principles can inform the way we do business, taking our focus away from self-centered, unethical, and short-term tactics for making a profit. If we apply our Christian beliefs to the way we do business, we will focus instead on sustainability, serving others, and, ultimately, long-term profitability.

Living Faith through Work

Christians in business should strive to live their faith through work. This means:

  • Providing high-quality customer service.
  • Being honest and upstanding in every transaction.
  • Stewarding one’s resources effectively.
  • Producing high-quality goods and services.
  • Treating every single employee with dignity.
  • Seeking to serve others and create value.

Of course, these are things that every business owner should be doing. But since Christians live to serve God and uphold the principles set out by the Bible, we should be particularly intentional about running our businesses well.

Titus 3:8 emphasizes that Christ sacrificed himself for us so “that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” Since Christ saved us and renewed us, he calls us to turn around and work toward the well-being and renewal of the rest of the world.

Business owners have a unique opportunity to impact society by serving their customers, creating jobs, and contributing to the overall well-being of their communities. They are furthering God’s kingdom here on earth.

Christians should seek primarily to create companies that cultivate an outstanding reputation, have a corporate culture that exemplifies biblical principles, and create genuine value for their customers. A Christian business owner could be doing this very well without running a specifically “Christian” business.

In his book, Redeeming Law, Michael P. Schutt speaks to this issue as he remembers his own experience as a young Christian lawyer trying to understand how to integrate his faith with his legal practice.

We wanted to be more than Christians muddling through the law. We wanted to be Christian lawyers, our faith integrated with our calling.

The same applies to the businessman. Rather than asking “Should my company be Christian?” it is more helpful to first ask, “How can I run my business in the most biblical manner? How can I make others ask, “What’s different about this business?””

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  • Dave D

    Solid thoughts. This is an enormously important question to be asking. I’m not even sure that the concept of a “christian business” is particularly useful. It is rather like asking “what is a christian washing machine?” Rather the key questions are not whether the business is christian, but whether people in it are christian, and what the means for their manner of doing business. You definitely go there in your post, and get start the gears turning.

    I might add two additional thoughts.

    First, I would suggest that you refer to “business people” rather than “businessmen.” Women are doing business throughout our economy; as owners, executives, and managers. They need to be explicitly included in your article.

    Second, I have found it helpful to stop thinking solely about increasing shareholder (owner) value and to begin considering the value of the business for all stakeholders. Employees, customers, vendors, and owners all have a stake in the business. Christians ought to be making business decisions that benefit as many categories as possible, rather than using or mining certain stakeholder groups for the sole benefit of shareholders. To put it simply, we must treat people humanely, justly, and sustainably. Humans are not resources to be exploited. An important theme of the Hebrew Prophets was the exploitation of workers — God is not pleased by that kind of business dealing.

    Good stuff. Thanks for the article.

  • K.V.Simon

    Thank you for the excellent piece .
    Please allow me to bring another aspect .
    The Greek word – Chrisianos – occurs only three times in NT. Acts26:28, 11:26 and 1Peter4:16. They show forth three aspects of faith in Christ that stood out .
    To prefix ” Christian ” to any human enterprise or activity or institution is not a NT pattern . This is a naturally humanly conceived idea and often when ideas are idealised they become idolised as well . The intentions and motives may be good , but they could skew us away from the first things first . As for Christ our Lord , He was absolutely clear when He said at the age of 12 – Why did you seek Me ? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business ? That meant doing the Father’s will , glorifying the Father , finishing the task of the Father . That did not include any institutions or enterprises in His name . His commission is to go with the glad tidings to all peoples . The church He is building is “My Church “- Christ’s Church . Our relationship is with Christ through Faith and this should not be confused with a relegion prefixing the word “Christian” . In the strict sense there are no Christian enterprises or institutions or organisations . All that we do , we must do as unto the Lord , in the Spirit of the Lord , according to the scriptures in the will of God for the pleasure and glory of God .Therefore I conclude that we restrain from the practice of prefixing “Christian” to any product or service or enterprise lest we add to the confusion that already exists .

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