Establishing the Boundaries of a Biblical Worldview

Business

Those who read the Bible regularly soon come across this verse: “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov. 29:18, KJV). But as is often the case, people read the text and think no more about it. But there can hardly be a more important verse in Scripture. And as is also often the case, they read the first half of the verse and ignore the remainder.

Management guru Peter Drucker picks up the theme of vision in his book, Managing the Non-Profit Organization.[1] In a section entitled “Planning For Performance” Drucker observes, “unless you integrate the vision of all constituencies into the long-range goal, you will soon lose support, lose credibility, and lose respect.”[2] When this happens, the doors will close real fast, because people will abandon the organization. “No reason to be here,” they’ll say. I saw this in action just recently when a congregation had difficulty accepting a proposed budget. Some wanted money for a sound system; another wanted an upgraded car park so people didn’t have to park in mud when it rained. What was missing? The purpose of the budget had not been established throughout the organization.

Thus the passage in the Bible referring to Scripture is a very practical issue. But in a local organization, it needs to be remembered that where there is no united or shared vision, the organization will stumble, and stumble badly. It may limp along for quite a while, but it will die an agonizing death eventually. People will be burned, their hopes and aspirations for the organization will not be achieved, and they’ll leave disgruntled, unhappy and unfulfilled.
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Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. Butterworth-Heinemann, 1990.↵back
  2. p. 84.↵back

People are more important than things because people create, use, abuse and destroy things. Furthermore, when people are treated as more important than things, there tends to be harmony and cooperation in a society. What usually follows is more voluntary sharing, justice and collaboration concerning things. This cooperation — covenanting and contracting — in turn creates more prosperity, more things. So prosperity long-term for any society rests upon having its priorities straight, placing its primary emphasis on people rather than things (and money).

“This emphasis on people rather than things is the essence of why the Bank of the People’s Labor at Mondragon, Spain has been so successful long-term. No business failures; no loan failures; the highest productivity in all of Spain, the highest profitability (nearly double that of its competitors), and the highest morale and innovation ratings possible — all characterize Mondragon. Success there has been achieved in all areas. Success is a by-product of doing things correctly. Ultimately, ideas do have consequences. Religion comes down to economics.

“Critical to the achievement at Mondragon, although unstated and possibly unrecognized even by these people, is that they have established their priorities on people systems and effectively checkmated the natural inclination to focus on the time value of money with its compounding effect. The compounding of money in a fractional reserve, debt-based, interest-sensitive society, such as ours, inevitably leads to a focus on things (and money) rather than people. The reason for this is because the challenge of compounding is a challenge which no individual or society can meet or beat long-term. The compounding of interest, money earning money on money, is relentless, ruthless, and eternal, unforgiving of mistakes and eventually is exponential. By contrast, men do make mistakes, need rest, do not forecast the future perfectly, make poor use of human and natural resources and are fortunate if they can simply achieve arithmetic economic growth. Therefore, it is no surprise that die slave-like god of debt money and compound interest eventually forces all to bow at its altar. As men are forced to serve this god of money (mammon), inescapably then money (and things) become more important than people.”[1]

Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. From R.E. McMaster Jr., The Christ Within: The Church and New Age Seek Him (Phonix, AZ: A.N. International, Inc., 1995), p. 359.↵back

In 1855, George Sweet highlighted the forthcoming changes to contract law. The changes that were introduced became known as limited liability law. The impact on the nature of contract and on business in general is hard to underestimate. Sweet, a barrister at law, explored the legal issues around the question of determining who is the debtor in business transactions.[1] Here’s a summary of some of Sweet’s key arguments in his presentation against limited liability.

It comes as no surprise that Sweet would link the question of debts (i.e. losses) to the question of profits. Profit and loss have a direct correlation to one another, according to Sweet. “A trader with limited or no liability is, like a corporation, an anomaly incapable of existence under any system of laws which does not make express provision for it.”[2] In other words, limited liability does not exist unless special provision is made for it. Who, then, is responsible for debts? Liability for debts is the express privilege of those who plan to collect the profits. “A little consideration will allow us to see, that the notion of sharing in the profits of a trade, with exemption from the duty of paying for the trade debts, could not possibly be recognized in the growth of the unwritten, judicial or common law of a state; and, therefore, that no system of law needs to contain, or can logically contain, any prohibition of such trading.”[3] For Sweet it is a matter of law and of logic that liability can be stepped around by those who plan to collect the profits. It can’t be done, he says. It is an “anomaly” to suggest there is a business person or corporation that has limited or no liability.

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Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. London: C. Roworth and Sons. Available as a free download from Google Books.↵back
  2. Sweet, p. 7.↵back
  3. Idem.↵back

World profits

Don’t set goals!

There are some things that get me going. One of them is advice like this, an article posted on the internet. The author is a self-proclaimed business expert, and he has advice for the rest of the world. “Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on This Instead.”

What can be more important than goals? Why ‘systems’, of course. Forget about goals, concentrate on systems. The author uses himself as an example. He has written 115,000 words in the past 12 months, but he had no goal to write that many words. Rather, every Monday and Thursday he wrote an article and behold a year later these articles add up to 115,000 words. Impressive.

But amongst the mumbo-jumbo is the hidden goal of this writer. His goal is not 115,000 words in a year, its an article every Monday and Thursday. The number of words is merely the outcome of him achieving his goal — yet he advises “forget about setting goals”. “What I did focus on was writing one article every Monday and Thursday,” he writes. Good man. He had a goal and he kept to it.

At another time he tells us how he checks his conversion rates on his website. “When that number drops, I know that I need to send high quality traffic to my site.” In other words, he has a goal or objective in mind and when it is not achieved, he goes back to his system to drive new traffic to his web page. In other words, he has a system that he uses to achieve his goal.

So where’s the ‘system’? And how do systems relate to goals? Says the author, “Goals are about the short-term result. Systems are about the long-term process. In the end, process always wins.” Wins what? There is no race between goals and systems that allows one to ‘win’ over the other, nor can there be. They are not in competition with one another. For systems are the way in which you achieve your goals. So this is an interesting juxtaposition of goals and systems — but it is not one that he himself follows. And the reason he doesn’t follow it is because he really knows that you can’t tell if the system you have is the right one unless it is helping you achieve some predefined goal.
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From the archives. Originally published October, 1993.

ruin

Over the years I have made reference to the idea that in Christian theology there is no division between the sacred and secular. Too often the sacred (religious) life is seen as superior to the secular. There is a growing number of Christian authors who have expressed similar ideas in far more detail and with far better skill than I have. But so far, there are some unanswered questions in the sacred-secular debate. In this essay I want to explore what I think are some of the implications of the idea of work when the sacred-secular division is taken away. In particular, I want to explore the idea of success — success in the home, church, or business.

The dividing line between the idea of work in the sacred-secular division has been the idea that the former is a ‘spiritual’ work while the latter is work of ‘the world.’ This division implies there is a Christian way to work as well as a non-Christian way to conduct business. And so there is. But the question is how are these to be determined? They can be determined the wrong way, by classifying ideas as “spiritual” or “worldly”, or they can be classified as ethical, in terms of right and wrong.

We are called to be faithful in the circumstances in which we find ourselves.


It has been popular to attempt to build the Christian idea of work on the non-Biblical idea of spirituality. This expresses itself in the idea that we are to seek guidance from the Holy Spirit and only undertake those things that He has instructed us. This idea is appealing to many, partly because it contains an element of truth in it. As Christians, we do seek guidance from God in all our activities. But saying this does not tell us how we are guided in particular activities. Until we know how God gives us instructions we cannot be certain that we are the recipients of those directions. Because Christians don’t know how God instructs them, there is a crisis in decision making and knowing the will of God for their lives.
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From the archives. Originally published December, 1990.

THE DECLINE of the “Protestant work ethic” has been documented by a number of authors. This ethic had its foundation — some might argue, with some justice, that this was a restoration — in the Protestant Reformation, but received special impetus from the Puritans in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Leland Ryken has pointed out, though, that many have a large misconception about the Puritan view of work.

When we explore what [the Puritans] mean by that phrase, it becomes apparent how little specific content the phrase holds for most people today. . . .

[I]t comes as a shock to learn that what is called the Puritan work ethic is in many ways the opposite of what the Puritans of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries actually believed about work. For the past three centuries Western civilization has been dominated by a secularized perversion of the original Puritan work ethic. . . .[1]

One cannot read the Puritans without gaining a sense of optimism for the future for those who were God’s covenant people. The Lord had done great things in the past; the social upheavals of the Reformation were immediate evidence of this. There was no reason to conclude He would not continue to do so. Work, in their thinking, was thus the means whereby the growth of Christian civilization would be continued. As such, work was a holy calling and an absolute necessity for those who claimed to be Christian. The importance of this work ethic to the Puritans cannot be underestimated. According to C.H. and K. George,

The English protestant view of vocation is arguably the most important concept in their [the English protestants — I.H.] ideology. Far more than Luther or Calvin, as befitted their relation to a more aggressive economic polity, they turned the generalized ideal of the calling into a particularized ideal of work in the world. The curious and significant fact about the enormous literature upon the calling is that the particular or work-in-the-world calling occupies the centre of English Protestant attention — so much so that the particular calling comes very close to becoming the spiritual, salvation-working calling as well as the moral, socially utilitarian vocation. In this process an ethic of work emerges unlike anything known to the West before.[2]

Puritan preacher Richard Steele came straight to the point in the opening paragraph of his book on practical Christianity, The Religious Tradesman.
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Footnotes    (↵back returns to text)
  1. Wordly Saints: The Puritans as They Really Were (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books, 1986), p. 23.↵back
  2. C.H. & K. George, The Protestant Mind of the English Reformation 1750—1640 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961), in M.J. Kitch, Capitalism and the Reformation (London: Longmans), p. 12.↵back

An organizational chart is one of the best indicators of the state of a business. You know how it is, the higher you are on the organizational chart the higher your pay. Or so people think.

To overcome the blatant us-and-them attitude displayed in organization charts, with its list of team leaders, supervisors, managers, or executive officers – all titles displaying someone’s entitlement to be paid for telling other people what to do – there is a tendency in some places to invert the chart so that managers are on the bottom of the chart supporting staff above them. This, however, does nothing to adjust pay scales throughout the organization. Those with the title get paid better than those without, and nothing it seems, will change this.

Nor should it necessarily be changed. Those who make decisions that are of more value to the organization should be paid in accordance with their levels. An office assistant whose job it is to buy $50,000 worth of office supplies a year is usually not as well paid as the sales manager who is responsible for generating $40 million sales for the same period. Their respective levels of responsibility clearly indicate that one is more value to the company than the other, and so pay levels reflect this.

It is unfortunate we do not live in a perfect world. For if we did, the pay levels would be adjusted accurately, without any need for some people to get upset by another’s higher pay. Since we don’t live in a perfect world, there is a lot of bitterness and rancour generated by pay levels in an organization, as reflected in the organizational chart.

Executive pay levels are the matter of much public debate, and rightly so. Not only are the workers discouraged when executive salaries seem exorbitant, but shareholders often feel they have missed an appropriate return on their investment due to salary levels. Hardly anyone at the bottom end of the pay chain thinks the boss is “worth” millions of dollars each year.

The solution to this problem, however, cannot be generated by envy. Envy is the desire to prevent others from getting what we cannot have ourselves. “If I can’t have it, then no one can,” is the theme of the envious. And there is too much envy associated with the current debate over pay levels.

It would help the situation if the typical organization chart were abandoned in favor of one that listed the tasks and responsibility levels within the organization rather than listing rank and office. This would not only eliminate the perception of pay by rank, but would instead help inculcate a culture of responsibility within the organization.

It would also help indicate where managers are unnecessary and help develop more responsibility in teams without managers, a fact that many have shown to be a superior form of management. After all, no one likes being told what to do, so to eliminate managers in favor of self-management is a step in the right direction. Then we might begin to see some of the pay disparities between those at the top and those at the bottom of the organization begin to dwindle.

The Bible encourages us to be content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves (Heb. 13:5). While this does not mean we should not seek improved rewards for our labor, it certainly means that we should temper our economic appetites and be less critical of the success of others.

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The Bible and Wealth

THE BIBLICAL NOTION of stewardship is one that is often used for defining, in a general sense, many positions that people have in life. Stewardship is often used to express the idea that people are not the ultimate owner of the material things of this life; those things come from God. However, God has placed upon mankind the duty and obligation to look after things in His created world. This idea of caretaker, exercising responsible management of resources, is behind the meaning of stewardship. But the word has a wider application. While stewardship itself is biblical in origin, and therefore carries with it a certain religious connotation, we need to find out what this means in practical detail.

Responsibility

If you take two of the key passages where the concept of stewardship is explained, you see, first, that the idea carries with it the concept of responsibility. “And the Lord said, ‘Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season?’” (Luke 12:42). Here you see that the steward is one who is given areas of his master’s activities over which he is to exercise some kind of management. In fact, due to his diligence in his work, he is given increasing responsibilities.

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How to Kill Enthusiasm

I wrote this ezine some time ago in a hotel room in a near-deserted region of Alberta, Canada—Fort Assiniboine. Don’t try to find the town on your map; it probably isn’t there. I went there one January—winter—with snow drifting down and found the town, despite my GPS telling me the town was 25 miles shorter than where I actually found it.  You might say I drove through and past the town in order to find it.

On this journey, however, I could not help but reflect on how God treats us and how we are to treat those with whom we work, especially those we must supervise in some capacity.

In the consulting world, I’ve met all kinds of business owners and managers. Some of them have real difficulty working with other people, because they believe that if it is to be done right, they are the best ones to do it. Delegation is almost impossible for these folk. And usually when they do delegate they don’t take sufficient time to explain what they want.  They are too impatient for this. Then it doesn’t get done right, and their response is, “I told you I’m the best person for that job.”

More than that, they now want to tell others how to do everything. But when they go this far, they have become control freaks who cannot leave staff alone for a moment.

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Whoever said business was easy was either a liar or a fool. Business is a challenge. That’s why it pays well.

But nothing challenges so much as the ethics of business. I have written on this before, but in this instance I’m going to explore some ethical challenges. They occur frequently in business, and there are no glib answers.

The first ethical challenge was created by Charles, excellent business manager and engineer. He began working as a business consultant but took a dislike to his employer who he felt did not carry enough integrity in their business dealings. Charles, a Christian, was hoping his employer — non-Christian — would bring the kind of ethical standards he had to the market place.

When he resigned his position, Charles had enough bad opinion of his employer that he did not entirely trust them. So, when he resigned he held on to the company laptop computer and printer until they paid him his final wages. Now the company had no record of not paying out its staff, even its disgruntled staff. But Charles made the computer system a condition of his final wage payout.

The company responded that since Charles had decided to hang on to his computer, he could keep this in lieu of his wages and that was the end of the matter. Charles, naturally, was not entirely happy with an outcome he had not anticipated. He did get to keep the computer, but at the expense of his outstanding wages which, fortunately, were not much more than the value of the computer system. But he thought the company would naturally bow to his demands. It made no such concession.

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