Christians in Business – Part 1 – Overview

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

If you’re a Christian in business, you will have been confronted, at some stage, with a number of ‘commercial’ (and moral) issues which may well have challenged your faith, your integrity, and your relationships – and left you feeling like you let God down!

And these issues will span all commercial transactions – and commercial relationships! Your customers, your suppliers and your employees will all have been at the sharp end of some dubious financial decisions or practices, at some stage in your business life. Even though God’s grace is sufficient to lift us out of the ‘miry clay’ of such situations; we must admit that they sometimes leave us feeling awful. But sometimes, they don’t; and this is real cause for concern!

Sometimes Christians in business have become so used to acting like those in ‘the world’ that no one can tell the difference. The Bible says that they have "hardened their hearts". Lee Strobel, author of "The Case for Christ" and "God’s Outrageous Claims" has to say:

"If you’re involved in the everyday maelstrom of the working-world – as an employee or manager, salesperson or executive, blue-collar or white-collar worker – then you will inevitably face ethical issues. Sooner or later you’re going to be tempted to sacrifice your integrity on the altar of commerce.
I’m not suggesting that integrating faith into the workplace is simple, because I know it isn’t. In fact, if it were easy, more people would be doing it. But researchers have found that on the average, people who attend church aren’t much more ethical than people who don’t. One Gallup poll found that 43% of unchurched people have pilfered work supplies, while 37% of churchgoers have too.
Obviously, a lot of people are saying one thing while sitting in the pews on Sunday morning and doing something quite different after punching the time clock the following day. Regrettably, for many, faith is a weekend proposition, not a weekday reality.
So how do we make God-honouring decisions when we’re trying to resolve marketplace dilemmas? Although there is no fill-in-the-blank, one-approach-fits-all answer to ethical choices in the working world, there are some steps we can take to help us make decisions that are consistent with biblical principles. However, one prerequisite is that we must acknowledge that there are certain tensions between faith and commerce that may never be fully resolved." (Emphasis – mine)

As Christians we will all agree that we are to love one another; that we are called to serve one another; that we are to speak the truth and be honest in all our dealings with one another; that, in fact, we are to do to others as we really would love them to do to us! In spite of that, we are faced with daily challenges to those beliefs – challenges that sometimes we succumb to, and quite often because we are used to acting in a certain (secular) way, we are not even conscious of what we’re doing.

Laura Nash, formerly of the Harvard Business School, interviewed the type of leader who "genuinely wrestles with his Christian conscience and business responsibilities in order to seek out as compatible a response as possible, even though he knows that the concept of being a ‘perfect’ Christian doing the ‘perfect Christian deed’ is beyond any human’s comprehension."

In her book entitled, "Believers in Business", she outlines seven points of tension faced by authentic Christians in the marketplace:

  • The love for God and the pursuit of profit.
  • Love and the competitive drive.
  • People needs and profit obligations
  • Humility and the ego of success.
  • Family and work
  • Charity and wealth
  • Faithful witness in the secular city.

"She found that when Christians don’t shy away from these tensions but instead thoroughly grapple with them, they came up with unexpected, creative and workable solutions to what seemed at first blush to be insurmountable moral quagmires." (Lee Strobel)

This newsletter is going to be the first of a series I will be doing on the challenges or tensions Christians face in the marketplace – both as employers and as employees. I will try to address some of those tensions highlighted by Laura Nash – and especially within a South African context. I hope, through the series, to bring a number of these tensions into the light, and to give you insight into how to deal with them.

In the next newsletter, I will be dealing with the subject of ‘What is Work?"