The Best Example of a Christian Employer. – # 1

Monday, March 15th, 2010

 THE BEST EXAMPLE OF A CHRISTIAN EMPLOYER

Jesus is without doubt the best example of a Christian employer!

Well, you may say that Jesus wasn’t involved in business – and technically, I suppose that was the case.   However, he was most certainly involved in relationships, and remember, business is actually all about people, and relationships with people – and especially the relationships that leaders have with the people that follow them.

In the book, “Jesus, CEO”, written by Laurie Beth Jones, I came across a wonderful way of describing how Jesus led his followers, and which are especially relevant to Christian leaders in business today.  I have taken the liberty of using her chapter headings in the section called “Strength of Relationships” (interestingly, she starts this section of her book with the same scripture I began the series on – from Matthew 22:37-39) because they so aptly cover what Christian employers should model their business leadership on.  In the course of the next few newsletters, I will go through these in more detail (with grateful acknowledgement to her.) 

In his relationship with his disciples:

  • He gave them a vision of something larger than themselves.

One simple statement, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” and the world was changed forever.  Jesus told them that their lives would have significant meaning.  To a humble fisherman, who probably thought he would be catching fish for a living for the rest of his life, these simple words, were very powerful.

Everyone wants to know that one’s life has meaning – has purpose.  Everyone has a desire for something greater than what they have accomplished to date.  That is why we adore super heroes, and follow pop-stars; always striving to be better looking, slimmer, faster, taller and brighter than the person we actually see ourselves to be.

I remember an incident many years ago, while working for a construction company, and being troubled by the desperately poor productivity of one particular labourer who had been given the task of digging a large hole, just outside my office.  He was just going through the motions, slowly swinging the pick and loosening the soil; then picking up his shovel and one-by-one emptying shovelfuls into a wheelbarrow until it was full.  He would then – slowly – climb out of the hole and – slowly, lift the wheelbarrow’s handles, and (guess what?) trudge slowly to a ever-growing pile of soil, and would tip the barrow’s contents out, before – slowly trudging back to his hole in the ground.  After a while, I could no longer concentrate on my own work and made up my mind to go outside and give him a good old-fashioned kick in the butt!  On my way, I felt God speak to me about what I was intending.  You know that troublesome ‘still, small voice’ that He has sometimes?  I heard the words “do unto others as you would have them do to you.”  I thought to myself, “What if that was me doing that meaningless, tiring, mind-frying work out there?”  And then I realised the answer: I needed to give him some direction, some sense of purpose, so this is how the conversation went:

“What are you doing out here?” I asked.

“Digging a hole!” he replied, as if I was stupid or something!

“Why?” I asked, as if I was still stupid!

“I don’t know! I was just told to do it,” he whined. 

So I told him to stop what he was doing for a minute and to listen to me.  I then told him, “We are about to build a large factory building on this property.  The building will be constructed of steel, and the framework will consist of large steel uprights which will need to be anchored on a number of solid concrete foundations.  These foundations will be placed in large holes in the ground.  The first foundation is the most important because it creates the ‘cornerstone’ of the whole building.  You are digging the hole for this foundation.  If this one is not correct, then the building will never get off the ground.  Therefore, my dear friend, the success of this entire project rests on your shoulders (and strong arms and back).  He looked at me for a few minutes until the import of what I’d said had sunk in.  His eyes visibly brightened, his sagging shoulders squared up, and I’ve never seen a hole dug faster and more carefully since. Well, that’s how I remember it anyway!

The point for him was – it’s not what we do but our attitude to it that matters.  The point for the Christian employer is – without a vision our people perish.  G.K. Chesterton once said,

“All men matter. You matter. I matter. It’s the hardest thing in theology to believe.”

Don’t just throw work at your people.  Spend a little time telling them about what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how it’s going to contribute to the overall success of the business.  You’ll be surprised what a difference it will make.

  • He looked at them

Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him…” (Mark 10:21)

Some of the bible translations use the word ‘behold’ which better emphasises the importance of what happened in this instance.  This is not some casual glance – fleeting and then forgotten.  This is a focused moment in time.  Jesus looks at this young man, and then right down into the very depths of him.  Laurie Beth Jones says: “The moment of introduction is treated as a holy moment.  There is long and direct eye contact, and the leader focuses concentration on that person so that he or she feels like the most important person in the room.”

If you’re a Christian employer in business today, ask yourself this question: “have I really looked at my employees in this way? Do I really know them – know them so in spite of their quirks, I can love them?

In South Africa today, this is even more important.  We are faced with a society which is made up of a number of cultures, races and language groups.  Most of these were separated by ‘apartheid’ – the former government’s policy of separate development.  This legislated the ‘apartness’ and differences between people groups, so that getting to know one another – in a real sense – was even more difficult.  Getting over it has not been easy either.  Having employees who may not understand your language, or who have vastly different cultural outlooks to your own, can be really problematic.  Actually, this is even more reason for Christian employers to really look at their employees.

Laurie Beth Jones goes on with: “people respond to how you behold them in your consciousness.  You don’t have to say anything; they can sense how you perceive them.  Too often we only view people in terms of our needs and hidden agendas.”  Sadly, both capitalism and socialism tend to equate people with what they do and not who they are.  As a result, we tend to value them in terms of what they are there to do for us and for our businesses, rather than who they are and how we can serve them.

In bigger businesses that employ lots of people, it may not be possible for you – the Christian employer – to really ‘behold’ every person who works there.  It will make a huge difference, however, if you try.  Train yourself to remember their names, where they live and what has been foremost on their minds of late.  A genuine interest in what’s going on in their lives will secure a loyalty that money cannot buy!

The important thing to remember is not to place each employee in a box, wrap them up and then forget them.  Don’t just look at them once and think you’ve got them soused. Presume too much and you could lose out on a lot of hidden potential.  So, look at them – behold them – fresh and new each and every day. Because that’s how God views us!  We’re not the same person today that we were yesterday.  Changing circumstances and events, the march of time and new relationships and challenges all help to create us anew – daily, if we let them.

  • He was open to people and their ideas.

This is one of the most interesting characteristics of our Lord. He was God incarnate – truly master of the universe.  Yet he didn’t go around telling people what to do.  When God created man, he created them in His image – to be creative and innovative; to have ideas, dreams and plans.  He gave Adam and Eve the right to name all the animals in the Garden of Eden.  “There seems to be a divine yearning for a cooperative creative venture between God and humankind.’(Laurie Beth Jones.)  

There a variety of different leadership styles in every form of organization.  Most of them have their pros and cons, and some clearly, are more effective than others.  Jim Collins, in his book “Beyond Entrepreneurship” has this to say about participative leadership, which is what I’m advocating here:

“The advantage of participative decision making is that it has the benefit of multiple points of view and vigorous discussion, yet allows an avenue for rapid decision.  After an intense thrashing of the issues, the leader can state quickly and resolutely, ‘this is what we’re going to do.’  In general, the most effective leaders tend to make extensive use of participative decision-making.  The best decisions are made with some degree of participation – no one is brilliant or experienced enough to have all the answers. No one.”

Jesus knew exactly what his objectives were – the cross on Calvary.   He didn’t allow anyone to deter him from this goal.  When Peter tried to dissuade him he was met with “Get behind me Satan!” Yet, – he was open to people and their ideas, compassionate and caring and genuinely interested in them.

Just over a year ago, I decided to change the logo of our firm and review our goals and objectives.  I contacted the team at Temple Creative, who designed my web site, and asked them to come up with a new logo, and which would be used on the new web site.  They came up with a number of options.  Before making a decision of my own, I circulated the alternatives among my own staff, asking them for their opinions and views.  All views were considered, and it just so happened that the majority view was the one I also liked (Phew!).  We went for it!  (And we’ve had a lot of compliments about it too!)  I believe it gave each one of my employees the feeling that they had contributed to the new look of the business – that they ‘owned’ the decision, as it were.  

In the next newsletter, we’ll have a look at a few more of these characteristics of a Christian employer…