The Christian Employer – # 1

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

 WHAT DOES THE BIBLE TELL US?

Well, the bible tells us very little – directly – about how to be a good employer of people.  There are very few clear specifics – how-to’s – anywhere in scripture.  There are exceptions of course, and I will highlight these further on in this Insight, but generally speaking, the bible is not that specific.

The Bible is, however, full of very clear directives about how we are to live in relationship to others, and clearly, as Christian employers, we are in relationship with those who work, and will be working, for us. 

And so we take these directives, and we allow them to percolate through our business lives – extrapolating the principles inherent in scripture into every business circumstance.

Jesus was once asked about the commandments by the teachers of the Law.  He replied that there were two:

“And He said to him,  ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ "This is the great and foremost commandment. "The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matt. 22:37-39 – emphasis – mine.)

In this series on the Christian in Business, we’ve already covered the work ethic and emphasised that all our work is actually ‘as unto the Lord’. (Col. 3:23).  This is one of the ways we show that we love God. 

We now extend this to the relationship we have with our employees.

 

WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THE RELATIONSHIP WITH OUR EMPLOYEES?

Well, as Christians we don’t simply ‘employ’ people to do work – we don’t just treat them as units of labour.  There are two main aspects to our relationship with those who work for us:

  • We are to regard them as ‘neighbours’ and to love them as we love ourselves.
  • We are called to be leaders to them. 

Let’s have a more detailed look at these aspects:

 

OUR EMPLOYEES AS ‘NEIGHBOURS’

If they are NOT Christians?

If they are not Christians we are to treat them as the bible calls us to treat all unbelievers, with love – even if they’re seen as enemies.   This can be extremely difficult for any employer who is confronted by workers who are actively disengaged, recalcitrant or just purely militant.

Our desire then, should be to see them become Christians and with that constantly in mind, our relationship takes on an evangelistic flavour.  This does not mean that we go out and issue a new company policy calling all staff to meet at 08h00 each day for prayer.  If you’re paying people, they’ll all pitch up for prayer rather than risk losing their jobs, but you could also encourage resentment to the cause of Christ. 

Your greatest evangelistic ‘tool’ is your own walk with God, and the way in which you model your Christianity to those you employ in your business.  Whether you like it or not, – and it seems to be a human character trait, – your employees will begin to model their lives on yours.  Some may even ‘ape’ your walk; use words and sayings that you do, and treat people like you do.  If you’re out to get everything for yourself, then they will be too.  If you start bleeding your business dry, they will do the same.  If you lie, cheat, and are unfair and inconsistent – well, guess what? They will be too!  You are the gospel of Christ!

If they ARE Christians?

If they are Christians we must realise that this relationship takes on an even more important aspect – they are actually regarded as ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ in the Lord. There is a tremendous tension in this and many Christians struggle to manage it. 

When Paul wrote to Philemon about Onesimus, he addressed this tension to a certain extent.  Onesimus had been one of Philemon’s slaves (employees), but after he had become a Christian, he had run away to Paul.  In those times, runaway slaves were either severely beaten or killed for this kind of offence.  Paul wrote to Philemon pointing out to him that although Onesimus was a slave, he was also a brother in the Lord, and therefore had to be treated differently.

“For perhaps he was for this reason separated from you for a while, that you would have him back forever, no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” (Phil. 1:15-16)

The whole letter is actually worth reading. Paul offers to make good any loss which Philemon might have suffered as a result of Onesimus’ disobedience, and there are a number of wonderful examples of Christian love and loyalty in this passage of scripture.

WE MUST LEAD OUR EMPLOYEES.

If you are an employer of people – an owner of a business; you are a leader.  You may not be a very good leader, but by virtue of the fact that you have set the pace with your business, as it were, you will find your employees looking to you for leadership.  This applies in just about every form of organisation, including the church. 

Christian employers, in other words, are also Christian leaders.  So, you don’t have to be a full-time pastor of a church to be a Christian leader – what you have to recognise is that you are as much a full-time pastor to your employees as your pastor is to his church.

People generally need leaders.  In many ways, people can be like sheep, and if if left to their own devices, end up running around aimlessly.  So, in your businesses, you will have created systems of internal control, and a list of policies and procedures (or rules) by which you manage processes and people.  If your systems are good, the people won’t need much managing.  No matter the system, though, they will always need leadership.

 Throughout the bible, the single most important aspect of Christian leadership is service.  Leaders are called, as Peter says, to be:

“..exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2-3)

This means, in effect, that we are to serve our employees – for that is the underlying principle to Christian leadership.  Peter Block, in his alternate (secular) book on Management entitled “Stewardship” refers to this service as:

“… the willingness to be accountable for the well-being of the larger organisation by operating in service, rather than in control, of those around us.  Stated simply, it is accountability without control or compliance.  The underlying value is about deepening our commitment to service.  We have the language of service……..what is missing is the experience of service.” (emphasis – mine)

Once you adopt the view that you are actually in your business to serve those who work for you, your relationship takes on a whole new meaning – and the response from your employees will surprise you.  In the same way they model your speech and mannerisms, they will also begin to model your servanthood.

 

CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CHRISTIAN LEADER

The bible, and in particular, the New Testament, pays a lot of attention to the word “honour”.  It is used quite often, and Paul says:

“Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; ……………..” (Romans 12:10 – emphasis – mine.)

‘Honour’ is an old-fashioned word today – it’s largely gone out of fashion.  Some cultures still practice the honouring of the elderly or those in authority; many today simply don’t care.  Perhaps a more modern way of referring to it today would be with the word – Respect!  This is one of the most important characteristics of Christian leadership today – especially in Christian-owned businesses.

Jim Collins in his book entitled “Beyond Entrepreneurship” links the success of great organisations to this key factor, and he says:

Great organisations are built on a foundation of respect.  They respect the people they serve, they respect themselves, they respect their relationships.  Most important, they respect their people – people at all levels, and from all backgrounds.

  • They respect their people, and therefore they trust them.
  • They respect their people, and therefore they’re open and honest with them.
  • They respect their people, and therefore they give them freedom to act and make decisions. 
  • They respect their people, and therefore believe in their inherent creativity, intelligence, and ability to solve problems.
  • They respect their people, and therefore expect high performance.  They set high standards and stiff challenges because they believe their people can meet the standard and arise to the challenge.  Ultimately, employees in outstanding organisations attain consistent tactical excellence because someone believes they can.

This is true Christian leadership of the highest order.

In the next newsletter on this subject, I will be addressing many of the frequently asked questions of many Christian employers of people; – questions like, "should I only employ Christians?" and "if I do, and especially if they’re in the same church as me, how do I treat them?"