I have been a follower of Christ for forty-two years. For thirty-four of those years I have been self-employed. Fewer things are more offensive to unbelievers, and more undermining to the Lord’s testimony in the earth, than vocally “Christian” business people whose true God is the love of money and whose business ethics resemble more of Bernie Madoff and Martin Shkreli than Jesus Christ. Being a Christian in business is more than having a fish sticker on the bumper of your business vehicle. It is having a Jesus stamp on your heart.
Here are just a few examples of what I am talking about. These are all true stories with which I was personally involved:
- A deacon pays his employees under the table. When confronted he responds to me with: “How else do you expect me to make money?
- An elder embezzles funds from his employer and goes to jail—what are we told, “Now, now, let’s not judge.”
- The pastor’s brother (also an elder) runs a business and just doesn’t pay his people . . . doesn’t pay them! When the employees confront him, and appeal to the “board of elders,” they are told: “You should quit complaining and just be thankful you are working for a Christian brother.” They are eventually and reluctantly paid, under the table of course. This particular church was an extreme “holiness” church. They were very selective in where they wanted to be holy.
- A so-called “Christian” company pays it’s employees under the table. When confronted, the response is: “If I save on taxes I will be able to tithe more to the church.”
- A “Christian” contractor asks me personally for a kickback on an insurance settlement claim.
- “Christian brothers” operate a leadership sanctioned multi-level marketing program that is really an illegal pyramid scheme. Everyone loses their money and the leadership is silent. When it all gets exposed, the perpetrators vanish with the cash.
- A “Christian brother” (a self-proclaimed apostle) starts promoting “Christian Viagra” – a supposedly secret formulation and tries to start getting investors. It all collapses—no repentance from the “apostle.”
- “Christian Leadership” promotes investing in a bicycle factory in China. The congregation is pressured as it is “God’s plan for the fellowship.” It is all a scam.
- “Local Church Leadership”milk wealthy congregation members for their money to fund ambitious building plans. The wealthy individuals are ignored as “unspiritual” by leadership until they are expected to open their wallets. The wealthy individuals feel demeaned and abused. When confronted the leadership says: “You should just be thankful you have an opportunity to give to the Lord and you just need to trust us.”
I could go on and on and on. I am sure some of you reading this could add your horror stories. These things are common and scandalous. That so-called “leadership” was involved in, or supportive of, some of these situations is also scandalous and testimony to the fact of how corrupt “Christian leadership” can be.
One of the kindest compliments I have ever received from unbelievers in my business interactions with them is this:
“Wow, you are not like the last “Christian” I did business with.”
Is this a boast on my part? Of course not. The Risen Lord made me a new creation in 1975. Nothing for me to boast in there. However, a bona fide new creation begins operating in new ethics from day one of the new birth, and is convicted/repents when he or she operates out of the old creation. Old creation behavior, in new creation beings, without a shred of conviction, is proof that there is no new creation.
It’s a shame that a testimony like that on the lips of unbelievers, as complementary as it is, is necessary at all. Why wouldn’t all of the family of God resemble their Father and repent when they fail, even in business interactions? My biggest interpersonal successes with unbelievers in the business world occurred when I took responsibility for my failures, confessed them to my non-Christian co-workers and business partners, and asked their forgiveness for failing them and for slandering my Lord before them. We are without excuse. Even in our failures there is victory for the name of Jesus if we handle them correctly before unbelievers. We just want to run our little con game of life and have a little Jesus on the side too. Then we wonder why the whole thing crumbles sooner or later, or we act surprised when we are exposed for the frauds that we are.
Well guess what happened? The Lord’s testimony was maintained, I found credibility among unbelievers for being an authentic human being, and found great favor in business, and freedom to share about Jesus with non-Christians. People want to see authentic life in us before they want to hear about Jesus from us. This is only reasonable. Why would you want to by an apple from a farmer if every time you bit into one of his apples it was rotten? You wouldn’t. The farmer would first have to prove his product is credible. So it is in our “evangelistic testimony” to the world of business.
It is easy to speak rhetorically about virtues. Living them is a different story. Anyone can talk about “kingdom this” and “kingdom that.” Very few know what the kingdom actually looks like at ground level reality. Well, I am going to tell you what it looks like.
I am going to share here just a few things that I did practically in business to avoid the snares of the love of money and to do my very best to represent the ethics of the Lord Jesus Christ to people with whom I did business. If you want to talk about the “kingdom” and want to know what the kingdom looks like practically, here are some attributes.
- When I was 21 years old, I told the Lord that by his grace, I would never make a major life decision based on money. I was radically “saved” by the risen Lord. I determined from the beginning that money and pursuing more money would never be the primary motivator of my life. By his grace, I have been faithful. Has it been easy? No. But I am free. Are you? You cannot serve money and God. One or the other will be your master. They are mutually exclusive.
- I tried to pay my employees better than the going rate in the area, even if it meant I personally got less.
- I practiced consistent charitable giving, even out of my lack, even to my hurt.
- I kept my word, even if doing so was going to cost me more money, time, or inconvenience.
- The Lord’s testimony in me to others was more important than my personal bottom line.
- I provided services above and beyond the “technical” terms of an agreement. I went the extra mile for clients as often as I could.
- I paid my bills on time . . . always . . . never late, never, not once in 34 years.
- I didn’t buy the cheapest products that I could find, and then charge my customers a premium price.
- I didn’t mark up my products 100, 200, 300 percent.
- I didn’t lie to, or steal from, my clients.
- I didn’t cheat on my taxes. I paid them on time.
If you are a Christian business person, you have a rich opportunity to represent the Lord you claim to an unbelieving world. Keep the “Jesus talk” to a minimum until you have walked the Jesus walk before people. You will be surprised how little resistance there is to tell people about Jesus once you have earned the right to be listened to through an authentic expression of His life. In our culture today, many people don’t want to hear about “Christianity” or “church” or “the Bible,” and that is all fine with me. But they are open to hear about Jesus from someone who resembles Him, even if just a little. Be sure that your business ethics are Jesus ethics, not American materialistic, consumerist ethics. Stand out from the crowd. Show the world what Jesus ethics look like in the world of business, commerce, and finance.
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Stephen, this is a good message. I trust that those that are in business for themselves read this. I’ll forward this to a few that have their own business.
Sometimes I wish the examples I saw were so blatant… often my experience has been people unwilling to give anything that isnt “extra” or people flocking to read christan economics books when they wont even read their bible… Have two shirts give one? etc…no doubt many people have been burned by poor shepherds- but then we sheeple swing the pendulum all the way to the other side and profess conservation and stewardship as a means to be tight fisted. What if the next time a religious figure asked for our money we could smile and say “too late. ive already given what i have to the widow next door.”
For your purposes here, what is “charitable giving?” I do know a few Christian business owners, but many charities I have heard of can be scams as well.
“Charitable” in the most generic sense – – others aware giving. Not necessarily to a “charitable entity.”
Hey Steve, as usual, you’re spot on. From what I’ve seen is money and getting more of it can be a big stumbling block among Christian business owners. I haven’t known any like the ones you mentioned but have heard from them. I”ve known good guys, just the fear of losing or thinking they don’t have to pay people more than they do can get them. I know can get into that trap as well. I make sure I pay well and like to bonus people.
Like to ask a question of you or any owner, what do you do with an employee who isn’t performing the way they should but you also know they are going through a tough time, as well. I have one employee that I told would have been fired if not for her situation and going through a difficult time so I’ve given her several chances but at my end. Now I’ll say she isn’t hurting me financially but I know some others who would jump at the hours.
Next, you should write on christians as employees 🙂
Hi John, you are right. This is a matter that goes both ways. I ran my own businesses for almost 20 years. I am embarrassed to comment on the work ethic of many Christians I had to deal with, including some relatives. In terms of your specific situation, if it were me, I would fire her unless being strongly impressed by the Spirit to do otherwise. My only practical caveat is that performance metrics are defined, expressed, and agreed to prior to anyone being hired. That is, thoroughly communicate performance expectations on the front end of a job and schedule 30–60-90 day reviews to give someone a chance to remediate deficiencies before having to terminate them. IF expectations are not clearly defined, it is unreasonable to expect others to meet what they do not know or understand, assuming shared subjectivity about work ethic. That latter is a mistake.