(This article was originally published in 2013 at The Insitute for Faith, Work & Economics. The references to current events may be several years old.)
Some of the largest companies in the United States have been identified as “Christian,” and this occasionally makes news headlines. Last summer, Chick-fil-A took a controversial stand against gay marriage because of the beliefs of its Christian ownership. This summer, Hobby Lobby went to court because of its Christian convictions. And now, Forever 21 is under attack for cutting employee benefits, a move that some say is inconsistent with its Christian principles.
Some companies have been identified as “Christian” by outside sources because of the convictions of their management. Others have openly branded themselves in this way by identifying with certain causes, printing Bible verses on its products, closing on Sundays, or playing Christian music in stores. This can be a great way to witness as long as the words of these businesses are consistent with their deeds.
Is there more to being a “Christian” company? Is there, as Mark Oppenheimer and Paul Prather suggested in August, something less visible to the outside world but which shapes the corporate culture of businesses owned and operated by Christians?
What we need to be focusing on is not whether we have Christian businesses, but whether we have Christian businessmen who integrate their convictions and principles with their work.
After all, how do we define “Christian” for businesses? Does it mean that the management or ownership is Christian? Does it mean that all the employees sign a statement of faith? Does it mean that you only sell Christian products? Does it mean that your company plays Christian music or puts Bible verses on its packaging?
Ultimately, it’s important for Christians to remember why they are in business to begin with. We should concentrate on the most important part of owning and operating a company: making our businesses into good businesses. And the best business is a profitable business. It is profitable because it is effectively serving the needs of others.
My friend Steve Garber, founder of the Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture, serves as a consultant for businessmen in several large corporations. He helps them to weave their Christian beliefs with the way they run their companies, asking,
Can we find our way to seeing the health of business as more complex than simply maximizing shareholder profit, to one that in fact addresses profit, people, and planet at the same time—and therefore a more sustainable profitability?
Steve understands that biblical principles can inform the way we do business, taking our focus away from self-centered, unethical, and short-term tactics for making a profit. If we apply our Christian beliefs to the way we do business, we will focus instead on sustainability, serving others, and, ultimately, long-term profitability.
Christians in business should strive to live their faith through work. This means:
- Providing high-quality customer service.
- Being honest and upstanding in every transaction.
- Stewarding one’s resources effectively.
- Producing high-quality goods and services.
- Treating every single employee with dignity.
- Seeking to serve others and create value.
Of course, these are things that every business owner should be doing. But since Christians live to serve God and uphold the principles set out by the Bible, we should be particularly intentional about running our businesses well.
Titus 3:8 emphasizes that Christ sacrificed himself for us so “that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.” Since Christ saved us and renewed us, he calls us to turn around and work toward the well-being and renewal of the rest of the world.
Business owners have a unique opportunity to impact society by serving their customers, creating jobs, and contributing to the overall well-being of their communities. They are furthering God’s kingdom here on earth.
Christians should seek primarily to create companies that cultivate an outstanding reputation, have a corporate culture that exemplifies biblical principles, and create genuine value for their customers. A Christian business owner could be doing this very well without running a specifically “Christian” business.
In his book, Redeeming Law, Michael P. Schutt speaks to this issue as he remembers his own experience as a young Christian lawyer trying to understand how to integrate his faith with his legal practice.
We wanted to be more than Christians muddling through the law. We wanted to be Christian lawyers, our faith integrated with our calling.
The same applies to the businessman. Rather than asking “Should my company be Christian?” it is more helpful to first ask, “How can I run my business in the most biblical manner? How can I make others ask, ‘What’s different about this business?’”
After all, anyone can label themselves. It’s the actions that demonstrate true courage, commitment, and conviction.
HUGH WHELCHEL is Executive Director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics and author of How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work. Hugh has a Master of Arts in Religion and brings over 30 years of diverse business experience to his leadership at IFWE.
This article is reprinted with permission from the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics (www.tifwe.org). The original article appears here. IFWE is a Christian research organization committed to advancing biblical and economic principles that help individuals find fulfillment in their work and contribute to a free and flourishing society. Visit https://tifwe.org/subscribe to subscribe to the free IFWE blog.