Fourteen years ago, I made a decision that fundamentally changed my life. I chose to stop living for my own selfish ambitions and recommitted my life to Christ as a sophomore in college at Dakota State University. Through the work of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and West Center Baptist Church, I recognized that there was a lot more to life than having some friends, staying healthy and being successful in a career. Life is about being in relationship with God for his glorification, our betterment and the betterment of others. This decision changed who I spend my time with, what my priorities in life are, how I spend my money and what my long-term goals are. It’s also fundamentally changed who I am as a business owner and as a community leader today.
While there are many paths to becoming successful in business and the road to get there is winding and uncertain, what Christian business leaders are to do when they are successful is not in doubt. There is much guidance for leaders, business owners, and wealthy people in scripture. There are more than 2,350 verses on money and possessions in the bible, compared to about 500 on faith and prayer. From my reading of 1 Timothy 6 and other scriptures, there is a handful of easy-to-understand but difficult-to-follow instructions for business leaders. Here are a few of them.
- Do not put your hope in wealth. Put your hope in God.
Probably the biggest temptation among Christian leaders is to tie your identity to your career and to your success and not in your relationship with God. Do any of these statements ring true to you?
- I am successful and important because of the amazing business that I built from nothing.
- I am successful and important because of the strong professional network I have.
- I am successful and important because I am financially independent.
- I am successful and important because I am an expert in my field.
- I am successful and important because I have 10,000 followers on my email list, Instagram or Facebook page.
We need to look no further than the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) to understand what happens when your identity is fully caught up in your material wealth and personal success. In the story, a wealthy man had an abundant harvest. He planned to build large barns to store up his crops for many years so that he could eat, drink and be merry, while completely neglecting his spiritual life and the call to be generous toward others and towards God. In the parable, God told the man he would die that very night and that someone else would inherit his wealth the very next day.
If you are a Christian, your true identity is who you are as a child of God. You were created in God’s image and your relationship with Christ has given you freedom and forgiveness over any past wrongs you may have committed and any personal shortcomings you have in life (Romans 6:6-7). Your identity as a Christian is more important than any identity you may have as an expert in your field or as a business leader. If you put any of the other things that make you successful in life above your relationship with God, that is called idolatry. It’s unhealthy and will ultimately create separation from you and God. It’s okay to be successful, but always remember that your success should be in light of your relationship with God and that your work and your success will glorify God and point others to Him.
- Treat those that you interact in the community with as if they were Christ.
As a leader in business or in your community, you will interact with a lot of people on a day to day basis. You may have employees that report to you. You may serve on non-profit boards with other community members. You may have customers and vendors that you deal with on a regular basis. And, there are probably just a lot of people who see you out in the community as well. If you publicly identify yourself as a Christian (which you should if you are a Christian), your behavior and how you treat those you interact with will reflect both on Christ and on the church.
When people reject Christianity and the church, it is usually not because they object to the teachings of Jesus Christ. It’s usually because they had a bad experience with an individual Christian or a particular church body. Given the reality that people will form an opinion on Christ and the church based on your behavior as a professing Christian, it is important to treat everyone that you interact with in your career and your community with fairness, love, and respect. If you are a leader in your community, this is only magnified because more people are paying attention to your actions, deeds, and words.
The behavior of a Christian business leader must be in stark contrast to the “crush the competition,” “become a social media maven” and “build a business empire” mantras that are pervasive in the business world today. Rather, Christian leaders are to pay their employees fairly and on time (Deuteronomy 24:15) and treat them justly (Colossians 4:21). They must work with all of their hearts on whatever they do (Colossians 3:23-24). They must be generous and willing to share (1 Timothy 6:7-10) with others, especially those who are in need. They must also set aside any ambitions they have to make their own names great and instead point people to Christ, just as John the Baptist did (John 3:30). Finally, they must be kind and forgiving to one another (Ephesians 4:32), just as Christ forgave them. Every Christian must treat others with fairness, love, justice, kindness, and tenderness because how they treat others will impact how others see Christ.
- Be generous and willing to share.
There is some controversy in the Church today about when a Christian should give money, who and what they should give money to and how much one should give when they do give. While we can debate which organizations are most worthy of receiving charitable gifts and what percentage of one’s income they should give away, what is abundantly clear is that a wealthy and successful Christian leader (or any Christian for that matter) should be giving.
While God doesn’t need anyone’s money (Psalm 24:1), Christians should give for the benefit of others (Matthew 6:2-3), for our own spiritual benefit (2 Corinthians 9:6-7) and in obedience to Christ. The early churches in Antioch, Galatia and Macedonia raised money from their members to provide for the poor in Jerusalem, setting an example for Christians to give to the poor in the age to come. Furthermore, Paul writes in his letter to Timothy that believers should work “to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share” (1 Timothy 6:7-10) and Jesus himself tells us to store up treasures in heaven (6:19-21). The call to Christian generosity makes total sense in light of Christ’s sacrifice for the sins of humanity on the cross. Jesus gave up literally everything for those that follow him and they should be generous to others in light of his generosity to others.
How then shall a Christian business leader be generous toward others? Jesus tells us to give anonymously (Matthew 6:2-4) because those that “announce their giving with trumpets” are only giving to be honored by others. My wife and I use a donor-advised fund, which allow us to send checks to non-profits without our names or any indication of where the gift came from. We try to limit who knows we are donors to an organization to our primary contact in that organization. We also simply don’t talk about the organizations we give to and how much we give to others. While there’s no perfect way to give totally in secret, the fewer people that know about one’s giving, the better.
The Bible also sets out specific priorities for a Christian’s giving. Christians are to give to the needy. Solomon writes in Proverbs that “whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed.” Christians should also provide financial support to their local church (Acts 4:34-37; Malachi 3:10) and to missionaries (Philippians 4:16-18). There is nothing wrong about giving to other types of charitable organizations, but every Christian’s giving plan should include giving to the needy and to one’s local church.
My wife and I try to think strategically with our giving. At the beginning of each year, we set a target giving amount based on our last year’s income. We then determine how much of that total we want to provide to the organizations we support on a long-term basis. We then consider if there are any organizations that we want to add or remove from the list based on our perception of their stewardship and impact. We also leave 10-20% of our giving budget unspoken for, because we know that new giving opportunities will show up throughout the year.
- Work with all Diligence.
The Bible instructs Christians to work hard, to provide for themselves and warns against laziness. In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul wrote, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” and that those who “walk-in idleness” should “do their work quietly and to earn their own living.” Solomon writes in Proverbs that “The hand of the diligent will rule, while the slothful will be put to forced labor” (Proverbs 12:24). Finally, Paul exhorts the Colossian church in this way: “whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:22-24).
What does this mean for a Christian business leader today? I think it means that one should spend their time doing things that are productive to their work and on things that are helpful to others, not to take shortcuts, and not to spend too much time on activities that aren’t helpful to oneself or to others (e.g. spending too much time on social media or watching four hours of Netflix per day). Christianity does recognize the importance of rest with the concepts of Sunday worship and the sabbath, so there should be some balance between diligent work and rest.
I like to ask myself at the beginning of each day, “At the end of today, what would I be glad that I got done today?” This helps me think about my time a bit more objectively and focus on tasks that are better for me and for others over the long term. It also prevents me from subconsciously asking myself, “What’s the easiest and most comfortable thing I could do right now?” When you ask yourself questions like “Would I be thrilled that I spent three hours on Facebook and watching YouTube today?” and “Would I be glad that I sent an encouraging note to a friend and finished up my latest blog post?” you tend to use your time more wisely.
While you may or may not be a Christian, hopefully, these four principles will help become a better leader in your business and in your community. The principles of not putting one’s hope in money, treating others well, being generous and working with diligence are universal and useful to everyone (regardless of their faith or lack thereof). Consider how you may apply one of these four principles in your life today.