Read an Excerpt
Business is there a Christian Perspective?
Point for Discussion
Computer Management and Development Services (CMDS), in Harrisonburg, Virginia, develops, markets, and supports administrative management computer software for colleges, universities, and health care organizations. In 1987 it was listed by Inc. magazine as one of the fastest-growing privately held companies in North America. Its top management and many of its more than fifty employees are committed Christians. CMDS has adopted the following corporate goals.1
To Honor God
We believe that our Christianity is something that is a part of all we do. Therefore, we commit ourselves to operate CMDS within our understanding of Christian ethical and moral beliefs. We believe Christ should be honored by all that we do and say.
To Develop People
We believe that people employed by CMDS are our most important asset. We commit ourselves to pay fairly, treat one another honestly, and promote development of the individual. We believe that people we work for are also important and commit ourselves to training them in the operation of the system, treating them honestly, and assisting in the development of the individual in any way we can.
To Pursue Excellence in Service
Service is our most important product. We recognize the importance of service to our customers and commit ourselves to responding promptly to requests and/or problems. We will continue to refine and improve our products. Only by providing an important service to our customers will we continue to exist as a company. We commit ourselves to excellence.
To Makea Profit
We recognize the need to make a profit in order to operate a viable business. We are nonetheless committed to meet goals one, two, and three and will sacrifice a larger profit in order to meet these goals.
Business from a Biblical Perspective
A certain amount of tension between business and Christianity seems always to have existed. St. Jerome said, "A merchant can seldom if ever please God." St. Augustine, a fifth-century Christian bishop, wrote, "Business is in itself evil."
Most Christians today, however, would disagree. All around the world, in a wide variety of political and economic systems, Christians are involved in business. Some see business merely as a way to make a living. Others, like those at CMDS, see it as an integral part of God's plan for meeting the needs of people. If you agree with Augustine, you can stop reading now. If, instead, you think that business is one setting in which Christians can live out God's call, keep going. The statements by St. Augustine and St. Jerome are provocative, and they are quoted here to catch your attention. Many people think it is easy to be a Christian in business. It is not easy, but it is possible.
This book tackles some of the really important issues Christians face in business. It suggests that Christians approach business as part of God's work in the world. It argues that it is possible to be both ethical and successful, but that being ethical and Christian will not necessarily guarantee success.
A Christian approach to business is not a cookbook of simplistic recipes for resolving complex business problems. Certainly CMDS cannot expect the Bible to explicitly answer its questions about which new computer software products to develop, or which of several qualified employees to hire. The president of CMDS does not look to the Bible to find his business plan. Yet CMDS can employ a number of biblical principles, recurring scriptural themes, that provide sound and helpful guidelines for facing real business issues in the real world.
This in no way implies that biblical principles, such as "We are stewards and God is the ultimate titleholder," are easy to apply. Nor does it imply that every Christian will apply the principles the same way. For example, some Christians might use an unusually large profit from a successful year's operations to modernize capital equipment. Others might pay out an extra dividend to investors or share the profit with employees. God is concerned about workers, customers, and other stakeholders; but the responsibility for determining what is fair and what achieves business objectives in the light of biblical principles requires hard thinking, creative problem solving, and careful implementation.
The business environment is filled with uncertainty. Even though decision makers have the best intentions, the results are not always what they would want. This happened recently in a small community in eastern Pennsylvania. A firm there had been operated as a closely held corporation for two generations by committed Christians. They took very seriously their responsibility to run their business in a way that served the community, the employees, and customers who related to it. It had grown rapidly and had developed a good reputation among its employees and customers. The local newspaper did an article praising the founder for his humble Christian spirit. During the last several years the business faced economic difficulty that required it to seek a friendly merger with a larger firm with needed capital. This firm shared the values of the owners of the smaller firm, so the merger seemed like a good idea.
The larger firm, however, was traded on the open market. Soon after the merger, it was the target of a successful unfriendly takeover by a firm with very different values. The company changed dramatically. Many employees lost their jobs. Profit, not service, became the highest objective. The original owners were sadly disappointed. They had made the best decisions they knew how to make, but the results were not at all what they wanted. Uncertainties can sometimes alter the outcome of decisions so that there is little resemblance between the original intention and the actual result.
Making decisions in business is not a simple function of running anticipated actions through a formula or process. Decisions rest upon a vast array of judgments that require the integration of perceived facts and beliefs concerning technology, resources, markets, individuals, society, moral perceptions, and a host of other components. To function in a godly manner in the marketplace, we need all the wisdom that is available.