Two Common Mistakes Christian Business Owners Make

Two Common Mistakes Christian Business Owners Make

Far too often we can let little things slide but recently I read an article titled “Never Walk by a Mistake.” It served as a good reminder of the importance of correcting even what seems like a small thing.

walk-byGeneral Ann Dunwoody was walking down the street when she saw a soldier in uniform walking with his hands in his pockets. Anyone who’s spent time in the military knows that this is a big no-no. Dunwoody could have literally walked by the mistake and not addressed it. It’s something small, it wasn’t impacting anyone at the time, and the kid probably just forgot. It wasn’t anything overtly heinous. As a general, though, she knew that if she didn’t correct the error, she would be, by the sin of omission, setting a new lower standard for that soldier. So rather than letting it slide, she approached him, kindly addressed the problem (rather than yelling at and demeaning the young guy), and reinforced the ideas of discipline and attention to detail.

Here is what intrigues me: by not correcting the error, we are actually setting a lower standard, which is obviously not acceptable.  After reading  an article by Jerry Bowyer entitled “Are Christians Allowed to Get Rich?” I saw that there is a standard set for Christian business owners and there are at least two mistakes that lower that standard:

  1. Not Understanding Your Purpose and Calling
  2. Not Understanding You are a Steward, not the Owner

1. Purpose & Calling

Typically, when we speak of  “calling,” business owners are not the first to come to our mind. We tend to immediately think of those with a more sacred calling, like pastors or missionaries.  David Green, the founder of Hobby Lobby is “the son of a pastor, and the brother of a large cohort of pastors, pastor’s wives and missionaries.”  Like many Christian business owners, “David felt that there was something not fully Christian about his passion for running a successful store.” When he would talk excitedly about his business, his saintly mother would ask him, “Yes, but what are you doing for the Lord?” Obviously his mother meant well, but had a limited understanding of God’s calling.

work-is-our-calling-400We usually make the same mistake when we categorize our work (or business) as secular, separating it from the sacred (calling). Rather than sensing the pleasure of God  through our work, we often consider our work less than God’s calling. It seems that David Green felt like a black sheep because the rest of his family were “ministers” while he was in business. However, when we serve others (in our work), we are actually serving the Lord, not just men (Eph. 6:7) and can fulfill the call God has placed on our lives. Here is a great piece of advice: Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord … (Col 3:23).

In time, David Green discovered that God can use a merchant just as well as He can a pastor. It seems that business was his purpose and calling after all and was a means of engaging in the great commission. I love what he said in the interview with Jerry Bowyer: So I believe I have a calling on my life; I think we all can, no matter where we are, be anointed. I sense God’s anointing on my life as a businessman.

2. A Steward, Not an Owner

It would certainly be valuable to listen to the audio interview with David Green as he provides insight on how Hobby Lobby endeavours to incorporate biblical principles into its business. He speaks about the importance of avoiding long term debt and he says, “We go into debt when we think God isn’t moving fast enough,” which identifies our lack of contentment.

DGreenThe part that I found most interesting is the corporate structure of Hobby Lobby, where the shares are owned by a trust rather than by family members. This speaks to the fact that the Green’s are stewards of the company and the corporation is actually held in trust. This means if the company was to be sold, 90% of the value would go to a foundation and subsequently distributed to the Lord’s work. Typically, a business is passed down to the next generation, then the next, but in the case of Hobby Lobby, the family cannot actually touch the assets. Since these assets are seen as under God’s ownership, the corporate structure reflects that and is actually referred to as a “stewardship trust.” 

God owns it all, like Psalm 24:1 clearly states, is a statement Christians agree with in principle but despite this knowledge, we often live like we are the owners.

If you are a Christian business owner or a Christian financial advisor, accountant or lawyer directing business owners, please listen to the audio recording for just 10 minutes (start from 14 minutes to 24 minutes).  It is easy for Christian business owners and Christian financial professionals to be “conformed to the world” when it comes to business structure and advice. What I heard is transformational because it is based on biblical principles.  If we choose to ignore these principles, we are setting a lower standard than has been laid out for us.  Does the legal structure of your business align with your theological structure? Does the corporate structure represent the interest of the steward or the interest of the owner?

 

 

Are You Hearing But Not Understanding?

Are You Hearing But Not Understanding?

Just over two years ago, I had surgery on my shoulder and I now visit a specialist every six months. Recently, I had another visit and I usually take my wife with me to help me understand since the doctor has a very strong French accent. Even though he speaks English, it can be very difficult to grasp the meaning of his words. During the appointment, he asked a question, but we just looked at each other bewildered because neither of us understood a word. He repeated it with the same result. He was saying “Ohh-ta-wah” in such a way that when it was placed in a sentence, we just couldn’t understand. After stating it the third time, we both realized he was asking if my surgery had been done here in Ottawa.

Have you ever heard someone but not understood what they said?

yesbymagnet_1Sometimes, language or dialect can be a barrier to understanding. I recall when we had friends from Ontario visit us in Newfoundland and we had a conversation with some locals. Our friends heard us speaking, but did not understand. Maybe I shouldn’t be shocked because the very tone of the common phrase, “Yes b’y,” actually changes its meaning.

The effort required to hear a sound compared to the effort required to process it, is exponential. Understanding is logically the step that follows hearing, unless, of course, it involves a politician.

prime-minister-trudeauPoliticians typically only say what they want us to hear and we have to dig deeper if we desire to get the entire meaning; otherwise our perspective remains limited. For example, the Trudeau government often claims it has cut taxes for middle-class Canadian families. A recent article helped me understand that while it did reduce the second lowest federal income tax rate (from 22 to 20.5 per cent), it also eliminated a number of tax credits, thereby increasing income taxes for Canadians who previously claimed such credits. Result: 81% of middle-class Canadian families with children are paying more in personal income taxes.

The Liberals quickly speak of reduced tax rates, but the elimination of tax credits enlightens our understanding of the issue. What we comprehend about any issue or even a person, depends on what we hear (and read).

perspectiveIf you think about it, the perspective from which you see things can be the very obstacle that prevents you from seeing another point of view.  (Doesn’t this graphic resemble a political debate? It totally depends on which side you are on).

The Bible has some interesting things to say regarding understanding:

  1. One instruction is to not depend on your own understanding. Maybe one of the reasons is that our own understanding limits our ability to understand others.
  2. Also, “By understanding He (The LORD) established the heavens.” What did God understand?  Was it an understanding of the power of sound and what is formed from vibrations? Maybe the reason God spoke was to cause vibrations to form the earth. What did He establish? Heaven represents an eternal dwelling place for believers. If God is an example for us then, the purpose of understanding is to establish something that is eternal and meaningful to others.
  3. Mankind has the capacity to understand the deeper things that are buried within a person. The purpose in a man’s mind is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.  If you think about your work, it may be important to understand others to bring clarity to them. Financial professionals can actually be a key to help clients see their inner purpose, why they have so much, or even why they have faced some troubles in life.
  4. By faith we understand that the entire universe was formed at God’s command, so that what we now see did not come from anything that can be seen. Faith is not the opposite of reason, but actually a higher dimension of understanding. Think about the dreams within a person; they are actually unseen until exposed. If it is a dream of writing a book, it exists only in the mind of the author and only becomes visible when written.

In our work we should:

  1. realize “our own understanding” can be limited and should not always be relied on
  2. know we are called to establish something eternally significant through our lives
  3. understand others to expose the purpose that is often hidden deep within a person
  4. identify that faith can add a higher (or deeper) level of understanding

UnderstandingIn a conversation, an accountant told me he keeps his antennas raised when in discussion with clients. Since mankind is spiritual, our spirits are meant to be active and sensitive, which leads to an understanding of others. It is the spirit in man … that makes him understand. This depth of understanding is the requirement to draw out purpose.

In our efforts to understand others, how often do we simply rely on our own thoughts?  By ignoring our inner person (not having our antennas up), are we missing the greatest opportunities to explore the deep waters (purpose) hidden within others?

 

 

 

What’s The Purpose of Money?

Here is a question I recently googled: “What is money?”  I found a one-sentence answer on Investopedia that intrigued me: “Everyone uses money. We all want it, work for it and think about it. While the creation and growth of money seems somewhat intangible, money is the way we get the things we need and desire.”

We all want it. What is our motivation and drive for money?  Why do we always seem to desire more? I have learned that there are only 5 major uses for money. We can:

  1. Spend it (lifestyle determines our spending decisions)
  2. Pay debt (often an extension of lifestyle)
  3. Pay taxes (normally deducted from our pay and also added to items purchased)
  4. Save it (for short and long term goals)
  5. Give it (often not our top priority)

The reasons we want money then, can be summed up in these five uses alone.

We work for it. These reasons become our motivation to work for it. Think about the five uses and you will notice that the majority is about you or those you love. Your spending, debt and saving are typically focused on self. Even if you think about the different types of tax we pay, much of it is also focused on ourselves. Consider the property tax on our homes, tax on the cars we purchase, or the tax on clothing and food. The more we spend (usually on ourselves), the more we pay in tax. Income tax does form part of our social capital (not so much about us, but others), provided to people through government programs. Have you ever complained about paying so much in tax? We may grumble, but in fact, we should be thankful about paying tax since it means we have had a good income. Sadly, the only use of money geared toward others (giving), is oftentimes, least on our priority list .

We all think about it. Pause for a minute and consider WHY you want money. The reasons may be different in your 20’s, than in your 40’s and may change again in your 60’s. We all have to set our priorities regardless of age, and determine how we will use money.

Setting the boundaries around your financial decisions in each of these areas impacts the other areas. When you consider the amounts you save and even where you save them (like in an RRSP), can reduce the amount of tax owing annually. Think about the giving to registered charities; the amount given reduces the amount of your annual tax bill. Determining to spend less will also reduce the amount going to tax freeing up funds that can go elsewhere. Discipline in saving, spending and giving then will reduce the amount required to go to tax.

What is the purpose of money? Consider this: Money is a tool to help you walk out your calling. This may help to explain why some people who could retire from their job or business, actually choose to continue their work.  In many cases, it is not to save more, because they already have accumulated enough. It is not a desire to spend more because they are happy with their lifestyle and have eliminated debt. Surely no one is working because they enjoy paying more taxes. Can the motivation to continue work simply be to give more?

119293-Warren-Buffett-Quote-Making-money-isn-t-the-backbone-of-ourWarren Buffett brings clarity to the purpose of  money by stating, “making money is a by-product of our guiding purpose.” When you think about your calling and purpose and see money as a tool to complete it, maybe “the making of money” takes on a whole new meaning.

Sacred Call to a Secular Work

There are so many choices and opportunities when it comes to a career. It seems that “calling” is required to be a pastor or missionary, but not necessarily for a businessman,  fireman, teacher, lawyer, doctor, etc.

Let my experience provide some deeper insight: As a teenager, I felt a “call” on my life and the best way I could interpret it at the time was to become a pastor. My response was to attend Bible College and I recall during my first year having my Bible open to 2 Timothy 4 and I read daily, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season … endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”  I entered full time ministry in 1986 and felt like I was living out the sacred call on my life. Just 3 years later, I was invited to be youth pastor in a church, but never had the opportunity to do so since that church split! This was a major crisis for me (maybe the part of my call to endure hardship), which eventually led to my accepting a job selling life insurance (a secular work). My passion was to continue serving in church ministry but I needed an income, so the job provided financially.  I continued volunteering in church ministry which led people to draw a comparison to Paul making tents while his “calling” was to declare the gospel.

In my last blog I stated, “The mistake we often make is in categorizing our work as secular, separating it from the sacred, rather than sensing the pleasure of God in our work.”

missed callMy perspective was that my work as a financial advisor was not necessarily a “calling” but just a job (secular), while my “calling” as pastor was my true work (sacred). Can you sense the inner turmoil I was feeling? Had I missed my “calling” or was it possible that I could actually live it out by being a financial advisor? Did I have the wrong perspective to start with? Should I have even separated the two – the sacred and the secular?

Reflecting back on the 2 Timothy 4 reference, as a financial advisor, I certainly felt “out of season” when it came to being able to “preach the word.” However, another translation (HCSB) instructs “proclaim the message” which sheds a different light on that phrase.  The reality is I had many opportunities in my secular work to fulfill the sacred call. The “proclaiming” was different than I ever thought it would be because life was not the way I had planned it.

One client later confirmed, “You have more of a ministry here in this office (as a financial advisor) than you could ever have in a pulpit (as a pastor).” This helped me realize that the calling I felt was not limited to a particular role that I would have in life.

Calling QuoteSo whether I do the work of a pastor, financial advisor, director, bus driver, or teacher, you get the picture, the important thing is to be a good steward and be true to that call.

The right perspective: Your secular work is definitely connected to your calling and becomes the perfect opportunity to “fulfill your ministry!”

Have you made the mistake of separating the secular from the sacred? Are you fulfilling the uniqueness of your calling?

 

Why Do You Work? Why Retire?

My last post created a great deal of interest because it dealt with the question: “Do you go to work or to a job?” One response received was, “In two weeks I will go to neither,” meaning the reader would be retiring.

This set me to thinking further about what I stated: “It is only when you do what you were born to do will you really find fulfillment.” In reality, you can be paid to do a job and once you complete it, then you either move on to something else and/or you retire. This is where I believe your work (what you were born to do) is different than your job (what you are paid to do). Why would you ever want to stop doing what brings you fulfillment? If you were born to do something, when should you cease doing it? In other words, why retire?

In some cases, it may make sense financially to retire. Maybe you qualify for a full pension and working longer is not necessarily increasing your retirement benefits anyway. So why continue working? When I started working, it was partially out of necessity. The need for income and supporting family is a valid reason. With my children raised, my reason for working has shifted; now work is more about purpose.  I know several people who can easily retire from their work, yet they choose to continue.

eric liddell

Consider the life of Eric Liddell, a devout Christian and missionary to China, who felt it a priority to run in the Olympic games. His sister felt that his training for the 1924 Olympics deterred him from returning to China. He said, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel His pleasure.” We usually would not class running or involvement in a sporting activity as spiritual, or God honouring, but more a physical activity. For Liddell, running wasn’t just a fun activity but a God honouring one.

You cannot argue with a person’s experience; Liddell was passionate about fulfilling God’s purpose for him (missionary to China) yet he ran to honour God and feel His pleasure. For Liddell, the line between secular and sacred was erased.

eric olympic gold

The mistake we often make is in categorizing our work as secular, separating it from the sacred, rather than sensing the pleasure of God in our work. Here is a great piece of advice: Whatever you do, do it enthusiastically, as something done for the Lord … (Col 3:23). The reality is that when we serve others (in our work), we are actually serving the Lord, not just men (Eph. 6:7). If we can say when we work we feel His pleasure, it will be most difficult to retire from that work.

Speaker and author of “The New Retire-mentality,” Mitch Anthony says, “Don’t retire from something but retire to something.” We are all born with purpose and if you are at the retirement stage, remember it can be a great opportunity to feel His pleasure!

 

 

Do You Go to Work, or to a Job?

This question is worth thinking about more than you may realize. Your job is what an employer pays you to do, your work is what you were born to do. There were times that I simply did not enjoy my job and I sought after another that would bring more fulfillment.

“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” — Mark Twain

You may argue that a job and work are much the same because they can both provide a source of income, but I believe it is only when you do what you were born to do will you really find fulfillment.  Chuck Colson was once asked, “If there is one piece of advice you could share, what would it be?” His answer was: “Do only what YOU can do.”  That statement is worth some deeper thought and can make you realize that there is a creativity within all of us to do something unique.

Never work another day

Never working another day in your life is not just a dream then, but maybe it is discovering what only you can do. Your work is more than a job; it is actually more about purpose and utilizing your gifts.

Dallas Willard suggests some distinctions:

  1. Job: What I am paid to do, how I earn my living
  2. Work: The total amount of lasting goods that I will produce in my lifetime

“Lasting goods” is our impact on others, what we leave whether financial, spiritual, moral, emotional etc. What “lasting goods” is my life producing? This is the question that should help us in decisions regarding our work.  Interesting that Jesus acknowledged to the Father, “I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do” (Jn 17:4).  If you consider his time on earth, Jesus had a job as carpenter, but he recognized even as a child, that his work was to be about his father’s business (Lk 2:49).

It is easy to conclude then that his job was just how Jesus earned his living (likely from age 12-30), while his true work was his years of public ministry (just 3 years). My immediate thought from this verse is that Jesus glorified God in his ministry years, for the most part, especially by his sacrifice on the cross. However, do we make a mistake when we separate the years of his life like this? The fact is that Jesus glorified God on the earth, period. Dr. Klaus Issler concludes,”I think we can infer from his messianic work, that Jesus also gave this same kind of excellence to his job as a builder.”

My conclusion: you need to fulfill your work, and your job may help you do that.

Here is what Steve Jobs said: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking.”