Virtual Voices

A Christian approach to business

Business

I am in the minority once again. This according to a recent Barna survey, which asked Americans whether they are more willing to patronize a business that "embraces and promotes the Christian faith." Thirty-seven percent of Americans said such a stance would make them more receptive to the business, 58 percent claimed indifference, and 3 percent-like me-said it would reduce their likelihood of buying from that business.

I've thrown in my lot with the agnostics and atheists (the group most averse to buying from overtly Christian companies) for two reasons. The first is that when I need a burst pipe mended, I need someone who plumbs because he believes doing it well is the best way to put food on his table-not someone who believes that having his own plumbing business is the best way to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In other words, I want a business that exists because the market has rewarded it for good performance.

The second reason I avoid these businesses is because Scripture tells me not to sue my brother in court. At least if I hire a heathen, I can rake him over the legal coals if he does a shoddy job.

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To be sure, I'd love to give my money, all other things equal, to a company that truly embraces and promotes Christianity. The problem is that a fish symbol or a profession of faith or any other public stance doesn't guarantee such an embrace. A truly Christian business would seek to create value in the world and to treat its customers well. But that's the definition of a good business, period.

Chick-fil-A is a great example of this. It's one of my favorite fast-food restaurants, and it's managed according to Christian principles-though tellingly, you won't find this trumpeted on its website. Most people boil that down to not being open on Sundays. They neglect the rest of it: the focus on friendly service, on diligent cleanliness, on delicious food, on an environment accommodating to families. Chick-fil-A is a thriving business because it does business well.

And doing business well and profitably is decidedly in keeping with Christian principles.

In this I may part ways with the thinking of the Barna folks, because the other question they asked in their recent survey was whether knowing a company manages its business according to Christian principles makes people more likely to patronize it. Forty-three percent of Americans said it would, 51 percent were indifferent, and 3 percent, again, said knowing this would make them less likely to become customers.

To me, that second survey question is really no different than the first. A company's embrace and promotion of the Christian faith is inseparable from managing itself according to Christian principles, one of the first and foremost of which should be an affirmation of Colossians 3:23 ("Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men").

In other words, whatever your standard is for service to your fellow man, ramp it up even higher, and make it your service to God. And I don't suspect the Almighty Creator of heaven and earth is willing to tolerate shoddy craftsmanship just so long as it's accompanied by proselytization. In fact, conscientious work, as Martin Luther would probably agree, can be its own best proselytization.

All of which leads me to believe that we may have things reversed here. People ought not embrace a business because it espouses Christianity. They ought to embrace it because it delivers substantial value for their hard-earned dollars. Because if a business really is managing itself according to Christian principles, it will create significant market value. Otherwise it's just wasting resources, which is, if you think about it, a sin.

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