April 1, 2011 Volume 25, Number 01
The challenges of being a Christian in business
By Keith Knight | Special to ChristianWeek
“I never swear on the job site."
That was the response from a friend who just heard about the Canadian Christian Business Federation, a national association of ordinary Christian men and women who work in business or are professionals.
His initial reaction to the idea of being a Christian in business is all too common. We tend to think almost immediately of the Ten Commandments when we muse about how we should act: don't swear, don't steal, don't covet someone else's business or company car, don't work on Sundays. But surely there is more to it than that.
My friend told me that, decades ago, when competition was pretty stiff to land a construction contract, he would have to bend the rules a little. He'd cut corners just so that he could eke out a small profit. He cringed a bit when he said that; he felt ashamed. “But everybody was doing it," he said.
How should a Christian act in business? It was that question, asked back in the mid-1980s, that brought together a few Christian business leaders to look at creating an organization where they could come together regularly to search the Scriptures to discern how they should carry out their business. The Canadian Christian Business Federation was born.
The organization finds its basis “in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the inspired, infallible, authoritative Word of God, as interpreted in Reformed creedal standards." Its mission statement is as valid today as it was back in 1987: “As stewards of God's creation and totally dependent on God's grace, members of the Canadian Christian Business Federation seek to promote their Christian business and professional tasks in service to their Master, Jesus Christ, by the study of Scriptures and prayer, by fostering understanding of ethical business activities, and by working to promote a God-pleasing business climate in society."
In short, God rules all aspects of our lives, and we must carry out our business activities in a God-pleasing climate.
1. We must ensure the stewardly use of resources and we must produce goods and services with respect and care for creation.
2. We must encourage a business structure that allows for responsible Christian activities.
3. We must manage our businesses Christianly. This is achieved by counseling, sharing, advising members and promoting relevant literature.
4. We must promote harmonious labour relations and meaningful work experiences through appropriate management practices. That means treating employees fairly, providing a fair wage, being sensitive to one's personal and family needs.
5. We must encourage apprenticeships or internships for young people. That is why the CCBF is developing partnerships with Christian colleges and universities so that their students have an opportunity to work within a Christian business setting as part of a mentoring program.
6. We must practice Christian business ethics and standards within and outside of business.
Since God rules all aspects of our lives, we aren't merely Sunday Christians. We take what we learn on Sundays and apply it to our lives throughout the week. If all of life is religion, then a Christian business leader is engaged in ministry. He or she reflects Christ when dealing with customers, with employees, with suppliers, with the bank, with Revenue Canada.
It's tough being a Christian in business these days. There is a wide range of economic pressures to make ends meet and, better yet, to make a profit. That is why the role that the Canadian Christian Business Federation plays today is as relevant as it was a generation ago; perhaps even more so.
Our members come from every conceivable sector - agriculture, the environment, construction, real estate, insurance, engineering, manufacturing, chiropractic, veterinary services, automotive, retail, financial institutions, trucking, the legal profession, technology, landscaping, travel and religious organizations. They share one strong bond: they need each other.
CCBF members meet in chapters. They gather over monthly breakfast meetings to talk about their personal and business lives and to engage in a Bible study around various leadership themes. Over those breakfasts they talk about integrity, risk-taking, stress management, accountability, team building, decision-making, power and influence, communication skills, time management, justice, dependence upon God, conflict management, servant leadership, self-discipline, empowerment and vision. In fact, if one was to attend every monthly breakfast meeting for five years, they would deal with a different topic with different biblical references every month.
Since the CCBF is a generation old, several initial members have since passed on their businesses to a new generation. This presents an entirely new set of challenges. In some cases, the passion and vision that led Dad to start a business in the 1960s or 1970s has not been passed on to Son in 2011. What's more, technology has changed and so has the marketplace. The business world today isn't the same as the business world in 1970.
CCBF continues to expand its mentorship program. A new, young member recently launched an import/export business but felt ill equipped to meet these challenges so he asked for a mentor. CCBF hooked him up with an older member who has been involved in import/export for 30 years. They meet together to discuss business practices and strategies. They also undoubtedly do that with the Bible in their hands. CCBF will continue to develop a network of mentors; those men and women who have a wealth of experience and who are now eager to share that experience with others.
What are some of the struggles of a Christian in business today? The questions come quickly but the answers are more difficult to discern:
How much profit should I make on the goods I produce or sell?
How do I balance long-range planning with “waiting upon God to lead and direct me'"
How much should I pay my employees? What is a fair wage? What are reasonable benefits?
How do I treat my employer? How hard should I work? Should I really call in sick when I'm not?
How do I define customer service? What can a customer rightly expect from me?
What do I do with employees who steal, or who consistently come in late to work?
The Canadian Christian Business Federation is a membership-based organization; in fact, it is the only membership-based organization for Christian business leaders in Canada. People have a strong desire to belong; whether that is a church community or a business community.
Many CCBF members want to hire Christian employees. They can place their ad for free on the website, (www.ccbf.org), to attract new employees. Similarly, there are employees who long to work within a Christian environment and they can also have their resume on file with the CCBF office.
While Christian business owners and leaders are engaged in ministry every day as they carry out their business, that is also the case for CCBF. This work is ministry. It builds relationships and connections.
Being a Christian in business means more than simply not swearing, or being closed on Sundays. It is a lifestyle where Christ is reflected in all that one does and says.
Keith Knight is the executive director of the Canadian Christian Business Federation, based in Guelph, Ontario. He has been involved in communication for 40 years, including nine years as communication director of The Presbyterian Church in Canada.