Monday, November 9, 2015

‘Christian’ and Businessman: An Oxymoron?

Seems hard to believe, but more than 34 years ago I moved to Chattanooga to join the staff of an organization then known as Christian Business Men’s Committee (CBMC). I’d been in the newspaper business as an editor and publisher for about 10 years, but the next decades taught me more about the business and professional world than if I’d earned three MBAs.

An expanded edition of Business
At Its Best
 has been released.
The curious thing was that for many people, faith and work seemed diametrically opposed – oxymorons, like “jumbo shrimp,” “seriously funny” or “hurry slowly.” I even heard someone say, “Christian businessman? Make up your mind – which one? You can’t be both.” And yet, my encounters with thousands of people having strong faith who also were very successful in the marketplace proved to me that matters of faith could – and should – intersect with everyday workplace issues and practices.

Through the years I realized some basic truths. Such as, from God’s perspective, there’s no distinction between “sacred” and “secular.” Everything matters to Him. And there aren’t multiple tiers, first and second classes of people when it comes to following Jesus Christ. In fact, Colossians 3:23-24 tells us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive the reward of the inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

One day I was having lunch with a financial planner, a friend from church, and he blurted out, “I’d give anything to work full-time for God.” Without hesitating, I replied, “What makes you think you haven’t already done that?” He’d been seduced by the clergy/missionary vs. “layman” misconception, that to be in “Christian service” for God you must have some kind of formal religious affiliation. Again, the Bible doesn’t make such a distinction. If we’re followers of Christ, we’re all called to serve Him and others in His name, and true faith isn’t a part-time pursuit.

When the apostle Paul wrote, “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ…. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord…” (Ephesians 6:5-8), he could just as easily have been addressing employees or workers. And in the next verses Paul challenges “masters” to treat those under them with equal respect and understanding. He could have been writing these words to bosses or CEOs.

This isn’t a message, however, we often hear from the sanctuary. Because many pastors have proceeded directly from college to seminary to the sanctuary, having never experienced the rigors of the contemporary workplace with its stresses, challenges and temptations. You can’t teach above where you’re living.

Thankfully, since the 1980s there’s been a virtual explosion of books on how the spiritual and the pragmatic can effectively merge. I’ve been involved in writing more than a dozen of them myself. And respected periodicals like the Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, MIT Sloan Management Report and Business Week from time to time acknowledge there’s a place for spirituality in the 21st century workplace.

For this reason, I’ve just re-published a book I wrote about 10 years ago, Business At Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace. It’s my contention that the wisdom from the Bible, not only Proverbs but also many other passages in the Scriptures, applies directly to the ever-changing, high-pressure, hyper-competitive marketplace of the 21st century.

At the urging of a good friend, I revised the original text and added 13 new chapters, expanding it to a total of 53 quick reading chapters on topics such as integrity, competition, finances, anger, guidance, communications, leadership, patience, persistence, humility, generosity and teamwork. Even gossip. At the end of each chapter I’ve included several open-ended questions called “Putting It Into Practice,” designed for both introspection and small-group discussions.

I recall one CEO stating that for years he had immersed himself in how-to books and motivational messages, seeking to learn how to become more successful. Then he encountered the Bible and before long realized more wisdom could be gleaned from its pages than all of the other books and tapes he’d spent countless hours listening to and reading. And I wholeheartedly agree.

So, at the risk of seeming a shameless self-promoter, I’d like you to check out Business At Its Best on and hopefully, purchase a copy. As a wise author advised me years ago, “If you’re not willing to promote your own book, then why did you write it?” If you like it, recommend it to family and friends. You might even want to give it to someone as a gift with Christmas approaching.

My favorite verse from Proverbs – my “life verse” – says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). That assurance has certainly proved true in my work and career, as well as in our family. The reason is simple: Eternal truth has no expiration date.

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