Don’t Divide Your Christian Principles from Your Practical Decision Making

This is well said by Phillip Johnson, in his foreword to Nancy Pearcey’s Total Truth

Every one of us has a worldview, and our worldview governs our thinking even when — or especially when — we are unaware of it.

Thus, it is not uncommon to find well-meaning evildoers, as it were, who are quite sincerely convinced that they are Christians, and attend church faithfully, and may even hold a position of leadership, but who have absorbed a worldview that makes it easy for them to ignore their Christian principles when it comes time to do the practical business of daily living.

Their sincerely held Christian principles are in one category for them, and practical decision making is in another. Such persons can believe that Jesus is coming again to judge the world and yet live as if the standards of this world are the only thing that needs to be taken into account.

That’s a very profound statement. It is worth re-reading and reflecting on.

I remember experiencing this dichotomy in my own life. My senior year in college, I had an internship as a claims adjuster at a large insurance company. One of the things we were taught was that the popular dictum “the customer is always right” would bankrupt the company.

The reason is that customers often had an inadequate conception of their insurance policies, thinking that certain things would be covered when they are in fact not. If we granted the wishes of the customer in each of those cases, we would be paying far beyond what the policies were designed to cover, which would indeed spell disaster for the company.

In this case, of course, the reasoning is correct. The policy rates were set on the basis of the limitations on the policy spelled out in the contract, and to go against those would be to over extend the capacity of the company to pay the claims. I don’t think there is anything unbiblical about sticking to agreed upon characteristics of the insurance policy, especially since the customers are able to read and agree to the policy with full knowledge and consent when they sign on.

The problem, though, was that this could easily have an unwelcome side effect. Even though the company did not advocate doing so, nonetheless this reality could easily create an adversarial mindset toward the customers of the insurance company. You could go in expecting them to disagree, and your mission was to make sure not to give in. Your task could easily become not seeking to maximally serve the customer within the constraints imposed by the policy, but standing your ground against the customer. And justifying that by saying “this is what the policy states. You just have to deal with it.”

That would be an example of following the standards the world often follows — and thinking you are justified in doing so because, of course, you really can’t pay out for things the policy does not cover. Right?

The problem here is not with upholding the policy. The biblical answer here would not be to go against the agreed upon characteristics of the insurance policies. The problem is with what is being left out — namely, humanity. 

The biblical answer here was not to go against the policies, but to remember compassion and understanding. As claims adjusters we might not be able to give the customers what they really wanted in certain cases, but we could always accompany that with saying “I understand this is frustrating. I am sorry about this. And perhaps the conception of this policy is not as helpful as it should be, and we will need to look into that. But this is the policy that was agreed on, and this is what we have to stick to.”

That is a very different approach than just giving people the cold hard facts and saying “deal with it.” It seems so obvious. This is a way of treating the customer with dignity and respect, even when they are not “right” and cannot have their way.

Yet, that that is the type of thing you don’t always see. Perhaps some people think that showing understanding opens them to liability or risk. To acknowledge the person’s frustration, they think, is perhaps to acknowledge that the policy is indeed bad, thus opening them to a lawsuit.

But fear of risk is never a good reason to fail to take the actions that are necessary for affirming a person’s dignity. People’s concerns need to be validated. Even if the company is technically “right,” as was the case most of the time in these situations, it is never right to toss that out as a cold hard fact that a person just has to “deal with.”

This is just one small example of how Christian principles can be set aside in the name of seemingly doing “the right thing” according to a certain (even legitimate) set of standards, and how a Christian view can come in and provide what is missing so that people are always treated the way they ought to be treated.

There are lots of other examples that are more extreme and more significant. Regardless of the situation you are in, always remember to ask not only “what are the typical practices for handling this situation in my industry” but also “what does God have to say about this type of thing, and how does that apply to me as well?”

Is Excessive CEO Pay a Problem?

I am a capitalist and I believe in the free market. Government interference almost always makes things worse, not better. Then, when the government “solution” causes those worse problems, people forget that government caused those problems in the first place. And so another government “solution” is called for, and so the cycle continues.

So one might expect me to say that high CEO pay should not be considered a problem.

But that is not what I think. My thinking is in line with Peter Drucker’s thinking, well summarized by William Cohen in The Practical Drucker: Applying the Wisdom of the World’s Greatest Management Thinker:

Drucker defended perceived high executive salaries in his earlier writings. He knew how hard executives had to work to reach the pinnacle of their careers.

However, skyrocketing executive salaries caused him to drastically alter his opinion. He said executive salaries at the top had clearly become excessive and that the ratios of compensation — top managers in relation to lowest paid workers — were the highest in the world. Moreover this income difference wasn’t slight — it differed by magnitudes.

Drucker felt that this was morally wrong, and that we as a nation would end up paying a tremendous price for this. Indeed, in 2001, the ratio of average US CEO compensation to average pay of a non management employee hit a high of 525 to 1. At that point, Drucker recommended a ratio of no more than 20 to 1.

Interestingly, Drucker drew a parallel between high executive salaries and the demands of unions for more and more benefits without increases in productivity. He predicted we would pay a terrible price for these examples of gluttony from both management and labor. “It is never pleasant to watch hogs gorge,” he said. In fact, we have been paying this price for several years.

I agree that in general, CEO pay is too high in proportion to the pay of the non managerial worker. I believe this causes all sorts of problems. While I believe that companies ought to have the freedom to pay their executives what they choose, as it is their money, that does not mean that all of their decisions are by definition morally good or beneficial.

So what is the solution? Well, we know what it is not. It is not government interference, such as in the form of wage controls. That will simply cause even more — and likely worse — problems (see first paragraph). A company owns its money, and has a right to do with it what it chooses. For the government to come in and force certain wage restrictions or other such things is simply a disguised form of stealing. It is for the government to force itself into participating in the management of the company, which it does not have a right to do.

So what, then, is the solution? The solution has to come from the market it self; from people. From persuasion, not force (read, laws).

And that is one of the beautiful things about the free market. The market does have imperfections. But, just as with the scientific method, by being left free those imperfections often become self-correcting as we begin to see the damage they are creating.

The imperfections of the market can often be overcome by ordinary people making good decisions and using influence to change cultureAnd so even when the market is imperfect, it must be left free to correct itself. (Cases of ethical violations of course excepted.)

And that, I believe, is the solution here. But at some point, this specific issue of extreme executive pay needs to become a bigger issue. It’s not a crusade I’m interested in taking up. But it is something worth thinking reflectively and intelligently about — from a free market (rather than command and control) perspective.

 

Preparing Your Teens for College

Most people are aware of Alex Chediak’s excellent book Thriving at CollegeWhat is often overlooked is his sequel to that book, Preparing Your Teens for College

Don’t let the title fool you. This book is not just for parents of teenagers. It is for all parents, because the solid principles he outlines actually make the book an excellent primer on preparing your kids for life. 

It’s also for youth pastors, ministry leaders, high school teachers, and anyone else involved in the work of “training teens to leave home with the faith, character, and maturity to be successful not just in college but in the totality of their lives.”

You learn about helping your teens learn responsibility, be future-oriented, own their faith, be characterized by conviction and tolerance, learn financial responsibility, study, and doing so in a way that also affirms the importance of your kids’ unique talents and interests. For me, that was one of the most significant aspects of the book.

As the new school year is slowly creeping up, now is a good time of year to grab this book whether you literally have teens, your kids are already in college, or you are looking ahead to the teen years.

 

 

Getting Collaboration Right

A great post at the 99U: The Collaboration Paradox: Why Working Together Often Yields Weaker Results

A key excerpt:

Most of the heavy creative lifting happens when we’re by ourselves, working on our own. We’re in a better position to evaluate the merits of an idea after we’ve given a topic some thought, not when encountering it for the first time.

For collaboration to work, we need to understand the crucial role of alone time and focused, individual work. Collaboration is essential, but it only yields better results when combined with individual work rather than seen as something that renders the individual work unnecessary.

Beliefs Before Policies!

Thomas Watson, Jr., the second president of IBM and 16th US ambassador to the Soviet Union:

I firmly believe that any organization, in order to survive and achieve success, must have a sound set of beliefs on which it premises all its policies and actions. Next, I believe that the most important single factor in corporate success is faithful adherence to those beliefs….Beliefs must always come before policies, practices, and goals. The latter must always be altered if they are seen to violate fundmantal beliefs.

Note that: if your policies are inconsistent with your beliefs, you change your policies — not your beliefs. So many companies do the opposite, saying they value people all the while enforcing policies that communicate anything but that.

Of course, the way you know whether a company (or person) really believes something is by what they do.

So what are companies that institute person-depleting policies really saying?

Making Work Meaningful


This is a great TEDx talk by Ryan Hartwig, co-author of Teams that Thrive. It’s called “The Myth of Meaningful Work.”

Does this mean that we are wrong-headed in wanting our work to be meaningful?

Not in the slightest. What he means is this: meaning is not something first of all found in the job. Rather, meaning is something you bring to the job. We make our work meaningful. We can (and must) bring meaning to our jobs.

Meaning is in the way the work is done, and therefore any task — whether it is regarded as “meaningful” by society or not — can be done with incredible significance.

In fact, it used to be that most people did experience a deep connection between their work and meaning. So what happened?

Scientific management.

We changed the way we do work as a society in the quest to utterly maximize efficiency. The result was that we turned work, which is in itself meaningful, into alienating labor. We forced people to start doing work in ways that take the meaning out of their tasks by reducing the space for personal initiative and contribution and introducing more control-oriented management practices.

Of course, as he points out, there were many excellent benefits of scientific management. It really did increase efficiency, and that was needed. But the principles were taken too far.

What we need to do is find ways to help people overcome the gap between work and meaning that has been imposed so often not from the tasks themselves, but from the way in which we make people do them.

The talk is a great overview of these things, and closes with four suggestions for helping people bring meaning back into their work.

Why Read Books? (And How?)

A fantastic article at the 99U.

And a nice start:

Warren Buffett is undoubtedly considered one of the greatest investors of all times. His empire, Berkshire Hathaway, is worth $355 billion, an increase of 1,826,163 percent since 1964 when Buffett took over. He owns (or owns big chunks) of some of the biggest brands in the world including GEICO, Dairy Queen, NetJets, half of Heinz, and significant holdings in companies such as American Express, IBM, and Wells Fargo.

But Buffett’s very best investment—responsible for literally billions of dollars in profits over the years—was very cheap. Because it was a book. That’s right, a book.

How to Get Things Done in Seminary

 

HowtoGetThingsDoneinSeminary

My article for the latest edition of Towersa monthly publication from Southern Seminary.

Here’s an excerpt:

While I don’t begrudge the fact that time management was not taught in my seminary studies (though I think it should have been), the fact remains: every seminary student needs to learn time management. There is no other way to prepare adequately for all the demands that will come after seminary. Further, learning time management now will pay big dividends by enabling you to be more effective in your current studies, with less stress and more peace of mind.

In fact, time management is especially helpful during the days of your theological studies. Archibald Alexander, one of the founding faculty of Princeton Seminary, writes:

Diligence without method will enable us to make but little progress; adopt, therefore, and preserve a regular method in the disposal of your time and distribution of your studies. When you have your time judiciously apportioned you proceed with ease and alacrity like the traveler on a road where the distances are marked and the stages conveniently arranged for his accommodation. 

This is even more important now than in Alexander’s day or when I was in seminary, as the pace of life has only picked up due to technology. With the intelligent application of a few solid time management principles, it is possible to make the most of your time in seminary without letting your studies become a grind or unjustly interfere with your family, ministry, and other priorities.

So, how do you do that? Here are five principles that can serve as a starting point.

Read the whole thing. (You can also see the entire issue with all the other articles as well, in a way that is very nicely laid out online just like the print version.)

The Massive Leadership Opportunity for the Church Today

This is a fantastic article by Glenn Brooke at The Institute for Faith, Work, and Economics.

Brooke argues that we were poised on the edge of a new renaissance period, but we can only rise up to this opportunity if we have the right kind of leaders. “This is a massive leadership development opportunity for the church, which is uniquely qualified to develop them.”

The right kind of leaders have a big view of God, sound theology, inclination to harness technology for addressing large global problems, and actually understand the nature of leadership. Above all, they are people of character.

Glenn looks at the main features of our leadership landscape today, and how they compare to the hallmarks of the European Renaissance  of the 14th through 17th centuries. Then he points out that, in light of this, what we need is “a critical mass of entrepreneurial leaders of high character.”

These are people who can let go of the old (even successful) ways of doing things. They have large imaginations and the drive to turn that imagination into something better in the world.

You don’t solve the world’s problems through government programs and handouts, though these have a place.  You improve the lives of millions through businesses which add value and support families. We’ve seen this story repeatedly in history.

He then looks at what leaders must do to meet the challenges of the future, and the leadership opportunity this presents for the church.

It is a truly fantastic post that brings together an understanding of the massive opportunities of our time with a solid and biblical understanding of leadership. Go read the whole thing — and if possible, read it several times so you can truly absorb and reflect on what he is saying.