The Gospel-Centered Business

From Tim Keller and Katherine Leary Alsdorf’s Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work:

The gospel-centered business would have a discernible vision for serving the customer in some unique way, a lack of adversarial relationships and exploitation, an extremely strong emphasis on excellence and product quality, and an ethical environment that goes ‘all the way down’ to the bottom of the organizational chart and to the realities of daily behavior, even when high ethics mean a loss of margin.

In the business animated by the gospel worldview, profit is simply one of many important bottom lines.

Keller nails it here. It is also very interesting that his statement that profit should be only one of many bottom lines syncs up with the research of Jim Collins. In the landmark book Built to LastCollins’ research shows that the most profitable companies actually don’t put profit first — they put the customer and the mission first.

This doesn’t mean they don’t seek profit (just as Keller isn’t saying not to seek profit). Rather, it’s that they realize that profit is not the point. Making a contribution and serving the customer is. You have to do this in a profitable way, but ironically, Collins’ research shows, you will be more profitable when you pursue more than profit rather than just profit. 

And so here we see that the nature of a gospel-centered business is very much in line with what the best business research is showing as well. Common grace and the gospel are allies, not opponents.

Four Points on Faith and Work from Keller’s Every Good Endeavor

I’m going through Keller’s Every Good Endeavor again and taking some notes. Here are four central points from my overall summary of the book (quotes are, interestingly, from the dust jacket — which for most books does a great job of highlighting the core points):

  1. A Christian view of work is “that we work to serve others, not ourselves.”
  2. We can indeed have “a thriving professional and balanced personal life.” This is a Christian goal, not just a worldly goal (though, due to suffering and the priorities of the gospel, sometimes it is not possible for some seasons – and that does not mean we are sinning or disobedient).
  3. Excellence, integrity, discipline, creativity, and passion in the workplace all matter and are to be done as acts of worship — not just self interest.
  4. We are able to — and called to — serve God through the secular arena as well as the ministry arena.

Why are these points so important, and why have I focused in on these? Here’s why.

Point four addresses the dichotomy between “sacred and secular” that robs work of meaning for so many people. It is life giving and liberating to realize that Christ can be served through the so-called secular tasks of reconciling bank statements or taking out the trash just as much as in ministry work.

Points two and three address issues which I find Christians sometimes disputing due to a some incorrect views of the fall, human nature, and God’s expectations of us. Because of the fact that we live in a fallen world, some Christians fall into the notion that we are to work only for a paycheck. Sometimes it is reasoned that life is so hard that the most you can expect out of your job is to provide for your financial needs. To seek meaning in work is just not possible or, at best, a nice bonus only available to a select fortunate few.

But that view treats us as merely economic beings. It is an overly reductionistic view of people. Since we are social, intellectual, and spiritual as well as economic, work needs to tap into those capacities as well. This is part of how God has designed work. The fact that the fall really screwed things up does not deny or remove this reality. It simply means that in each of these realms we will have hardship as well as success — not that we should reduce work to merely the economic dimension.

I would submit that one reason life does feel so hard sometimes, in fact, is because of employers who try to treat people as merely economic beings. If employers did a better job of managing to the whole person, quality of life for everyone would go up.

More could be said here, but the statement affirming the possibility of “a thriving professional life” affirms this reality (as does the rest of the book) that it is indeed possible to thrive in our work beyond just the economic side of things, and that it is good and right to seek this as Christians. So also creativity, passion, and excellence in our work are right, and in fact part of how we find meaning and purpose in our work, when done for the glory of God, because these things especially tap into our social, intellectual, and spiritual dimensions.

Finally, point one is the foundation of any truly Christian view of work. In the world, work is often viewed as something we do ultimately for ourselves. This often results in work that may benefit the company (in the short-term), but doesn’t really give the customer what they actually need (and want).

Of course, self-interest is not wrong in itself. But a Christian view of work is that we work for more than ourselves and even more than our families. We work for the good of everyone (cf. Jeremiah 29:7, which applies to us as Christians because we are in exile, 1 Peter 1:17) — especially the good of the customers our organization services.

This means that it is not enough to simply work in order to make the sale or get the paycheck. We have to work in such a way that people will truly be benefited. If doing our work in a certain way will earn the money, but not truly benefit the other person (perhaps by cutting corners on quality), we are not doing our work in a Christian way. Christians in the workplace should seek profit, but they should also seek more than profit. 

If more people worked this way, the entire world would be a better place. And, perhaps, if we worked this way from distinctly Christian motives and were tactful and winsome about our faith, more people would ask us for the reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15), and the gospel would spread more fully throughout our vocations (that’s the meaning of a close reading of Matthew 5:16 and Ephesians 5:8-17; for more on this in the Ephesians passage, see Peter T O’Brien’s commentary).


MLK on Creative Street Sweepers

I love this quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.:

If it falls to your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep the streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, like Shakespeare wrote poetry, like Beethoven composed music; sweep streets so well that all the host of Heaven and earth will have to pause and say, “Here lived a great street sweeper, who swept his job well.” (Quoted in Tom Nelson’s Work Matters: Connecting Sunday Worship to Monday Work.)

Here’s what I love about it: He calls everyone to high expectations and recognizes that creativity and excellence can be exercised in any and every type of (lawful) work.

This stands in contrast to the thinking I encounter sometimes among some Christians of the more cynical variety. Most Christians don’t think so poorly, but sometimes I encounter people that actually have a problem with the call to exercising creativity and finding meaning in our work. They say things like “how can this or that person find meaning in their work — they sweep streets [or whatever]. You have your head in the clouds. They need to focus on just paying the bills, not finding meaning and purpose in what they do.”

This view is then justified on allegedly spiritual grounds as being “liberating” by “freeing” people in difficult jobs from the “obligation” to find meaning and purpose in their work.

But in reality this perspective is fueled by cynicism and low expectations. It is a very un-Christian way to look at work.

The call to find meaning and satisfaction in our work is not a new burdensome law; it is, rather, an invitation. The point is not “you better find meaning in your work.” Rather, it is: “guess what: you  can find satisfaction in your work, whatever it is.” It is pointing to an opportunity, not one more burden a person has to carry.

And MLK here captures it perfectly. We can all find meaning in our work, whatever it is, by doing it for Christ and doing it with creativity and excellence. This is something any person can do in any vocation — even street sweeping or collecting the garbage.

In fact, in my view, a sweet sweeper who does his work with excellence and diligence and creativity is creating just as much a work of art as anything Michelangelo did. Michelangelo’s art was on the canvas; the street sweepers is on the streets and the beneficiaries are everyone who walks by.

Art is more than just paintings and poetry. Anything you do with emotional investment and creativity is a type of art, and all work is to be done in an artful — rather than merely utilitarian — way.

How Can Work in the Church and Marketplace be Equally Important?

It is an important truth that work in the marketplace is just as important as work in the church.

Nonetheless, sometimes saying this doesn’t necessarily feel right. For example, we can easily think something like this: “But work in the church seems more directly connected with issues of eternal salvation, so how can that not be more important?”

Part of the answer lies in recognizing that the gospel is not just about individual salvation, but also entails the renewal of all creation. So even the work we do in the secular arena is connected to God’s ultimate work of redemption. Further, all work is equally valuable because all work can be done as worship.

But I think another key part of the answer may also be this: when we say that work in the marketplace is of equal importance to work in the church, sometimes we can unconsciously interpret that to mean that work in the marketplace is more important than work in the church. We can almost hear this great truth as a diminishing of church work rather than an elevation of marketplace work.

If the equality of all vocations is taken to subtly mean that church work is less important, that should feel off-kilter. But when we recognize that the equality of all vocations truly means the equality of all vocations, we see that it is an affirmation of the significance of church work just as much as it is an affirmation of the significance of marketplace work.

This is a very liberating reality. If you work in ministry, what you are doing is incredibly important. And if you are working in the marketplace, what you are doing is also incredibly important. The equality of all vocations means that both marketplace work and ministry work matter immensely.

The equality of all vocations is a radical affirmation of the significance of work in the marketplace as well as work in the church. 

So no matter where you work, be encouraged and know that your work has immense value.


John Stott on Christian Ambition

A great quote on ambition from John Stott, via the blog That Happy Certainty:

Ambitions for self may be quite modest. . . . Ambitions for God, however, if they are to be worthy, can never be modest. There is something inherently inappropriate about cherishing small ambitions for God. How can we ever be content that he should acquire just a little more honour in the world? No. Once we are clear that God is King, then we long to see him crowned with glory and honour, and accorded his true place, which is the supreme place. We become ambitious for the spread of his kingdom and righteousness everywhere. (The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (IVP, 1993), 172–173).

Introducing MereChurch: Get a Usable, Effective Website for Your Church

This week, Mere Agency is launching a brand new service called MereChurch. MereChurch provides powerful and effective websites for small churches and ministries.

If you need a church website, or if you are looking to improve your church website, MereChurch is absolutely worth checking out. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

There are two things especially that set it apart.

First Distinctive: Usability
The first thing that sets it apart is the usability that it offers for your site. Good usability is the key to an effective website. Yet, many web agencies tend to overlook this, or at least fail understand the principles behind what actually makes a site usable. This is the reason that so many church websites are hard to use and sometimes very frustrating.

Mere Agency understands usability and has built MereChurch on the basis of world class usability principles. Matt Heerema, the founder of Mere Agency, worked with me at Desiring God, where he served as the web manager. We have the same usability philosophy, and his thinking on and attention to information architecture and the basics of good usability were key in helping make that site great. (For more on usability, you can see the various articles and presentations I’ve done here.)

Second Distinctive: Price
The second thing that sets MereChurch apart is its price. It’s the most competitive price among all the comparison offerings I know of.

Hence, you don’t need to choose between saving money or having a usable website. Now, it is possible to bring both together.

And a Bonus Example: Mere is Behind the New Look on This Site
One last thing: You may have noticed that my site has a new look! That is thanks to Matt Heerema and Mere Agency as well. He took it upon himself to update my site to this new look and template, for which I am super grateful. I love it. Thank you, Matt! This is just a small example of the type of work Matt does, and has been doing for almost 15 years now.

For more on MereChurch, check out the site and this video where Matt talks more about it:

Introducing MereChurch from Mere Agency on Vimeo.

Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career. Unless…

This is a fantastic TEDx talk by Larry Smith. In a very compelling way, he shoots down all the excuses people make not to go after what they are truly passionate about in life.

The worst thing (though he doesn’t talk about this) is when people claim that these excuses have biblical authority. I see people do it all the time — and then judge people who disagree, claiming that they are somehow “less spiritual.” It is a truly, truly horrible thing because it is using the Bible as justification for low expectations and false thinking.

Go after what you are truly passionate about. Just do it for the glory of God and according to his standards. And quit thinking that there has to be an unavoidable dichotomy between accomplishment and relationships. Embrace the genius of the and.

Jesus is Not Customizable

Well said by David Platt in Follow Me:

In Matthew 7, Jesus expose our dangerous tendency to gravitate toward that which is easy and popular. Hear his warning: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

In other words, there is a broad road that is inviting and inclusive. This nice, comfortable, ever-so-crowded path is attractive and accommodating. The only thing that’s required of you on this path is a one-time decision for Christ, and you don’t have to worry about his commands, his standards, or his glory after making that decision. You now have a ticket to heaven, and your sin, whether manifested in self-righteousness or self-indulgence, will be tolerated along the way.

But this is not the way of Jesus. He beckons us down a hard road, and the word Jesus uses for this is associated in other parts of the Bible with pain, pressure, tribulation, and persecution. The way of Jesus is hard to follow, and it’s hated by many.

Almost unknowingly, we shrink back from this cost, choosing to redefine Christianity according to our personal preferences, church traditions, and cultural norms. Slowly, subtly, we take the Jesus of the Bible and twist him into someone with whom we are a little more comfortable.

We dilute what he says about the cost of following him, we disregard what he says about those who choose not to follow him, we practically ignore what he says about materialism, and we functionally miss what he says about mission. We pick and choose what we like and don’t like from Jesus’ teachings.

In the end, we create a nice, non-offensive, politically correct, middle-class, American Jesus who looks just like us and thinks just like us.

But Jesus is not customizable. He has not left himself open to interpretation, adaptation, innovation, or alteration. He has revealed himself clearly through his Word, and we have no right to personalize him. Instead, he revolutionizes us. As we follow Jesus, we believe Jesus, even when his Word confronts (and often contradicts) the deeply held assumptions, beliefs, and convictions of our lives, our families, our friends, our culture, and sometimes even our churches. And such belief in Jesus transforms everything about what we desire and how we live.

Was the Seahawks Final Play in the Super Bowl as Bad a Call as Most People Are Saying?

With just one yard to go in order to pull ahead of the Patriots in the final seconds of the Super Bowl, most people have found the Seahawks call for a pass to be inexplicable. Why pass on that play when you can run the ball with Marshawn Lynch?

I don’t think the play was a good call. And, as a huge Patriots fan, I’m super glad things turned out the way they did.

However, when evaluating that play call after the fact I think that there’s a slight distortion that comes about due to hindsight. Here’s why.

If the Seahawks had only one play to get into the end zone, then passing instead of giving the ball to Marshawn Lynch would make little sense.

But the Seahawks had three plays left to score. So it could be argued that it wasn’t unreasonable to try a pass, when you are looking at this from the perspective of three plays, rather than just one.

In other words, due to the fact that the play failed, it’s easy to end up evaluating the situation as though this single play was to be their only chance to score. Of course, that’s how it turned out, but they didn’t know that. When you look at the situation from the assumption, which they had at the time, that they would have three opportunities, then throwing one pass play and then switching to the run can make a bit more sense.

Of course, that perspective doesn’t take into account the risk of throwing an interception that comes with a pass play.

And so, we are back to where we started: it was indeed a bad call, given the abilities of Marshawn Lynch.

My point, though, is just that it’s easy to assess this call in a way that accidentally implies the Seahawks knew they only had one play to get into the end zone. When you look at it from the perspective of thinking they likely would have three opportunities, it is at least a slightly smaller blunder than it can seem at first.