23 Feb #109 – BIGGER Returns
ESSENCE: We believe investors of Biblical faith wanting to invest in alignment with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities need to think BIGGER in a new way–prioritizing “significance” over “size”. If they don’t, they are at risk of undermining not only the faithfulness of their own investing but also the ability of faith-driven entrepreneurs and business leaders to run their businesses in alignment with God’s design. Investors of Biblical faith must get honest about the real WHY of their investing. Faithful investing needs a BIGGER concept of return than financial return. It needs a BIGGER that aligns with what God cares most about. That requires the counter-cultural reversal of people and financial returns in their “business as usual” roles of a means and the end–putting financial returns in its proper place as a means rather than the PURPOSE of the investor’s business. Investors of Biblical faith are in a unique position to prioritize the flourishing of God’s creation and to encourage those they invest in to pursue a similar “Kingdom return”.
Don’t get too excited by the title—this is not a post urging you to prioritize even LARGER financial returns from your investments—instead, think BIGGER.
BIGGER vs LARGER
We believe investors of Biblical faith wanting to invest in alignment with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities need to think BIGGER in a new way. Oxford Languages gives us two key definitions of “BIG”:
- Of considerable size, extent or intensity. [what we am calling LARGER]
- Of considerable importance or seriousness. [what we am calling BIGGER]
People like things that lend themselves to LARGER because they are measurable. Investors and businesspeople are drawn to financial elements because they can measure them.
Understandably, when investors hear “returns”, they naturally think of “financial returns”. In fact, Investopedia starts the definition of “Return” with “A return, also known as a financial return”! Similarly, when businesses think of “capital”, they naturally think of “financial capital”, and when they measure “success”, it is usually in terms of “financial profit”. Measuring allows an investor to see if they are doing better than last year (and better than the person next door). There is a truism attributed to John Hayes, former Chief Marketing Officer of American Express:
“We tend to overvalue the things we can measure, and undervalue the things we cannot.”
BIGGER is more nebulous and unmeasurable, which makes it less attractive as a goal. But we believe it is exactly the BIGGER definition of “return” that investors of Biblical faith need to embrace. If they don’t, they are at risk of undermining not only the faithfulness of their own investing but also the ability of faith-driven entrepreneurs and business leaders to run their businesses in alignment with God’s design.
BIGGER: Choosing a New Master
It would be convenient if thinking about and pursuing returns in a BIGGER way just meant coming up with other priorities in addition to financial return. For example, “we prioritize financial return and environmental sustainability”, or “we prioritize financial return while not investing in sinful businesses”. Unfortunately, that sounds good (and is certainly better than just focusing on financial return) but is not in line with Biblical principles or reality.
While some organizations say that they invest toward “social” ends as well as financial return or profit, it is a Biblical principle that we can have only one “priority”–only one “end” is the real “end” (“No one can serve two masters“, Matthew 6:24). The goals and priorities described as other “ends” are likely just means to the real “end” (or “nice to haves” as long as they don’t negatively impact the real “end”), which means they will be sacrificed if they no longer serve the real “end” or if they jeopardize the real “end”.
Investors of Biblical faith must get honest about the real WHY of their investing. Faithful investing needs a BIGGER concept of return than financial return. It needs a BIGGER that aligns with what God cares most about.
BIGGER: A “Return” Aligned with God’s Purposes
Some things in God’s word are complicated and others are straightforward. Perhaps one of the most straightforward is our ultimate BIGGER:
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
In fact, Isaiah 43:7 makes clear that glorifying God is WHY we were created (“everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made“). Investors of Biblical faith are called to steward the financial capital God has entrusted to them in a way that glorifies God. Of course, that is an extremely nebulous and unmeasurable BIGGER! But one thing we can say with confidence based on Scripture is that comfortably measurable profit and financial returns are not #1 on God’s list.
If you have been reading our posts, you know that have described five critical “mind-shifts” necessary for a faith-driven leader truly committed to pursuing business in alignment with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities. We have also said that the most difficult is Mind-Shift #3–it involves recognizing that God cares most about his creation, particularly humans created in God’s image. Because an investor (like a business) can serve only one master, this “mind-shift” requires the counter-cultural reversal of people and financial returns in their “business as usual” roles of a means and the end–putting financial returns in its proper place as a means rather than the PURPOSE of the business. This requires transforming the heart of the organization. It is far more than leaders behaving better, cosmetic changes that look “Christian”, or generosity with profits. It is changing the WHY of the business to something BIGGER.
Deriving purpose from its people, we believe a business glorifies God principally through lovingly and generously serving people and stewarding all creation: (1) providing opportunities for individuals to be more fully human by expressing aspects of their God-given identities in creative and meaningful work, (2) providing opportunities, goods and services, on a sustainable basis, that enable families, communities and the world to flourish, and (3) creating a culture of Shalom built on Biblical principles of relationships, community and human dignity that is conducive to the flourishing of all people it touches.
You might be asking, “What about financial return?” Just like profit, financial return is not bad (recall post #059-What About Profit?). In fact, it is absolutely necessary (just as adequate profit is necessary for any business). Investors need to ensure the flourishing of those on whose behalf they are investing. In addition, as stewards of capital and a business that belongs to God (He owns everything), one of an investor’s responsibilities is to keep the organization viable so that it can pursue its God-given purpose. Financial return just needs to take its proper place as a necessary means not the faith-driven end.
As a bonus, an investor gets a unique “two-fer” opportunity at a BIGGER that could be described as “Kingdom Return”. Most directly, an investor can pursue a BIGGER of flourishing for those on whose behalf they invest and for the people touched directly by its operations (its employees, vendors, communities, etc.). In addition, an investor can indirectly pursue a BIGGER of flourishing by investing in a way that encourages and assists the businesses it invests in to pursue business in alignment with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities. In fact, we think BIGGER for an investor requires both legs of this “two-fer” opportunity.
The time is always right to do the right thing. (Dr. Martin Luther King)
BIGGER: Requires a Return That Encourages
Scripture makes clear that we are to be encouragers and not cause others to stumble in their own faithful obedience:
Therefore encourage one another and build one another up. (1 Thessalonian 5:11)
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24)
It is good not to . . . do anything that causes your brother to stumble. (Romans 14:21)
The “return” that is the “master” of a investor of Biblical faith can have a profound impact on the ability and willingness of faith-driven entrepreneurs and other faith-driven business leaders to pursue business in alignment with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities.
An investor f Biblical faith encourages faith-driven entrepreneurs and business leaders in their pursuit of business in accordance with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities to the extent the investor’s BIGGER concept of return takes into account the Kingdom impact—the BIGGER “Kingdom Return”–of a business pursuing God’s purpose for work and business. An investor of Biblical faith can cause those same entrepreneurs and leaders to stumble to the extent its concept of return pressures the business to prioritize financial returns over its broader Kingdom-focused purpose.
Marketing guru and cultural commentator Seth Godin rightly proclaimed
Profits are fine, they enable the investment we need to produce value. But almost nothing benefits from being the only thing we seek, and the pursuit of profit at the expense of our humanity is too high a price to pay.
Investors of Biblical faith are in a unique position to prioritize the flourishing of God’s creation and to encourage those they invest in to pursue a similar “Kingdom return”. In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, “The time is always right to do the right thing.” If you are an investor who professes Biblical faith, start pursuing BIGGER (and leave the measuring to God).
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): This post is adapted from an article written for the Faith Driven Investor blog and first posted February 17, 2022. Thank you to the team at Faith Driven Investor, particularly Gregg Pittman, Justin Forman and Henry Kaestner, for giving me a chance to contribute in a small way to the incredible work they are doing through the Faith Driven family of offerings: Faith Driven Entrepreneur, Faith Driven Investor and Faith Driven Athlete.