15 Jun #125 – Choices: What’s Your “O”
ESSENCE: A life of faith is a life of choices. For a faithful leader, one of those choices is the “O” that drives their leadership. There are two options–outcome or obedience. It is a choice between the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God. It is one or the other–business as usual or business a better way. It is one of the most difficult choices faced by an organizational leader seeking to lead faithfully through business a better way because God calls for obedience but the “kingdom of this world” demands and rewards outcome. For a faithful leader wanting to lead faithfully through business a better way, choosing the “O” of obedience is about choosing to doing the right thing, in the right way and for the right reasons and then leaving the outcome in God’s hands. For various reasons, many well-intentioned “faithful leaders” are failing to “lead faithfully”. Although leading faithfully in a broken world will certainly bring resistance, dilemmas and difficult decisions, we believe there are four keys to a faithful leader successfully choosing the “O” of obedience: Humility, Trust, Patience, and Prayer.
A life of faith is a life of choices. In recent posts, we have explored choices such as whether to optimize or maximize profit, being faithful or being willful, having a primary identity rooted in WHO you are or WHAT you do, and embracing work as an essential part of life or demonizing work as an oppositional force to life.
Of course, our last 124 posts have been about the choice between business as usual–business in “the way of the world” and business a better way–business according to Biblical beliefs, values and priorities. Our God has given us free will and the Holy Spirit to guide us (should we choose to listen).
In this post, we will explore another choice (or really just another way of looking at the same choice)–the “O” that drives leadership of an organization. There are two options–obedience or outcome–and it is one of the most difficult choices faced by an organizational leader seeking to lead faithfully through business a better way. It is difficult because God calls for obedience, but the world demands and rewards outcome.
Choosing the “O” of Outcome
The “kingdom of this world” reflected in business as usual demands outcome. As we have emphasized over and over, a core attribute of business as usual is a WHY of Profit as Purpose.
Business leaders have analysts, markets, and investors to keep happy. They have financial metrics to track and hurdles to achieve. The world of business as usual measures success in terms of profit and growth. Leaders are expected to be ruthlessly “outcome-driven” in their effort to achieve increased profits and growth.
You may be thinking “Of course, leaders without faith are outcome-driven, but aren’t faithful leaders obedience-driven?” Not necessarily. Very few faithful leaders are leading faithfully through business a better way. “Faithful leaders” fail to “lead faithfully” for several reasons:
• Stuck Behind the Sunday/Monday Gap. Some faithful leaders remain stuck behind the Sunday/Monday Gap, which means they do not see how what they do Monday-Friday is connected to the faith they practice on Sunday. They do not bring their whole self (including their faith) to work. Business is business as usual and faith is for Sunday.
• Stuck Behind the Sacred/Secular Gap. Some faithful leaders have successfully crossed the Sunday/Monday Gap but remain stuck behind the Sacred/Secular Gap, which means they do not understand that their work or business has intrinsic value in God’s Kingdom. They do not understand that the way they lead their business is a sacred vocational calling and a form of worship. The leader should BEHAVE faithfully, but business is business as usual.
• Stuck Behind the Knowing/Doing Gap. Some faithful leaders have successfully crossed the first two gaps but have not, or are unsure how to, faithfully lead through business a better way in alignment with Biblical beliefs, values and priorities.
• Stuck on a Side Road. In our last post (Another Side Road-Monastecize), we included a refresher on the faith as usual Side Roads that can knock even well-intentioned, faithful leaders off the ancient path to faithfully leading through business a better way.
For example, the Side Road of Prosperitizing is when leaders pursue faith/work integration because they believe it will lead to God blessing their business with worldly success–measured in terms of profit and growth. It looks like a choice of the “O” of obedience but it is really a choice of the “O” of outcome. For that reason, it is perhaps the most insidious of the various Side Roads because the organization can look like it actually is conducting “business a better way“.
Another example is the Side Road of Interimizing. A leader may have crossed the Sacred/Secular Gap and understand how to cross the Knowing/Doing Gap, but they are convinced that getting the organization up and running and successful is the first priority–faith/work integration can come later. In the meantime (which is likely forever), an outcome culture centered on Profit as Purpose is acceptable to achieve worldly “success”. Delayed obedience is disobedience.
For many other Side Roads, the leader believes they are pursuing obedience, but it is obedience based on “bad theology” or, at least, poor communication of good theology. In fact, they are pursuing “faithful outcomes” such as behaving better, evangelizing people, donating generously from profits or looking “Godly” that can be pursued in parallel with an organizational WHY of Profit as Purpose–the outcome choice of business as usual. None of these “faithful outcomes” are bad, but they are not the choice of obedience over outcome for the heart of the organization.
Biblical principles are reduced to basic principles of the world when they're followed in order to gain the “better life” we demand. (Larry Crabb)
Choosing the “O” of Obedience
For a faithful leader wanting to lead faithfully through business a better way, choosing the “O” of obedience is about choosing to doing the right thing, in the right way and for the right reasons and leaving the outcome in God hands. The most important of these is “for the right reasons“.
WHY matters. Doing the right thing for the wrong reasons looks good and probably “does good”, but it is not faithfully leading through business a better way because it is missing God’s heart for the organization.
Despite the teaching of the Bless You Pill, there are no guarantees that God’s outcome will align with what the world would define as a “successful” outcome. The Bible is full of examples of obedient people who did not see “success”: “And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised.” (Hebrews 11:39)
Of course, God’s outcome might align. In fact, it might align or even surpass the standards of “the kingdom of this world” most of the time because aligning a business with the beliefs, values and priorities of God’s Kingdom is aligning it with how God designed life on earth to work. But achieving “success” by the world’s standards is NOT the right reason of true obedience. We have used this quote from Larry Crabb many times, but it can never be repeated too often:
Biblical principles are reduced to basic principles of the world when they’re followed in order to gain the “better life” we demand.
The choice of the “O” of outcome or the “O” of obedience is a choice between the kingdom of this world and the Kingdom of God. It is one or the other–business as usual or business a better way. Profit as an end or profit as a means. The use of God’s creation as tools or the flourishing of God’s creation as purpose. Choosing the “O” of obedience can’t be a means to an end–it must be the end in itself.
Successfully Choosing the “O” of Obedience
Unfortunately, saying “choose obedience” does not mean a faithful leader can ignore “consequences”. Leading faithfully in a broken world will certainly bring resistance, dilemmas and difficult decisions.
We believe God owns everything, and the Creation Mandate (the commandment about our purpose on earth) in Genesis 1:28 charges us with stewarding God’s creation. That means the leader of a business has the responsibility to steward that business faithfully.
Back in post #058 (Love-Respect and Sustainability-God’s limits), we suggested faithful stewardship translates practically into two things–Respect and Sustainability. Even in choosing the “O” of obedience, “consequences” matter because they impact God’s creation, particularly humans. For example, if what appears to be obedience would likely have a worldly consequence that destroys the business or hurts many people (consequences seemingly at odds with stewardship and flourishing), prayer for wisdom followed by patience may reveal a “third way” through what seems like an “obedience/consequences” dilemma.
In his book Why Business Matters to God, Jeff Van Duzer rightly suggests that the same God who calls leaders to lead faithfully through business a better way will be present to equip those who are called:
We are not expected to fulfill the creation and redemption mandates in business relying solely on our own wisdom, judgment and perseverance. The same God who calls us to these high standards provides us with access to the discernment and power that will enable us to fulfill them.
We believe there are four keys to a faithful leader successfully choosing the “O” of obedience–choosing obedience in a way that leads to faithful stewardship of the organization being led: Humility, Trust, Patience, and Prayer.
• Humility. Navigating the tension between “obedience” and “outcomes” to ensure faithful stewardship requires Godly wisdom, and humility is a key to wisdom. The link between humility and wisdom can be seen in Proverbs 11:2: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.”
God is the source of all wisdom, and the Bible tells us that God will give wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5). The faithful leader who operates without the humility to recognize the need for God’s wisdom and the need to pray for guidance is destined to run aground on the rocks of the “obedience/consequences” dilemma.
• Trust. Of course, even the faithful leader who has the humility to recognize the need for God’s wisdom will only get the benefit of that wisdom by trusting God’s process, timing, and outcome:
• Process: God’s process is often counter-intuitive and counter-cultural.
• Timing: God’s timing often seems excruciatingly slow.
• Outcome: God’s best outcome for a business may not be the world’s best outcome.
• Prayer. God’s wisdom comes through prayer. Of course, praying for a particular process, timing and outcome is NOT praying for God’s wisdom, and ignoring God’s wisdom to pursue your own process, timing or outcome is NOT wise–it is choosing the “O” of outcome over obedience.
• Patience: It is difficult to read the Bible and not walk away feeling woefully impatient. God’s story is full of people who patiently waited and persevered (the first cousin of patience) a LONG time–a VERY LONG time. There are also stories of characters who got impatient and tried to short-circuit God’s timing (and God was not pleased).
Choosing the “O” of obedience in leading a business is “playing the long game”, and that takes Biblical patience (and perseverance).
In his book To Change the World, James Hunter effectively warns that leading faithfully through business a better way “will invariably challenge the given structures of the social order.” He goes on: “In this light, there is no true leadership without putting at risk one’s time, wealth, reputation, and position.” We believe it is time for faithful leaders obediently to cross the Gaps, abandon the Side Roads, get back on the ancient path and let God take care of the outcome. It is time for faithful leaders to choose the “O” of obedience and begin leading faithfully through business a better way!
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): One of the key verses in these blog posts has been Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” It sums up the choice of obedience over outcome. It is about letting God decide what “all else” means.
The “O” choice topic leads me to think of a recent NCS New Canaan speaker who shared his “leap of faith”. With NCS humor, humility and honesty, Kevin O’Bryan shared the incredible journey that led him to walk away from a successful career in architecture and project management in order to partner with his wife, Maria, in a new film and TV venture they call First Fruits Entertainment. He revealed how he has learned (through trial and error) to listen to God, take leaps of faith and then let God be God.
You can listen to Kevin’s talk “Listen, Leap and Let God Be God” at the link below.
Listen, Leap and Let God Be God - Kevin O'Bryan
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Photo Credit: Original photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash (photo cropped)