11 Oct #193 – Kingdom Border Protection
ESSENCE: Don’t worry–this is not about the U.S. Southern border, Eastern European borders or Middle Eastern borders. It is about the border between the kingdom of the world and the Kingdom of God. Kingdom border protection is trickier than geographic border protection because a faithful leader resides in both kingdoms and the border exists in the heart of the leader and the culture of the organization. Faithful leaders pursuing faithful integrity through business a better way may be “in” the kingdom of the world but they are only to be “of” the Kingdom of God pursuing only what God values. When the Profit as Purpose WHY of business as usual doesn’t feel right and the people-focused WHY of business a better way feels too radical, we try to straddle the border. Unfortunately, straddling the border is an “illegal border crossing”—not faithful integrity.
Don’t worry–this is not about the U.S. Southern border, Eastern European borders or Middle Eastern borders. It is about the border between the kingdom of the world and the Kingdom of God.
More specifically it is about the heart borders of a faithful leader who has made “the choice” to lead an organization with faithful integrity through business a better way, and it is about the heart borders of that organization.
Maintaining the border between those two kingdoms is particularly difficult because the faithful leader and the organization reside in both at the same time.
Refresher: The Choice
We devoted a post (#157-The Choice) to “the choice” faced by every faithful leader, but here is a refresher.
The choice is between business as usual (business in “the way of the world” or, more precisely, according to “the kingdom of this world”) and what we call business a better way (business according to Biblical beliefs, principles, and priorities).
Every faithful leader must ultimately choose between these kingdoms.
Business as usual is everywhere. It is:
• Business as taught in business schools and management training programs.
• Business as rewarded by management, Boards, and stockholders.
• Business as demanded by investors, fund managers, and stock analysts.
• Business as described by Milton Friedman in 1970 when he famously wrote “There is one and only one social responsibility of business — to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.”
There are several key attributes of business as usual that set it at odds with God’s Kingdom (such as assumptions of scarcity and self-interest and “can we” ethics rather than ‘should we’ ethics), but the most important is its heart—its essential WHY — the ultimate purpose that drives the behavior of its participants. With business as usual the WHY of the business is about profit.
With business a better way, the WHY of the business is about the flourishing of God’s creation, particularly people. We believe business a better way is the way God means business to function in His Kingdom.
Done rightly, business allows us to create the solutions to the material challenges of human life, and the economic prosperity that makes those solutions affordable and accessible in a way that cares for all creation. It also offers jobs–vehicles for people to flourish and fulfill their humanity and purpose by living out Imago Dei, the Creation Mandate and the commandments to love God and love each other through service.
To be clear, profit is a very necessary part of Kingdom business. As stewards of an organization that belongs to God (He owns everything), its leaders have a responsibility to keep the organization viable so that it can pursue its Kingdom purpose(s) long-term and at scale.
Business a better way requires changing the heart of the organization by putting profit in its proper place as a means rather than an ultimate purpose.
Kingdom border protection is trickier than geographic border protection because a faithful leader resides in both kingdoms. There is no physical demarcation line to protect. The border exists in the heart of the leader and the culture of the organization.
The Bible is crystal clear about how God prioritizes people vs. profit. Jesus sums up all the commandments as love God and love your neighbor. 1 Timothy 6:10 tells us that the love of money (not money) is the root of evil.
The Bible also makes very clear that faithful leaders may be “in” the kingdom of the world, but they are not to pursue what the world values or be “of” the kingdom of the world. They are only to be “of” the Kingdom of God pursuing only what God values.
You shall not go after other gods, the gods of the peoples who are around you. (Deuteronomy 6:14)
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits[a] of the world, and not according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8)
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)
For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:15)
They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. (John 17:16)
If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. (John 15-19)
Therein lies the metaphysical border—keeping the “of” of the leader and the organization about God’s Kingdom. We believe that is their heart—their WHY and all that flows from having the right WHY.
We believe many faithful leaders lead in the way of the kingdom of the world because they don’t know better. They have never been taught otherwise. The church has largely failed to lift the veil of the kingdom of the world when it comes to business, and in many cases has helped create the veil through bad theology (or poor communication of good theology) we call faith as usual. In the words of Max Depree:
Unless somebody articulates something different, you are going to adopt a secular standard without even thinking about it.
A faithful leader who has made “the choice” may still get sent down a Side Road that leads to an illegal border crossing. For example:
A faithful leader may try to be “of” the Kingdom of God by being a better person, but their organization is still engaged in business as usual and “of” the kingdom of the world. We call that Individualizing.
A faithful leader may try to make their organization “of” the Kingdom of God by having it make generous contributions to “Godly” causes, but if they don’t transform its WHY and how it actually does business, then the organization is still “of” the kingdom of the world (an “illegal border crossing”). We call that Monetizing.
A faithful leader may try to make their organization “of” the Kingdom of God by adopting overt faith symbols and practices to make the organization look “Godly” (like prayer at meetings, workplace Bible studies and prayer groups, corporate chaplains, Bible verses on packaging, giving out Bibles to workers and customers, and including “God” or “Faith” in the mission and values), but if they don’t transform its WHY and how it actually does business, then there is an “illegal border crossing”. We call that Cosmeticizing.
A faithful leader may actually change how their organization does business and align its culture with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities, but if the leader is pursuing leading faithfully because they believe it will lead to God blessing their business with worldly success–measured in terms of profit and growth—then the leader is still “of” the kingdom of the world and engaged in an “illegal border crossing”. We call that Prosperitizing.
God is more interested in why you do what you do than he is in what you do. (Rick Warren)
Kingdom Border Protection Is Difficult
The pull of the kingdom of the world toward business as usual is strong—like a rip current pulling a swimmer out to sea despite their efforts. It is constantly reinforced by markets, analysts, business experts, investors, management books, and management systems. It feels unnatural to think about putting people ahead of profit.
Even people in the faith-work movement seem to find it hard to resist using the promise of worldly success—higher profits and extraordinary growth—to encourage and entice faithful leaders to pursue faith-work integration. They call it the promise of God’s blessing. We call it the “Bless You” Pill.
The problem with the “Bless You” Pill is that it starts leaders out with a corrupted “WHY”. It puts leading faithfully in the same bucket as Six Sigma, TQM, JIT, Lean, etc.–something that has helped others prosper and is worth a try as long as it works.
There is nothing wrong with promising “success”, if it is defined in the way God defines “success”. When leading faithfully is adopted as a means to any end other than glorifying God, it will be sustained only so long as the desired worldly end is achieved or is in sight. As Larry Crabb wrote:
Biblical principles are reduced to basic principles of the world when they’re followed in order to gain the ‘better life’ we demand.
This is the insidiousness of the veil of business as usual. We are raised, trained, and indoctrinated to see the WHY of business a better way (prioritizing the flourishing of people) as too radical. But as people of faith we sense that something is wrong with the WHY of business as usual (Profit as Purpose). Unfortunately, when the WHY of business as usual doesn’t feel right and the WHY of business a better way feels too radical, we try to straddle the border. For example:
• Giving business as usual a long-term profit perspective with stakeholder capitalism.
• Giving business as usual a gloss of generosity by using our profits for good causes, like evangelism and missions.
• Giving business as usual a social conscience by not polluting as much or not investing in ‘sin’ industries.
• Giving business as usual a “faith” patina by having corporate chaplains, Bible studies, and prayer groups.
There are many more, but you get the idea. Straddling the border feels good, because it is better than being completely “of” the world. It also feels good because we receive affirmation for having one foot “of” the Kingdom of God, even from the church and the faith-work community. Unfortunately, straddling the border is an “illegal border crossing” –the heart of the leader or the organization is still “of” the world.
If profit is still the ultimate purpose to which a business is managed, we have chosen “of” the world. If the hearts of faithful leader and the organization (as reflected in its culture) have not changed to serving people, we have chosen “of” the world.
In the words of Rick Warren:
Sometimes you do the right thing but for the wrong motivation—and God says you don’t get any credit for that. God is more interested in why you do what you do than he is in what you do.
What about a business that says, “We have several purposes, and profit is just one?” At the end of the day, there can only be one primary WHY for the organization that will win out (“No one can serve two masters”) — other “purposes” get reduced to being “means” or “strategies.”
Straddling the border is still an “illegal crossing” — the way of the world. Straddling may be better than being completely “of” the world, but it is not the best to which people of Biblical faith are called and commanded. In his book Ekklesia, Ed Silvoso writes:
The enemy of the ‘best’ . . . is the ‘good,’ because by being so satisfying, it deprives us of the hunger for the ‘much more’ that in this case God has in store.
PERSONAL NOTE (from PM): I think I have discovered one of my “pet peeves” when it comes to discussions of faith-work integration. It is when good-hearted, faithful leaders with the best of intentions use the “Bless You” Pill (the promise of God’s blessings in the form of increased profits and extraordinary business growth) as a “rufie” to try to encourage or entice other faithful leaders to integrate their faith and their business.
I call it “Vending Machine Theology“. In Vending Machine Theology, God is like a vending machine–if you put in the right stuff, good stuff comes out. In the case of the “Bless You” Pill, that “good stuff” is a financially successful business with higher profits and extraordinary growth.
Back in May 2011 I created this chart to illustrate a spectrum of Vending Machine Theology. At one end is “Word of Faith” beliefs and at the other is “Everyday Religion”. In the middle is the “Prosperity Gospel”. The common thread is that God promises something “good” now if I do the right things. Here is a chart showing the similarities and differences. I believe only the “trust” path leads to faithful integrity.