Recently, I’ve had several Christian Business Owners ask me about how much of their faith should they openly display in their business.
Their question brought me back to my high school days in which one of my classmate’s father owned a business. I was going to see him about purchasing a yearbook advertisement when I couldn’t help but notice in his lobby this rather large sign on the wall:
“This business is dedicated to the glory of Jesus Christ”.
If I recall correctly, he had lost both his business and his wife about a year later due to his affair with his rather well-blessed secretary.
How much should a Christian Business Owner share about his or her faith with employees, vendors, partners, customers and the community? Interestingly enough, the Bible is silent on this question. When you consider the four core purposes for business – Products, Passions, Profits and Philanthropy – you’ll find that even in fulfilling the purposes God has for business, there is ample room for variation on the degree of intensity and the frequency of display in which Christian Business Owners can engage when integrating their business into their faith.
However, I find that Esther’s life can give us some principles to live out which will call all of us in business – to one degree or another – to display our faith in the marketplace. But it won’t be some pretty sign or pithy saying or eloquent web page. We’ll have to lay our lives bare and be willing to risk it all to stay faithful to Jesus Christ.
At this point, if you’ve not read the book of Esther, I would ask that you stop reading this article – go read the book of Esther and then return here to continue.
You didn’t go read it, did you? Ok – we’ll move on anyways.
Esther was a Jew who, through a series of events, became the Queen to Xerxes, a king who seemed to like food (he was always holding a banquet), money (he used the banquets to display all his wealth) and women (he made sure he enjoyed an endless supply of women and rated them on how well they pleased him). So, we have a guy who probably was fat, very rich, all powerful and loved sex. Other than the “all powerful” part, this seems to describe many men in American today. There really is nothing new under the sun.
Not to be crude, but I suspect he enjoyed all kinds of sex – I doubt little was outside his range of enjoyment. Recall at the beginning of Esther, he wanted to display the beauty of wife for everyone to see – which meant he wanted to display her body fully naked to show all the men what he could enjoy at any moment, any time, at his discretion. She was just another luxury he had that others didn’t have. His arrogance was profound.
So, Esther makes it all the way to being his Queen without ever revealing her identity or her religion. Commentators have taken her to task for this, roundly criticizing her silence about her beliefs. I’m not so sure I’m all that critical of her. One can’t really know what it was like to have such luxuries given to them in exchange for pleasing the most powerful man on earth sexually. Today, we would call her a trophy wife or a “kept woman” or at the worst, a prostitute.
Yet, the writer of Esther doesn’t condemn her for her silence. Instead, the writer focused on God having placed her in her position of favor with the King so that His people could be saved. Much like Esther, as business owners, we have been entrusted with position and a platform in our communities.
Through another series of events, Esther becomes the only person on the planet who could save the Jews from complete eradication from the face of the earth and through her bravery along with three days of fasting before the Lord, God saves his people.
Now there are two macro points that I believe can be applied appropriately to Christians who own businesses. The first is this: silence about your beliefs is not condemned in this story. Now, before all you folks who protest that we should never be silent about our beliefs, I want to point out that there is a certain decorum that is expected in the business world about how faith is lived out – especially from those who don’t believe the way we do. Even within Christian circles, there are different level of comfort and expectations about how one goes about sharing their faith appropriately. Don’t be so quick to judge others if you don’t share your faith regularly. And if you do, check your arrogance at the door. God hasn’t made you like another and vice versa. I can’t find a place in the Bible where we are commanded to openly share our faith in the marketplace.
When I first started in business, we had daily prayer sessions at my business. I made it clear that no one was forced to attend and that non-attendance or attendance at the prayer times would have no effect at all on performance reviews. After about a year, it became clear to me that some used those times to get out of meetings in which they should have participated. It caused problems. My staff was about half Christian, half not. Those who didn’t believe didn’t say anything, but I received back-channel messages that all were not enthusiastic about the prayer times. I, myself, found it was more and more difficult to attend due to my travel schedule and my heavy meeting load when I was in the office. The prayer times eventually faded away and I didn’t try to resuscitate them. Was I wrong? I don’t think so.
I’ve met some business owners who open meetings with prayer. I was one of them. I’ve met others who feel it is wrong to share your faith with employees due to the power imbalance between an owner and an employee. I’ve often wondered how I would react if I worked for a Muslim employer who took time, with half the staff, to pull out their mats and pray toward Mecca. How would I feel? Would I be drawn to Islam as a result? Or would I resent that those who shared my employer’s faith got, essentially, an extended break to practice their faith while I was expected to work? Would I judge he quality of their work more closely because of their openness about their faith? Probably. I’m human, you know.
How open or silent you are about your faith with your employees, I’ve concluded, is a decision to be explored between you and God. I am not in a place to tell you what to do or not do. I believe this is one area in which we need to allow freedom and difference – and to value those differences.
The second point we can learn from the story of Esther is this: God has given us a position of status and a platform for speaking out at the right time by entrusting us with a business in the marketplace. I will suggest that as time passes, more and more of us will be called to risk everything we have to stand up for God. Esther risked her life to stand up for her people and God. He may very well ask you to do the same. I think the question will be whether or not we will be faithful to God, even if it means losing our business and our source of income, not to mention our reputations and influence. In the face of death, Esther stood up. Will you stand up? Will I?
The legal environment in which we operate is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. The cleavage is widening and the divergences are become more profound. I don’t think we’re too far away from the Bible being labled as hate speech by the LGBTQ community and seeing them use the court system to create a set of laws that will profoundly call us to faithfulness and suffering. Christian businesses are under attack. There is a growing segment of our society that sees us as the real terrorists in America. Just read So many Christians, So Few Lions if you don’t believe me. Do you have a proper theology of suffering? Are you prepared to suffer for Christ?
So, in short, how much of your faith should you share in your own business – that’s entirely up to you and the Lord, in my opinion. On the second point, if God calls you to suffer publicly for Him and lose your business, will you stand up? Will you lose it all for Christ? On this question, I fear many more Christian Business Owners will be called by God to suffer. I think the jury is out on how many will be faithful.