Have you ever wondered what the Bible has to say about running a business? I have. It was spring in 2003 when my wife and I were out of money, out of credit and out of time. People began anonymously sending us money to help us buy groceries, I had a two-year-old boy and a baby girl on the way, and I had no idea how I was going to support my family. Fast-forward a couple of years down the road to the fall of 2005 What follows is the text of a faith-builder talk I gave at my local church in the fall of 2005, a couple of years later:
I am self-employed as an author and trainer on a particular software product from Microsoft. I also run my own conferences in various cities on this product. Our personal and business accounts have a line of credit for those times when income is temporarily unsteady.
After 9/11, for various reasons, my training work slowed down. At that time, my conferences were just getting off the ground and new students were hard to find. The publishers with whom I work cut back on the number of books that they were publishing and lowered their advances and royalty rates. Every area of work that provided income to my wife, Kathy, and me was slowly drying up. As the economy deteriorated, so did my business and so did our income.
Throughout 2002, Kathy and I found ourselves gradually sliding further and further into debt. With our borrowed money, we weren’t buying toys like boats or snow mobiles or taking expensive vacations. Instead, we were borrowing bit by bit to keep living. God was allowing this to teach me a lesson in obedience.
You see, during 2002, from time to time, God would nudge me with the notion that perhaps I should cash out our retirement investments so that I could trust Him more fully and reduce our monthly outlay. The amount we were going into debt each month was roughly equal to the amount we were putting into our retirement instruments. But the Lord’s instruction ran counter to everything I’d ever been taught about investments: invest early and then steadily save. I thought it was “unwise” to cash out our investments because we would lose significant dollars. To be blunt, I was questioning God’s wisdom and instruction.
2002 was a year of paradoxes. On the one hand, God was faithful by regularly providing work in ways that only He can orchestrate—with stories too numerous to tell right now. Often, I’d look at the following month’s schedule and see that it was empty, only to find the Lord giving me work during that month from the most unlikely sources. God was faithful and was providing for our needs. On the other hand, I remained resistant to the Lord regarding our retirement investments. We were obedient in giving and faithful to the Lord in other ways, but this one instruction kept coming up and I kept resisting it.
Then, during Christmas of 2002, I read The Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving by Randy Alcorn. Throughout his short book he encouraged me, among other things, to step out in faith and commit to giving an amount to the Lord that was quite unreasonable by human standards.
So I did.
In 2003 I committed to give double what we had given in 2002, knowing full well that if this was going to happen, God would be the only One who could work it for good.
So, after making this commitment, I’d like to tell you that my business immediately turned around. It didn’t. Instead, my business continued to go downhill. In fact, it weakened to the point where we had no income for two-and-a-half months in the spring of 2003. During that time, God spoke to me again about our retirement investments, and I finally obeyed. We cashed out most of the instruments and lived off that money when we had no income. For those two-and-a-half months, we stopped accumulating debt, but more importantly, I finally obeyed the Lord. By May of 2003, we were flat out of money, I had very little work and we were high in debt, but strangely, we were at peace.
Then in June of 2003 something out of the ordinary happened. Companies started calling me to do training for them, and as the summer progressed, companies called more and more. My marketing had not changed one bit, my websites and offerings were the same—the only difference was that God was starting to bring new business my way.
Then Microsoft Press came knocking on my door and asked me to head up a major writing project on the next version of this software package. It was evident to me that when they initially envisioned this project, the Lord was prompting the editorial team to think of me. God was increasing my business.
In addition, the Lord nudged me to run a conference in October of 2003. So I did. And a plethora of new students signed up—over three times more than had ever signed up for my previous conferences. In fact, so many students wanted to attend my October conference that I had to close my registration list and quickly arrange another conference in November. The November conference also sold out—with more students than I had at the October conference! These events enabled us to increase our giving and pay off debts. In the span of four short months, the Lord provided enough income for us to pay off all our debts, excluding our mortgage.
After the conference in November, we still had some extra money, so I was thinking about buying a boat, but Kathy reminded me of my commitment to give twice what we had given in 2002. This time, I was obedient, and to the glory of God, I can say that in December we were able to fulfill that commitment. We experienced a joy in giving to the Lord that we never had before.
Kathy and I have learned about trust and obedience. We have learned about following the Lord even when it doesn’t make sense by human standards, and even now we are experiencing the peace of being free from debt. Lastly, we have felt the joy of giving rather than buying for ourselves.
The events of the last seven months are directly and solely a result of the hand of God. To God be the glory; great things He has done!
This book is an outgrowth of my personal experiences in running a business that was, in its first five years of existence, so successful and popular that we had more cash than we could handle. But this business, like so many in the 2008 timeframe, took a huge hit when the economy plummeted. After 2008, I struggled to keep it going and was forced to right-size the business on three different occasions to keep it profitable. I have the experience of growing a business and downsizing a business. Like Paul, I know what it is to have plenty, and I know what it is to be in need.
Looking back, if I had had the reference architecture outlined in this book, I’m confident that I would have made a different set of decisions, saving me much pain and agony and setting my business on a firm foundation for the foreseeable future.
It is to this end that I write this book. I want my experiences to be of help to you, the small business owner or small ministry partner. I want to provide Christian business owners who deeply desire to honor God with their businesses that which is not taught in any MBA program on the planet: a coherent architecture with which you can run your business to fulfill His purposes.
Who is this book for?
This book is written for a fairly narrow audience: highly talented risk takers who enjoy creating and building businesses. I love being with entrepreneurs! These small business owners are an incredible group.
Unfortunately, small business owners represent one of the most underserved groups within our churches. We have programs for a wide variety of groups in our churches, but none are specifically for small business owners. I wish I had a class at church where I could go to learn about how to run my business God’s way. I wish I had a group at church where business owners gathered around each other for prayer and encouragement. Consider how the following conversations might go:
- “Charlie needs to fire an employee tomorrow. Can we pray for him? It might get ugly, even though he’s documented events as needed.”
- “Lisa needs to find another bank due to changes in her current bank’s underwriting requirements. Let’s pray for her.”
- “We just landed a major deal that will produce $500,000 of profits over the next eight months. Can you all pray with me about how I steward this money? I want to hear clearly from the Lord on how to glorify Him with it.”
- “We’re looking at taking on a new line of stores that serves a higher-end customer than we currently serve. Each store that we have today required about a $50,000 up-front investment. The one’s we’re looking at adding to our portfolio will require a $250,000 investment per store. I need know what you all think and then I need us to pray for wisdom and guidance.”
You see, these type of problems are what we as business owners face every week. Yet, without encouragement and support, in our most difficult decisions, we often feel isolated and underserved. I wish our churches would step up to the plate and minister to business owners, but I’m not sure that most boards are ready to tackle that lion.
So, this book is intended to help you, the small business owner, achieve all God is calling you to achieve. The reference architecture outlined in this book is not a silver bullet that if followed, will solve all problems and resolve all conflicts while producing a mountain of money. Instead, the architecture outlined in this book will give you a context in which to understand how to run your business God’s way.
Hence, this book is for you if you
- Sense that there must be more to running a business than creating profits.
- engage in substantial philanthropy, and yet you find that a part of your personhood remains empty on the inside.
- want to run your business God’s way and you really don’t know how to do this, even after attending seminars, listening to sermons and reading other books.
- find yourself short on cash each month even though it appears that sales are doing fine.
- keep secrets from your wife or husband under the ruse that it’s best they don’t know the whole truth about the stressors and problems in your business.
- pay numerous motivational speakers to motivate you and find that the motivation wears off after a few months..
- are willing to take a hard look at yourself.
- are ready to make difficult choices.
- are tired of being isolated and misunderstood by those in your church.
- want to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.
In short, this book is written for the Christian business owner of a privately-held corporation, but will be highly effective for ministry founders and leaders of all types of organizations. It will likely be less helpful to those who run large, publically traded companies.
What you will not find in this book
In order to explain the framework within which I’m writing, I think it’s best to outline what you will not find in this book.
You will not find any of the following:
- “X-number” of steps to get rich
- A prosperity gospel view of business
- Synchronistic approach to Christianity with other religions
- A belief that one political party or the other is more righteous or has all the answers
- A belief that we can solve spiritual problems with political or business solutions
- A belief that whatever is legal is somehow ethical and / or moral
- The notion that profits are the only measure of success
- A silver bullet to help you get out of a jam you have created for yourself
If these are what you’re looking for, you need to consult other resources. I’m writing from a viewpoint that is not just informed by the Scriptures, but is derived from a correct exegesis of the Scriptures and is empowered through prayer.
We write from an Evangelical Christian perspective. This means that we believe that:
- Faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to God and heaven
- The Bible is inerrant in the original autographs
- God is one, yet three persons
- The Holy Spirit literally regenerates and indwells those who place their faith in Jesus Christ
- We are fallen in sin from the moment of birth and that only Jesus Christ can give us a new nature
- Business was created for the glory of God – it is not an afterthought in God’s economy
- God has specific purposes for business
- Business owners hold a unique entrustment from the Lord to steward well that which He has given to them
- Satan will oppose every effort to further the Kingdom of God – even if it is a movement originating in a for-profit business
Specifically, the core theses in this book are as follows:
- The health and / or dysfunction of you yourself will be imprinted on your business, but will often be interpreted as business problems rather than personal problems. As God heals you through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, He will improve your business as well.
- Most problems in business are not the result of doing things wrong; rather, they are the result of neglecting to do things right.
- Most Christian business owners don’t understand why God created business or what His purposes for business are. Hence, they lack a core foundation upon which to predicate their most critical strategic decisions.
- Owning a business is a calling of God, worthy of study and reflection equal to that of any other ministry calling, such as becoming a pastor or missionary. Accepting that you’re working in the greatest mission field in the world that most pastors and missionaries will never reach demands your investigation into the issues we discuss in this book. Accepting that God has given you a unique stewardship role means you have additional responsibilities to God that others may not have.
- Most business go through their entire lifecycle having never solved their most important and difficult problems.
We will base this books series on the Business Reference Architecture. Throughout this book and the others we’ll write as part of the larger series, we’ll persistently tether our discussions to the architecture and will present our materials using the architecture for our chapter outlines. I’ll explain this architecture in detail in the next chapter.
Finally, we understand that business owners are busy people, so we’ve decided to write micro-chapters that are no more than 5-8 pages in length. You should be able to read and digest each chapter within 15 minutes. If you want to learn more about a particular topic, you can do so by visiting www.bibleandbusiness.com, where you’ll find an increasing body of research about the topics we write about in this book.
We’ll also offer other books for your consideration on each topic so that you can read and learn as much as you’d like in any given area.
Let’s turn our attention now to the Business Reference Architecture.