Approaching Our Roles In The Marketplace

The great majority of Christians have careers that are not directly connected to any kind of overt Christian calling. Sure, there are jobs in para-church ministries, nonprofit Christian social service organizations and of course the ever-growing mega-church scene. However, there just aren’t enough of these jobs for everyone who is a committed and thoughtful Christian who hopes to glorify God with all of their life.

I had formerly planned on going to seminary and working with some type of student ministry or possibly overseas. After years of pondering and praying while working in a bank, my desire to be in a role where people outside the church are impacted led me to a career in the marketplace rather than the Christian sub-culture. I want to be what an executive with HP once called a “positive deviant,” fully engaged in the marketplace and contributing to creating value for my business, while also pursuing my personal mission within it.

Most Christians spend far more hours in some type of business than they ever will in a church or other type of Christian activity. The 40 or more hours a week that we spend in our one, two or three jobs are where we inevitably expend most of our mental, physical and emotional energy. Yet the Christian thinking and teaching that is applied to this fundamental area of a believer’s life has been minimal and generally rather weak.

Of course, there are occasional sermons or book chapters on doing your work “as unto the Lord,” but advice rarely goes beyond trying to keep God in mind when we work and being sure to work hard and be a good employee. Beyond that, we may hear some proclamations about witnessing to our coworkers and treating the workplace as a mission field for personal evangelism. Finally, we can always feel better about our work, especially if it pays well, if we tithe and make a hefty pledge to the church’s building program. All of this seems rather weak from simple logical and theological perspectives. Can our work only be redeemed by just pretending that God is our boss or only by doing things that aren’t business?

What about the work itself? How do we approach that? While getting my MBA over the last two years, I became involved in an organization that can be a good model for how Christians should approach their roles in the marketplace. Net Impact (www.net-impact.org) is a national organization of MBA students and graduates that is working to circumvent the normal course of business in order to incorporate environmental and social responsibility into business practices and strategies. Net Impact establishes small communities of like-minded students in business schools across the world that will work to educate their classmates about these issues and establish a commitment to pursue them in their careers. They have adopted the means and the vocabulary of business in order to reform the sometimes narrowly focused and short-sited outlook of business leaders.

The focus is on building the “business case” for environmental and social responsibility such that a company can both sustain and improve its profitability while also saving the environment and improving social conditions. It takes a considerable amount of effort, diligence and creativity to generate these arguments, but many have proven successful. A number of large companies are beginning to adopt these practices and are at least considering the environmental and social impacts of their businesses. These students and professionals have infiltrated the mainstream business culture and have created a positive influence on how business is done—hence, the “positive deviant” moniker that was coined by an HP executive at last year’s Net Impact conference in the D.C. area.

Christians in business can learn a very good lesson from these “positive deviants.” They are fully in the business world, but they are not of it. They are accomplished and fully competent businesspeople. They have played “the game” well, gaining beneficial experience, did well on their GMAT and graduated from a well-regarded business school. Along with being a good businessperson, they also have a vision for changing the business world into a place where the impacts on the environment and society are considered along with profits. Much of their focus and effort must be centered on their role in the business, but their deeper mission lies under their daily work, and when given the opportunity, can be brought out more fully. They hope to move up the corporate ladder both for their own benefit and to be in a position where they can influence the business in a positive manner.

As Christians in the business world, we are called to more than being ethical, tithing off our good earnings and perhaps serving on the church’s financial committee. The business world is our mission field, both the people there and the culture and institutions that rule it. Too many Christian organizations in the marketplace act simply as a support group of sorts for Christians to get some type of feel-good devotional, or lesson on ethics, and meet some other believers working in similar contexts. When did our vision become so small? Just as the Roman Empire needed to be redeemed, the business world needs redemption.

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Business is the most powerful force in the world today. Business can create jobs for millions, accelerate the development of third-world countries and even push abusive governments to be more humane. Business can also rob millions of dollars from families, force thousands of poor people to work in hazardous conditions and corrupt politicians so that they disregard the needs of their constituents in favor of large corporate donors. MBA students in Net Impact have not given up on changing the world, and they are doing what it will take to put themselves in a position to do it.

As Christians in the business world, we all too often simply seek to pacify ourselves in this world, rather than believing in the power of God and the gifts He has given us to change it.

[Ed Briscoe is passing the time in Nashville, Tenn., as he waits for the kind of job that will combine his passions and abilities and be worth two years of additional schoolwork and a lot of debt.]

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