In August, Ashton Eaton won the Olympics decathlon gold medal for the second consecutive time, a feat not accomplished since 1984. He holds the world record in that event.
How is it that a poor kid from a small town in central Oregon with no resident father could rise to be called the “World’s Greatest Athlete”? I learned the answer while listening to Ashton and his mother Roz speak at a TEDX event in Bend, Oregon earlier this year.
Roz, a single mom spoke on the topic, “How to Raise an Olympian”1. She was complemented in her speech by her son Ashton. As it turns out, Roz knew nothing about the events of the decathlon, nothing about athletics and she had no money for sending Ashton to sports camps and clubs. But she taught him something more important which set the stage for his success.
Roz consistently told Ashton, “We have to find out who you are and pursue greatness in whatever that is.” She never said “do this” or “do that”. She never sent him to school to learn to run and jump. She taught him to be “comfortable in his own skin”, to find out how God had made him and to develop that to the fullest extent.
For a while Ashton thought he wanted to be a fighter pilot, then a Ninja Turtle (typical of childhood dreams), but he soon learned that God gave him athletic ability. As that became more and more evident, coaches emerged who saw the talent and worked with him in high school and at the University of Oregon. But Roz taught him to know who he was and develop it fully.
Wired for business
That got me to thinking about how God has wired people for business, for creating jobs, and for creating wealth (Deuteronomy 8:18). When that becomes evident it is all important that those people pursue that ability to the fullest. Mats Tunehag quips, “If God has called you to business, do not stoop to be a pastor or missionary.” Be a Kingdom business owner, manager or entrepreneur if that is how God has wired you. It is a high and holy calling as much as anything else.
IBEC looks for men and women gifted and ‘wired’ for business and ready to use that for the glory of God to the ends of the earth. Is that you?
What if Jesus was your boss? What if he was the chairman of your board? What if you reported to him each month for your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)?
What would he expect that those KPIs would be? How would he measure how you are doing?
A wise owner or manager continuously keeps his KPIs in mind. He knows that accountability is a key factor in driving results. So it is with God as the owner of our businesses because Kingdom business owners see themselves as stewards.
KPIs should be clear, short and understandable to everyone in the business. They should be measurable and uncomplicated. Either you achieved them or you didn’t; they are not fuzzy.
We expect secular entrepreneurs to think profit margins and growth. But what about Kingdom business owners? Yes, definitely. Jesus himself established a KPI for profit as a measure of success when he told the parable of the talents (Matthew 25: 14-30). He made it clear that everyone is entrusted with wealth in unique proportions. In his example he told of one who received five bags of gold and he doubled it; another received two and he doubled it. Both were commended because they “put their money to work.” Jesus said, “Well done.”
On the other hand, one person received one talent and did nothing with it. We might have thought Jesus would have said: “…oh well, he is just not a business guy!” No – he also was expected to be profitable and when he did not even invest the gold in low-interest accounts, he was called “wicked”.
In the Old Testament, God himself told Moses that “…it is he (i.e. God) who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” Only business creates wealth – not government, education, the church, or medicine – they all consume it. Business makes a profit, creates wealth and is a key KPI for Kingdom owners.
Christians are God’s ambassadors here on earth (2 Corinthians 5:20). Imagine – ambassadors of the King of the Universe; the one who is the Creator God and gave us the ability to create wealth. It should be obvious that he expects us to do everything with excellence. “…whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).
Excellence should be a KPI; it is measurable. When God made all things (Genesis 1, 2) he said it was good. We are his “… handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…” (Ephesians 2:10). To be good is to be of the highest worth. Whether we produce a product or service, it must be good (i.e. excellent) and that should have a measurement connected to it – a KPI.
One way to set the stage for excellence in all you do is to say so in your values statement. David Green, founder of Hobby Lobby wrote this value among other things in his statement of purpose: “Offering our customers an exceptional selection and value.” What a gutsy thing! That held Hobby Lobby to a high standard of excellence, especially when quantified in a way that can be measured.
Excellence buys us the privilege to be overt about Jesus in the marketplace. Because we produce a quality product or service, we then have a right to let people know that the reason is that we are an ambassador of the King. To use a sports metaphor, think Kurt Warner, Tim Tebow, or Russell Wilson!
Making Kingdom of God a priority
Another of David Green’s statements of value declares: “Honoring God in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles. Such a statement helps Hobby Lobby be accountable since anyone could challenge a decision, an activity or any part of corporate affairs by asking if it is consistent with a Biblical principle.
In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he talked about Kingdom thinking and Kingdom results. He made it clear that key decisions should focus on eternity, not the temporal only. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matthew 6:19-20). What does this mean for your company? How can this KPI be a key indicator, measurable in a monthly standard?
One way is to take Jesus’ commands seriously and develop measurements which will tell us each month how we are doing. For example, Jesus talked about the top two commandments, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39).
What does it look like to love God in our business? Everyone can think of ways. One business client in Indonesia posted a biblical proverb on the door where everyone entered each day. The majority Muslim workforce understood that this came from the bosses’ “holy book” and this showed he loved God and it led to significant conversations.
What about loving your neighbor? Business as Mission operatives job creation as loving their neighbor in a world of poverty, injustice, and unemployment, especially when done with integrity, fairness, and justice. It speaks to the employees and the community and attracts people to God himself. When we see people as God’s creation and we give them dignity through job creation, we are loving them in alignment with God’s idea of love.
But there is another of Jesus’ commands called the Great Commission. We are to make disciples – we are to help all peoples to know God and to follow him. Dale Losch, author of A Better Way says disciple making is “pre cross” and “post cross”. Non-followers of Jesus are watching us even if they are not yet his full disciple. All that we do is representative of God and his desire that his Kingdom be built on earth and in heaven. We must figure out ways to make this a KPI in our business.
Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, calmed the weather, raised the dead and certainly had an influence on the culture of his day. Kingdom businesses in today’s world can influence and lead culture with their impact.
It is not just social enterprises which should have social impact. Even if you are making widgets, you can develop a KPI which has social impact like Jesus did. Bill began to listen to God’s voice telling him to care about the handicapped on the streets of his city. He took them off the streets and gave them jobs. Over time this created such a change in the city, that city managers in his Asian country began to boast about him at conferences they attended in other cities. Society was being impacted because Bill saw social concerns as something he could develop into a KPI.
In education, they call them behavioral objections; some businesses use the term long and short term goals. Others call them Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). Whatever the term, every business person needs to have indicators which demonstrate clear and measurable progress. Start developing some today.
“I delight in my insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10
My wife and I have lived in central Oregon for the past six years. This small town of 2,000 inhabitants has been a peaceful place after living in Philadelphia for 17 years and in a large Brazilian city for 21 years before that. Here there is little crime, good weather, and only one potential natural disaster – FOREST FIRE!
We have seen several fires in these six years, a couple of them really big. As I write this blog several hundred firefighters have just departed our small town along with their airplanes, helicopters, trucks and scores of tents. They licked this one in record time.
There is no doubt about it, a forest fire is destructive – but did you know it is not all bad? Fire is both an enemy and a friend. Fire cleans the forest floor, removing windfalls and other debris and opens up the sunlight and brings nourishment to the soil. This allows the trees to grow stronger and healthier. Many fires clear wildlands of heavy brush and leave room for new grasses, herbs and regenerated shrubs that provide food and habitat for many wildlife species.
Near Sisters, Oregon where I live, there are a lot of controlled burns. The idea is that low-intensity flames help prevent large damaging fires that spread out of control and completely destroy forests and residences. Fire also kills diseases and insects that prey on trees and thus keeps the forest healthy. Vegetation that is burned by fire provides a rich source of nutrients that nourish remaining trees.
All of this makes me think about the fire of adversity in a business person’s life and in the life cycle of a Kingdom business. The scriptures teach us much about the importance of the refiner’s fire which purifies, restores and tests us – thus making us stronger and better prepared for what faces us in the future (Isaiah 48:10; 1 Peter 5:10; Job 23:10; 1 Corinthians 3:12-15).
What are those tests which are the “fires of affliction” in a BAMers career? I understand these to be things which are outside our control; things we could not have prevented through due diligence or by “counting the cost.” These are afflictions which are the “natural disasters” in the life of a Kingdom business owner.
These are economic issues which exist at the national level and relate to the country or region’s fiscal policy such as tax structure, monetary policy, the currency, or the banking system. This section cannot do justice to a complete understanding of concerns such the fluctuations of a soft currency. An example would be the Brazilian currency in the 1980s when hyperinflation could deflate significant purchasing power overnight. Such instability frustrates international trade agreements and internal business operations alike. I well remember holding a one million unit note in my hand realizing that it was worthless.
Emerging black markets in unstable economies create ethical dilemmas of survival for Kingdom businesses which seek answers among difficult alternatives. How does one pay taxes when the stated “lawful” taxes for income, property, sales, import-export etc. totals more than 100% of revenue. Clearly, no business in that market can survive and at the same time be law-abiding.
In the United States, we have GAAP standardized accounting systems, but most developing countries have no such standards. These are modern day examples of Judges 21:25 “…everyone did as they saw fit.” The net result is a decision-making dilemma and the dire consequence of being unable to please both God and corrupt officials. This would be the equivalent of the fire of adversity.
We know that our Judeo-Christian history has bequeathed us a “rule of law” society, issuing from the likes of the Laws of Moses, John Locke, and the US Constitution. However, many developing countries can be categorized as police relationship-based (at best) or police states (at worst). It is who you know not what you know. In short – officials play by their own rules.
The political challenges include potential expropriation of assets, nationalization of a company, differing and unstable legal systems, unbinding contracts, corruption as normal, powerless police, religious persecution, and political instability. These issues are not aberrant behavior – they are normal behavior.
I remember one of our clients in the former Soviet Union doing all he could to secure good contracts for the purchase of their agricultural product. However, when a glut occurred in the market, the customer refused to purchase the ripened product and our client essentially lost everything. What did a contract mean? It simply was of value if it was to their advantage and not to the advantage of the expatriate business owner.
Unique Expatriate Challenges
In most ways, expatriate business owners are dependent on individuals who hold power. For example, foreigners living abroad are granted visas to live in a host country. The country has all the power to provide a visa, refuse a visa, or rescind a visa. In another example, local partners can turn against a foreign business owner when least expected. A client discovered one day that his local partner, an attorney, had decided to take off with all the business assets and there was very little he could do about it. Prior to this, he had done all the right things in mitigating this disaster. As one pundit said, “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
Religious persecution is well known in the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist world. There is a fine line between laws which prohibit proselytism and our desire to share our faith. In the end, however, we are at the mercy of local authorities. We have found that the best mitigating factor against religious persecution is to have a legitimate profitable business, provide an excellent service, and create local jobs.
Security issues are unique to the expatriate business owner, whether it be electronic security or security of one’s family in dangerous places. These are real challenges and despite the best efforts to mitigate eventualities, stuff happens.
The Challenge of Culture
It is mandatory that entrepreneurs planning to start businesses in other cultures learn both the language and also the fundamental cultural components of that culture. That sounds simple in a single sentence but that is a life-long endeavor. This is so much more than knowing when to “Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands”; it is a complex process of learning a worldview and how that extrapolates to cultural norms.
Part of the challenge relates to cultural implications which are so opposite to our enculturation that we tend to resist and try to change that culture. For example, after living in Latin America for 21 years I still had a hard time accepting that sometimes “no” means “yes” and “yes” can mean “no”. This is rooted in another culture’s priority of relationships and not rules; truth is not absolute, concrete and empirical but is determined by situations and people. Group insiders determine what is true and real and it takes time to be a group insider. This explains the difficulty in contract law or in determining what a response to a critical business question might really mean.
Geert Hofstede has helped business people understand complex elements of differing cultures. For example, the Power Distance Index (PDI) informs us how in many cultures with a high PDI, subordinates are highly dependent on bosses. They do not talk to them and certainly do not dispute their autocratic decisions, while in a low Power Distance culture such as ours, we freely interact with management and prefer consultation in decision making. In high PDI cultures, there might be wide gaps in salary between top and bottom, and certainly in social status. All of this has business implications that might not be readily understood. We can make mistakes which may seem like a fire of oppression has hit us.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means but it is somewhat representative of the fires of oppression which can be natural in nature. Are they avoidable? Even if appropriate mitigating factors have been considered, the cost has been counted, and risk assessments have been done professionally, there are still things that might not be avoidable. If and when they happen we know that they can be used by the Almighty to make us stronger and healthier – better prepared for the future. Just like a forest after a fire!
“The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” Psalm 27:1
For a good discussion of the challenges of BAM, read:
C. Neal Johnson, Business as Mission: A Comprehensive Guide to Theory and Practice. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL: p. 417.
Hofstede, Geert. Cultures and Organizations – Software of the Mind. McGraw Hill, 1997.
IBEC Board of Directors member, Dave Kier, writes a daily devotional for his family, employees and others. I am fortunate to know him and to read his daily thoughts. He gave permission to reproduce this one from July 17, 2016.
“Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests.” Deuteronomy 17:18 NASB®
I think I will institute a new company policy. Before a new leader starts work, he or she must go to a remote cabin along a lake where there is no internet nor television. Only a simple cell phone, not a smart phone, can be taken along with the Bible and a hand full of pencils and tablets. No computer. They will have two weeks to write out the first five books of the Bible and the four gospels. At the end of two weeks, I will go and meet with them to see what they learned about leadership and try to answer any questions. After all, leadership is rooted in God’s spoken word written for us.
This exercise would reveal many things about a person. I would learn if they are disciplined enough to follow through. I would learn if they are learners or if they are the type that go through the motions. I would determine if they are humble, willing to submit to the authority of God’s word. I would learn if they can submit to my authority. They in turn, would learn more than $200,000 of college education could ever teach. I would have a true leader and they would be a better person. There’s no downside to this policy.
This is what each king assuming the throne in Israel was to do, except they only had the writings of Moses to copy. God knew that when a king had to write with his own hand His law, it would mean more to him. God knew that man can take the easy way out so he was to write it in the presence of a priest who was also to explain the difficult portions. We don’t read which kings followed the policy but we sure know which ones didn’t even try. By the time the kingdom was about to be devoured by Assyria and then Babylon, the written word of the Lord couldn’t even be found, which was why they were in dire straits.
I am not much of a policy wonk but this sounds like a very good one. I guess I would have to set the example wouldn’t I?
“Lord, Your word is powerful, sharper than any two edged sword. Your word contains the pathway to life. Your word is truth! How thankful we are that You graced us with Your spoken word written and preserved for us through the ages. Your blessings never end and we thank You. Amen”