I teach a course entitled Innovation and Entrepreneurship at a northwest Christian university. One day I opened my computer to grade an assignment from a new student that I did not know. He made this statement in the course of his written work, “The main goal of business is to profit…” It was an open door to help him understand that as Christians, we see the world differently.
Al Erisman has written a delightful book entitled, “The Accidental Executive – Lessons on Business, Faith and Calling from the Life of Joseph”1. Chapter 27 on “Calling” is worth the price of the book, although the entire book is a worthwhile read, as he pursues topics such as sexual temptation, office politics, strategy, customers, professionalism, transparency, integrity, justice and more – all in the life of Joseph as well as 21st century business.
Erisman draws many parallels with the life and work of Joseph. At the end of his life Joseph, in a conversation with his brothers (Genesis 50:20) states that his life’s work was meaningful (“the saving of many lives”), but it was also in response to the call of God (“God intended it for good”). Joseph clearly achieved career satisfaction with a true sense of calling; and so should each of us working in business.
I have written elsewhere of the three great commands of God: the creation mandate, the great commandment, and the great commission. The Creation Mandate of Genesis 1-2 describes the great purpose for humans to explore, develop and continue the work God commissions us to do. Several quotes from Erisman’s chapter 27 are instructive.
“I say the purpose of business is first to advance the economic well-being of communities around the world and secondly to enable every other institution to exist. Without sustainable ethical wealth creation, the world doesn’t work.” Bonnie Wurzbacher, Senior VP of Coca-Cola (page 176).
“Our primary calling is by God, to him and for him … if all that a believer does grows out of faith and is done for the glory of God, then all dualistic distinctions are demolished. There is no higher/lower, sacred/secular … or first class/second class … the business person, the teacher, the factory worker and the television anchor – can do God’s work just as much as the minister or missionary.” Os Guinness (page 168).
“I came to see that I had been thinking about work all wrong and mostly backward … I thought that if I just got the right job, I would be happy. It was through a process that I concluded that we don’t derive meaning from our work; rather we bring meaning to our work.” Barry Rowan, Chief Financial Officer of Cool Planet Energy Systems (page 170).
“We have to have profit to do the things a business needs to do. If we do not create value for capital, you are actually destroying wealth. I don’t know a healthy person who gets up in the morning and looks in the mirror and says, “I live for my blood.” But I don’t know a person alive who does not have blood. Blood is like profit – necessary to live but not the reason for living.” Don Flow, Owner and CEO of Flow Automotive Companies (page 173).
“Work is an opportunity to fulfill the Creation Mandate … Being fruitful and multiplying and subduing the earth is about building the social world, not just families. It includes cities, schools, and countries. It includes harnessing the creativity and the power that God created into this earth through every single thing that we do. I think that was a call to honor God in every aspect of our lives including our work.” Bonnie Wurzbacher (page 175).
Erisman cites Bill Pollard who as CEO of ServiceMaster was known for the great lengths he took to help workers in menial jobs to connect their work to a higher purpose. “Their job is not just to clean the floor; their job is to help that patient become well. So the purpose of their work extends beyond the task.” (page 171).
Likewise Erisman highlights the value that Wurzbacher and Joseph find in the product itself for its economic opportunity and inherent value for individuals and communities. They both saw purpose in what they were doing, something tied directly to the call of God in their lives. The apostle Paul told the Colossians, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord and not for men …” (Col. 3:23-24).
1 Albert M. Erisman, The Accidental Executive (Boston: Hendrickson Publishers, 2015).
Larry Sharp, Director of Training, IBEC Ventures