Throughout the Bible, the people of God who were business people were invariably excellent at their business.
Abraham’s business was so large and so successful, for example, that it could produce “318 trained men who had been born in his household.” (See The Good Book on Business, Chapter Four). Joseph was so good at management and administration that he was made CEO of what was probably the world’s largest economic enterprise. Boaz was a successful landowner and farmer.
In the New Testament, Lydia was a successful merchant and Paul was so good at tentmaking that he was able to support himself where ever he went. God does not leave the matter to doubt or interpretation, when he said, in Colossians 4: 23:
“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
It’s hard to reconcile that with the common expectation that a Christian-owned business tolerates, and maybe even promotes, mediocrity in performance. There is, among our Christian culture, a sub-current which believes it acceptable to not create expectations for employees, and to not hold anyone accountable for their behavior. As a result, many Christian businesses wallow in the muck of mediocrity and never achieve their worldly or spiritual potential.
What a shame.
Christian businesses are God’s creation, designed by Him to fulfill a need in the world and to shine His light in locations, markets, and industries. (Ephesians 2:10)
For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Anything less than the pursuit of excellence is an abdication of our responsibility to do good works and to do them with all our heart. God has given us our careers, the business responsibilities that we have, and our businesses. He expects us to do them with all our heart. And that means, for a business person, to pursue excellence in the marketplace.
While pursuing excellence is an easy thing to say and to agree with intellectually, the daily pursuit of it is an entirely different thing which requires not just our intellectual assent, but a complete sell-out of time, money and emotional energy to pursue a vision which always seems just out of reach.
The first step in that daily battle is to gain a clear idea of what it is we are striving for. What is excellence?
What does excellence look like?
While a full answer would easily fill the pages of a book, here are some basic thoughts. I suspect most marketplace Christians would agree with these components of the concept of excellence in business.
Populations grow, as do markets and the businesses which serve them. A Christian owned business understands that growth fosters profits, innovation, and influence and provides opportunities for the employees and stakeholders to grow and prosper. In the hands of a Christian businessperson, all these outcomes are positive and nurture the Kingdom. Continuous, profitable growth is one of the things that mark excellence in the marketplace.
Profit is the measure of a business’s financial performance, and excellent companies make excellent profits. It is an indication that the economic forces within the business are in balance – that the pricing accurately reflects the value offered, and that the costs are not out of proportion. There are, of course, hundreds of specific behaviors that support these fundamental measurements. A profitable business has most of these well-organized, efficient, and effective. I can’t imagine putting the label “excellent” on an enterprise that wasn’t exceptionally profitable.
3. A Good Reputation (in your market)
An excellent company has a great reputation with its customers, its suppliers, and its competitors and colleagues. Everyone recognizes the business as being driven by integrity, truthfulness, and transparency, and senses the underlying relationship with God that produces those fruits. If your company isn’t recognized by most of the players in your market as excellent, it probably isn’t.
4. A Good Reputation (internally)
The employees of an excellent business are glad they work there. The vendors and other stakeholders consider their relationship with the business to be a blessing and wish that their other relationships were like the one they have with you.
The owners of excellent businesses have earned a great deal of respect from the folks inside the business, and the culture supports it.
5. Financially Secure
While there are times and situations in which debt is appropriate, generally a Christian owned business strives for a debtless balance sheet. In an excellent company, cash flow is predictable and sufficient, and debt is, at most, a small proportion of the assets, and, at best, non-existent. Whereas many businesses are a month away from being out-of-business, excellent companies have the financial wherewithal to weather the next calamity.
An excellent Christian business does almost everything better. Better marketing, better sales, better distribution, better employee relationship, better financial performance, etc. And, over time, that means that it grows more solidly and rapidly than its non-Christian colleagues and competitors. Eventually, the Christian owned business should rise to the top of its industry.
As an excellent Christian business grows its reputation, it naturally develops admirers and imitators. Rather than decry that, Christian business people ought to embrace it, understanding that their growing influence is both a result of their business excellence and a characteristic of excellence. Excellent Christian businesses ought to accept every request to visit, ought to seek out positions of influence in national and local associations and gatherings of all kinds. Each of these is an opportunity to give God the glory for the business success, and to nudge others to seek a relationship with him.
So, is your business excellent? Are you striving to be a powerful force in each of the seven areas noted above? Take this little self-assessment to see where you stand. Circle the word or phrase following each of the seven items that best describes your current situation. Then use that to harness your energy and resources to strive for excellence.
Growing No We’re flat Slight growth Regular, substantial growth
Profitable No Breaking even Slightly Substantially profitable
Good Reputation No Not sure Neutral We’re admired
Internal Reputation No Not sure Not so much We’re admired
Financially secure No We’re on the edge Not so much We’re in good shape
Industry-leading No Not much Generally well thought of We’re industry leaders
Influential No Not much Somewhat Exceptional