Redeeming Company Culture

You don’t have to let something slide for long before it becomes the new normal. Culture is what culture does. Culture isn’t what you intend it to be. It’s not what you hope or aspire for it to be. It’s what you do. So do better. – It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy At Work, page 147

I work in one of the most toxic work environments on the planet. Not a day goes by where people in my office aren’t complaining violently against some worthless task a manager made them do, or that another employee is incompetent, etc. As I struggle continuously not to join in (and I sometimes fail miserably!) with this complaintive and whiney culture, I have begun to realize that this type of work culture is something created by the enemy. *Duh!*

Since I live amongst a completely unreached people group, and traditional missionaries really have no way of getting here, the only witness amongst these precious people are workers like myself. Therefore, as Satan’s logic apparently goes, if he can create awful work environments across this region, he will eliminate many of God’s people from being effective who otherwise might be used by God to transform the lives of these unreached locals. Sadly, we see a lot of well-intentioned believers quit and go home because they can’t stand working here. one of Satan’s strategies of keeping the gospel at bay here seems to be working. Yet, what if it is the case that Satan has accidentally thrown us a bone? In other words, by making such a main backdrop of life so dirty and dull, the cleanness and brightness of the gospel will shine comparatively more brightly against it! If we can create a new sort of working environment that is based on biblical principles and treats people as humans, they will want to know why.

It stands, then, that work environments are one of the many things that need to be transformed by God. I certainly don’t seek to plant a church in spite of having to do business. I used to say that I seek to plant a church through doing business. But now I’m beginning to think I want to see a church planted within my business.

What if, by endurance and perseverance, those of us in B4T would patiently absorb the poisonousness of the working cultures we live in? What if, in the middle of a disgustingly toxic environment there exists a bright shining light of God’s grace and mercy? How many people will see this is the kind of “different” we are supposed to be? I think if we could get this down, we would see largescale transformation across the world. Since people generally spend 8+ hours per day in some form of work setting, the transformation of the workplace could bring about transformation of the hearts of those present. 

The work place is a perfect environment for discipleship. It is an opportunity to show our new believers how to share their newfound faith in Jesus, as well as how to ask for forgiveness and treat people who have wronged us. We can go out for lunch, or tea or coffee, or simply take a break with them. They can see us study the Word in the morning and pray before we make major decisions. If we can work towards redeeming our work cultures, we will be creating the right conditions for the gospel to spread.

Optimization is Key in B4T Part 2

Last week we discussed why optimization is a more important term than maximization in the B4T realm. Ironically, the more you try to maximize any one input, the less maximized the output will be (and, indeed, the whole system may blow up). Therefore, we focus on optimizing each input to get an “optimal” output –> transformation. One key to this is that “spiritual” is not the end goal of B4T; transformation is. Transformation most definitely involves spiritual fruit, but it involves the other three dimensions listed as well. Today we will discuss the other major key, and it is closely linked to this one.

Recall the below diagram from last week.B4T Process FlowI have arrows flowing from “spiritual” to “environmental,” “social,” and “profit.” The reason I do this is that I am deliberately creating a bridge from a secular-sacred divide mindset into one that is purely sacred. The way westerners think isn’t all bad. There is a reason we tend to separate things out into boxes. This way we can break things down into their essential components and understand each better. Indeed, many great inventions come from this line of reasoning.

However, when it comes to spiritual things, we apply the same thought process and after we have distilled every aspect to its core we forget that they are all originally spiritual in nature. We then have things like, “The Bible is sacred,” and “taking care of the environment is secular.” “Praying is sacred,” and “making a profit or an impact on society is secular.”

The major bust here is that we read in the Bible how God tells us to subdue (not destroy) the environment, and we are told to pray continually and for a wide variety of things, yet by bucketing profit into a secular category, we think praying for it is wrong. We have lost our way.

Praying that God would bless us to bless others is a thoroughly biblical concept. We are meant to be a pipeline of God’s blessings. They come through us, but they flow past us; we are not the endpoint of the system. In our businesses, then, we are fully in the spiritual realm to beg our Heavenly Father to bless our business, create wealth for our employees and their families, enrich the surrounding community with His common grace, bring as many people to faith in Christ as are called, and to honor His beautiful creation in the process.

Why must we separate these things out and claim that one is superior to the others? In a western way of thinking, yes – “spiritual” is the most important because eternity is involved. But in a more holistic way of thinking, the other three are also spiritual and will aid in spiritual transformation because it creates a more full picture of how God intended life to be lived on the earth. This is why Jesus taught most of His parables in a work setting; He taught about vineyards and farms and salaries, because this is life!

So, on one hand it is helpful to separate things into categories to help us understand similarities and differences and to develop strategies to optimize our resource use into each one, but on the other hand it is the best practice to realize the other three roll up into the spiritual dimension for the ultimate goal of transforming society for His glory.

Optimization is Key in B4T

Maximization is a much older buzz word in the business world than “sustainability,” but it certainly never went out of vogue. Maximizing shareholder value, maximizing profit, and their converse maxims, minimizing costs, etc. have their place in a plethora of management books as well as textbooks (especially in microeconomics). Yet B4T land is a far more complex system, and we need a bit more of an engineer’s outlook to fully grasp our situation. Allow me to explain.

At a chemical plant, there are many processes involved to create a final output. For “maximum” output, these processes must not be maximized. If any one process is maximized, the entire system could explode (literally). Instead, each process is optimized so that there is one global maximum (the output). Similarly, in B4T we don’t just care about one thing. If profit is all we cared about, our model would be far simpler and we may be equally as obsessed with “maximization” as the world around us. Yet for us, profit serves a much larger master: transformation. We must make a profit (of course there are exceptions) to serve the overall goal of transformation, but we also must preserve the environment, enhance the social welfare of our community, and especially see the spiritual landscape restored, renewed, refreshed, and well….transformed.

To accomplish four (or even three, as many leave out the environment) goals, none can be maximized. For instance, if we choose to put tons of resources into environmental aspects, we will end up with less of one or more of the other bottom lines.

B4T Process FlowIf we choose to put all our resources into the “spiritual” bucket we will find that we become a fake business (or “platform,” which is a big no-no in B4T). If any one process is maximized, the output is not maximized. Now, the reason I have setup the flow diagram like this is to demonstrate several important points, one of which is this: often B4T’ers are accused of caring too much about other “lesser” things than the all-important spiritual aspect. The assumption is, then, that our end result will not be as great an impact as they have in a non-business setting. Yet, as B4T’ers, we believe that by adding these other bottom lines, we will see greater transformation as an end result. I intentionally separated spiritual from transformation for that purpose. In other words, “spiritual” impact is not the final goal – transformation is.

Think about it: if all your eggs are in the “spiritual” basket, you may get quicker “spiritual” results. You will have done what you set out to do in your own missionary context. Yet, at the time of your leaving, you have not shown your little ethnic church how to live in the world they must now live in without you, and things tend to erode over time after that.

Alternatively, after a successful B4T venture, at the time of your leaving you have prepared your little ethnic church for the harshness of life under the sun. You have shown them how to work alongside their non-believing neighbors and deal with the persecution that inevitably arises in everyday office life while proclaiming the riches of God’s grace to them (since, of course, that is how they came to faith through your business!). They will understand our relationship to the environment and to their culture at large, and how they might interact with it in a healthy, gospel-centered way.

Friends, your B4T venture has prepared them for optimal growth because you didn’t get stuck in the age-old misnomer of maximization. But we aren’t done here. I mentioned earlier that I setup the process flow as I did for several reasons. Next week we will discuss the other main reason.

What Matters

No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. – 2 Timothy 2:4-6

Paul is writing to Timothy about leadership. He’s writing to help him focus as he is leading the church in Ephesus in difficult circumstances, both personally and aggregately. Central to his advice is what he says in 2 Timothy 2:4-6. He is calling Timothy to focus on the things that matter (no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits). Secondly, he should ensure that his focus is enacted in healthy, biblical ways; he should ensure that he does the things that matter the way God wants them done (an athlete cannot win unless they play by the rules). Lastly, he must do what matters most to God in God’s way, but he must do those things with a relentless pursuit (the hard-working farmer gets the first share of the crops).

I’m not sure if you caught what just happened, but Paul just tricked us into setting goals by giving us one of the many biblical bases for goal setting. In the end, goal setting is nothing more than formalizing what is important so that you are actively aware and can ensure you pursue those things above all else.

Think about it: when someone tells you they just aren’t a goal setter, they are wrong. Everyone sets goals. But those who do it unintentionally are dragged along in life by their base desires. Their body and their unconscious will dictate what they do. Those who set goals have brought to the forefront of their minds the things they should be pursuing, and thus they have an edge. You will not pursue the things that matter to God on accident. You will only pursue those things if you think about them and set out a plan (kind of like new year’s resolutions…).

Many millennials dislike goal setting. They feel as though it is a formality and that it is only for leaders or business people. I completely and strongly disagree, and so does Paul from his writing to Timothy. We cannot allow our lives to be driven by our unconscious passions and desires; we must get into the driver’s seat (ala the Holy Spirit). I think what often daunts would-be-goal-setters is that they perceive so many people overdo it. They see some people with multiple pages of goals and they are overwhelmed; my advice: start small. Pray to hear from Him / think using your Bible to figure out your top 2 or 3 priorities from the Father in your given situation and write them down somewhere you will see them often. Make sure they don’t become more important than God Himself, and play by the rules God has set out in His Word in accomplishing them. Pursue this relentlessly, but always use the brain God has given you to make sure you aren’t going overboard. This is a call to millennials and other non-goal-setters to embrace goal setting for the maximizing of fruit bearing in their lives. This has been a public service announcement.

Reproducing for Generations

Sustainability is all the rage at the moment. Everything is about sustainability, and the Church has bought into all the hype. Sustainability has its advantages and its necessity in our lives, but it is not the only consideration for how we should live our lives. For example, most social justice ministries will never become sustainable and yet they are clearly close to the heart of God. God is a giver and an investor. We must give sometimes to causes that aren’t sustainable from a financial standpoint, but if they are reproducible they will still be worth our time. Reproducibility is, perhaps, a more important word for today. So how are we reproducing for generations to come?

In Genesis 21:33, Abraham planted a tamarisk tree. You may be thinking, “so what?” To answer this, let’s dig in a bit to the context:

22 At that time Abimelech and Phicol the commander of his army said to Abraham, “God is with you in all that you do. 23 Now therefore swear to me here by God that you will not deal falsely with me or with my descendants or with my posterity, but as I have dealt kindly with you, so you will deal with me and with the land where you have sojourned.” 24 And Abraham said, “I will swear.” – Genesis 21:22-24

Tamarisk trees are what we would be called salt cedar trees in North America. The interesting thing about these trees, though, is that one would never plant them for oneself – they take a few generations to even be able to provide shade because they grow very slowly. They are a symbol of commitment for the long term – in Abraham’s case, to a covenant.

We need to be thinking generationally. We cannot afford to think only in terms of our own lives. As followers of Jesus and B4T’ers, we must be looking at who we should invest our time in, and who God may be leading to lead their local fellowships when we are long gone. Just as we forecast cash flows into the future, we need to be thinking down the road a bit. If we think several generations ahead, we will be on solid ground. Whatever we do in life is stopped dead in its tracks when we die unless we pass it to others to carry on. In the same way, we should always be discipling people who will be making disciples so that many multiples of disciples are continually being reproduced. If we think linearly, we will not go very far. If we think exponentially, there is far more room to grow. Given that our lives are to be spent building His Kingdom, we want to spend them on reproducible things so that the Kingdom continues to expand exponentially.

So what tamarisk trees are you planting for future generations?

No Complaining, No Justifying

Philippians 2 is one giant example of Christ’s humility with Paul’s challenge for us to follow in His footsteps. At first glance, then, it could be puzzling that v.14 says there should be no complaining (in the NIV, grumbling in the ESV) or arguing (or disputing in the ESV). What does this have to do with humility? In short, everything.

Think about every time you complain (and I complain a lot!). When you complain about others talking too much, or the temperature always being too hot or cold, or never having enough time to do what you want to do, you are focusing on yourself. Paul has just told the Philippians to be humble, take the same mind/attitude as Christ Jesus who made Himself a servant, and think also about the interests of others than simply of themselves. When I complain, I’m thinking only about my interests. This is a gap in character. Let me take it one step further.

Jesus has justified me by His sacrifice on the cross. I no longer need any justification. None. Zip. Nada. But when I complain, I’m not just thinking only of myself; I’m also justifying myself. I’m justifying being lazy by complaining of being too tired. I’m justifying my pride by complaining that I have to do so-and-so’s work as well as my own. We must learn not to justify ourselves since Jesus has already done that hard work perfectly for us. We will never be able to justify ourselves like He did. Justifying ourselves is a tiring and never-ending business, and will wear us out.

I need to learn to be more like Jesus, who often didn’t answer questions about His character because He knew the question was coming from a spirit of accusation that wouldn’t be satisfied no matter His answer. He didn’t feel the need to justify Himself to any crowd or any government official. He was who He was, and that was enough. Let’s be who He made us to be, and not feel the need to justify ourselves. This will severely limit how much complaining I do, and will help me think about the interests of others rather than just my own. LORD, make us humble people who focus on the needs of others. We can rest in trust that you will provide for all of our needs. Amen.