The Lagos Worker and the Gospel

wd0b7cj4tug-oshomah-abubakar

In his helpful book Mastering Monday, John Beckett identifies five themes which should be considered in our attempt to demonstrate God’s kingdom in the workplace. They are Purpose, Values, People, Stewardship, and Serving. These all are nurtured by the Gospel.

The Gospel gives us a clear purpose for our work; we serve Christ and extend his kingdom through what we do.

The Gospel gives us an ethic centred on love, and this guides all the steps we take and the decisions we make.

The Gospel reveals that people are God’s priority (and should be ours, too). It was for people – sinful, broken people – that Jesus hung on the cross and died.

The Gospel reminds us that our lives, skills, and talents belong to God. We are simply stewards. So as we clock in at the office, apply our minds to a problem, or contribute to a project, we are offering back what God has given to us in trust.

Finally, through Christ’s teaching and his atonement, we are taught to lay down our lives for others through serving (John 15:13).

We will focus on the two themes of People and Serving.

People

The Gospel will lead us to value people above profits. Whether we work in risk management, financial planning, or customer service, it is people ultimately that we are serving. Sadly, the ambition and drive in most workplaces tend towards the opposite. The lust for power and prestige means that people are often trampled upon. In a bid to be seen as ‘performing’, managers will exhaust their subordinates. In a bid to cut costs, organizations will refuse or delay payments to vendors for services rendered. And even employees will offer shoddy service to customers. Likewise, the daily pressure to thrive in a competitive environment often leads us to focus solely on the ‘bottom line’, without regard for the humans who are involved in shaping it. It helps to remember that without people, whether as employees, customers, or vendors, there would be no business.

 Serving

John Chapter 13 is a remarkable chapter of the Bible. We have a stirring message proclaimed not merely in words but through vivid action. Shortly before his crucifixion, as he gathered with his disciples to celebrate the Passover, Jesus inverted the social pyramid. He took a towel and a bowl of water and washed the feet of each of his disciples. Contrary to social custom, the teacher became a servant to the student. Then he instructed them to do likewise.

We are called to serve others through our skills and talents. As Peter wrote, ‘As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace’ (1 Pet. 4:10).

In the words of John Beckett, ‘Serving is integral to how God wants his kingdom on earth to function.’ And we see this in Jesus’s instruction to the disciples in Mathew 20:26:

 “Whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant”

In a city like Lagos, with its craze for prestige and lust for wealth, the message of Christ is profoundly counter-cultural. Lagosians seek to be recognized and celebrated. We want to move up the ladder of career success, not pick up a servant’s towel. But that is precisely what the Gospel implies. In light of the death and resurrection of Jesus, to work is to serve.

So how do we go about this? We can start by noting the following:

  • As an employer, I should serve my employees, helping them to become their best selves. For we both have one master, which is Christ.
  • As a trader, I should offer goods of high quality to my customers.
  • As an executive within an organization, I should realize that I am serving the company by offering my skills and talents.

The Gospel leads us to understand that, ultimately, it is not my CEO or the customer whom I am serving, but Christ.


This article was first published on City Church Lagos.

 

Book Review: Business as Mission by Michael R. Baer

Can Business be more than an enterprise for the generation of profit? Is there a higher purpose to this human activity?

This book argues that there is.

Business as Mission, according to the author, is an attempt to “explore how companies can align with God’s purpose and bring him glory.” This journey flows from the realization that there are no independent compartments in our Business as Missionlives. Every aspect, including business, is just a part of one unified story being written by God. As such it is must be practiced in a way that glorifies Him. All Christians are called to a project of seamless integration of business and mission; the separation of sacred and secular is futile. Here we discern the sweet idea of Abraham Kuyper.

He begins with a clarification – Christian business vs Kingdom business.

Christian business he understands to be either a business that is owned by a Christian, involved in a ‘Christian’ activity, or one managed by biblical principles. A Kingdom business, however, goes much further. It is a business that is ‘specifically, consciously, clearly and intentionally connected to the establishment of Christ’s kingdom in this world.’ Such a business has 4 vital characteristics:

  • It is vocational
  • It is intentional
  • It is relational
  • It is operational

These features constitute the major divisions of the book.

A Kingdom business is Vocational

Business has to be seen as a legitimate calling from God. We need to see that business is a God-given mechanism for the provision of human needs, just as other social units like family or government serve other ends. It fulfills the two purposes of provision and relationship. Jeff Van Duzer, Provost of the Seattle Pacific University, has a similar idea of the ‘mission statement’ of business, which he described as follows:

  1. Business exists to create opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identity in meaningful and creative work.
  2. Business exists in order to produce goods and services that would enable the community to flourish.

He rightly identifies the sacred-secular dichotomy as a major stumbling block for most Christians. We have grown up believing that to be spiritual is to be immersed in ‘Church’ work. We thereby fail to see all other areas of life as equally sacred. The late Dallas Willard was quoted to that effect:

 ‘There is truly no division between sacred and secular except what we have created, And that is why the division of the legitimate roles and functions of human life into the sacred and secular does incalculable damage to our individual lives and to the cause of Christ. Holy people must stop going into “church work” as their natural course of action and take up holy orders in farming, industry, law, education, banking and journalism with the same zeal previously given to evangelism or to pastoral and missionary work.’

And the author brilliantly concludes: “All of life is sacred for the Christian, and the realization of that truth sets us free to serve God in all aspects of our existence.” Business is a high calling from God.

A Kingdom Business is Intentional

Every Business has a unique purpose which has to be discovered and lived out. It must identify its role in God’s drama of kingdom history and act it diligently. A kingdom business is deliberate about advancing God’s kingdom. While it recognizes that business is a valid calling from God, it will also seek to affect the world for Christ. Such a business looks beyond profit; it uses its operation as an avenue to reach the world with the gospel of Christ. Michael Baer gives several examples of Christians who started business as a means of witnessing to Christ. I read the story of Mira, a young Christian lady from Central Asia, who launched a handcraft manufacturing business. By gathering other young women into her home as employees, she created an informal network for passing across the message of Christ. We should creatively develop avenues for such interactions with our world.

How can we identify the unique kingdom role for our business? The author recommends a six-point step that should help in this regard:

    1. Pray
    2. Read and meditate on scripture
    3. Meet and interact with others who have discovered their kingdom purpose
    4. Expose yourself to what God is doing in the world
    5. Keep a journal
    6. Write a kingdom impact statement

As we practice this, our purpose becomes clearer and then we can run with it.

Kingdom Business is Relational

Business is about relationships, and it is increasingly evident in our modern world. The rise in importance of Customer Relationship Management as an aspect of business bears this out. Thus a Kingdom Business has better resources for fulfilling this objective. He has the example of God himself, the revelation in the Bible and the help of the Holy Spirit. According to the author, not only are relationships fundamental to life, they provide excellent kingdom opportunities. He writes:

“History , scripture , and even our own personal experience demonstrates that God’s primary conduit for expresing Himself in the world is through relationships. The influence of the gospel does not come through organizations but comes through human interaction, through a people-to-people process.”

This is true. Most conversions have to do with someone bearing witness to the gospel through personal conversation or through godly character. I was brought to Christ through the faithful witness of an older brother. So the role of relationships is critical.

Every business is about relationships in diverse forms: Shareholders, Employees, Customers, Vendors, etc. For a kingdom-minded business, these are opportunities for advancing the kingdom. We have to discern the stage the individual is on the ‘Kingdom continuum’ and know what is the appropriate form our relating should take. For instance, a matured Christian who happens to be a Customer will not require the same kind of ministry as a Vendor who is yet unaware of the gospel.

The obligation to develop relationships derives from the command to love our neighbour as ourselves. This is really what relationships are about – loving others just as Christ has loved us.

A Kingdom Business is Operational

Finally, a business has to be efficient.It is not enough to treat people right or to understand that business is pleasing to God, we need to strive for excellence in all the operations of the business. He identifies several authors whom I have also found helpful in this regard, such as Tom Peters, Jim Collins, and Peter Drucker. Several principles could be mined from their writings on how to achieve excellence in the operations of any organization. These would include: Developing a ‘core ideology’, setting bigger-than-life-goals (or BHAGs as Jim Collins calls them), and getting the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off it).

An essential aspect of a kingdom business’ operational excellence is a strong ethical culture. Several ethical systems have been devised, ranging from Pragmatism to Relativism. But these all explicitly or indirectly deny the absolute nature of truth. The business world harbours greed, selfishness, and lust, but it is the role of kingdom businesses to bring light into this vital sphere.

He concludes with directives for bringing this vision to life in our various businesses.

This book is a helpful guide in a most crucial sector of human society. For, as the author notes in the epilogue, “Companies, and not countries, will have the greatest impact in our world in the future”.

The Steward

We do not really own anything. Our possessions, relationships, and time. They are all on loan to us from God, who is their true owner. And this leads to the responsibility to use them wisely and properly. This is stewardship, and it is the foundation for business and service.

Business is the creation and distribution of a product or service for the benefit of people.
We provide food, clothing, and Ipads because they are useful to people. We render Stewardshipservices like laundry, insurance, and hair styling because someone derives benefit from them. In carrying this out, we utilize resources such as skill, money, and time. Since these are not ultimately ours, they must not be abused. We would not mistreat our staff and employees, but rather respect them and encourage their growth and development as humans. We would respect our customers’ and employees’ time which are a vital element in the production process. What about vendors and investors? We would honour our commitments to vendors and manage well the funds received from investors and shareholders.

We should serve our customers well because even the opportunity to serve them is a God-given gift. We are stewards, and this is what stewards do.

In dying, we live

It’s Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and here I am meditating on death! But perhaps it’s not entirely out of place. This baby was born to die. His life was a life ordained to service, and this service was to die.

However, his death would bring life. Speaking of himself, Jesus stated that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) He was speaking of his approaching sacrificial death for the sins of humanity. And this principle goes well beyond the circumstance of Jesus’ ministry; it applies to the whole of human existence. It takes dying to self to bless others. It requires self-denial to care for and serve others, for our sinful human nature is basically selfish.

wheat isolated on white close up

Interestingly, just like the death of Jesus, our ‘death’ produces true life. We do not truly live unless we are giving our lives for a cause or a person. And so many thinkers and figures in history have pointed this out. Our own ordinary experiences confirm this. Mothers know what it is to give their lives for their children, husbands die to their own interests in order to love their wives, friends make sacrifices for the sake of one another. Yes, we die. But in dying, we live. Self-denying service is a death unto life – true life.

And this is what Christmas is about.

Selling with Integrity

“Sales is nothing more than a transference of feeling. If you can make the customer feel the way you do about your product, then your customer will buy your product.”

Zig Ziglar

Most people dread sales. Let me rephrase: I dread sales! But I’m learning to be comfortable with it since it’s not really money - coinsan option: everyone’s in sales. We are always selling something. We just need to learn to do it right. I’ve been reading Dave Ramsey’s excellent book EntreLeadership*, and it has taught me a few vital truths on selling. Here are a few:

  • Everyone is in sales. A wife sells an idea for home redecoration to her husband, an executive sells a product idea to management, a musician sells his latest song to his fans. Whatever your role in life, you are in sales.
  • Don’t teach your team techniques to pressure people. Teach your team to serve. A major reason why I dread sales is because I see it as getting someone to buy a product at all cost. It is skillfully applying pressure on someone until he signs the cheques or hands over the cash. But now I see otherwise. To sell well, you need to honestly connect your product to the person’s need or want. You need to truly care about his desire. You need to serve him.
  • Every sale is a progression through 4 stages: QualificationRapportEducation/InformationClose. If I ignore any of these steps, I will appear (and will actually be) pushy.
  • Qualifying buyers is the most overlooked and ignored step in the buying process. I need to be certain that my prospect is someone who really needs my product, and who has the time to use it, money to acquire it, and power to decide on buying it. If I fail in this, I would have wasted time, energy and even money.
  • Never sell something to someone that you don’t believe they should buy. This is integrity, pure and simple. Selling is not manipulation; it is service. You don’t want to just make a sale and lose a relationship. No. A good relationship built on trust will generate a whole lot of sales in the future.
  • Sell and serve by describing the benefits, not the product. To put it plainly, people don’t buy a TV, they buy entertainment. You don’t buy a house, you buy the shelter, comfort, security and everything else which that house provides. Even when people purchase a luxury good or a luxury brand of a commonplace item (say, a Rolex wristwatch), they are buying the purpose of the item and the status which owning that item confers on them. So don’t sell the features of your item, sell the benefits.
  • Business is more relational than transactional. You are not out to just make a sale; you are to build relationships. My favourite Biblical passage on service captures this well:

    As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace (1 Pet. 4:10).

    This applies to Selling as well.


    *Dave Ramsey, EntreLeadership. Howard Books, 2011. 306 pp.

 

Book Review: Humility, by C.J.Mahaney

We are called to service. But we cannot serve others with pride. It will always get in the way of true service. For this reason, an essential attribute or quality we must cultivate is humility. Below is my review of a helpful book on this topic.

This book introduces us to the dangers of pride and guides us to the scriptural path for humility - cj mahaneygrowth in humility. The author, a pastor of an American congregation for almost three decades, discusses the promise of humility, the perils of pride, and the nature of true greatness.

There are some practical recommendations given for cultivating humility. Of these I note the following:

  1. Keep your eyes on the cross . The cross demolishes our pride. It is a sign and symbol of our helplessness. We have been so racked by sin that it took God himself to come down and rescue us. Where then is boasting?
  2. Get up from bed in the morning acknowledging your dependence on God. ‘In Him we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). You are so in need of God even for the ability to sit in the bath tub. Recognize this truth and let it humble you.
  3. Let your first words be expressions of  thanksgiving. Gratitude for God’s mercies should characterize our hearts throughout the day.
  4. Spend time daily in prayer, worship and study of the scriptures. This will not only foster dependence on God but will aid in sanctifying us within.
  5. The apostle Peter asks us to cast our cares on God because he cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7). So bring all your concerns to God. Quit trusting in your own strength.
  6. End your day by recognizing that God kept you and allowed you to accomplish all that you did. It was not your wisdom or skill that saw you through. No. It was really God. Give him the glory.
  7. Study the following regularly:
    • God’s attributes – this will reveal to you how huge and awesome your God really is.
    • The nature of sin – you’ll get to know how corrupt our hearts really are and how desperately we need God’s help.
    • The doctrines of Grace – see how redemption  was designed to  exalt God and humble man. Seriously, no believer can take credit for his own salvation.  From predestination all the way to glorification, it is all through grace and all of God (Rom. 8:30).
  8. Allow others to correct you. Invite honest feedback from christian friends and family. Others may readily  notice what you fail to observe. As the author wrote, “On our own, you and I will never develop a competency for recognizing our sin. We’ll always need help.”(p.133)
  9. Learn to respond humbly to trials. Afflictions and suffering promote humility as they compel us to look up to the One who understands everything. The prophet Habakkuk learnt this important lesson. He began his prophecy with a complaint (Hab.1:2), but towards the end of the book he could confidently say:

    “Though the fig should not blossom…
    I will take joy in the God of my salvation” (3:17-18).

  10. Finally, laugh at yourself often. In a conference message delivered some years ago, D. A.  Carson recalled how his wife would often laugh at the title of one of his books –  Justification and Variegated Nomism! And then he advised: “Take your work seriously but not yourself.”

Do you still want to cultivate humility?

Get the book. Read it. Apply it.

God’s Goodness and Service

We think of God as a King, and rightly so. We learn from David that

The Lord has established His throne in heaven,

And His kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103:19)

But do we even consider that the Almighty Creator also stoops to serve his creatures? nature2Yes, he does. And he fulfills this role in the work of Providence. Providence is God’s work of preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions. God not only brought the world into existence, he continues to sustain, preserve and care for all he has made. Whether they are plants, asteroids, or humans, he continues to maintain them.

In God’s service to us, many attributes come into play. These include Love, Wisdom, and Power. But the quality which seems to come into focus in his providential care for his creatures is the attribute of Goodness. And according to an Louis Berkhof,

Goodness is that perfection of God which prompts him to deal bountifully and kindly with all his creatures.

David celebrates this goodness in Psalm 145:9

The Lord is good to all,

And His tender mercies are over all His works.

Again in Psalm 104:14,15:

He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,

And vegetation for the service of man,

natureThat he may bring forth food from the earth,

And wine that makes glad the heart of man,

Oil to make his face shine,

And bread which strengthens man’s heart.

Jesus spoke of this quality in God during his Great Sermon:

That you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matt.5:45)

And Paul testified to it before the people of Lystra:

Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness.(Acts 14:17)

Gladness! That’s what true service does. It brings gladness to the hearts of those being served. This is what God does for his creation (Psalm 103:1-5), and this is what he expects us to do for others .

But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.(Luke 6:35)