Small-business owners may have some flexibility to build overt or covert Christian practices into the life of their company—for example, devotionals at meetings, preferring to hire people from church, promotion of Christian values, and support for Christian ministries. To what extent are such practices healthy, and to what extent might they hamper mission? Is there a danger that non-Christians might feel excluded, or make false professions, or that a mono-Christian workforce would limit opportunities for witness?
Business owners have a great opportunity to build a workplace culture from the ground up. As this question implies, there are also risks.
Here are five general principles for business owners wondering how to honor Christ with their companies.
1. Recognize the lordship of Christ.
Believers recognize that God created and owns all things (Ps. 50:10–12). This includes the financial capital, physical resources, personal abilities, and good fortune that make up a successful business (1 Cor. 4:7). In addition, once we have been redeemed by Christ, he places a radical claim of ownership on everything we have and everything we are (Rom. 12:1). We do not work for ourselves, but as stewards of our Lord (Matt. 25:14–30).
Christ is not an add-on, like a yearly charity drive or a bumper-sticker slogan. He should permeate your business culture down to the bone. If you’re a business owner, take time to pray over the fact that your business belongs not to you, but to him.
2. Pursue excellence in your field.
Christ is not an add-on, like a yearly charity drive or a bumper-sticker slogan. He should permeate your business culture down to the bone.
A for-profit business exists to provide a product or service that people want. If you’re a Christian business owner, give your customers something that’s high-quality, which reflects the goodness of your Creator and Savior (Prov. 22:29). Business owners with shoddy products and half-hearted services lose credibility when they speak about God. They also lose customers! Investments in training, development, and upgraded equipment, when viewed rightly, can be investments in God’s kingdom.
3. Stand for integrity.
Business owners can honor Christ with honesty in all transactions. This means selling goods and services with full disclosure at a fair price. We know cheating customers is “an abomination to the LORD” (Prov. 20:10). A Christian business owner must also honor commitments to business partners, even when it hurts (Ps. 15:4). In addition, Christian companies must treat their employees well—don’t skimp on wages (James 5:4). Slapping religious whitewash over a rotten business brings shame to God’s name.
4. Share the gospel.
We are lost without Christ and his sacrifice for sin. If God has given you a business, use it to spread the good news! Pray for courage and wisdom in sharing your faith—“becoming all things to all people” (1 Cor. 9:22). This could include devotionals at meetings, providing office space for prayer and Bible study, supporting Christian ministries financially, or giving employees paid time off to volunteer. It certainly includes private, one-on-one conversations as the Holy Spirit opens doors. There are many creative ways you can use your business in the vitally important work of telling others of Christ’s grace.
5. Don’t coerce or discriminate.
As you share the gospel, recognize that you’re in a position of power over your employees. Make it clear that explicitly Christian activities—prayer meetings, Bible study, contributing to financial causes—are voluntary. If you include prayer or a Bible verse in a business meeting, keep it short. Tell employees that if they decide to skip offered Christian activities, they will not lose pay or your respect.
When you honor God with your company, you are planting seeds for the gospel.
Federal law, and the laws of many states, prohibit companies from discriminating based on religion. So unless you’re a Christian ministry, don’t hire employees based on religion. Don’t favor Christians in discipline, promotions, or employment conditions either. Make a point of including non-Christians in conversations, activities, and opportunities. When it comes to dress or decorating personal spaces, let freedom flourish (with the exception of obscene or offensive messages).
I know these guidelines are quite general. Applying them to a particular business in a particular industry can get messy. Like other Christians, believing business owners make mistakes from time to time. In addition, different Christians have different approaches to integrating faith with company culture. If someone gets upset with your approach, listen. Try to discern the nature of the offense—is it the gospel, or is it you? Ruffled feelings, when handled with compassion and grace, may open a door to deeper discussion.
Above all, keep trying and don’t give up (Gal. 6:9). When you honor God with your company, you are planting seeds for the gospel. It’s God’s job to make them grow (1 Cor. 3:6).
TGC’s “Thorns & Thistles” column seeks to apply wisdom with practical advice about faith, work, and economics. If you have a question about how to think about and practice your work in a way that honors God, let us know at [email protected]