Is Competition in Business Christ-Like?

Competition, Boxing, Business.As Christians working in business, we know what Jesus has commissioned us to do: “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). In short, this means that Christians are called to help the marketplace and those who come in contact with it to reflect the character and image of Jesus Christ.

Christians working in business are not exempt from this disciple-making mandate, and businesses themselves are vehicles God has provided to carry out this Great Commission. And discipling the marketplace begins with discipling our own industries in which God has placed us. God wants to use you and your company to disciple your entire industry.

But Christians working in business have a major dilemma here: How are we supposed to disciple our industries while competing for market share at the same time?

Is it even possible to compete against people and companies while discipling them for Jesus at the same time?

Discipleship = Setting the Standard in Your Industry

Making your industry a disciple of Jesus means causing your industry to reveal the image and character of Jesus Christ. This means we are called to lead our industries in ways that reveal Jesus to our world.

As Christian business professionals, this is the disciple-making attitude we should have: “Imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). We are called to set the standard, and the Standard for value creation in the marketplace—e.g. excellence, service, innovation, etc.—is Jesus Christ. Jesus is the fountain from which all value flows.

All of our marketing, accounting, customer service, human resources, and all other types of business practices should result in creation revealing more of God’s glory, which is Jesus Christ (see Heb. 1:3). As part of the Body of Christ, each of us has unique ways in which God has called us to make disciples, according to the gifts and assignments the Holy Spirit has given to each of us.

Where Socialism Falls Short Regarding the Great Commission

In Socialism, people are disempowered from taking a leadership approach to doing business. The emphasis is not on the creation of economic value and setting industry standards but on the redistribution of the wealth produced as a byproduct of such value creation and industry leadership.

Because discipleship in the marketplace involves leading others and setting the Christ-like standards that cause industries to reflect and reveal Jesus, Socialism misses the mark with regard to Jesus’ disciple-making mandate.

Where Capitalism Falls Short Regarding the Great Commission

Being laced with social Darwinism, pure Capitalism often looks more like a poker game—in which beating others is the name of the game—than an economic system aimed at making disciples of Jesus. In a poker game, nobody at the table is focused on helping the other players to win. As Albert Carr argued in his 1969 Harvard Business Review article, “Is Business Bluffing Ethical”, “conscious misstatements, concealment of pertinent facts, or exaggeration” are all permissible in the business “game” just as they are in the game of poker. (See my critique of Carr’s article here: “4 Reasons Secular Humanism is Bad For Business”)

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win!” (1 Cor. 9:24). A purely Capitalist interpretation of this verse may lead one to assume that Paul was suggesting we should take a zero-sum-game, Darwinian, survival-of-the-fittest, winner-take-all approach to doing business. After all, only one person (or company) gets the prize! Right?

Being better than someone else (or another organization) does not define a person/organization of excellence in a Biblical sense. Biblical excellence is about being in a state of continuous improvement. It’s not about trying to conquer other people and organizations, particularly when we are supposed to be leading them as disciples of Jesus.

The “prize” to which Paul was referring in 1 Corinthians 9:24 was not market share for his tent-making business. The prize for which he was striving to attain was his full participation in God’s plan for his life.

In the context of your work in the business world, part of your “prize” includes your full participation in your part of the Lord’s disciple-making mission. In the gospel, there is enough of this “prize” for everyone to attain.

Focus on Getting Better, Not Bigger

Around the year 2000, the famous fast-food chicken chain, Chick-fil-a, was facing its first major competitor. Boston Chicken, which is now known as Boston Market, was preparing to launch an aggressive growth strategy that involved opening hundreds of new restaurants. The threat posed by Boston Market became a major topic in the Chick-fil-a board and executive-level meetings.

In somewhat of a reactionary panic, the Chick-fil-a board and executives began to promote the need to counter Boston Market with an aggressive growth strategy of its own.

In the middle of a meeting, Chick-fil-a’s sagely founder, Truett Cathy, slammed his fist on the conference table and said, “Gentlemen, we don’t need to get bigger. We need to get better. When we get better, our customers will demand that we get bigger.”

The focus on getting better is at the heart of discipleship. That’s why the entire fast-food industry looks to Chick-fil-a as a model of quality and customer service. In effect, Chick-fil-a is discipling the fast-food industry and beyond.

Conclusion

Capitalism and any other economic system must be fueled by the Great Commission to operate in a God-honoring way.

Rather than focusing on competing for market share, we are called to focus on setting the standards for our industries in the unique ways in which God has called each of us to lead.

Rather than aiming to be better than others, we are called to lead and disciple them. Our mandate to make disciples is the “bottom line” for every Christian.

Discussion: With all other things being equal, would a disciple-making approach to business tend to make a company more or less successful than a company that primarily uses a competitive approach?

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  • Charlie Blair

    Darren, Thanks for your discussion here on the intersection of economic systems and Discipleship. I whole heartedly agree with your comment “It’s not about trying to conquer other people and organizations,…”

    In response to your question: a disciple-making approach to business would definitely tend to make a company more successful. Biblical principles accurately applied are strictly good business. There are some distinct hurdles that creates, however, and these hurdles are not easily navigated. That is particularly true when it comes to moral issues.

    We have seen that played out in particular where a company chooses to not serve based on religious convictions. In some industries it may be the economic competition where it is routine for businesses to be under or uninsured. A company which refuses to structure its workers as independent contractors to avoid liability and workers comp expenses automatically increases its overhead. The same is true in regard to employing undocumented workers.

    A company that meets all legal requirements must excel in doing better simply to break even. It isn’t easy and not all of us survive the transition. But it does properly represent God in the marketplace.

    I have become confident, that if we will truly be both God-like and business-like, success is guaranteed.

    Thanks for your article and your deep thinking.

    • Darren Shearer

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Charlie! Indeed, a competitive approach has led many companies to cut corners with regard to their products, services, and with their own employees. I think it’s a fear-based, scarcity mentality that causes business leaders to focus on “beating” others rather than “discipling” them.

      • Charlie Blair

        I agree. Thanks

  • Myson Jones

    Hey Darren,

    Great muse here!

    I took a sales job really soon after college and I’ve been fighting to cultivate a mindset that realizes there’s a dignity in business and that allows me to pursue greatness.

    Your point of getting better not bigger really resonates though, because I’ve been trying to find the balance between incredible zeal [read: waking up at 4am, cold-calling] while competing and service, kaizen, and ensuring my motive is truly to serve with my gifts.

    This episode helps to take a lot of pressure and attachment to a sale or certain things from me. Looking forward to checking out your other information!

    Oh, What are some limiting beliefs you’ve had to overcome over the years about theology in business and your philosophy?

    P.S. forgive any errors. I’ve typed this in my excitement.

    • Darren Shearer

      Thanks for your comment, Myson! Because you asked about Theology of Business specifically, a big limiting belief I’ve had to overcome is the idea that churches aren’t concerned about the workplace… that they’re only concerned about their buildings and in-house programs. It’s still one I’m struggling to work through.

  • I know one thing that I’ve thought about recently is the “love your enemies” mandate. I think considering other businesses in the same field “enemies” is extreme, but we’re also supposed to love people who AREN’T our enemies.

    If they are thirsty or hungry, give them something to drink or eat. I know I’ve determined, for example, that if I find a problem with a competitor’s business model, or maybe a security hole or breaking glitch with their website, I won’t point it out publicly to try to humiliate or harm them; I’ll message them privately. I need to love and even take care of my enemies; and even if they don’t count as my enemies, I’m still called to love them the same.

    I don’t know that there’s a real limit on this either; as long as I am truly loving them with wisdom (not enabling them to make bad decisions or bloating them to a point they can’t handle), I have a requirement as a Christian to love my enemies- and my acquaintances- and my friends.

    • Darren Shearer

      Good point, Joshua. Indeed, trying to humiliate other companies isn’t evidence of a loving, disciple-making approach to business. If a company has fallen short, it takes a lot of love to send a private “heads up” message rather than to embarrass the company in public social media posts, etc.

  • Hi Darren! Very good read, thank you! However, as a socialist who teaches the fundamentals of leadership with a strong emphasis on ethics and values I think it entirely possible to have strong socialist leadership that fulfils the Great Commission in the marketplace. After all, to distribute wealth equally we must first have wealth creation. We cannot give to others what we do not have – even socialists accept this! There are many successful brands and businesses well-led by socialist entrepreneurs, some established, some new on the scene. I think millennials will lead the way in this respect – an idealistic generation who seek to fuse personal success with social good and look for role models who have established successful CICs and social enterprises, yet who enjoy comfortable lifestyles that advocate minimalism over ostentation. In an article on the Labour Manifesto in today’s Guardian Newspaper, Andrew Rawnsley writes, “For Blair, [Labour’s narrative] was about allying economic competence with social justice to make a modernised Britain fit for the challenges of the 21st century. That blend was so effective, both as a formula for winning elections and as a method of governing, that he is the only person ever to have won three back-to-back terms for Labour.” Finally, I’m just a little confused at the end, as you appear to contradict yourself. On the one hand, you write, “The focus on getting better is at the heart of discipleship”, but in your conclusion you write, “Rather than aiming to be better than others, we are called to lead and disciple them…”. Is this a typo and did you mean “Rather than aiming to be bigger than others…”? Or, “Rather than aiming to be better than others, we should focus our attention on bettering ourselves, so as to better fulfil our calling to lead and disciple others”? (I would advocate this, personally!) I look forward to your reply.

    • Darren Shearer

      Thanks for your thoughtful response, Annalieza!

      I understand your confusion, but I wasn’t contradicting myself. Being “better” isn’t about beating others or being better than others. As discussed in my article, when Paul says “run to win,” he’s not talking about beating someone else. He’s talking about disciplining himself and aggressively pursuing the fulfillment of God’s unique plan for his life… and getting “better” at this every day through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is Biblical “competition.”

      In their most basic forms, both Capitalism and Socialism fall short of fulfilling the disciple-making mandate of the Great Commission. Discipleship isn’t primarily about making sure there’s enough money to go around. It’s about helping people to discover and fulfill their Creator’s purpose for their lives. Economic systems will always fall short of helping people to fulfill the Great Commission when the focus is on “making money” or “redistributing money” rather than on helping people to discover and fulfill God’s calling for their lives.

      Biblical economics is about far more than money. It involves stewarding everything God has entrusted to us.

  • Let Me Recover My Sight -Mk 10

    There is, I believe, a fundamental error right at the beginning of this article by Darren Shearer. Mr. Shearer states regarding the commandment of Jesus Christ to his Church to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19) that “this means that Christians are called to help the marketplace and those who come in contact with it to reflect the character and image of Jesus Christ.” Now, according to the Scriptures, is that truly what Jesus Christ means by “make disciples of all nation”? To “help the marketplace and those who come in contact with it to reflect the character and image of Jesus Christ”? Do we really see that concept being taught by Jesus, Paul, John, James, Peter and others in the Bible? Jesus said, ““Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3;3). Paul wrote: “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belialb ? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 17 Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” 18 And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18) John wrote: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17) John also wrote: “The whole world lies under the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19) Many, many more verses of Scripture could be quoted. The point that the Scriptures make clear that what the Lord Jesus Christ wants and commands is for the the Church to preach to the unsaved that they are to repent of their sins and put faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior so that they can be Born Again from God, and are to put into practice in their lives what many call the Biblical doctrine of Separation from the World. The marketplace cannot be born again. The marketplace is part of the “whole world” that “lies under the power of the evil one.” (1 John 5:19). We must participate in the marketplace to some extent while we are in exile in this wicked World. (1 Peter 2:11) But we must not harbor illusions that the marketplace can be redeemed, saved, or made Christ-like. The Bible rejects fully that concept. There are so many verses; you must simply go and learn them yourselves. The purpose of a business can never be and never is to witness to the Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures, regardless of how the founders of Chick-Fil-A or Hobby Lobby may want us to think about their motives and ways of doing business. The mission of reaching out to the lost belongs to the Church. Businesses are not the Church, just as the Government (whether democratic or not) is not the Church. The Church’s mission is two-fold: (1) Separate from the World; (2) Go into the World and preach, teach, and disciple. No one could hardly begin to answer all objections or points in a short comment on a web site. Go and read the Holy Scriptures for yourself. Read the whole of the 66 books of the Bible. Now, what Mr. Darren Shearer teaches in this article can be found being taught in many of the “finest” and most famous seminaries and schools of theology in the world. But anything can be made pleasant and right in the eyes of people via this thing called “theology.” But for Believers only the Holy Scriptures is the Word of God, and only the Scriptures are the Rule of Life. It is a simple reality that if you go into the business world and refuse to deceive, cheat, or be motivated by greed or self-glorification, and refuse to help or work with business partners or leaders who are deceiving, cheating, or are motivated by greed or self-glorification, you will not be successful. You will be hated, rejected, persecuted, ridiculed, feared, fired, etc. On the other hand, if you act like Mr. Donald Trump, you will be loved, applauded, and rewarded by the World; you might even become President of the United States. Does this mean that there is no way for Disciples of Christ to earn a living? No. There are ways for those who obey Christ to earn a living in this wicked world. The Apostle Paul, for example, was a tentmaker. Jesus was a carpenter. The Amish in our time are farmers, carpenters, and furniture makers. The Apostle Paul writes: “we labor, working with our own hands.” (1 Corinthians 4:12). This points to working with one’s hands, in manual labors, as a Biblically-recommended course of action. But there probably are more intellectual occupations that can be carried out by those who obey Christ. But there is no way that anyone obeying Christ can become rich in this wicked World. But that is a GOOD THING. If that truth makes you feel sorrow, that shows that you are serving Mammon not God. (Matthew 19:22) Go and read the Holy Scriptures and you’ll see this stated over and over again. God and read mainstream “theology” and you’ll find the opposite message. The Scriptures command disciples of Christ to forgo the struggle and striving to get rich. Here’s just the tip of the Scriptural iceberg: “But godliness with contentment is great gain, 7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. 8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Timothy 6:6-10). I repeat: there is no end of preachers and teachers who will tell you that these Scriptures do not mean what they plainly do mean. So, if you love this World and the things of the World (opposite of what 1 John 2:15 teaches), listen to these teachers and preachers. In the end, you will discover if your house was built on rock or if it was built on sand. (Matthew 7:24-27)
    The Book of Revelation even shows clearly what happens in the End to business people devoted to getting rich:
    Revelation 18:3 “For all nations have drunk the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality, and the kings of the earth have committed immorality with her, and THE MERCHANTS OF THE EARTH have grown rich from the power of her luxurious living.”
    Revelation 18:11 “And THE MERCHANTS OF THE EARTH weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore”
    Revelation 18:15 The MERCHANTS of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,
    Revelation 18:23 and the light of a lamp will shine in you no more, and the voice of bridegroom and bride will be heard in you no more, for your MERCHANTS were the great ones of the earth, and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.

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