One generally accepted definition of a mature company is one that is “well-established in its industry with a well-known product and loyal customer following.”[i] Yet, when a Christian business influencer stands before God one day, he’s likely not going to ask, “What percentage of the market did you control?”, “How many employees did you have?”, or “What was your gross (or net) revenue?” Among many other things, he will likely ask something more like this: “By the standard of my Word, how mature was the company I entrusted to you?”
To help individuals and organizations become mature in a biblical sense, God’s Word teaches his people to be faithful managers of everything he entrusts, for he has called his people to “be holy in all respects” (1 Pet. 1:15), to “please Him in all respects” (Col. 1:10), to “grow up in all aspects” (Eph. 4:15), and ultimately, to “prosper in all respects” (3 John 2). If a Christian business influencer truly heeded the biblical counsel to “acknowledge Him in all your ways” concerning the company (Prov. 3:6), seeking to discover and apply his will in every aspect of the company, how might that company’s habits, culture, and impact look different?
In this article, I will suggest that individuals and organizations become more mature as they become increasingly Christ-centered. I will define the term Christ-centered company, offer an assessment tool for gauging the extent to which a company can be considered “Christ-centered,” address objections some have shared concerning the idea of cultivating a Christ-centered company present, and findings from the companies that have already taken the assessment.
Centering a Company on Christ
Yes, a for-profit company cannot be considered as “born-again,” for that unspeakable joy and privilege is reserved for individual people who possess a spirit, soul, and body. However, insofar as certain gospel-promoting charities and legal-entity church institutions (i.e., the physical location where one shows up on Sunday mornings) can be considered “Christian” organizations—despite that not every person sitting in its rows is truly a born-again follower of Christ—for-profit companies may also be labeled as “Christian” in this regard. But rather than using “Christian” as an adjective to label a business—or, for that matter, any other organization—perhaps it is more theologically and biblically consistent to label such organizations as “Christ-centered.” A Christ-centered company is a “value-making, profit-producing, and law-abiding organization dedicated to spreading the awareness of God’s glory through exhibiting Christ-centered, biblical business habits.” Companies won’t remain companies at all if they’re not making value, producing profit, and
abiding by the laws of the land. The Christ-centered company definition’s aspect of being “dedicated to spreading the awareness of God’s glory” is the key differentiator between a Christ-centered company and those that are centered on something (e.g., profit maximization, etc.) or someone else (e.g., the owner’s ego, etc.). This dedication requires that Christian business influencers recognize and seek to reveal the glory of God through every aspect of the companies they manage, “acknowledging Him in all our ways” (Prov. 3:6). In the definition above, what is meant by God’s “glory?” The writer of Hebrews said, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Heb. 1:3). There is our answer: Jesus Christ is the glory of God. Thus, Habakkuk 2:14 can be interpreted as follows:
For as the waters fill the sea, the earth [including the marketplace] will be filled with an awareness of the glory of God [Jesus Christ].
In the verse above, Habakkuk has prophesied the fulfillment of the “Great Commission” Jesus entrusted to his disciples in which he charged his followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). The mandate wasn’t merely to “go and make profit,” “go and plant churches,” or “go and make a difference”—although these are strategically significant in the primary mission of God’s people. Instead, it’s to “go and make disciples.” Collectively, individual disciples of Jesus are called to disciple entire groups of people—that is, to reveal Jesus (i.e., “the glory of God”) throughout all spheres of all cultures in all societies.
Companies market culture. Culture makes disciples. Influencers’ habits make culture.
Culture can be defined as “the defining habits of a group of people.” A company’s culture is the primary thing the company is marketing as the products, services, operations, values, and policies of the company flow from that company’s culture. Team members come and go, but the culture of the company will remain. A company’s culture will be influenced and defined by each of its team member’s habits for as long as the company endures. To carry out the Great Commission by “making disciples” in the world, the company’s cultural habits must be increasingly centered on Christ.
Team members’ habits shape the culture of the companies in which they work, and if those habits are Christ-centered, the culture will make disciples of Jesus Christ. As this corporate disciple-making happens in a company, the company becomes increasingly Christ-centered. In a Christ-centered company, Jesus is revealed through the leaders of the company and, ultimately, throughout its entire culture and prevailing habits. When aligned with this disciple-making mission in word and deed, Christ-centered companies can be used as tools to help individuals, communities, nations, and industries recognize the glorious image and character of Jesus.
This process usually begins when one person of influence in a company decides to partner with God in his disciple-making mission.
What gets measured gets done.
The Christ-Centered Company Assessment has been developed as a resource for Christian business influencers (available for free at www.TheologyofBusiness.com/CCC) to self-assess the extent to which their company’s culture and habits are currently consistent with 37 habits that characterize Christ-centered companies. Having studied Christ-centered companies and the Bible concerning business for more than a decade, interviewed hundreds of Christian business leaders and academics active in faith-and-business integration, and implemented these habits to varying degrees as a full-time small business owner and CEO myself since 2013, I have observed that these 37 habits are the most consistently applied best practices among companies whose influencers deliberately aim to use their companies as platforms for revealing God’s glory to impact culture.
The biblical foundations, commentary, and real-world best practices from Christ-centered companies are presented in the book, The Christ-Centered Company, and each habit is categorized into one of the following seven parts:
Here are some things you would likely want to know:
- Corporate Purpose and Culture
- Marketing, Sales, and Customer Care
- Accounting and Accountability
- People Management
- Business Law and Conflict
- Risk Management
Rather than giving examples in The Christ-Centered Company book from today’s companies for whom Christ is unwelcome and decidedly irrelevant, the real-world examples in this book have been deliberately restricted to companies whose leaders have publicly indicated that their companies exist for God’s purposes.
Users of the assessment are asked to rate their companies—and, in a few cases, themselves, as influencers within their companies—on a scale of one to five. A score of five indicates that the person and/or the company always demonstrate adherence to that particular habit while a score of one indicates the person and/or the company never demonstrate adherence to that particular habit.
How much more effective in individual and corporate disciple-making would companies be—for their team members, customers, and every other stakeholder who encounters the company—if the company scored a legitimate five-out-of-five rating in all 37 habit statements in the Christ-Centered Company Assessment? Does this sound unrealistically utopian? Impossible? Excessive? More on these objections in a moment.
Findings From the Christ-Centered Company Assessment
In this section, I will present the findings from the initial beta group of 106 company influencers who have taken the assessment on behalf of their companies. Aside from the number of employees it has or the level of its gross revenue or profitability, I suggest that a mature Christ-centered company is one that averages at least a 90 percent (4.5 out of 5) rating across all 37 habit statements in the Christ-Centered Company Assessment.
- Individual taking assessment on behalf of company = mostly VP-level and above
- Average number of employees at assessed companies = 58
- Average rating given by the respondents across all 37 habit statements = 3.91 out of 5 (78%)
- Percentage of companies that rated themselves an average of 4.5 or higher (out of 5) = 22%
- Percentage of companies that rated themselves an average of between 4 and 4.49 (out of 5) = 29%
- Percentage of companies that rated themselves an average of between 3.51 and 3.99 (out of 5) = 27%
- Percentage of companies that rated themselves an average of 3.5 or lower (out of 5) = 22%
- Consistently highest-rated “habit” = Habit 16: Our company honestly reports financial information to shareholders and to the government.
- Consistently lowest-rated “habit” = Habit 22: Our company offers pastoral care to our employees and their families.
|Christ-Centered Company Habit Statement Ratings (Sorted by average rating given on a scale of 1-5 with 5 meaning “always applies.”)||Average Rating (1-5)|
|Habit 16: Our company honestly reports financial information to shareholders and to the government.||4.64|
|Habit 25: Our company treats our suppliers and contractors with respect.||4.55|
|Habit 9: We prohibit all manipulative marketing and sales tactics while empowering our customers with the truth necessary to make wise purchasing decisions.||4.53|
|Habit 1: As a leader of my company, I choose to work for Jesus Christ and recognize He is on the receiving end of every action taken in my company.||4.51|
|Habit 12: Our company declines to engage in business opportunities that would violate our ethics.||4.47|
|Habit 27: Our company compensates customers sufficiently when they have been wronged.||4.41|
|Habit 11: Our company goes the “extra mile” for our customers.||4.40|
|Habit 34: As an influencer of my company, I demonstrate that God is the source of everything my company needs by tithing at least 10% of my personal income to the Lord.||4.29|
|Habit 7: Our company has clearly defined our target customer, and we focus most of our resources on reaching and serving this target customer.||4.27|
|Habit 31: Our company is proactive about guarding our company’s reputation.||4.21|
|Habit 33: Our company maintains a conservative debt-to-equity ratio.||4.20|
|Habit 36: Our company ensures that the needs of our team members are addressed before giving profits away outside the company.||4.19|
|Habit 20: Our company pays our workers at least a livable wage, pays them on time, and pays most of them above market rate for their positions.||4.18|
|Habit 8: We advertise and price our products and services based on the positive outcomes our customers say they experience from them, and we encourage our customers to share those positive outcomes with others.||4.14|
|Habit 35: We keep our corporate charitable giving Christ-centered rather than giving as a means of branding, advertising, or public relations.||4.12|
|Habit 24: Our team members are encouraged and publicly honored much more than they are criticized.||4.10|
|Habit 32: Our company has a diversified product/service offering and a commitment to innovate so we can succeed in changing environments.||4.10|
|Habit 10: Our company constantly improves our customer communications to minimize our customers’ uncertainty and stress related to their purchases.||4.03|
|Habit 26: Our team members pursue peace when conflicts arise, confront directly when there’s an offense, and have zero tolerance for gossip.||4.01|
|Habit 28: Our team members are quick to forgive those who have wronged us.||3.98|
|Habit 21: All our team members trust each other and assume the best about each other.||3.97|
|Habit 2: As a leader of my company, I invite God’s presence, power, and wisdom into my company through praying continually, worshiping the Lord, and meditating on Scripture.||3.95|
|Habit 23: Our company prioritizes rest and family time for workers by limiting work hours, ensuring every worker gets at least one day off from work each week, and providing adequate paid time off from work.||3.94|
|Habit 6: Our company focuses on maximizing/fulfilling our current production capacity rather than focusing obsessively on growth and expansion.||3.85|
|Habit 4: Our company has a clear and Christ-centered set of core values to express our core purpose that is well-understood by our company’s team members.||3.79|
|Habit 17: Our company hires, promotes, and demotes team members based on a thorough assessment of their core values and ability in relation to God’s values as expressed in the Bible.||3.68|
|Habit 19: Our company’s workers are expected and encouraged to make decisions at the lowest level possible.||3.66|
|Habit 3: Our company has a clear and Christ-centered statement of purpose that explains why we exist as a company and is well-understood by our company’s team members.||3.55|
|Habit 13: Our company has clearly defined indicators for evaluating the health and performance of our company.||3.54|
|Habit 5: Our company pursues its mission with clear, noble, and measurable goals that are pleasing to God plus a plan of action to accomplish each of those goals.||3.54|
|Habit 15: As a leader of my company, I choose to be accountable to a peer advisory group of other Christian business leaders concerning decisions affecting our company.||3.53|
|Habit 18: Our team members understand what offenses will result in the termination of their employment if found guilty through due process.||3.52|
|Habit 29: If/when legal disputes are encountered and cannot be resolved between the opposing parties, we hire a reliable Christian mediator and/or arbitrator to assist in resolving the matter.||3.19|
|Habit 30: Our company has conducted a thorough assessment of our company’s risk exposure.||3.05|
|Habit 37: Our company operates a vocational training program for those who need first-chance or second-chance job experience and mentorship.||3.05|
|Habit 14: We quickly establish deadlines by which underperforming areas of our company must either start producing fruit or have our company’s God-given resources withheld from them.||2.86|
|Habit 22: Our company offers pastoral care to our employees and their families.||2.72|
Possible Objections to Cultivating a Christ-Centered Company
Allow me to address some of the objections I have heard from well-meaning Christian business influencers that could hold other Christian business influencers back from fully committing to the process of partnering with the Holy Spirit to transform one’s own company into one that is Christ-centered.
Yes, we want to go the “second mile” for our customers, but we often need to charge extra to make that happen. If you’re working with the right kind of customers, they will respect your need to charge extra for the additional costs incurred by your company.
Objection 1 – “Most of our team members and customers aren’t Christians.”
Yes, in today’s post-Christian society, most of the typical company’s team members and customers aren’t followers of Jesus Christ and consider God as fictitious, irrelevant, and/or counterproductive to their lives. And there have been enough infamous discrimination lawsuits filed against Christian-influenced companies to strike fear in the hearts of anyone seeking to use a for-profit company as a platform for bringing glory to God in any observable way.
Fortunately, a Christian business influencer can work toward implementing all 37 of the Christ-centered company habits across the company without publicly announcing to the entire company that the objective is to partner with God to transform the whole organization into one that is Christ-centered. In most cases, it’s more effective and winsome not to take that approach. Christian business influencers do not need to put a Christian fish or cross on the company’s logo to be considered Christ-centered. Verbally announcing such a commitment from the outset won’t reveal God’s glory nearly to the extent that stealthily and shrewdly implementing the 37 Christ-centered company habits will. There is tremendous power in simply applying God’s Word in the process of stewarding what God has entrusted.
In fact, if a Christian business influencer were to present the complete list of 37 Christ-centered company habits to each fellow team member without telling them the source of those habits, it’s highly unlikely they would object to more than perhaps a few of them (i.e., the few that mention “God,” “Jesus,” or “Bible” explicitly). As the habits are implemented and incorporated into the culture, most of the stakeholders will be grateful, regardless of their demographics.
Christianity might even be illegal in the place where a Christ-centered company operates. Again, Christ-centered motives do not need to be broadcast publicly (e.g., the government, your employees, etc.). As the habits are implemented, God will display the glory of Jesus however he desires.
Objection 2 – “My business partner isn’t a Christian.”
If one’s business partner is truly against the commitment to apply the 37 Christ-centered company habits, it’s likely that the Christian business partner is “unequally yoked with an unbeliever” (2 Cor. 6:14). It might be time to part ways.
But if the business partner isn’t actively resisting efforts to apply these habits, it would be better to assume, as Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us” (Mark 9:40). An unbelieving business partner’s lack of devotion to God ought not to sabotage the work God wants to do in and through the company. This could be the greatest opportunity to show one’s business partner that God knows and cares more about the success and health of the company than anyone.
Objection 3 – “I’m neither the owner nor the co-owner of the company.”
To be sure, it’s easier to apply these habits for an implementer who is the company’s sole owner; or, at least, there are fewer excuses for not applying them. However, even if the Christian business influencer seeking to implement the habits is not the owner or co-owner, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some level of responsibility for applying many of the Christ-centered company habits to some degree. Every employee has some level of influence in the company or else they wouldn’t receive any wages. For this reason, I generally refer to the habit implementer as a Christ-centered company “influencer,” lest it be assumed I’m only speaking to the senior leaders of the company. Even the lowest-ranking, entry-level employees have God-given authority and influence to pray for the company, advocate for necessary changes, and demonstrate the changes they desire to see across the company. This sense of responsibility often causes employees to become promoted to greater levels of influence within the company.
Objection 4 – “My company is too small to do all these things.”
As shown in the beta assessment results above, every Christ-centered company habit can indeed be applied to the culture of a for-profit company to some extent. With that said, growing in each habit is a long-term process with frequent recalibration required to stay on track. While there are varying degrees of maturity pertaining to each habit, I suggest that Christian business influencers who have committed to the process of growing themselves and their companies in all 37 habits and have surrendered ultimate control of their companies to the Holy Spirit—relying on him as their source of power and wisdom to apply these habits from God’s Word—are cultivating Christ-centered companies.
Conclusion: Devoting a Company as an Altar to the Lord
At a pivotal moment in Israel’s history, God and God’s prophet were put to the test. The question in everyone’s mind that day was this: Is the God of Israel more real and powerful than all other gods? Only the one true God would answer by fire and set the altar ablaze.
The prophets of Baal were so convinced of their god’s superiority that they “cried out with a loud voice” and began cutting themselves “with swords and lances until blood gushed out on them” to demonstrate their conviction, hoping their god would display his power by igniting their altar (1 Kgs. 18:28).
As during the time of Elijah, a culture war is waging in the world today, and for-profit companies are at the center of it. Considering more than 85 percent of working-age people spend around 65 percent of their waking hours working in a for-profit company, it’s clear that the marketplace is the central battleground for competing narratives and ideologies that seek to steer a culture in a particular direction. For-profit companies profoundly influence all levels of society:
- Employees and their families
- Suppliers, contractors, & vendors
- Markets → industries → economies → nations
Like the prophets of Baal, the lost world is convinced that their self-obsessed, godless value systems reign supreme in the marketplace, mutilating themselves with values and business practices that suggest our God is dead and irrelevant. Sadly, many professing Christians also conduct business in this way. Sure, marketplace Christians are occasionally told well-meaning platitudes like these:
- “You don’t have to leave the business world to do work that glorifies God.”
- “God cares about business.”
- “The Bible is the best handbook for business.”
However, few have seen actionable, biblical proof that these things are indeed the case—other than perhaps a proverb here and there.
Of course, the false god Baal never responded. Elijah ridiculed the false prophets, saying,
Call out with a loud voice, since he is a god; undoubtedly he is attending to business, or is on the way, or is on a journey. Perhaps he is asleep, and will awaken. (1 Kgs. 18:27)
But then, it was God’s and Elijah’s turn. Elijah repaired the altar of the Lord that had been torn down by their godless enemies, prepared an offering, drenched it with 12 large jars of water, and asked the Lord to display his glory.
Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood, and the stones and the dust; and it licked up the water that was in the trench. (1 Kgs. 18:38)
Upon Elijah’s order, the prophets of Baal were then executed for high treason, having attempted to highjack the culture God had established for his people through Abraham, Moses, Joshua, and the other patriarchs and matriarchs of our faith.
As was the case in Israel 3,000 years ago, our God is the only one who can answer by fire. I believe he wants marketplace Christian to devote their companies to him as altars he can ignite for his glory by centering them on the values and character of his Son, Jesus Christ. Brightly will it shine in these dark days. If this Christ-centered vision is important for Christian business influencers, our progress toward it must be measured, for what gets measured gets done and improved upon.