Your work is a key place for spiritual growth

Seattle Pacific University’s newest study, Faith & Co., is the best resource I’ve seen for Christian business leaders. That’s not surprising, given the authors of two of the best books for kingdom business people (Jeff Van Duzer of Why Business Matters to God and Kenman Wong of Business for the Common Good) were involved in the project.

The 10-week study is based on a video curriculum supplemented by a group study guide. It’s appropriate for a small group study or an adult education class. Twelve short films, ranging from about five to 10 minutes each, are at Faith & Co.’s heart. These showcase stories from businesses ranging from an upscale leather goods manufacturer in Mexico to a cattle feedlot in Ethiopia, glimpses of a real estate development company in small-town Alabama, a girls’ retail store in Nashville, I Have a Bean coffee roasters in Wheaton, Illinois, a beekeeper in Oregon, and the Flow car dealerships in the southeastern U.S., among others.

The films are supplemented by shorter teaching segments featuring SPU faculty (management professor Denise Daniels, provost Jeff Van Duzer, and ethics professor Bruce Baker), Steve Garber of The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation & Culture, and a variety of thoughtful male and female entrepreneurs. The study guide includes clear session guidelines, from suggested time frames for the various lesson segments to thoughtful discussion questions, and a helpful “key takeaways” section that concludes each lesson.

Five strengths of the study:

It’s highly engaging. The videography is, simply put, stellar. The stories (and the music that accompanies them) range from playful to sober, fanciful to practical. I fell in love with CEO Maggie Tucker in the space of the four-minute video on her retail store for girls, Magpies. I shook my head in wonder at the counter-cultural business practices of Dayspring Technologies; wanted to fist-bump with Scott Friesen over his job-creating cattle feed business in Ethiopia; and found solace in the story of God’s reconciling and healing work in the lives of John and Ashley Marsh of the Marsh Collective in Alabama.

It’s deep. Too often businesspeople are presented with a series of tips based on cherry picked Scripture texts, as though the Bible was a handbook for quick success in the marketplace. By contrast, the Faith & Co. study is grounded in the grand narrative of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. This approach provokes deeper questions about the redemptive purposes of business and the far-reaching, practical implications of the Bible’s vision of shalom, the imago Dei, the reality of the fall, and the hope embedded in the redemption.

It’s wide. The study looks upward, inward, and outward. It begins by asking what God’s purpose for businesses is. This upward glance ennobles the work — an important starting point in light of how often businesspeople are made to feel their work is second-class behind that of pastors and missionaries. It continues by encouraging users to recognize that God is already at work and our job is to join him there. This creates a perspective of the workplace as a school of spiritual formation: A place presenting both the opportunity to be formed into greater Christ-likeness through the lived practice of self-giving love as well as the threat of being malformed by prevailing cultural narratives (e.g., that profit is all important or that our identity comes from what we do). Part two of the study explores the wide circle of relationships businesspeople are called to steward well: with customers, employees, the community, and the creation itself.

It’s inspirational. The videos highlight genuinely exemplary business people and practices. Don Flow, for example, operates a multi-state car dealership that operates on truth-telling to customers and deep respect for employees. For him, this is love of neighbor expressed in such practical policies as no-haggle pricing, a 100,000 warranty on used cars, an emergency benevolence fund for workers managed by workers, and college tuition benefits for employees’ children. Chi-Ming Chien, Principal of Dayspring Technologies, keeps only a three-month financial reserve so that the business practices genuine dependence on God. Dayspring also sponsors a neighbor loan fund to support local entrepreneurs in the Bayside community of San Francisco where it is headquartered.

It’s real. Among the many gems of wisdom sprinkled throughout series is the concept of the “messy middle.” We’re conducting business today in the in-between time between the redemption and new creation chapters of the Bible’s Big Story, in the “now” and “not yet” of the kingdom of God. This means work will involve fixing as well as building. It means we face real limits — both as finite creatures and as people living in a world where it may be impossible to “do right” simultaneously on every front (for customers, employees, the community, and the environment). Hans Hess, Founder/CEO of Elevation Burgers, shares an example. He cannot maintain profitability in a restaurant that serves grass-fed burgers (whose real price must be somewhat subsidized) without also serving high-profit sodas made with high-fructose corn syrup. He’s passionate for health, but must accept the proximate rather than ideal. The study realistically acknowledges these kinds of compromises.

Faith & Co.’s value is highest for business owners: most of the stories feature CEOs, founders, and other C-level executives. It’s also great for hopeful entrepreneurs. Teachers (like me) in the faith and work movement, pastors seeking to connect with business professionals, and college/business school professors will also discover much that is delightful and easy to excerpt.

Topics: Entrepreneurship, Vocation

About the Author

Amy L. Sherman is a Senior Fellow at the Sagamore Institute and author of Kingdom Calling: Vocational Stewardship for the Common Good (IVP).