For years now Hillsong have been running a Christian Business Directory for Christians in western Sydney, and apart from the missiological issues this inevitably raises, I have also long wondered, what does it mean to call a business “Christian”?

In response to a question about psychology, I recently stated the following:

The wariness with psychology is due to the fact that many models, while useful, are grounded in unchristian assumptions that can catch the unwary. For example, given Freud associated religion with psychosis it is reasonable to expect that the psychodynamic model based on his teachings will present Christians with some challenges. I think uncritical rejection is just as problematic as uncritical acceptance, so I don’t advocate running away from the problem, but I won’t say integration is easy.

But I could say the same thing about business models. Many business models are equally grounded in unchristian assumptions. Is having a Christian as a CEO enough to call a business Christian? I think not. Nevertheless, many of us Christians are employed by businesses so it is not a problem we can run away from.

Here is something to chew on. For most corporations, maximising share value for shareholders is their highest virtue. In fact, under corporations law it is illegal for us to aim for anything else. Even the most enlightened corporations can only justify a triple bottom line when there are win / win solutions. When only win / lose solutions are available, economics inevitably wins.

Yet the good news suggests to us that the bottom line is never the bottom line. God is. So there will inevitably be some situations where God’s ways brings us into conflict with corporations law, where business ethics calls us to treat Christian ethics as an “externality”, where we have a choice to make.

I think this is where we need to recognize that corporations are amongst what the New Testament refers to as the “powers and principalities” and that whatever we might say about private corporations, public corporations at least (governed by shareholder concerns as they are) can never be viewed as completely “Christian”.

So what is a Christian employed by a public corporation to do? In this I suggest we look to exiles like Daniel for inspiration. Even when Daniel was placed in charge of the court astrologers of Babylon, even when he was made the equivalent of their CEO, reporting only to the board, his situation was hardly transformed into a Godly one. Yet in all his work he never compromised himself. So it is doable, it is just not easy.

With this in mind I would suggest that, for most of us, it is probably more useful to move on from talking about Christian businesses to talking about how to be a Christian in an unchristian business, how to work as a Christian when unchristian business models are the order of the day. The first step, as I have suggested with my psychology comments, is to look at core business assumptions.

13 thoughts on “How Christian is my business?

  1. Yes Matt – I have never made the claim that my business is ‘Christian’, yet by the same token I am very conscious of how I conduct business as a Christian!
    I will never be advertising in Christian business directories though. Too many people out there expect Christians to do jobs cheaper, throw in freebies etc.
    I am happy to run a very good business as a Christian, but don’t expect any discounts just because we worship the same God!
    That said, I do free work for people and I do give discounts to people of my choice. But their faith perspective is not the determining factor.

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  2. Yeah Hamo, I have heard about some expecting discounts from Christian businessmen just because they share the same faith. Not sure where that expectation comes from.

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  3. I wonder why I would chose to do business with someone simply based on the fact that he or she is a Christian. We’re currently doing a remodel on our house, and some of our contractors are Christians; some aren’t. At some level, it’s refreshing when a brother comes in to do some work, and yet I can’t help but feel we’re getting connected to the community in important ways through the others.

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  4. Ah yes, well those are some of the missiological issues I hinted at and that’s a whole new topic. Even if one could define a business as Christian (which I am here suggesting could be a much more difficult exercise than is supposed by Hillsong) there is still the question of whether creating a Christian business subculture is even a good thing to do. If it does nothing more than reinforce the holy huddle then we’re in trouble. As you say, connecting with the wider community is important.

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  5. Where I’m from there is a strong Muslim business culture of Muslims prioritising giving work to those of the faith over others. This seems to work pretty well when culture and business go hand in hand. With Christians though it’s always a bit tricky. There are so many horror stories about Christian business people and Christian business directories!
    In theory I’m not against the idea of business nepotism as an expression of good family values. In practice, I prefer to let my work speak for itself and give work to others based on quality and affordability irrespective of faith.

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  6. The term “Christian business” is a problem; it is doubtful whether anything less than a person can be a Christian, and a judical person doesn’t count.
    Also, just as art that happens to be produced by Christians isn’t necessarily Christian art, so business that happen to be run by Christians are not necessarily Christian businesses.
    My wife resigned from three jobs over the last 20 years because she thought they were asking or expecting her to do things that she couldn’t do in good conscience as a Christian.

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  7. Steve, yes the concept of a legal / juridical / juristic person was behind my thinking in writing this and that is why I consider it particularly difficult to pin a Christian identity on publically listed companies. At least with sole traders and partnerships you are dealing with real people whom assume full liability for the actions of their company. Once we get into the realms of artificial entities though … well I just think it gets rediculous then.
    Even with sole traders though, yes, there is still the issue that businesses that happen to be run by Christians are not necessarily Christian businesses. The business is more than just the person that runs it, it is also the systems and practices and internal culture that holds it together.

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  8. Hmmm… very interesting post. It makes me ponder the following questions:
    If we label something/someone a Christian, does it make it so? Then how can we tell?
    I really don’t know if the business world can be about anything else but the bottom line, do you?
    Even many churches measure their success according to their growth in attendance and income. Sometimes irritatingly so…
    Is it possible to get away from that mindset and focus on a higher purpose? for real? And who decides what is and is not a worthy focus?

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  9. Linda
    I used the example from psychology quite deliberately, not only because I think many of the same principles come into play, in terms of Christians needing to wrestle with core assumptions, but also because it is not unusual to find counseling practices being run as Christian businesses.
    Now, I think it is waaaay too simplistic to think labeling a business Christian makes it so, so I think we’re all on the same page as far as that goes, and I would add that even when a business is fully owned and operated by Christians that does not make everything about it Christian. Nevertheless, unless we are to indulge split-level sacred-secular thinking I think we do still need to ask, “How can we do business in a more Christian way?” I think that is a more realistic and honest question too, because it acknowledges that we are on a journey and are under no false pretenses that we have arrived yet.
    As for who decides what is or is not a worthy focus, I would say God, and suggest we turn to the bible for instruction as we are called to do for any other aspect of Christian living. The bible actually has quite a bit to say about money, financial management, human resources and other aspects of running a business, and we should remember that many of the heroes of the Bible were in fact businessmen and regular workers. This should suggest to us that running a business or working for one is not intrinsically incompatible with Christian integrity.
    Consider for example 1 Timothy 6:10 which says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” This is NOT saying that making money is intrinsically evil. What it is saying, however, is watch you don’t develop an unhealthy fixation or distorted priorities where money is concerned for it leads to grief – money is not God, don’t treat it that way. This suggests to me that, for the Christian, the bottom line in business has to be God and his ways, regardless of how unwise and irresponsible the world might think such a stance is. Obviously the wise thing to do would be to look for win / win solutions, where we might make a profit and serve God simultaneously. The question is, what do we choose when win / win proves elusive, when it’s more of a zero sum game, when profitability and promotion and job security comes into conflict with integrity? I think how we respond to such challenges is one way to measure our own progress.
    As for churches adopting the success measures of secular businesses, yes I see that as highly problematic.

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  10. Matt,
    Behind and beyond the question of businesses as juristic persons lies the question of businesses as egregores, which you hinted at with your reference to principalities and powers.
    I think this is a very significant post, so I linked to it from my blog.

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  11. Christian businesses? I thought only people can be Christians. How about Christian based businesses?
    Just what are Christian based businesses? They are any business that you (a Christian) start, own and operate in a Christian manner. YOU are what makes a business “Christian” based.
    Christ in you… the hope of glory.
    You will glorify God through your business and your business will glorify God through you.
    Corporations are business structures. What will businesses look like in eternity… when we rule and reign with Christ on earth? Will there still be business done on the new earth?

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  12. Christian businesses? I thought only people can be Christians. How about Christian based businesses?
    Just what are Christian based businesses? They are any business that you (a Christian) start, own and operate in a Christian manner. YOU are what makes a business “Christian” based.
    Christ in you… the hope of glory.
    You will glorify God through your business and your business will glorify God through you.
    Corporations are business structures. What will businesses look like in eternity… when we rule and reign with Christ on earth? Will there still be business done on the new earth?

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