The Meaning of Business
Despite many books and conferences in the past decade that frame business as a divine calling, churches still wonder how best to support the businesspeople in their midst, many of whom feel demeaned for not doing "real" ministry.
Jeff Van Duzer, in Why Business Matters to God: (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed) (IVP), offers Business people guidelines for how to think about their role in God's plan. Christianity Today editor at large Rob Moll spoke with the dean and professor of business law and ethics at Seattle Pacific University about whether the free market system is still the best provider of goods and services, and how churches can help Business people face ethically complex choices.
Why does God want people to go into business?
Two answers: to provide goods and services, and to provide meaningful and creative jobs.
Those are two different purpose statements. One has an internal focus, and one, external. Externally, business is the only institution that creates economic value. A university provides intellectual capital but does not make things. Business takes the ideas and commercializes them. It relies on an array of values from other institutions, but it's the only one that adds value into the system. Business plays a key role by creating products and services.
But not every product a business could make is equally valid in the eyes of God. So a Christian in business should ask not only what will maximize the bottom line, but also what product or service could be made, given the core competencies under his control and the assets he is managing, that would best serve his community.
The second piece is that God designed humans to work. They are made in his image: God is a worker. And God's work is creative and meaningful. Business is not the only institution that creates opportunities for work, but it is certainly one of them, and this recent recession would suggest it is a very important one.
What is the purpose of business?
A business should serve—internally, its employees, and externally, its customers. A business exists for certain purposes. One purpose is to provide meaningful work. Another is to provide meaningful goods and services. It does not exist to maximize return on capital investment. There are a variety of things you might include that enable you to achieve those service goals, but you should not do anything that runs afoul of limits. A broad understanding of the notion of sustainability might be shorthand for describing limits. As business pursues what I think are its godly purposes, it must do so in a way that does not transgress the "do no harm" standard of sustainability.
The third purpose is partnership. It's a call for business to recognize its place in a system of institutions that collectively pursue the common good. The common good allows for the flourishing of the community and the individuals who make up that community.
Haven't we seen a flood of books over the past decade arguing that business is not only a legitimate calling for Christians but even a high calling? Why the need to continue highlighting this theme?
There has been emphasis on the broader understanding of vocation and calling, and a broader concern about a dualistic—Monday through Friday versus Sunday—Christianity. Even in our church, every now and then we will hear that someone is being called to "Christian ministry," and you know they are not talking about accounting.