When most people hear about stewardship, workplace chaplains and employee satisfaction surveys are rarely what spring to mind. But for a cadre of business owners integrating faith within their businesses for a Business as a Ministry (BaaM) operating system, that only scratches the surface of their stewardship.
A steward is responsible to manage an asset on someone’s behalf. While work is often compartmentalized from faith, stewardship for Christian leaders demands seeing their entire businesses as belonging to God. They operate according to His standards and values and integrate biblical principles in everything from choosing health care plans to finding ways to show the love of Christ to His people. As business owners oversee people and resources, they are not only tending to others’ welfare and wallets but also to their eternal wellbeing.
Applying biblical principles to shape best practices in business may sound challenging or scandalously illegal, but it’s surprisingly achievable and worthwhile. And while this view of stewardship may seem to be an ethereal, fluid concept, ministry can be objectively measured with worthy metrics of success much like any other dimension of thriving business.
The Opportunity for Impact
John Davenport Engineering, Inc (DAVENPORT), a consulting firm that has been providing engineering solutions for nearly 20 years, aims to nurture "fertile ground" in the workplace, creating a place where employees know their spiritual growth is supported and encouraged.
Revenue generation at DAVENPORT isn't just a means for larger offices and higher salaries. Davenport Jr., the company's CEO, sees growing the business as a way to increase its impact, making the work it does more meaningful and rewarding. It’s another way of pursuing what he calls “win-win” solutions. One simple question guides John’s decision-making, proposed solutions, and company policies: “Spiritually and professionally, how do we meet [employees and partners] where they are to help them grow?”
Offering opportunities like paid time off to volunteer and employee-led local mission efforts creates a corporate culture where employees get to practice their faith while at work.
Todd Stewart, president of Gulf Winds International, is also intentional about leading a business as ministry. He has created a strategic plan for ministry—a systematic envisioning of a desired future along with goals and the necessary steps to reach them—and he’s woven that into the fibers of his business. At Gulf Winds, this focus starts at the individual level with each employee. “Meeting the needs of the individual employee through corporate sponsored programs, partnerships, a values-driven culture, coaching, and team development” is how the Gulf Winds team fosters a spiritually fulfilling work atmosphere.
Considering many employees spend more time with their coworkers than with their families, the marketplace offers a large platform to share the life and love of Christ. But without effective planning, good intentions can be derailed by a lack of clarity and accountability to accomplish a company’s vision for spiritual impact. Christian leaders can meet the challenge of successful stewardship by implementing a strategic plan similar to Stewart’s.
Finding the Right Tools
If a business owner struggled with shrinking sales, he or she would invest a great deal of time and resources into fixing the problem. Leaders can plan and execute ministry-minded initiatives in the same way. C12 Group, a global provider of peer advisory groups and resources for Christian business leaders, developed their 5-Point Alignment Matrix to help leaders align all operations with their company’s central mission, vision, and core values. By positioning ministry alongside other core dimensions, the Matrix prevents sprinkling it on top of one’s business as an afterthought. Instead, it approaches ministry from the same strategic planning lens as operations, organizational development, revenue generation, and financial management. It’s an entirely new operating system based upon the idea of Business as a Ministry (BaaM).
The surest way to minister in business is to fold the gospel into routine conduct. Rather than force-feeding the gospel to others, effective Christian business owners recognize and tangibly meet needs—physical, emotional, and spiritual—like the example set by Christ.
For Stewart at Gulf Winds, traditional measurements, such as operation ratios and accuracy percentages, only partially define a business’s success. Ministry efforts are a part of the business plan at every level. Among other activities, the company offers weekly Bible studies, local and global mission trips, marriage seminars, a benevolence fund, and space allocated in their warehouse for use by nonprofits.
While strategic planning is the essential preparatory work for effective ministry, measuring progress is the subsequent imperative. In the absence of clearly defined goals, people can become slaves to activity and exertion without accountability and fruitfulness. In what is known as the Hawthorne effect, what is measured, discussed, and reinforced tends to improve.
In fact, the Bible repeatedly demonstrates the importance of measuring with numbers. Jesus discipled 12 apostles, fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish, and gave 10 minas to 10 servants. Even Peter had a rate of return—3,000 souls—when he preached the gospel at Pentecost. Measuring doesn’t have to detract or distract from ministry; rather, it brings definition. At DAVENPORT, for example, John has visibility into the impact of their activities as tracked and measured by their third-party corporate chaplains and internal ministry team.
Defining and Finding Success
Speaking with Christianity Today from São Paulo, Brazil, where he was doing missions work, Stewart describes his business as about “more than freight.” He defines success as less of a moving goalpost and more of a fulfillment of a calling, saying, “We believe if we truly live out this mission and these core values for the glory of God, we have been faithful and successful.”
John Davenport shares a similar outlook. "I feel successful when an individual leaves saying, 'You know what? This group of people are good people.' They have moved along a spectrum and are that much closer to coming into [God's] kingdom."
It might be intimidating to imagine a business that is truly shaped by the gospel and led with ministry in mind. Putting these principles into practice can take time, focus, and mentorship. But business owners are often surprised by the freedoms they have to share about their faith in the workplace. Mentorship and counsel from like-minded peers has proven to help produce rewarding results. As Davenport says, “If you take your focus off of the ‘bottom line’ being just about money, the bottom line is taken care of.”
Business is not only an economic engine to fund ministries but can be a ministry itself as new levels of flourishing and fruitfulness grow out of a holistic, faithful approach. When owners see every decision as an act of Biblical stewardship as they include spiritual metrics, the eternal return on investment is immeasurable.