FAITH AND BUSINESS

by Phil Bull, CEO of Blue Barn Consulting and member of Coast Vineyard

Blue Barn Consulting provides engineering consulting advice to the public and private sector in areas of roads, pipes, land development, bridges, parks and buildings.

We have grown at meteoric speed some years and laid people off in others. We have had projects go swimmingly well with our clients loving everything we do and the odd one get mired in difficulties. We have been cash rich and cash strapped. For the record, cash-rich is better! We have struggled with poor work spaces, few resources and clunky systems and been blessed with the opposite.

Through it all, I have learnt to apply our company value of “People Matter” and trust God always – work my tail off, of course, sowing seed, but trust God always for the harvest.

For all of us, our businesses or places of work provide us tremendous opportunity to connect with non-church folk. And my work is very important to me. But in the very end I know I will be measured in terms of the people I have met and influenced and the faithfulness with which I have sought out and pursued God’s will for my life.

Let’s talk about business:

People and profits

If you think God is going to do all of the work in your business (or, in your life, for that matter) you are almost certainly going to be disappointed. You have to get into the game.

Although He would do a much better job Himself, He chooses almost always to work through His people in seeing His kingdom extended and His will outworked here on earth. There are all sorts of reasons for this but one of the biggies is that is how we grow. Our character is shaped through persistence in the face of adversity.

As business leaders we are being called on every day to make judgments often affecting real people and families and often in areas of grey. We need wisdom and courage in large doses.

In terms of hard work, business offers plenty. So if you are keen to grow in your faith I do not know a better place. It forces us all to be brutally honest with our performance – there is no hiding behind platitudes and visions if the business is losing money.

Let me make no bones about it – a business’ primary function is to make profit. If you are not making profit you are not in a business, you are in a hobby, and you better have some other way to make the money you need to live.

If you do not believe me, try this exercise: ask yourself a series of “how” questions in response to the “why you are in business”:

Why are you in business? To help people earn an income and support their families.

How will we do that? By serving our customers well with a product they love.

How will we do that? By hiring the best people in the game.

How will we do that? By paying them well and offering them an exciting career trajectory.

How will we do that? By being profitable and growing the business to provide career opportunities.

How will we do that? By investing in the business and a high-growth strategy.

How will we fund that? By being profitable.

Profit is the oxygen a business breathes. It is like any one of us – we need oxygen simply to live.

Once that is a given, we can work out our call, express our values, grow a family and hopefully make a meaningful contribution to the world we live in.

A business is very much the same. Once it is profitable (or “breathing”) it has life. Once it has life all sorts of opportunities open up: to open an office in a Third World country supporting the local communities with employment and business choices (perhaps providing a pathway to freedom for men and women caught up in human trafficking); or to invest in the R&D of a product that can simplify or improve people’s lives; or to give away to organisations and individuals doing great work in the prisons or with disaffected youth.

Profits often provide the mechanism to support the expression of our faith or calling. Or to support others in the expression of their faith.

And do not play games with profit. It has to be truly profitable to be a business. If you play games with the books – perhaps not drawing a market salary yourself and then declaring yourself profitable as a result – you are kidding yourself.

Keep the books clean. Pay your taxes. And remember that People Matter. If we ever lose sight of the fact that profit exists to serve a bigger purpose then we really have lost our way. It is never profit at all costs.

It is good for the soul to get to the end of a bruising week with difficult staff or losses on the P&L and sing praises to God that declare his provision in all things.

Always remember that we are blessed to bless. Money and riches in and of themselves are a meaningless and dead-end pursuit, even if they are being deployed for a grand purpose. We have only to look at Solomon’s well-funded pursuit of the meaning of life to see that. It’s all meaningless was his conclusion!

True contentment and happiness is only found in Him. Money will come and go; as will every single thing we may be tempted to place our trust in – our health, friendships, good name, family, bank account, business. The Bible’s wisdom is very clear – in the very end heaven and earth will be rolled up like an old cloak and it will pass away, only his Word remains.

As we enjoy blessings and our businesses prosper – remind yourself that making profit is not an end in itself. It is simply a “vital sign” that your business is alive. Now you can get on with the living itself – blessing others with what God has blessed you.

Running a business

So, how do we marry up our kingdom outlook with daily business needs?

First, and sorry to bang on - but do not lose sight of the profit imperative! Without profits you are seriously constrained in what you can do (at an organisational level) to express your faith or outwork your call or help people.

Second, remember that life is a series of moments. John Lennon said that, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” No matter what we do for a business, we all still have to get up every morning, put our work clothes on, kiss the wife or husband goodbye, drive to work and go about our day.

It is all well and good having a clever strategic plan and 5-year plan and vision statement and mission statement and the rest of it. And these things are all very good – in fact, imperative for a business with any aspiration at all.

Jesus went on a journey to Jerusalem. You might call it his strategic goal or mission. Yet along the way life happened – we know that he healed two men just out of Jericho, he met the Samaritan woman by the well and told her of her own life, and he told many parables.

It is safe to assume, too, that over the days the journey may have taken that everyday life happened. They ate, they walked, they talked. And in each of those moments there was an opportunity to express faith and build a little of God’s kingdom.

And each of these things may have been perceived as a distraction from the mission, whereas in fact they were the very fabric of the bigger mission of life.

“People Matter” is Blue Barn’s core value. How this works out in practice is in every moment of every day. We deal with clients and staff and partners and suppliers all day every day and we do our very best to ensure we treat all people with respect and dignity – remembering that we have to face our maker in the end.

Does this mean we are “soft”? Nup. Remember the first rule? If making profits is our oxygen, sometimes there are hard conversations with clients about extra payments for extra work requested; or with suppliers to drive down our costs; or with staff who didn’t get the desk space they wanted or salary increases they thought they deserved. Or, sometimes, layoffs because work has dried up.

But always, in the midst of this, we remember that God is above all and that He loves people. And we need to too.

Thirdly, get to church – recalibrate.

It is pretty tough out there sometimes. As business leaders we are being called on every day to make judgments often affecting real people and families and often in areas of grey. We need wisdom and courage in large doses to discharge our duty well before God and before men.

And it is very easy to lose our way. We are often surrounded by worldly thought and practice and this can innoculate us against God’s higher ways. Some practices that are not good can become quite normalised in our minds by the constant exposure.

The only antidote to this that I know is regular church attendance. And by regular I mean weekly. It is good for the soul to get to the end of a bruising week with difficult staff or losses on the P&L and sing praises to God that declare his provision in all things or hear a message of truth to counter the lies that may have confused you over the week.

I think of it as a recalibration. And of course it is good for us all, not just business people. I do know, however, how very essential it has been for me to keep me pointing north.

Fourth, seek counsel. And not always from church folk – although they can be helpful. Find the very best advice you can.

One thing I have observed is that successful, sustainable business usually follows some pretty biblical principles: expect profit (like the men with their talents) and if you do not get it from one area of the business cut it off (like the unfruitful branch); sowing and reaping; a soft answer turns away wrath; listen carefully, speak slowly; adopt a servant’s heart in your business …

It can be quite humbling really – there are many very good businesses out there without a shred of faith at their core outworking these kinds of principles very successfully because they work.