What is it about Reformed Christians that has so many wired to be entrepreneurs? Think about all the landscape professionals and nursery operators in Ontario, the construction companies and dairy farms in BC, and the myriad cabinet shops in southwestern Australia! Very different businesses, but every company began with the dream of an individual or team that saw a need in the marketplace for their expertise: “We can do this better than others, and we can provide for our families and employees by sharing our expertise with the public, and charging the right prices for what we do.” That concept might sound mundane to some, but it’s incredibly invigorating and challenging to an entrepreneur!
But what should we as Reformed Christians look like as entrepreneurs and employers? And how can we use God’s Word to guide us as leaders in the workplace? How can we be effective witnesses for the Lord, and conscientious stewards of what He provides for us?
Be willing to take on responsibility
Along with the excitement of starting something new, the Christian entrepreneur will also face many hurdles and pressures. When you work for someone else, you are rarely confronted with the realities of making sure there are enough funds in the bank to make payroll, or worrying that your biggest account won’t pay their bill on time so that you can send out checks to your vendors and partners. Especially early in a company’s life, the owners have many decisions to make and can feel like they are the only one worried about whether or not their enterprise will survive.
These pressures multiply when the owners hire their first employee: we have to recruit the right people with the right skills so the company can grow; we need to file reams of paperwork with multiple government agencies; we need to choose and purchase benefit packages we might never have thought about. Despite the additional pressures, entrepreneurs who have a team can be many times more effective than when they are on their own.
Throughout the Scriptures, the Lord commands His people to be hard-working, diligent, and industrious, not so that they would become rich, but because He wants us to use for His glory the gifts He has given us.
In Matthew 24, the Lord Jesus praises the work of the two servants who managed well the funds their master entrusted to them. The master is furious with the servant who just buried his treasure in the ground: “You wicked and slothful servant!” And he commands that this “worthless” man be cast into the outer darkness. We do not know specifically what the two righteous servants did with the money they received (the first “traded with them,” and the second “made two talents more,”) but we do know that they were commended for their diligence. “Well done, good and faithful servant!” While some in today’s culture may look askance at profit-making, the Bible never condemns this basic tenet of capitalism that makes a free market function.
Use your growing influence to aid and not exploit
As they worked hard, and aimed for a return on their investments, God’s people were also to deal righteously with their servants and laborers. In Deuteronomy 24:15, the Lord through Moses instructs landowners: “You shall not oppress a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether he is one of your brothers, or one of the sojourners who are in your land within your towns. You shall give him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets (for he is poor and counts on it), lest he cry against you to the Lord, and you be guilty of sin…”
The Lord is angered when profits are made by those who mistreat or cheat their employees. In James 5, those who have “hoarded wealth” are warned that “the wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you… The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.”
Pay others as you would like to be paid
In a recent issue of Reformed Perspective, Peter Jacobsen wrote about the negative effects of minimum wage policies – unintended consequences such as higher unemployment among the young and less skilled, and even intentionally evil consequences such as economic punishment of recent immigrants willing to work for lower wages than native-born employees. Jacobsen cited the writings of economist Thomas Sowell, a black American economist who delights in using real data to debunk “woke,” generally accepted theories about socialism, communism, racism, and more. Christian business leaders need wisdom to discern what is best for their employees, for the health of their company, and for their customers. Since we are commanded to be righteous and generous in how we treat our fellow workers, hopefully a hike in a mandated minimum wage does not have a significant impact on our businesses, since we are likely being far more generous with most of our workforce.
Create opportunities for others to be fruitful
Not only must we never withhold the wages earned by employees, we are also not to be so focused on profit that we leave no opportunities for others to profit from our enterprise. After instructing about paying wages on the same day as earned, Moses commands that farmers should leave enough crops in their fields for others to glean: “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deut. 24:19). King David’s great-grandmother benefited from this generosity to the poor!
Are there ways that we in our modern workplaces can put in place similar policies that would help our neighbors, and our brothers and sisters? In my hometown, a local company owns and maintains a scenic, rural retreat and training center that it makes available for no cost to Christian organizations. This same company has hired a part-time chaplain to be available for their employees as they need a listening ear, and invites other local employers to avail themselves of this minister’s services. Another company nearby hires mentally disabled employees for janitorial work. Might the floors be cleaner and the windows sparkle more if a contract service were used? Possibly. But what a joy to be able to provide work and routine for those who otherwise might not have such opportunities.
Seize the charitable opportunities that come with business success
The principle of tithing and charitable giving also has a place in this discussion. Christians are expected to be generous with what the Lord has given. In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul reminds his readers “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” And in 1 Corinthians 16, Paul writes “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income” (NIV). The phrase “in keeping with your income” (or “as he may prosper” in the ESV) is telling: business owners often enjoy seasons of prosperity beyond what a typical wage earner may experience, and should be known for their generosity to causes that benefit their church community, and their neighbors’ well being. May the Lord continue to bless the businesses in our church communities, and give wisdom to those entrusted to run them for his glory.
Marty VanDriel is the CEO of a manufacturing company in Ferndale, Washington. Comments, feedback, and also suggestions for future topics dealing with business, employment, and finance are more than welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.