“Our business should make money so that we can give it away” – that’s the message our contemporary culture teaches us. Those of us who look for a higher purpose for our business find that message easy to accept.
We see that message reinforced by a variety of different sources. Warren Buffett advocates it and funds massive philanthropic efforts. Bill Gates does likewise. Generally, most people who have some success in business find themselves thinking similar thoughts as they approach the last season of their lives. And, our friends in the religious establishment make the same argument. There are books written advocating that the sole purpose of a business is to make money to fund religion. Likewise, it is easy to take the step from the Biblical theme of giving to the idea that the sole purpose of our business is to give. And besides, it feels good! With so much support for the idea, it’s no wonder that most Christian business people believe it.
Could we be wrong?
Could it be that this is one of those paradigms that feel good and seem reasonable – but that, beneath the glossy surface, are actually detrimental, hindering our growth, thwarting the growth of the Kingdom and inflicting more damage than good?
From the earliest days of mankind, we have continually developed ideas that seem right and reasonable to us, but that are opposed to God’s deeper ways. You remember the early days of the Hebrew nation when God had organized His people around judges and prophets. But, the people wanted a king because everyone around them had a king. God relents, and says to his prophet, “It is not you they have rejected, it is me.”(I Samuel, 8:7)
God has his thoughts and ways, but His people had their own ideas. In promoting their own ideas, they rejected God and suffered the consequences. You’ll remember that some superficial good came of the kings. They consolidated the nation and provided leadership. But, beneath the surface, the consequences were huge. Most of the kings lead the nation into rebellion from God, and that eventually brought about the Babylonian captivity and the loss of the ten tribes of Isreal.
Could this idea be one of those? Ideas that seem good on the surface, but which are really detrimental when we look a little closer. Let’s look at the consequences of this paradigm.
Consequences of the business as money-giver paradigm
It elevates money to the highest priority in business.
By stating that the purpose of a business is to make money so that you can give it away, you elevate money to the highest priority in business. Now, all of the other purposes of a business — to provide community, to develop future leaders, to bless communities, to demonstrate the fullness of Christ, etc. (find the full list in The Good Book on Business) — slide down the scale and become subservient to the quest to make money. While a business should make money, that is not it’s highest calling. A business only achieves its potential when it steps out of the money-is-everything mentality.
It encourages non-scriptural giving.
Business giving, particularly giving to the local church or religious institution is nowhere modeled in the Bible. The Bible knows nothing of organizations giving to other organizations. Almost all of the giving in the Bible is one person giving to another. By institutionalizing the gift and the giftee, we take the power out of the gift. It becomes a tax write off and a P & L sheet notation, instead of a heartfelt expression of Christ’s love from one person to another.
There are reasons why the percentage of Christians has not increased even one percent in the last 30 years in the USA – in spite of $530 billion dollars spent by the institutional church system. One of the causes of this unacceptable situation is the institutionalization of giving, which is encouraged by the business as a money-maker paradigm.
It encourages a compartmentalized view of business.
If you hold the view that a business purpose is to make money to give to the religious institutions, then you have a neat, and easy demarcation between what you do on Monday through Saturday, and what you do on Sunday. It is easy to hold that business is business, and has nothing to do with Christianity. The only point of intersection is when the check is passed from one hand to the other.
This compartmentalized view of business is another reason why the Kingdom has been stymied. Since many Christians see their business as something separated from their Christianity, they often make decisions and institute practices that are not influenced by Christianity. The most common complaint about Christians by non-Christians is leveled at church-goers and labels them as hypocrites. The compartmentalized view of business, promoted by this paradigm, contributes to that hypocrisy.
It violates plain scriptural teaching.
In the parable of the bags of gold, the business people who grew the assets for which they were responsible were rewarded by more for which to be responsible and a closer relationship with the master. They were not rewarded for giving it away; they were rewarded for making it grow.
While there is nothing wrong with giving, it is when this idea is made predominant over other plain Bible teaching that it becomes an issue. This passage teaches that God rewards businesses who reinvest their profits into growing the business.
It hinders the growth of our businesses and confines them to being just worldly entities.
A Biblical business can, and should, be so much more than just a money-making entity. This view of a business limits the aspirations of the business owners. Since they don’t see their businesses as powerful Kingdom entities, they don’t aspire to that. And, since they don’t aspire to it, they don’t develop the business along biblical lines. The first step to personal growth and business development is to want to become something more than you are now. The business-as-money-machine mentality prevents the business owners from aspiring to be more.
Ultimately, it hinders the growth of the Kingdom
Tens of thousands of businesses are kept stunted and distracted by the business as money-maker mentality. They remain locked in a worldly view of their businesses. This stunts the growth of Christianity. Tens of thousands of businesses could be unleashed to develop leaders, grow people closer to God, and distribute God’s blessing to the stakeholders.
If we could unleash the potential of Christian owned and influenced businesses to see themselves as entities in the kingdom, we could turn the world upside down. Instead, we’re held captive by our own paradigms and beliefs. The idea that the purpose of a business is to give money to the religious institution is one of those paradigms.