by Courtney Rountree Mills
A quick framework to help entrepreneurs learn how to integrate their faith life with their business life in a practical way.
Let’s face it. Life is hard enough as an entrepreneur. The whole world always seems to be resting on your shoulders. The pressure to succeed is immense. After all, if you don’t, you let down not only yourself and your family, but also your staff and their families! What gets you through the pressure? Mainly prayer and the passion you have for your business. You love the challenge of being an entrepreneur. It energizes you more than almost anything else. Sometimes thinking about your business becomes more like an addiction – you could work on or think through challenges you face all day, every day and never feel like you are completely caught up.
The only thing you care about more than your business is your relationship with Jesus and your family. Still, it seems your business ends up taking over your prayer life and family life, too. You keep hearing about how you should live an integrated life, but you have no practical idea how to achieve this. You hear people around you using the phrases “Kingdom Business” or “Missional Business.” These sound great to you, but you don’t even know what the definition of a Kingdom Business is. Measuring your business’ Key Performance Indicators is easy, but how do you measure your KPIs when it comes to integrating your life as a believer and business owner? This article provides a quick framework to help entrepreneurs live out their faith in their business. This is a topic that resonated most with the 450 entrepreneurs we have accelerated who were asking the same question. Most of this is not material I wrote. Rather, it is a compilation of some of the best material I have found on living out business as mission.
Kingdom Business: The Definition
First, what is a Kingdom business? The best definition I found is one I slightly adapted from Acton School of Business in partnership with Gateway Church:
A kingdom business is an enterprise directed by the Holy Spirit and managed by a godly leader that uses its time, talent, and money to meet the spiritual and/or physical needs of the community around them to advance God’s purpose.
Ok good. We’ve defined it. Sounds pretty simple right? Now, let’s break apart this definition piece by piece to define the characteristics of a Kingdom Business. From this definition, Acton matched 6 characteristics they believe a Kingdom Business should exhibit. Each one has an associated question you can use to evaluate yourself and your business. I have slightly modified this framework to add a seventh dimension (“Reflection of God’s Character”) that I think is quite helpful.
So now you know what a Kingdom business is and what characteristics a Kingdom business should reflect. Let’s do a brief deep dive into each characteristic with some helpful frameworks you can use to improve yourself in each area. The first three elements focus on YOU as the leader.
1. Calling from the Creator
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. (Ephesians 4:1)
First, this business must be affirmed by God. You must have confidence that this business matches God’s calling in your life. How do you know this? The best material I have read on this subject is from the book Entrepreneurial Leadership, by Rick Goossen and Paul Stevens. They tell us that God gives us some good hints at our calling, and if you can say yes to the following, you might be on the right track:
- Do you have an all-absorbing desire for the work?
- Do you lose track of time doing this work?
- Do you feel fully alive when doing this work?
- Do you have the appropriate gifts to succeed in this venture?
- God calls us to serve in a specific way and gives us the gifts required. Can you match your personal gifts with what is required to succeed?
- Do you experience fruitfulness or effectiveness in doing this work?
- Do you notice that doors are just opened for you when doing this work?
- Do you feel God’s favor upon it or are you constantly running into roadblocks and walls?
- Do you have affirmation from others that you are suitable for this work?
- Do people always say you are great at this work or have the skillset required for this work?
2. Personal and Vital Connection to Jesus
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
Acton writes that in many churches, the requirements are simple for a typical church member who runs a business during the week: (1) Attend church regularly (2) Affirm the church’s doctrinal beliefs (3) Don’t commit any obvious or scandalous sins (4) Know the Bible (5) Drop money in the offering plate (6) Maybe volunteer in children’s church or in some other capacity occasionally (7) Give the appearance this is all very meaningful to you. But, is this all God requires of us as business leaders?
The authors argue that Christian entrepreneurs often name God as their number one priority, but they tend to invest more time, energy, and discipline into maintaining their professional pursuits. Why? Diligence and hustle are rewarded in business. You get instant feedback from customers, suppliers, investors, and employees about “how you are doing.” Consequently, “faking it” as a great business owner is very difficult. However, faking it as a Christian seems easier. Unfortunately, many business people find that because they have been so busy keeping their businesses afloat, they have lost their desire to spend time with God in the same way they once did. Some even become a bit cranky and joyless in the process.
In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus boils down our spiritual health to two things: love for God and for people. If we are the body of Christ, then Christ is the head. We depend upon Christ to lead the way to salvation and purity. Similarly, your employees will depend on you as the head of your organization to lead the way in developing a Christ-centered company. If you are not growing in your love for God and for people, you can never expect your employees to do the same. Acton says, “Walking with God is not about a simple checklist of dos and don’ts. It is about growth. It is about where you are heading…your trajectory. So, compared to this time last year, do you have evidence that your love for God and for people has grown?”
3. Reflection of God’s Character
The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and he sustains everything by the mighty power of his command. (Hebrews 1:30)
Obviously our words and actions – both personally and as a corporate identity – should reflect God’s character. This should come naturally if you stay personally and vitally connected to Jesus. However, sometimes there are difficult circumstances or ethical dilemmas where the path seems unclear. Sometimes it seems any direction you go is a losing direction for someone involved. God’s character is complex, thus we need a framework to help us evaluate difficult decisions that require trade offs. The best framework I have found for ethical decision-making in business is called Holiness-Justice-Love. It was created by Alexander Hill in the book Just Business. He argues there are times in the Bible when God emphasizes holiness, remaining pure from sin. Other times God emphasizes justice, ensuring wrongs are righted. Still other times God emphasizes love, focusing on empathy, sacrifice, and forgiveness. The tricky part of our decision-making is that we must reflect all three elements of God’s character!
Let’s say an employee steals from you. When you confront him, he tells you his mother is sick and he couldn’t afford the treatment. How do you respond? Do you fire him immediately and emphasize justice? Do you condemn him for sinning and emphasize holiness? Do you forgive him, emphasizing love? Often, none of these options alone is quite right. Firing with no empathy seems overly severe. Condemning alone seems judgmental. Forgiving with no consequences seems to give the message that stealing is okay if you have hard circumstances. What’s the right course of action? Your response needs to simultaneously reflect empathy and love, a commitment to consequences for wrongdoing, and a clear position on remaining free from sin. One student told us he would terminate the employee because stealing is wrong no matter the circumstance, but he would personally pull money out of his pocket to help the employee’s mother with her medical bills to send a message of love and compassion. Whatever your solution, the key is to evaluate your decisions by reflecting on how well they fit in the intersection of these three primary characteristics of God.
The next two characteristics of a Kingdom Business refer to how you use the resources you are stewarding as a business owner.
4. Life Giving Culture
Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mathew 10:43-45)
Culture is generally defined as a set of generally unspoken and unwritten rules for working together. It is like the personality of the company and includes the beliefs of its people, value systems, underlying assumptions, interests, experiences, and habits. Culture is a powerful force that shapes the work environment, the work relationships, the processes, and the organizational outcomes.
For a Kingdom business, Acton says that the fundamental relationship between management and workers changes because the leaders of the company will attempt to be servant-leaders. As such these leaders know all people stand at a level place at the foot of the cross and no one is above the other. Thus, there should be a difference in what it feels like to work in a Kingdom business compared to other businesses. In Kingdom businesses, employees should be cherished as unique children of God, coached to achieve their full potential, cared for deeply in good times and bad, communicated to with respect, and shepherded towards spiritual growth. However, a dilemma usually arises on how to balance a spiritually nourishing environment and still ensure all are performing at their highest level.
The central part of having a Christ-centered culture is having a leader who practices true servant-leadership! These two words, servant and leader, are connected and have equal weight. You can be equal parts servant and leader at the same time. The primary focus of servant leadership is equipping God’s people for works of service so the body of Christ may be built up. The servant-leader does not flaunt his or her position. Instead, the leader seeks to invest in the lives of employees in radical discipleship so they are challenged to become more like Christ. Servant-leaders model service. They aim to practice kindness and patience as they motivate and encourage others instead of using guilt or force. They model relationships based on mutual respect and free from coercion or abuse of power. They seek to create an environment that is warm, inclusive, and instrumental. The key question in this area is this: Are you creating a life-giving culture where employees feel valued, accountable, empowered, and free to pursue their calling?
5. Wise Stewardship of Resources
If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. (Matthew 16:25)
The key word for this characteristic of a Kingdom Business is stewardship. God owns everything, which includes your business. However, God loves to use His children to steward His resources for His purposes. So, who really is the senior partner in your business? Is it you or is it God? Who directs where your company’s resources are going? Is it your CFO or is it God? When we realize God owns everything and we are simply stewards for Him, we change how we spend, invest, and share our resources.
There is a fantastic video about a true Kingdom Business champion named Stanley Tam.
He founded a company called US Plastic Corporation. After a lot of early failures, Stanley came to God saying “God if you help my business succeed, this time I will give it to you.” God answered Tam’s prayer, and his business became extremely profitable. Tam responded obediently by creating a non-profit solely focused on evangelizing to the unreached. He gave 51 percent of the company’s shares to God through that non-profit. Amazingly, later when the company was even more successful, God asked Tam’s to give it all to Him. Tam again obediently responded by giving the non-profit 100 percent of the company’s shares. The non-profit today works in 142 countries, and Tam’s company has given $140 million to the non-profit to spread the Word of God. With God as our senior partner, truly amazing things can happen. What will it look like on a daily basis for you to say, “My business belongs to God”?
The final two characteristics describe the outcomes toward which a Kingdom Business should be aiming.
6. Measurable Fruit
Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” “Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a small jar of olive oil.” (2 Kings 4:2)
Acton writes, “We deal in a world with real needs; real problems like poverty, diseases, insecurity and other vulnerabilities, all which need real solutions, both economic and social. And a real God who shows up in a miraculous and measurable way.” As a Kingdom entrepreneur, you’re committed to a higher level of accountability and a more rigorous definition of success beyond just profit. This includes being a blessing to the community in which you work. But how will you be a blessing? How will you measure the impact you are making to ensure it is growing?
There are so many needs in the world. It is easy to get overwhelmed figuring out how your business should make a difference in your community. So, instead of starting with needs, it is better to start with assets. In 2 Kings, we read the story of Elisha who was confronted by a woman who told him her husband had died and left behind many debts. The creditors were coming to take her boys as slaves in payment for the debts. She begged Elisha to help her. He responded by saying, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?” She said, “I have nothing at all, except a jar of olive oil.” Elisha commanded her to collect empty jars of olive oil and start filling them with the oil in her jar. She filled jar after jar, but the oil never stopped flowing. She then paid her debts and was able to live off of the profit.
Notice how Elisha started his quest to help this woman – he first discovered her assets: “What do you have in your house?” Her response was that she didn’t have anything… except for a small jar of olive oil. This is common when we are trying to bless a community. At first they may not believe they have assets or they may believe what they do have is basically worthless. But just as it was with the woman’s jar of oil, even small assets can be built into strong assets to help meet needs.
Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett wrote a book titled, When Helping Hurts. They say that starting a needs-assessment by asking about needs is like starting a relationship by asking “What is wrong with you?” Instead we should start with the question “What gifts do you have?” This re-affirms the person’s dignity as a child of God. Once assets have been identified, then it is ok to ask about needs. Finally you should think about the skills, gifts, or resources your business has that can help the person or community build upon their assets in meeting their needs. Remember that your intervention should be aligned with the community’s vision for their future; make sure you understand the vision before getting involved. The most important thing is that your commitment to producing fruit is prioritized, strategically planned, resourced, and measured just like any other area of your business.
7. Disciple Making
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:19-20)
God is quite clear in His command in the Great Commission: Go and make disciples! You are not excused from this command just because you are a business owner and not a missionary. You, too, are called to go and make disciples.
Acton says that many business owners find it easy to define their business “sandbox.” This is the narrowed sphere of business you intend to dominate. A strategic sandbox statement usually addresses questions such as the geographic region on which you will focus, the specific products or services you will offer better than anyone else, and the distribution channels or customer groups to which you will offer exceptional services. Kingdom business owners, however, often find it more difficult to define a spiritual sandbox in which they want to their company to dominate and make an impact. Because spiritual progress is so difficult to measure (and truthfully God does the work), most godly leaders are rarely very tactical about the type of spiritual impact they are best wired to make.
The Apostle Paul’s spiritual sandbox was very clear–he was made to preach to the Gentiles. As you consider the Great Commission, think about the sandbox in which God has called you to make disciples. There are two parts to creating disciples: 1) Helping people come into a relationship with Jesus, and 2) Teaching them to obey God’s commands. Which of these two areas will you play in? How will your company help you make an impact in this spiritual sandbox? Your spiritual sandbox should be as strategically considered, resourced, and measured as the rest of your business.
A Spiritual Integration Plan
Now that you understand each of the elements of a Kingdom business, it’s important to write a Spiritual Integration Plan for how you will action this new knowledge for your business. Just like you write a business plan or a strategic plan, a spiritual integration plan should be a key document you write, review, update, and evaluate for your business. Here are a few sections to get you started:
- Personal and Vital Connection to Jesus
- What is your plan for ensuring Scripture and prayer play an important role in your personal and work life? What actions will you take or habits will you form to make sure you are feeding on the Word and being devoted to prayer?
- Describe the prayer culture at your company. How will you pray for clients, suppliers, competitors, investors, etc.? How will you be intentional about prayer and reading Scripture within your company?
- Life-Giving Culture
- Describe the elements of your organizational culture (including vision, values, practices, people, narrative, and place) that will emulate the way Christ built His organizational culture.
- How will you practice servant leadership within your company?
- How will you coach and empower people within the organization to reach their full God-given potential?
- Wise Stewardship of Resources
- In what specific ways will you manifest the fact that your company belongs to God?
- What commitments will you make to ensure you are being a wise steward of resources given to you and your company?
- Will your company tithe? If so, how much, to whom, and in what ways will you tithe?
- Measurable Fruit
- Describe the specific areas of community and social impact where your company will be focused.
- Describe your vision and objectives regarding this impact. How will you measure and continuously grow your impact?
- Describe how your company’s assets will interact with and strengthen existing community assets you plan to leverage for community impact.
- What is your company’s spiritual sandbox? Be very specific about defining it.
- What strategies and tactics will you and your company use to share Christ with customers, suppliers, employees, and other stakeholders? How can you be intentional about this?
- How will you measure the efforts you put into spreading the Gospel, making disciples, and having impact? List any specific measurable targets.
Once you have written your plan, list your top five priority Kingdom Business Milestones or key objectives to be achieved within one year, targets for each, the person or team responsible for implementation, and next action steps. These could come from any of the Kingdom Business Elements or questions above. Don’t forget to find an accountability partner to help ensure you evaluate your performance, modify your plan, and strategically update it every year.
The Redemption of the Marketplace
Welcome to your new life as an integrated Kingdom Business leader! No one is saying this will be easy. You may find this is one of the most challenging endeavors of your life. But, you are not alone. You are part of a movement God has called us to do together as marketplace participants. I truly believe if all business owners would give 100 percent of their company to God, we would see a redemption in the marketplace to such a degree that it would return to being a place of abundance and creativity where God’s glory can be clearly seen in everyday work. Will you join us?
Join us for our Summer Series on The BAM Review Blog, summer 2016. We’ve asked BAM leaders and practitioners to write about topics they are passionate about for a series of one-off blogs throughout the summer.
Courtney Rountree Mills is the co-founder of Sinapis. Courtney graduated from the Master in Public Policy program at Harvard Kennedy School with a concentration in Political and Economic Development. Prior to graduate school, Courtney received her Bachelors in Business Administration from the University of Texas at Austin. Courtney has worked for McKinsey & Company where she advised Fortune 500 companies on strategic issues such as reducing costs in the supply chain for a large consumer package goods company and analyzing high potential investments at a large hedge fund firm. She also worked at Procter & Gamble and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation where she helped develop the foundation’s expansion strategy to South Africa. Courtney has spent significant time volunteering her consulting services to several non-profit organizations in Texas including the American Red Cross and United Way. Courtney began developing the idea for Sinapis in graduate school while working on her thesis regarding angel investing in East Africa. She later teamed up with Matt Stolhandske and Karibu Nyaggah to perform a feasibility study and launch the organization. Sinapis was launched on the ground in Nairobi, Kenya in November 2010, and Courtney has been leading the organization since this time.
Photo credit: Sinapis