By Jim Nelson
Making the right hiring decisions is crucial to a company’s well-being. From a BAM company perspective, I have sought to hire local Christians to work for me. By our shared faith, we can understand each other better and seek Kingdom values in the company and surrounding community. If proper research, interviewing and trust building is cut short, the consequences I have experienced have been less than ideal. Here are a few stories of lessons I learned in hiring Christians to work for my business.
In 1999, I had a chance to open an office in a new business area. An older Chinese Christian recommended I hire Zhang, a Chinese Christian who could speak the local dialect. I interviewed him on his business thinking and agreed to let him manage the office. I felt the older Chinese Christian who recommended him knew about his faith, so I did not bring up the topic during the interview.
Zhang then hired two local Christians to join the team. I learned that the local Christians he hired did not own Bibles so we eagerly provided them. We assumed all were Christian and ethical to run the business. The business soon had trouble and I realized that Zhang could not be trusted. We found he had stolen a few hundred dollars. I let him go.
One of the people Zhang had hired was a smart young woman. I will call her Wang. She asked questions about faith and learned about our Kingdom business style. We felt we had someone we could trust, so we made her the manager. She found evidence that the assistant had stolen bus money amounting to several dollars and she was determined to manage him better than Zhang. A year later my auditor saw irregularities in her reporting. When I went up to check in with Wang, I found she had fled. She had stolen several thousand dollars. I closed the office and through hard work recovered most, but not all of the stolen funds.
Assuming Too Much
I hired Zhang on a recommendation and did not invade his privacy about his faith, which you can do in many non-western countries. Further, once I hired Wang and she learned how to communicate with our vocabulary it became very hard to realize that she was lying to get our trust. In both cases I made assumptions about my hires. I should not assume that someone is a Christian because they profess to be one. Many people are trained to make very good first impressions. You must dig deep to find out what they believe. I often ask questions about how they think about the cross or what they say when they spread the gospel. Both these lines of questioning can tell a great deal.
If they are a true Christian do not assume that means they have already overcome lying or even stealing. Not that you need to hover over every Christian that you hire, but get to know each person well and look for proven character before increasing responsibility. Make fewer assumptions. Background and character references are important.
Seeking to Impress
In another firm a Western owner hired some Christians to work in his factory. One had a plaque on her desk in English that said, “Jesus is the Way”. When I engaged her about her faith, in Chinese, she changed the topic and began to avoid me. I realized that she only talked about her faith in English with the Westerners and never with the Chinese. Through her time working around Christian foreigners, she learned that she was more likely to get a job with an international company if she acted like a Christian. Eventually, her true colors of deceit clearly showed in her poor work ethic and by the fact that she was hated by the non-western staff. She was using her ‘faith’ to try to impress and sway the opinions of her Christian managers.
Thoughts on Hiring in BAM Settings
- If we hire people because they claim to be Christian, we may put ourselves at risk of being used.
- Hiring a Christian who is not qualified will cost time and money.
- Christians we hire must be held to at least as high a standard (if not a higher standard) of work performance as anyone else in the workplace.
- Any (so-called) Christian who is defaming God by their behavior at work should be dealt with immediately. Do not delay on these decisions as they negatively impact your bottom lines, company culture, and God’s image.
Hiring experienced, non-Christian managers and training them in your company can have great reward. Ask if they can support a culture of ethics and Kingdom values based in Jesus. This kind of transparency is helpful in all my experience here and it’s a true discipleship opportunity.
In closing, hiring Christians can be great, and I have often done so successfully over my 20 plus years of business here in China, but we should not assume. We must not rely on assumptions, rather, ask lots of questions, check backgrounds, and then hire. Hold them to at least as high a standard of performance as any non-Christians. Never hire someone just because they are Christian.
Jim Nelson graduated from West Point in 1987 and followed God to China in 1991. His goal has always been to hold the cross high and make himself valuable to God, China and the government. In China, he has been President of a Consulting firm and General Manager of two factories. In 2009, he started his own business recruiting trustworthy talent for western companies working across China. Jim is married and has three grade school children. His company website is www.shigroupchina.com.