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Dear BAM Mentor,
Starting out, I have BAM goals for my business and part of that is a company culture I want to intentionally develop. I expect my values and intentions will hit some roadblocks as I work that out on the ground…. How have you intentionally developed your company culture so that it reinforces and integrates with your BAM goals? What have been some challenges to that process, especially when operating cross-culturally?
~ Crossing Cultures
Starting a business whose explicit goal and raison d’etre is to serve Kingdom concerns is difficult, but not impossible. My take on ‘Kingdom concerns’ is that they essentially boil down to developing people and glorifying God. Down through the ages, many Christians have successfully set up businesses for the same purpose. No doubt, many have also failed. While I do not have empirical evidence, I believe a majority of failures could be down to the business end of things, rather than their choice of Kingdom values over commercial interests.
I started a BAM company in India about 20 years ago. It took me three years to get to a point where I could formalize in writing how I would run the company as a “Kingdom Business”– as I referred to it at the time. Here are seven key principles that I discovered along the way, especially during those first three years of trying to figure it all out. I hope these principles will help you in your own discovery of what it means for you to be a BAM entrepreneur.
1. Seek First the Kingdom
Set your goals according to the principle, “Seek ye first His kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matt 6:33).
2. Wait on God
Wait on God for guidance into a business ministry of His choice.
3. Choose Partners Wisely
Allow God to choose life and business partners who identify with the your vision and mission objectives.
4. Honour God with Profits
Plough back profits into both mission and business in the same way, under God’s guidance.
5. Focus on People Development
Be committed to the development of your employees, partners, suppliers and customers, all as God’s children.
6. Pray Through Inevitable Tensions
Resolve inevitable conflicts between “business” and “kingdom” interests through prayer and faith, according to the measure of faith imparted to you.
7. Choose Kingdom Values
If ever the conflict between kingdom commitments and business interests become unresolvable count the cost in advance and resolve to choose the kingdom.
As our business grew, I began to talk about these principles at company events and in doing so it reinforced my own commitment to put them to practice. When talking to non-Christian employees, I had to find creative ways of explaining that God is the ‘chairman’ of our company and here is how we will operate in order to please Him. Our employees could relate to this approach since most Indians are religious people.
I can think of many situations in which my commitment to the above principles were put to the test. I could fill many pages with these stories, but let me share a couple of stories that highlight the fork in the road between “business as usual” versus “business that puts Kingdom first.”
In the year of inception of my business, with just four employees, we were struggling to survive. Then a government agent approached me with the offer of a dream project worth half a million dollars. I accepted gladly and reserved my ticket to go abroad to buy the software tools needed. Then surfaced a series of kickbacks that we were expected to pay to all those who were involved on the government side of the contract, right down from the minister. Paying these kickbacks would have still left an ample profit margin for my company. Finding me unwilling, this agent pitied my youthful ignorance of the “normal business routine” and sought my father’s help to persuade me. My father refused him and added a strong rebuke.
If we had forsaken the fear of God and accepted the project offer, my business would have stabilized immediately, but we would have forfeited our Christian witness in the marketplace and our character as a Kingdom business. The growth that God in His faithfulness gave us subsequently reminds me of Tolstoy’s famous maxim, “God sees the truth, but waits” – and I guess we have to wait, too.
Here is another example of fostering Kingdom culture and practices in the way we run the business. Our accountant, an orthodox Hindu, fell sick with what appeared to be an incurable condition of the liver that was rapidly deteriorating. There was little chance of his returning to work, let alone returning quickly. I had to decide whether to replace him so we could to ensure smooth operations, or whether to wait and appeal to our shareholders, management and staff for prayer, including have the company pay in part for his treatment. The latter was done.
At first we rejoiced to see an apparent miracle of instantaneous healing, and our decision seemed to have been wise, even in business terms, because it saved time and the problems a staff transition entailed. But while convalescing he took a turn for the worse and died of complications soon after. Was all the waiting and the risk-taking worthwhile? Yes, because we have had the satisfaction of standing by an employee in a difficult time in his life. We made an investment in Kingdom values that the company could afford and we leave the results to time and to God.
I wish you all the best in your efforts at establishing a BAM company and hope to one day hear similar stories from you.
Another Response on this topic:
If we believe that the first step of any successful mission is getting a believer together with an unbeliever, then we can immediately see the power of business. If the business context may be the only encounter a person has with the Kingdom of God, then that business culture becomes mission-critical. As Peter Drucker says, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”
If you wish to get something done in business, the environment the people do it in is important. If you wish to get something done and have people encounter the light of the Kingdom, then developing the right culture is a non-negotiable. In our business operations, we say that we, “Show people around the kingdom and introduce them to the King.” [Read More…]
Joseph Vijayam is a regular Mentor on our panel. Meet the ‘Ask a BAM Mentor’ panel of mentors
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