Once a month, our panel of mentors answer your practical business questions. Send us your questions!
Dear BAM Mentor,
Should I shut my business down if I’m not seeing spiritual fruit?
~ In Two Minds
Dear In Two Minds,
I think this is far too simplistic a question. The most obvious oversimplification is “not seeing spiritual fruit”. This begs at least two continuation questions:
What is meant by ‘spiritual fruit’?
Who has the right to demand to ‘see’ fruit and on what timescale?
In response to the first question, the book Fruitfulness on the Frontline by Mark Greene recognises six distinct forms of spiritual fruit, namely:
- Modelling godly character
- Making good work
- Ministering grace and love
- Moulding Culture
- Mouthpiece for truth and justice
- Messenger of the gospel
In contrast to these six, many people would define spiritual fruit as the number of people who have committed their lives to Christ as Saviour. This is fine as far as it goes, but we have to remember that Christ’s disciples are responsible for preaching the gospel and for making disciples. The miraculous transformation between those two is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit and we must never attempt to usurp that responsibility.
In response to the second question, “Who has the right to demand to ‘see’ fruit and on what timescale?” It is worth remembering the many testimonies of those who laboured faithfully for the whole of their lives with no obvious positive results – only for abundant results after their deaths. It is faithfulness that matters to God more than results. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 is just one Biblical example of God commending faithfulness:
His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ – Matthew 25:21
These first two questions are ones that only the individual can answer by prayerfully coming before God.
But of course, none of this means that a particular business is without faults and problems, so it is always worth taking stock to decide what is good and what is not so good. An appropriate place to begin is to ask whether or not the business as it is currently run is honouring to God. In other words, does the business, including those who own, manage and operate it, manifest the Fruit of the Spirit? If not, then this needs to be addressed.
The business should also be operating efficiently and effectively for all stakeholders and there are no end of measurement tools and resources available for this purpose. If it is falling down in this area, then it is will be a poor witness to those with whom it is interacting. Finally, it has to be recognised that some businesses may have failed so miserably that the effort and cost to put everything right is just too great. It may be easier to close down and start again on a more firm foundation. It has been said, “It’s easier to give birth than to raise the dead.”
As mentioned at the start, the question as posed is too simplistic. I would recommend that the decision-makers spend some considerable time breaking down the question in light of the above comments, interspersed with significant time on their knees seeking wisdom from God.
Dear In Two Minds,
Instant milk. That’s how a Brazilian friend recently portrayed the challenge of how our contemporary church culture often trains, and equips us to think about, and plan for results. We mix the powder with the water and voila – we have instant, pat-yourself-on-the-back results. In our instant-everything society, this is how we approach our lives, including ministry and discipleship. Yet those listed in the ‘hall of fame’ in Hebrews 11 were remembered as having walked in faith – even though they all had failures on their journeys, they were counted as faithful. They walked, never being assured of what they would see, they only had certainty of their call. We tend to think with our limited understanding, we may be wasting valuable time, but God never looks at it that way.
The marketplace was created by God to provide work – a God-given mandate. The marketplace provides jobs, it allows people to discover and develop their unique God-given skills. The marketplace gives us the opportunity and permission to connect with people in a unique manner, developing deeper relationship, that often other kinds of ministry approaches do not allow. We use business to help people care for their families, develop and improve their skills, and increase their standard of living. We have the opportunity to use biblical values within our workplace to manage and run our business and thus show our employees that there is nothing we do that separates our faith from our work, but rather, the principles for how we run our business are defined by our faith.
Do you trust this is where He has called you? Are you constantly teaching principles that align with biblical worldview – integrity, honesty, love, gentleness, grace, accountability, hard work… [insert Sermon on the Mount here!] Do you live it yourself both in and outside your business? Are you prepared in season and out of season to give a reason for the hope within you? Are you building intentional relationship with your employees, and showing sincere interest about their lives and families? Are you offering to pray for them when they have troubles, showing them how our God answers prayers? Are you there to guide them through difficult life choices by helping them consider the right choices through the lens of a biblical worldview? Every good thing points to God. In Him all things hold together. Is your business producing good products or services? The good things of the world, like our business and our lives, can point our employees to Christ.
“Spiritual fruit” by definition is not our responsibility, it is that of His Spirit. God tasks us with the light loads; planting, watering, cultivating, doing it as we go and wherever we go in life. The harvest is His. In our culturally-bound quest for instant results, if we don’t see them, we are trained to think we should close down and go home – or change fields. But we report to a gracious Creator who is sovereign and fully in control – to Him a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day. He only requires our obedience and our willingness to be made more like Jesus in whatever journey He has called us to. […Read more]
Dear In Two Minds,
This is a very important question, one that leads to some other questions:
How do you know if there is fruit? One of the problems with coming from the West is that we are often too short-term results oriented. This is especially true when we apply a cause-and-effect mentality to the work of the Holy Spirit. It is not up to us to dictate what the work of Holy Spirit will do – we certainly must do our best in sowing and cultivating and praying but in the end we must give it over to the Lord to grow the fruit. We must do all we can in ‘preparing the soil and planting the seeds’ and let the Holy Spirit work on the person’s heart.
What does seed-sowing look like in my context? It is likely we all admire the ability of some brave souls to valiantly proclaim the gospel in every situation imaginable. We might even be tempted to compare our ‘spiritual success’ to that of others. I will never forget the time that I attended a conference on evangelism given by a gifted evangelist and ended up feeling like a complete failure. This fellow gave many examples of saving the souls of people seated next to him on airplanes and other unlikely situations. At the end, to try and salvage something from the experience, I stood up and asked, “How long does it typically take to establish a relationship and win a soul for Christ?” The evangelist (a good friend of mine and I currently sit on his Board) looked a bit surprised that I would ask such a question. After thinking about it for a while, he replied, “Oh, about seven years.” There was a stunned silence in the room and rejoicing in my heart and other’s hearts. This person had hoped to encourage us into more fervent evangelism efforts by giving all these stories of “victory”. It had exactly the opposite effect.
There are two things to learn from this story. The first lesson to learn is that people that are gifted in one type of activity often wonder why everyone else can’t do it as well as they can. The second lesson to be learned is that we all are gifted in our own way. God has made you into your own special shape. You must determine this shape and use it. I personally think that it will be more ‘fruitful’ to be in ongoing relationships that enable you to be a witness. This is why business as mission is so important. It gives us these long-term relationships that enable us to rub shoulders with the same folks every day. It’s up to you to figure out how to establish the relationships and to be sensitive the leading of the Holy Spirit as you build them.
We all have our own gifting and it is important to find out this gifting and use it to sow the seeds for the gospel. The ‘seed sowing’ you do is how you react to various situations in the everyday life of the business. This not only demonstrates Biblical values, but earns you the right to share the gospel, which you must be prepared to do with those that the Holy Spirit sends your way. Do not be discouraged about not meeting others’ expectations in the short-term – they are not where you are. They don’t know what the Holy Spirit is doing there. However, your job is to be diligent and persevere. […Read more]
Dear In Two Minds,
What is the great divide? We categorize certain activities as sacred and others as secular. Sacred or secular? We are still stuck in the divide!
When I first heard that question I thought about all the scripture I could rattle off to support my thinking. I also thought about other lessons the LORD had taught me. “No, don’t measure your efforts only in that way.”
I thought about a conversation I had with an American football coach from Baltimore, Maryland, USA. He gave me another criteria for assessing the fruit of our business. He is a follower of Jesus. He runs his program well. He shares about God to his 16-18 year old players. He integrates his faith into the program to influence the young men to follow Jesus. In the previous 10 years, the high school team won the state championship many times. A very “successful, winning” program by most measures.
He told me about a pre-season meeting with his players and their parents. He opened the meeting for questions from the parents. Some asked about the upcoming schedule and their opponents. Some asked about their sons playing football after high school. One parent asked a question everyone wanted to ask but was afraid to ask, “Do you think we’ll have a successful season, Coach?” Coach said, “Will this season be a success? Ask me in 20 years. I’ll know then.”
I have used that picture so often on my BAM journey. “What am I doing now that might have to wait 20 years to be measured?” Can I think about Hebrews 11 as an expectation for my business life? Will I measure spiritual fruit only within a year or two or even my lifetime?
We want our business to play its part in the Kingdom of God. I don’t know the timing of God in all His ways, not even in my business. But I do want His hand to be on it. I know he spoke to me in 1978 about going to Afghanistan as a business person and as a missionary. I also know my journey included 24 years of business and missions before I stepped foot into Afghanistan in 2002. It’s easy for me to ask our staff, “What is God asking us to do that may take 24 years?”
I know He has called me to bring His ways for business to my city, to my State, to the USA and to Afghanistan – the multiple places we have offices. Those are my places – my “Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth”. That’s my mission!
In every place, I want to:
1. Bless the nation (that’s a promise to Abraham).
2. Provide a taste of the God in and through our business.
3. Support the local family of God.
Lastly, spiritual fruit is quite possibly being achieved but the measurement being used is not complete. We tend to view spiritual fruit measurements in terms of number of souls saved or number of people served or dollars spent on building God’s kingdom. Business as mission opens up the ability to be able to measure this in other ways. For example, a growing business provides opportunities for employment and grows the number of people that can support their families. This could provide more education or better health care for the family. That pleases God and is in essence providing spiritual fruit. Just being in business opens up many God-pleasing activities. By expanding our measurement, we see the current benefits of having a business. It advances the message that business is pleasing to God when done in a God-centered approach. […Read more]
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