Copyright © 1998 John D. Beckett, Loving Monday: 121-127.
AS I WRITE, my career in business is approaching forty years. In that time, by God's grace and with enormous support from my business colleagues, family and friends, we have been able to build one of the premier mid-sized companies in America. If I compare where we are now with when I joined the company, our revenues have increased nearly 100 times (of course, a good chunk of that has been inflation). We have achieved a reputation for integrity and excellence and have been rewarded with high market share and very loyal customers. We're grateful that we've been consistently profitable and have operated with minimal debt.
This has provided us the opportunity to "give something back." In this chapter I will discuss our approach to giving, and I'll explain some of the thinking that underlies what we do. (I confess a certain reluctance to discuss our giving, in that we have chosen to keep these practices low-profile and private.)
Resources generated by the business have regularly been "recycled" back into the company's ongoing growth and development. We have also shared our profits with our employees on a systematic basis, through bonuses and a formal profit sharing plan. But we feel especially privileged to have been able to help others by supporting a wide array of worthy organizations that are making a real difference in people's lives, both in the U.S. and abroad. We indeed see this as an important aspect of our corporate purpose.
Locally, we've been able to help disadvantaged people get a fresh start in their work careers (Advent Industries, mentioned earlier), address systemic problems in our community in education and leadership development, and promote the preservation and beautification of natural resources in our area with both personal involvement and financial support. Overseas, we've provided funding to dig water wells in India, start micro enterprises in Africa and Central America, and address devastation from flood and famine. We see ourselves as a source of supply to those on the front line.
We also focus on activities with which we have a clear affinity—and ones we feel are able to make the greatest impact. For example, twenty-five years ago I helped found Intercessors for America, and I currently serve as its chair. This organization encourages prayer for America and its leaders in the belief that our nation must be sound spiritually if it is to prosper in other ways. IFA is regularly in touch with more than 50,000 people and 5,000 churches across the country. We now have counterparts in nearly forty nations around the world.
So as a corporation, with the full support of our board and shareholders, we've chosen to reach out to others—allocating a portion of our financial resources, but also encouraging our employees to become involved in the community. Some would call it "corporate citizenship." I can appreciate that not every business will be able to do this or will see such an approach as appropriate. Certainly it is more difficult in publicly traded companies, although many are generous in their help to others and still do very well financially. Each business must decide for itself what is the right plan.
I believe the success we've experienced and our resulting capacity to help others can be traced to some key stewardship decisions made over the years.
As you may recall from earlier in the book, I had to decide whether to stay in business or pursue activities which I thought were more directly ministry-related. I concluded I had a legitimate "calling" to business. But I felt it couldn't be just any business. It needed to reflect the highest and best of what business could be. It also became very clear to me that it wasn't really my business—it was God's. Instead of "owning" it, I was set in place as a steward, watching over it as long as God desired. Thus, as the principal shareholder, my name is on the stock certificates, but there is an "unwritten side agreement" that the business belongs to God—for indeed, it can't belong to both of us!
We've reflected our stewardship philosophy in our Corporate Roadmap as follows:
We are not an end in ourselves but a part of God's larger purposes. As such, we are called upon to work as unto Him and to be wise and able stewards of the trust He has placed with us. We realize we are dispensable at any time in God's economy, but that it is also possible to conduct ourselves in such a way as to please Him, and find His continuing favor.
In other words, our work is the Lord's, and as such, all of our resources belong to him.
The second key stewardship decision is more personal. There was a point, fairly soon after I began to take my faith seriously, when Wendy and I decided to follow the biblical idea of tithing. Tithing is the setting aside of at least 10 percent of pre-tax income for the support of individuals and organizations doing God's work. As a family we promptly began this practice, and we were soon able to go well beyond the "tenth" in our giving. This single decision has been one of our family's greatest privileges, and at the same time the source of God's blessing on our stewardship.
But it's important to keep a clear perspective on giving and receiving. It is wrong to think we can manipulate God through our charitable giving, attempting to "twist his arm" to receive his blessings. And yet God has established a relationship between sowing and reaping. The Bible says, "As we sow, so shall we reap." I can attest that in the years following those commitments, the Lord has continued to multiply the resources he has given us to steward.
The concept of stewardship is a major theme in the Scriptures, with many applications to occupations and business. Note in these examples how much God expected of men and women.
Adam and Eve, the first man and woman, were set into a garden and given full responsibility to tend it.
Joseph was brought out of slavery and imprisonment to steward Egypt's grain supply through a devastating seven-year drought, saving countless lives throughout that vast region.
The people of Israel were given stewardship responsibility for God's revelation of himself, including his law and promises. As they were faithful in watching over this trust, they prospered. When they were not, the blessings were removed and they suffered great hardship.
Jesus taught extensively concerning stewardship, using parables set in the business context of his day. In one, recorded by Luke, a nobleman entrusted significant wealth to his servants while he went to a distant country. "Do business until I come," he said. He expected them to produce a return on the amounts they had been given. When he came back, he rewarded those who did make a profit. Those who did not lost what they had to those who were productive. They had the wrong idea of stewardship.
The New Testament word which is translated "steward" is oikonomos, from which we also get the word "economy." Oikos means "house," and nemo means "to arrange." It portrays the concept of administration. What we administer is not ours; it is only entrusted to us.
Finally, there is an eternal dimension to stewardship, for it is clear in various Scripture passages that we will need to give an account. In Jesus' parable about the unjust steward, the point of the lesson is the need for faithfulness: "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much." Interestingly, the "least" in this case is money. There is so much more than money for which we are expected to be faithful!
Each of us has been given some measure of stewardship responsibility. Often it's so obvious we can't see it. This was so with Moses. God called him to plead with Pharaoh to let Moses' people, the Israelites, go free from their captivity in Egypt. Moses protested, so daunting was the prospect of confronting Egypt's hardened, proud ruler.
Then God asked Moses: "What is that in your hand?" In Moses' eyes, the rod he held in his hand was merely a shaft of wood, used for steadying himself during his four decades in the rocky desert of the Sinai Peninsula. In God's eyes, it was something altogether different.
"Cast it on the ground," God said.
Moses watched in utter amazement as the rod he had thrown down was transformed into a serpent. God was showing Moses that what he had in his hand was an instrument representing God's power and authority.
When it comes to seeing what we have been given to steward, we can rightfully ask, "What do I have in my hand?" To answer that question, we must see beyond money, important though that is. The resources God has given us to steward extend into many areas. For example, businesses have people. Do we maximize their potential through nurturing and challenging them? Do we help identify giftings and callings and provide opportunities for growth?
Businesses also have influence. Do we use the platforms we've been given to better our communities, to speak out on important issues and to affect public policy?
And yes, businesses have financial resources. Do we apply them wisely to add value for shareholders, employees and customers? Are some of these resources used to help those who are beyond our corporate borders—people less fortunate, those with great needs? Are we conscious of where God wants these resources to be directed to further his eternal purposes?
Larry Burkett, a widely followed financial advisor, tells the story of a first-time visitor to the U.S. He came from a less developed country where he and his friends had to trust God for provision even in the smallest things. After spending time here, he had this comment: "It is amazing to me how much can be accomplished in this nation without God!"
If this is true, we are seriously impoverished and don't know it, for it means we have ignored the foundation of all stewardship. Reality is rooted in the biblical perspective that everything we have and everything we accomplish of real value comes from God. His provision is placed with us in trust. We are his stewards.