Corporate Culture and Christian Thought

Corporate Culture and Christian Thought August 26, 2013

I have heard the term “Christian Business Principles” as sort of a catch-all for moral goings-on in the free market. But that is simply understating how orthodox Christian theology can affect, and is affecting, corporate culture in 2013. Christians in the business world have access to much more ideological wealth than they may think. Christian business principles are not limited to morality and ethics, but can affect the culture of an organization in a profound way. While Christians in the business world are certainly focused on how their financial ethics and stances on moral issues affect their business, creating a “Christian” culture in an organization can be equally as rewarding.

Let me explain. By “Christian” culture in an organization, I do not mean a culture where everybody acknowledges Jesus as Lord or one where everyone even shares the same worldview. What I mean is a culture not defined by its goals, but a culture defined by its affections. Much of the despondency, cynicism, and unhealthiness in the present day American workplace come because businesses place objectives above everything else. This means that jobs, satisfaction, wages, and resources are all willing to be sacrificed for the good of the goal. A culture of unhealthy fear and excessiveness is naturally developed. This is historically and presently visible in companies that work their people to the bone for low pay and thanklessness. While many see this as simply capitalism, it is in fact not an effective road to sustainable profitability.

Christian theology offers a much better alternative. The gospel incites radical obedience out of the affections of the heart, changed by the radical grace of God. The heart of the Christian is so gripped by love that they serve Jesus radically, denying themselves for the good of God. This “gospel” principle is the heart of Christianity; love motivating action. While the “law” in Christian theology is the perfect standard (think “goal”) of God that man can never live up to. When man tries to live by the law, striving for perfect obedience, they exhaust themselves and fail. But the gospel supplies eternal motivation. Consider this poem from the Puritan prayer book The Valley of Vision:

Run John run/ the law demands/ but gives me neither feet nor hands/ better news the gospel brings/ bids me fly and gives me wings

In gospel scenarios, the greater entity must embrace and empower the lesser one—a tactic that is gaining some ground in the business world. Non-Christian theorists have argued that engagement of the affections leads to a sustainable organization. In the book Closing the Engagement Gap, by Julie Gebauer, a case is made for increasing production by serving them. Gebauer says (and shows through numerous examples) that when employees feel accepted and cared for, they respond in radical service.

This reflects our nature as creatures created in the image of God, and since the gospel is true, it makes wonderful sense that humans would respond to gospel-reflecting love, regardless of worldview. Therefore, true Christian business principals can be put into action by organizations through love and serving those in their service. Corporate culture based on the gospel is good for all, even if all are not Christians.

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