By Kyle Bushre, originally posted at Kern Pastors Network Resources blog
Here’s a little cultural word math that appears to be axiomatic in today’s young, Christian marketplace of ideas: Non-profit = God-honoring, Profit = Self-honoring. The logic runs something like this: God has called us to do great things for him, and the way to tell whether you are truly doing something for God, and not for yourself, is to make sure you’re not receiving anything in return. Glory goes to God only if there are no gains – material or otherwise – made by the one working. So if a young woman gets a business degree and opens a charitable food bank, she is doing something for God’s glory, sacrificing profit to help those in need. Admiring Christians might say, “She could have done anything, but she’s giving it all to the Lord.”
But the same woman could open a grocery store stocked with high-end cheeses and better-than-average wine, hire 10 workers at a decent entry-level wage, and turn a profit each year, and her Christian community might say things like, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get someone so successful involved in ministry?” This entrepreneur may feel her ministry is restricted to her charitable work on the side, between business meetings and balancing the books. In this equation, the only part of the profit that honors God is that which is skimmed from the top and given away to organizations that truly have God’s interests in mind.
Not every Christian thinks like this, of course, but I observe this tendency of thought as an outreach pastor who speaks with young people about the great things they want to do with their lives. Yes I’m a pastor, working for the church, the 501c3 par excellence, the one nonprofit to rule them all. I made the choice to work in “full-time ministry,” which is Christian lingo for “chose to give his whole life to the Lord.” And I’m saying that thinking is wrong. It’s noble to want to do something great and God-honoring with your life, but limiting the scope of activity to non-profit or charitable work is a tragic misstep for two reasons.
First, there’s the logical misstep. The only reason non-profit organizations can exist is because there are far more people working hard to turn a profit. The reason that a food bank can give away food is because some individuals and organizations had enough profit to donate it in the first place.
There will always be need for a few individuals to work in a non-profit capacity, because their customers will not have the means to generate profit for the workers. Compassion isn’t a product that can be sold. As long as there are people who love Jesus and their neighbor there will be people willing to give money to pay people to work in a non-profit capacity. But that money must come from profit-generating companies and the caring individuals who run them. So if 10 young Christians are getting their degrees, I hope nine will choose to produce profit so they can secure the financial foundation of the one who produces compassion as a full-time job. That’s just math.
But second, and perhaps far more importantly, there’s the biblical misstep. Jesus had some pretty damning things to say about money. You can’t serve both God and money. Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s. Store up treasure in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. These are sobering proclamations for our materialistic culture. Scripture is clear that the love of money is deadly idolatry, and it’s surely the most seductive of all American mistresses. It’s good that many young Christians are listening with rapt attention to Jesus’ words and challenging consumerism. But don’t make a parallel error. The answer to James’ condemnation of the rich land owners who held back the workers’ wages by fraud (James 5:4) is not to eschew profits; it’s to become landowners who care so deeply about the flourishing of their workers that they would never dare dishonor the Lord by mistreating them. The workers James had in mind didn’t simply need a non-profit to provide free food and a pair of shoes to fill the gap of lost wages; they needed owners and managers that both provided work and treated workers with justice and generosity for work well done.
So I challenge you, young college student with love in your heart, skills in your hands, thoughts in your brain, and a bright future ahead: Go make a profit. Put your all into treasuring Christ while also generating a healthy, God-honoring bottom line. Keep yourself tied to the church, with brothers and sisters who consistently center you on the gospel of Jesus Christ, because that profit can turn to a seductive idol that leads your heart astray. But it doesn’t have to. That profit can glorify God. There are many who will benefit from your success, perhaps even be lifted out of poverty, as you generously care for the people who work on your team. Let them see your good business deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Change the equation: Profit = God-honoring.
Dr. Kyle Bushre is a pastor at King Street Church in Chambersburg, Pa. His work focuses on sharing the gospel around the world and in his community, and he generates no profit in the process. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.