The Builder-Developer as a Steward of God’s Resources
Bringing God's Kingdom To the Marketplace and Inner City
There are two ways to connect faith and work. One can integrate faith into work, in which case faith is secondary to work, or one can integrate work into faith, in which case faith is primary. I have tried both ways. For me integrating faith into work resulted in compartmentalization; integrating work into faith is holistic. All work done in Jesus' name and done for Jesus (Col. 3:23-24) is part of the good work that God has created me to do-whether it is work in the marketplace, in the community, at home, or at church.
The Incarnation: the Central Mystery
I shall never understand fully the mystery of the incarnation. First, God's Son was incarnated in me (Rom. 8:9-11; Eph. 1:1-14). Third, in a way that only God understands, He is incarnated and present in the poor and needy person. When I reach out and provide shelter to the stranger, a drink to the thirsty, or something to eat for the hungry, I am providing that to Jesus (Mt. 25:31-46). This puts an incredible awesome significance on reaching out to those in need. In some mystical way I am also the incarnation of Jesus to the poor; He serves the poor through me. And he who is poor at any given time is the incarnation of Jesus to me.(1) As a result, in each encounter with any person, I have the opportunity simultaneously to be Jesus the rich person, as a giver of God's grace, and Jesus the poor person, as a receiver of God's grace. Lately, I also have come to realize that I am often the poor person, therefore, if I want to receive the full blessing of Jesus' incarnation for myself, I must be humble and vulnerable to allow other people to be Jesus to me.
God's Image: The Dignity of Making Decisions
Jesus fully respected the image of God that each person carries; from His encounters with people it is evident that an essential element of that image is the freedom and ability to make responsible choices. Therefore, in all my interpersonal relationships, I must not participate as a person of power but as a person who offers to another God's gift of decision-making ability. In our company we have a concept of leading people and managing assets. It is almost impossible to manage people without falling into the trap of treating them like an "it" instead of a "thou."
Jesus never exerted His supernatural power over people against their will or against what they perceived to be their own self-interest. Primary examples are Zaccheus (Lk. 19:1-9) and the Rich Young Ruler (Lk.18:18-25). Both were wealthy but one accepted His call, the other rejected it. I must allow people the same dignity of decision. Since I am not naturally people-oriented, it has become a difficult, but wonderfully exciting life-long journey to learn to try to provide everyone I encounter with that God-given privilege. I am not even close to doing this consistently.
The kingdoms of God and This World
As followers of Jesus, we are participants and citizens of two opposite megacultures. The kingdom of God is where God reigns; the kingdom of this world is all that has not submitted itself to God's rule. Because evidence of our vertical relationship with God is not yet visible, His kingdom has its own economic, social, and political systems that are almost always totally upside down to the relational systems of God's kingdom and culture. At this point I have a great deal of difficulty as a Christian business owner. For example, laws are written so that everyone is treated the same, but God loves diversity and makes each person unique. It is often difficult to respond to each person's uniqueness in a legally-bound business environment. Also, whereas the state says that Christians own their own businesses, Christians view themselves as merely trustees or stewards of God's kingdom assets.
Biblical Perspectives on Work
In the Roman social and economic system, slavery was the primary employer-employee relationship. Stewards or managers were often highly educated, well-trained slaves who were completely entrusted with their owner's property. There is a close correlation between the way these people handled their master's wealth is Jesus' parable and the way a business owner should handle the assets of the company, as well as between the way masters and slaves related to one another and the way employer and employees should operate today. (2)
We are God' workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which god prepared that we might walk in them (Eph. 2:10). This is an extremely important truth because it defines what I am to do as a result of the gracious gift of salvation that I have received from God (Eph. 2:8-9). In Greek, "workmanship" has the connotation of a complete piece of woven fabric or a work of art. I am God's good, complete, divine work of art. Due to God's ability to see the end at the beginning, I am already viewed as the perfect likeness of Jesus (Rom. 8:28-29). The good works that occupy me form the substance of my "doing" and "working" day in and day out.
Just what are these? (3) They include all kinds of work-physical, social, and ethical. They involve general behavior (Tit. 2:7), providing for daily necessities (Tit. 3:14), and sharing of wealth. (1 Tim. 6:17-19) (4) So good works are the totality of what God has prepared for me to do. They include my professional calling as an entrepreneur and homebuilder; my treatment of employees, customers, and suppliers; my reaching out and touching the poor; and activities that result from my being part of Jesus' body, the church. There is no compartmentalization between secular work in the marketplace and Christian serving. All of a Christian's life and work is ministry; all is to be done in the name of Jesus, as to Jesus, and for the glory of Jesus.
My Personal Journey
God's Invasion of My Life
I have not always had this understanding of work. For many years I had a very compartmentalized idea of faith and a highly secularized view of work. On the one hand, people needed to be saved, and I had a responsibility to witness to them. On the other hand, people were factors in capital investment and potential productivity, and I had to manage them to maximize my economic return. I became a master manipulator. I stared the business to make money, not to build the capital base of God's kingdom. I even had the audacity to invite God to be my partner-who would get a share for blessing me. I spent a lot of my spare time ensuring that I had a secure future by acquiring and growing my real estate investments, placing my confidence in these, rather than God. At the same time I taught Sunday School, was the church trustee board chairman, and directed the construction of some of the church buildings. There was little connection between my Sunday faith and my Monday work.
What changed? Four things happened. First, God graciously used a severe depression in the housing industry to show me that there is no lasting or real security to be found in owning a business or owning investments. As a result I developed a strong desire to know God better, to trust God more, and to feel loved by God. Second, just as this desire was intensifying, in Sunday School we studied Richard Foster's book Celebration of Discipline. For the first time in my life I began to practice seriously the spiritual disciplines of Bible study, meditation, and prayer-typically one half hour in the morning, and fifteen to thirty minutes in the evening. (5) Third, I read James Sheldon's book In His Steps, a story about a spiritually shallow pastor and his congregation and how their lives were revolutionized in one year by asking one simple question before anything they did: "What would Jesus do?" Fourth, I read Charles Colson's autobiographies, Born Again and Life Sentence, and was shamed by the realization that he was much close to God after being a Christian for only a few years than I was after thirty years.
As a result of this confluence of events and intensive study of the Bible, I realized that it was spiritually dangerous to be economically rich. (6) I also realized that I had to make a choice between God and money (Mt. 6:24). I became so horrified of the spiritual risks of being wealthy that I told God that if is was just the same with Him, I'd like never to be rich-the risk was just too great. Before, I feared God and loved money: having decided to really love God I developed a healthy fear of money. I sold all my investments; I have nothing left except my house-no stocks, mutual funds, or other retirement-type accounts.
I also came to realize that Jesus deeply loved and showed proactive concern for the poor, so much so that in His only story about who is allowed to enter the kingdom, it is only those who have directly and personally fed, clothed, and entertained the poor who will be welcomed (Mt. 25:31-46). This was truly shocking because I didn't know any poor in my cloistered, affluent suburban lifestyle. I began looking for ways to touch Jesus by touching the poor. I began to understand how much God hates oppression and loves justice. (7) Finally I concluded that I was a de facto oppressor. I was not proactively for justice like God was; I was doing nothing to provide just opportunity for victims of structural oppression.
I toyed with the idea of closing the homebuilding business so that I could become heavily involved with the poor; ultimately I decided to grow the homebuilding company as a means of support. I gathered around me highly competent leaders who could manage the business on a day-to-day basis. This has provided me with the financial support and personal time necessary to become involved in a wide range of activities that come alongside people in the city, with those who want to help themselves.
My Basic Criterion -
How Would Jesus Thing and What Would Jesus Do?
I continuously ask the question: What kind of a homebuilding company would Jesus establish and own?
I believe Jesus would build homes that satisfy a family's needs, not its luxuries. The homes would be of durable quality; they would have natural beauty, not status beauty; they would be resource-efficient to build and maintain; they would be designed to enhance family life; and they would provide the opportunity to develop interdependent, neighborly relationships.
I believe Jesus would appeal to good, human qualities in His marketing; He would not appeal to greed, covetousness, status, pride, etc. He would honestly state the advantages of His homes. By the way, our commitment to be honest is advertising has consistently driven us to build better homes than our competition-nobody wants to advertise that his home is average.
I believe Jesus, as the owner of the business, would pray the only prayer about wealth in the Bible: "Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?'" (Pr. 30:8-9). A shortened version of this prayer is included in the prayer Jesus taught His disciples: "Give us today our daily bread" (Mt. 6:11).
He would certainly follow His own advice about not storing up treasure for ourselves on earth but in haven (Mt. 6:25-34), and not building bigger barns in which to hoard His Father's resources (Lk.12:16-210.
I believe Jesus would capitalize His business responsibly so that His employees could have steady employment. Following God's concern for more equal distribution of resources (2 Cor. 8:13-14), the balance of His profits would be invested in helping the poor and spreading the Gospel (1 Tim. 6:17-19). He probably would not hoard, save or invest profits outside the capital needs of the business (Lk. 12:16-21). He would practice justice and equality in paying wages and sharing profit with employees (Col. 4:1)
I am an entrepreneur, and I am a homebuilder. I own and lead a suburban homebuilding company, and I am an entrepreneur in inner city activities involving housing as well as economic and human development activities in the inner city. By nature, I am an entrepreneur, as was my father. I love to start things; I love to innovate. I am good at analyzing risk and future potential; I can handle the stress of risk-taking.
I am not, by nature, a good manager or organizer, so we have highly skilled leaders in each functional business area (marketing, design, construction, finance, purchasing) who are responsible to the day-to-day activities of the company. We meet weekly and make planning, personnel, policy and procedural decisions by consensus. There is a high degree of camaraderie and mutual respect and, except for issues involving Christian ethics, I submit myself to the consensual process as do all the others. This consensual approach to leadership is partly a result of my understanding of my responsibility to be just and to foster equality. Even though some of the leaders are not believers, this group has been able to provide mutual accountability. This consensual approach provides what Max DePree calls the "space…to exercise out gifts and diversity." (8)
The biblical model for co-participation and fellowship is the body (Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:4-29). So long as people are committed to a common goal, the body is a better metaphor for business organization that the typical hierarchical chart. There is still hierarchy but interdependence, collaboration, and consensus are emphasized. This body metaphor and consensual interdependence pervades the relationships within each operating area and across all areas of the company. There are no private kingdoms in our company; no one builds moats or gates, and no one is a gatekeeper. Each person's work is integrated and interrelated with the work of others, and there is a high level of respect for each person's contribution.
A person's dignity and self-esteem will not be enhanced by their work unless they can see how their work either directly or indirectly results in the production and distribution of a quality product or service. Therefore there must be a highly visible trail between an employee's work, the home we build, and the purchaser of that home. This trail is made visible through the human interrelationships involved in each person's contribution. Our broad-based mutual accountability and interrelatedness results in a culture that develops strong, independent people with a high level of mutual self-respect. It is a satisfying culture within which to work. One our leader often says he has the best of all worlds: he loves to come to work in the morning, and he loves to go home at night. It is not unusual to have a firs-time visitor to our office say something like "It's so peaceful here; everyone is so content."
We fell that we have a responsibility to provide steady employment. This is very difficult to do since the homebuilding industry is extremely cyclical. It is not unusual for housing starts in a given market to drop by sixty to eighty percent in a short time. We have a threefold strategy to stabilize employment. First, we invest heavily in information systems that result in very high individual productivity. Second, in good times we do not expand as rapidly as we could. Third, we have do goal to be big for the sake of being big. We aim for careful, sustainable growth. This combination allowed us to go through the last Chicago housing cycle without laying off anyone, while many homebuilders were reducing their staffs by fifty to seventy percent.
Because we recognize that a person who joins our firm must operate within the business culture we have created, we take the employment interviewing process very seriously. We want to make sure that new employees will fit well with our group and have full knowledge of our approach to business, so that they can make good decisions as to whether they will enjoy working with us. This interview process involves several meeting and usually stretches over several weeks. By the time they are hired, new employees feel like they are known, that they are respected for their skills, that both strengths and weaknesses have been acknowledged, and that they will be treated with dignity and respect. All full time employees go through the same interview process, whether they will be a vice president or a receptionist.
Our people are so important to us that no personnel decision is made until there is full consensus by the leadership group. Every employee is told that the owner of the company operates the company on basic biblical principles, which means that the truth will always be spoken in love (Eph. 4:15) and that we shall never knowingly lie to each other, a home purchaser, a supplier or subcontractor, or government official. We place a high premium on personal integrity, and we want potential employees to know that they will not enjoy working with us if they do not have what Covey calls the character ethic of integrity and principle-centered leadership. (9) One of the results of this fastidious honest is that over time people outside our company have come to trust our employees implicitly.
We use the biblical principals of body interdependence and koinonia (fellowship and co-participation) in the design of our communities. In his book Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah has observed that there must be a careful balance between individualism and interdependence to maintain democratic, neighborly-oriented lifestyles. (10)
We have received a national reputation for building innovative, highly energy-efficient homes with a guarantee that the heating bills will not exceed $200 per year in Chicago. Our innovation in energy efficiency is a direct result of our great respect for God's creation and a belief that we should preserve as much of it as we can for our children's children. We strive to preserve the natural beauty of the land as we plan and develop it. I do not see how a believer can be anything other than an environmentalist; it is only responsible stewardship to cherish and respect what God graciously has given us.
In the Inner City
I enjoy my work in the inner city as much as my work in the suburbs. You could say that we make money in the suburbs and spend it in the inner city, I became deeply involved in working with economically poor people in the inner city by asking these questions: What would Jesus do? Where would Jesus invest or spend His Father's resources? How would Jesus practice equality? Where would Jesus live?
I now live in an African-American community in Chicago's inner city, and the church I now call home is predominately African American. Originally I became involved because Jesus called me, not because "I" wanted to. In hindsight, as a result of the joy of the work I do and the joy of where I live and worship, I'd do it now for the joy because of the rich relationships I have. I am loved, nurtured, and cared about there. I am not saying that all believers should live among the economically poor, however, it does seem odd that he vast preponderance of those who have an economic choice and who have Jesus in their hearts ask only the question; "Where amongst the rich should I live?" instead of "Where amongst all of God's people does He want me to live?"
There is not enough space here to develop fully the biblical presuppositions surrounding my work and life in the inner city, however, I shall explain briefly the principles and the work I do.
The biblical presuppositions are as follows:
Jubilee. God instituted an economic system in Israel that was designed to provide an even distribution of the economic resources necessary to live a Godly life. Although Jubilee rewarded industriousness and penalized sluggardness, there was no way individuals would become excessively and extravagantly wealthy. Part of the plan was a redistribution system preventing any family from becoming permanently impoverished due to economic adversity or individual laziness (Dt. 15; Lev. 25:8-43). Jesus extended this principle further, involving a degree of giving and sharing that can only be fully actualized in kingdom relationships.
Equality. Paul encouraged the churches to practice economic equality (2 Cor. 8:1-9:15) Those who have God's resources are to share so thoroughly and deeply that they run the risk of becoming impoverished themselves (2 Cor. 8:14) as Jesus did (2 Cor. 8:9).
Calling. God has provided a "good work" for every believer to do (Eph. 2:10). Unfortunately many people have been deprived or the capital, training, and personal resources necessary to accomplish that good work. Those of us who are stewards of God's resources must make sure that they are fully shared and that all believers have the opportunity and resource to do the good work God has called them to do.
Gleaning. The principle of gleaning involves providing others with the opportunity to help themselves. In Israel, able-bodied people were to be given the opportunity to provide for themselves from what others produced. The story of Ruth and Boaz is the perfect example of this principle at work.
Justice. God loves justice and hates oppression (Is. 58; Am. 5; Jas.5:1-6).
I used to see myself as a self-made individualist, having come form an economically poor background. I forgot about a loving father who, by his example, instilled in me a positive attitude of hope; a mother who deeply loved God; an older sister who deeply loved me, a brother who counseled me; innumerable friends who stood by me; people who mentored me; and a country of opportunity, a superb educational system, etc. I selected almost none of these; they are all gifts of God through others' investments in me. Except for these opportunities (over which I had no control) I'd be among the poorest of the poor, both spiritually and physically.
God says: Invest in the poor as I have invested in you. I am God's steward of those investments-of those good works. When I see everything I am and have as God's gift and stewardship, and when I hear God shout jubilee, grace, equality, sharing, and justice, I cannot claim any of that wealth for my own; the entrepreneurial and building skills, the networking and financial resources, are all God's to be shared fully with others. It is helping others help themselves so they can help others-like others helped me so I could help others.
I am participating in the cycle of reinvestment and helping to stop the cycle of disinvestment in the inner city, I use investment and reinvestment in the broadest sense to include spiritual, economic, social, institutional, moral, as well as personal time, mentoring, youth development, business and professional networks, technical skills, and any other kind of investment you can imagine. We have the ability and the perseverance to be "seed hope" and "seed capital" to see and opportunity through to completion.
Everything we are involved in in the inner city us a joint venture of partnership with either a church or a church-related community development group. We do nothing by ourselves. We help low income working people build their own high quality, energy-efficient homes. WE provide organizational expertise, seed capital, hope, technical design, construction management, land development, risk taking and entrepreneurial skills, purchasing skills, purchasing networks, and financial resources, but the people are building the homes themselves. We coordinate the efforts of people form all walks of life; accountants, carpenters, lawyers, electricians, business owners, plumbers, and truck drivers. Our objective is to make kingdom resources available to kingdom people.
I make all of the resources of the suburban homebuilding company available to the work in the inner city, except for the employees themselves. Inner city work is not, and cannot be, a condition of employment for the employees, many of who are not believers. However, all of the business networks, technical skills and knowledge, and financial resources, are fully available to be shared.
I walk down life's path continually asking the questions: How would Jesus think? What would Jesus do? I know that I am the workmanship of God and that He has provided a whole range of good work for me to do. All of the good work I do is blessed and is a blessing to me and to others, whether it is designing and building homes and neighborhoods in the suburbs or recapitalizing and rebuilding the inner city, whether it is respecting the image of God and in the incarnation of Jesus' incarnation in decaying urban centers. It is the highest joy and honor to give back to Jesus as much as I can of what He has given to me.
Can you feel their pain, has it touched your life?
Can you taste the salt in the tears they cry?
Will you love them more that the hate that's been?
Will you love them back to life again? (11)
All Bible references are from the New International Version or my own paraphrases
1. This aspect of Christian faith is best lived, practiced, and written by Tony Campolo in A Reasonable Faith: Responding to Secularism (Waco:Word, 1983), 172-178.
2. Paul uses the same work (kyrios) for earthly master or lord and for Jesus, our heavenly Master and Lord.
3. They are described in 2 Cor. 9:8; Col. 1:10; 2 Th. 2:17; Phil. 1:6; 1 Tim. 2:10, 5:10, 5:25, 6:18; 2 Tim. 2:21, 3:17; Tit. 1:16, 2:7 and 14, 3:1, 8, 14; Heb. 10:24; 1Pet. 2:12.
4. See further 1 Tim. 6:5b-8 and then 1 Tim. 6:9-10.
5. My simple method of daily Bible study involves writing down the answers to three questions: 1) What does it say? This is a paraphrase of the verse(s) that takes into consideration the meaning of the surrounding verses. 2) What does it mean? I jot down what the key words mean, what the key thoughts are, and anything else that I learn about the passage. 3) What does it mean to me? I write down how the passage affects me and what I need to do about it. This is often in the form of prayers of thanksgiving, of praise, and requests for God's help in changing my attitudes and actions.
6. Jas. 2:5-7, 5:1-6; 1 Tim. 6:9-10; Mt. 19:16-26. James' diatribes against the wealthy and Jesus' warning to the rich made me realize that I was playing with a dangerous explosive that could destroy me. I had read these verses many times and intellectually had rationalized away the truth. How easy it was to see the truth when I really wanted to listen to God.
7. Am. 2:6-7, 4:1-6, 5:7, 10-24, 6:3-8, 8:4-12; Is. 1:15-17, 5:8-9, 58:1-14
8. Max Depree, Leadership is an Art (New York: Doubleday, 1989), 7, 14. This is an excellent book.
9. Stephen R. Covey, Principle-Centered Leadership (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992). Stephen has written this and another excellent book on leadership: 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1989).
10. Robert Bellah, Habits of the Heart: Individualism and commitment in American Life (New York: Harper & Row, 1985), chapter 3.
11. Do you Feel Their Pain? Words by Steve Camp, Phill McHugh, Rob Frazier, and Kim Maxfield-Camp; music by Steve Camp.