Called to proclaim the Kingdom, not manipulate customers
Elden Wiebe is an associate professor of management at the Leder School of Business at The King’s University in Edmonton. Find more of these guest columns at www.FaithToday.ca/BusinessMatters.
As Jesus went through towns proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom and healing every disease, Matthew 9 tells us He reached a profound observation. "When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (9:36).
Moved by compassion, Jesus then began to multiply His ministry: "Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field’" (9:37–38). And with that, Jesus sent out the 12 disciples to bring the Good News of the Kingdom of God throughout the towns of Israel (Matthew 10).
In a somewhat different but still important way, we are living in a time when people are harassed and helpless as they interact with business. Here are some examples.
Being lied to about a product or service
Sometimes businesses lie to upsell customers or make a sale. Other times they do it to keep expenditures down, such as attempting to avoid or at least minimize warranty work. Insurance at times has been famous for dodging claims through fine print, confusing jargon or requiring such a cumbersome and time-consuming claim process that people just give up.
When a product is made so you need to buy (or fix) it again and again. I have now had four over-the-stove microwaves in eight years. Why don’t these appliances last? And in fashion we find a new clothing style every season, so perfectly good clothing becomes unfashionable and increasingly left in your closet, thrown out or passed on to second-hand stores. Both being in fashion or out of fashion somehow leaves most of us diminished in our humanity.
RESPECTING OUR CUSTOMERS’ PRIVACY IS JUST ONE WAY WE CAN ALLEVIATE THE HARASSMENT PEOPLE EXPERIENCE AS THEY INTERACT WITH THE BUSINESS COMMUNITY
Personal data management
Gathered by so many apps, social media platforms and online retailers, our data has been stolen or sold to third parties without our knowledge, used to harass us further with more advertisements or used clandestinely to shape our understanding of what is happening in the world, to the point that even our democracies are in danger.
These are just some of the business practices that leave us harassed and helpless.
But as the Lord sent out the 12, perhaps He has sent you into the marketplace, to declare the Kingdom of God. What then can you, the Christian business person, do to alleviate this hassle and sorrow?
Jesus gives us a good place to start: operate with compassion. Business is much more than the financial bottom line. People are not revenue streams, nor are they merely consumers. They are human beings, made in the image of the Almighty God and made alive with His breath.
Christians in business need to treat people as persons, not as objects. Have compassion toward customers. Be honest with them. Don’t manipulate them. Be a blessing to them. Likewise with employees, suppliers, distributors, owners or partners.
There are other commitments to be made as well.
Pursue an intimate relationship with God, one that cultivates an ear to hear the Spirit.
Seek the freedom of employees by bringing them into decision making. Give them financial freedom by paying them decently and sharing the wealth they help produce.
Be willing to bear suffering for the sake of the Kingdom – perhaps by resisting a shady deal even when you need the money, or being longsuffering with difficult people in the organization or supply chain. (Do we really know what in their lives makes them this way?)
Remember God’s work in the past and operate with a God-inspired vision of the future based in the hope of knowing He is still active, and is so in you and your company.
Lloyd Sandelands, professor of management and organization at the University of Michigan, writes that "business is ‘positive’ when it invites us to be as Christ; which is to be a person in joyful communion with the Father; and which … is to take part in a joyful solidarity of persons in the common good" (Journal of Business Ethics).
In this way you will be proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom in the marketplace.