A couple weeks ago in church, we were told that a special speaker was coming to preach at the 6pm service at a certain date on ‘The Worthy Woman of Business’. I perked up. That might give me a better sense of what I should be doing with myself, post-MBA. I jotted down the date in my Sermons notebook but forgot to key it into my iPhone. I then totally forgot about the date.
But fate, or more likely God, intervened. Firstly, on Saturday evening I had a V-day date with R. Which meant that I could not meet with my Strategy Execution groupmates then. The only time slot we had left was Sunday morning. Nooo! That clashed with my regular church time! But to be fair, the others compromised for me on Saturday night, so I thought I could skip the 10am service this time and attend the 6pm one - and cover all bases.
But on Sunday I nearly felt like skipping the 6pm service as well. My morning and afternoon was spent on 2 different sets of groupwork, plus I hadn’t even read up for tomorrow’s classes yet! I felt really bad. It made me re-assess how I saw my own relationship with God. Why was I unhappy about giving 1.5 hours of my time a week? So I grabbed the car keys and headed off to church.
It was unusual being in the same church building but with an entirely different group of people. They were a bit younger than those in the 10am service. They were around my age. I felt comfortable. At one point we all had to greet each other and so I chatted to D, a Kiwi guy, and L, a local lady who normally went for the 8am service! I told her I could feel the difference switching from the 10am service (couples, families, middle-aged folks) to the 6pm service (more youths) - and surely switching from 8am (the most conservative service with Communions; the choice for seniors) was an even bigger jump for her!
She said she only came for this 6pm service because of the topic, “The Worthy Woman of Business’! Then I realised that the speaker, Craig, was only making an appearance at this slot! I felt it was God’s plan that everything fell into place, and what I thought was an inconvenient rescheduling was really a prod in the right direction, removing my other options so I had to show up then and receive His message.
I listened hard to the sermon, recorded it on my iPhone and took notes. So let me share a bit of it with you (especially to my Christian sisters). Hope my interpretation of the sermon is accurate:
We learnt that Craig and his wife run an organization that helps people in poor countries find jobs. This was the basis for the theme of his sermon - that we all had the ability to make other people’s lives better. He said back in his home countr, one might balk at the current 7% unemployment rate - until you visit third-world countries that have perenially 50% unemployment. In short, things may sound bad on your side, but many other people elsewhere are doing much worse!
The scripture readings were Proverbs 31:10-31 and Colossians 3:22-4:6. We focused on Proverbs. This was about ‘a wife of noble character’ who managed her domestic affairs. But it wasn’t just about domestic work. She was likened to merchant ships bringing in food from afar. Craig said that was the kind of work that created jobs for people.
He briefly mentioned Abraham, calling him an ‘agricultural entrepreneur’. Who’d have thought of that! Abraham once rounded up 318 male employees in his household to form a militia. That indicated he ran a large enterprise. (it was amusing to hear of famous bible characters referred to in modern business terms, but I got the point)
We were told that many Christians have the wrong idea of business - that we shouldn’t be out to make money. The current financial crisis doesn’t help the image of business either. But we forget that profits are a blessing from God, too. And we have the power to create jobs - sustainable employment for many.
So instead of looking down on profit, what’s more important are these 3 questions we should ask:
- How did you make the profit? Was it honestly or dishonestly?
- How much profit should you make?
- What is done with the profits? We learnt of a woman who obeyed her pastor’s request and gave all her business’ profits to the church. Later, in hard times, her business had no savings and went bust, causing 100 employees to lose their job. Was this a good testimony to them?
Craig’s answer is that we should keep aside some savings, return some to investors (it’s Biblically mandated, apparently), and give some to help the poor.
And as an MBA student and a Christian, this point stood out for me: Our business is not just to maximise shareholder wealth (the key point we learnt in Finance class), but to serve as a blessing to community. We should demonstrate our Christlike behaviour to colleagues, clients, vendors, suppliers, the Government…
The message I got for myself was not to keep looking down on business-oriented practices. I’ve been grappling with this concept for a while, having worked for years in Government with some colleagues who are altruistic, and getting a high when I feel my work has raised awareness levels and possibly improved someone’s wellbeing. Knowing how greed, corruption and the repackaging of financial debt has caused great misery to people, I’ve often thought, how can purely profit-driven businesses ever add this kind of value to society? But now I’m reminded that having good business sense also helps society. Create and protect jobs. Improve your employees’ wellbeing and raise their standards of living. This is social entrepreneurism at its best.
And lastly don’t just talk about what we believe in - demonstrate it! God will give us opportunities to take action. I think this is preparing me for my study trip on Social Entrepreneurism to Cambodia in a couple of months’ time… may it open my eyes to an entirely different world.
Right now, I’m just thankful that I was guided back onto the right path this evening at 6pm.