One of the most challenging questions facing business owners is how to integrate Christian principles into the core of our marketplace business. We may find ourselves wondering if it is even possible. You don't have to be chartered as a traditional ministry to operate on Christian principles.
The Alliance Defending Freedom's Corporate Affairs Alliance has created a helpful guide to Faith In The Workplace. It is a comprehensive resource covering topics such as purpose statements, the rights of an employer to share religious content, and many other employee relations considerations.
A Biblically Based Caution
The personality of many business owners often leads them to act as quickly as possible. This is a fantastic trait! It can also lead to dangerous places.
Proverbs 14:16 offers a warning about evil that's also very applicable to our work as business leaders:
A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, But a fool is arrogant and careless.
This post is only an introduction. It does not provide all the information we need to fully implement faith-based principles in our business in ways that respect employees, suppliers, and others who do not believe what we believe. It contains a few example areas as an invitation to think about how we can integrate our faith into the businesses we steward.
This blog post is not legal advice. You should always consult with competent legal counsel before implementing any change to your company's policies and governing documents.
1. Start By Defining Your Company's Purpose
The starting point is to clearly articulate the company's purpose.
Chick-fil-A is a well known marketplace business. There is nothing inherently Christian about chicken sandwiches. Yet, according to the company's Culture & Values page, their guiding purpose is:
"To glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us. To have a positive influence on all who come in contact with Chick-fil-A."
Similarly, Hobby Lobby, the retail craft-supply chain, shares their story online. It is filled with overtly Christian statements including this as their very first commitment:
"Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles."
2. Avoid Inappropriate Conditions
With a clearly defined purpose, it can feel natural to use it as an evaluation tool for employees, suppliers, partners, and even prospective customers.
Doing so risks missing the point of having a business that exists for the glory of God and to serve as salt and light in the world.
It will also lead to significant legal challenges.
At this point, you might be asking "what's the point then?" It's a valid question and one worth thinking through. Employee relations is a great place to see how we can work out a God honoring purpose in a legally consistent framework.
One example of an inappropriate condition is requiring a prospective or current employee to sign a statement of faith or an affirmation of the company's purpose.
The alternative is awareness.
You can inform prospective employees about your ownership purpose and goals. Much like the Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby examples, publicly stating the purpose is an important start.
You can also work them into your hiring process as long as you are not conditioning an offer of employment or continued employment on agreement with the principles. In some cases, a prospective employee may self-select out of the recruitment process. In other cases, a prospective employee may continue because they are not opposed to the purpose even though they do not personally agree with it.
This duality can be difficult to understand and implement effectively in our business practices and policies. Without a strong grasp on the challenge, we can inadvertently (and often intentionally) begin to treat people differently.
3. Act Consistently
If we say we're not going to condition an offer, continued employment, or advancement based on religion, we need to act consistently with the statement.
The core values that govern decisions should be documented and consistent with the company's purpose. It might be tempting to incorporate Bible verses and passages within the core values statements themselves.
This can be risky because it requires non-Christians to read the Bible in order to understand the values. It is a form of acting inconsistently because, in asking them to affirm core values that include scripture references, the company leaders implicitly ask them to affirm scripture.
Instead, we can structure the core values around the Biblical principles while offering an optional location if someone is interested in learning more. In this way, we can integrate faith-driven core values as an integral part of performance management.
For example, if "Integrity" is a core value, we can define it as "We do what we say we'll do." It is a Biblical principle that our yes should mean yes. We can explain why this is important by providing a separate resource that explains the Biblical foundations that might include Matthew 5:37. Since the core value is Integrity and not specifically Matt. 5:37, a marketplace employer can safely follow their progressive discipline policy in an effort to resolve performance related failures due to lack of integrity with decreased risk of being accused of violating a person's religious beliefs or rights.
An Intentional Process
Integrating Christian principles into business requires intention and a commitment to the process. You also shouldn't try to do it on your own.
God has gifted people in different ways - the whole body is not an eye. The process often feels uncomfortable and limiting. After all, representing Christ in our business is important and we don't want to be ashamed of the gospel. Yet we are also called to be discerning and wise.
Aside from the legal risks, there is real risk to our testimony as Christians. It is not a compromise to acknowledge the legal authorities and frameworks within which we operate. In fact, it can contribute to an even stronger testimony to those who do not believe when they see our efforts to be both respectful and faithful messengers of the gospel in our workplace ministry.
What will it take for you to begin the journey to integrate Christian principles into your business?