As the president of World Vision U.S. and the former CEO of two for-profit corporations, I have spent all of my professional life trying to manage organizations to achieve success. Every organization, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, must have a successful financial model to succeed, but long-term success doesn’t come from just managing numbers. The most successful organizations are mission-driven.
In Christian organizations, this truth may be even more compelling.
At its core, this is the question of the means versus the ends. In a secular corporation, the goal is to create profits for the owners or shareholders; the means to that end might be selling automobiles, or books, or delivering a service like air travel or lodging. At the end of the day, the bottom line is profit.
But in a Christian business or non-profit, the role is reversed. The activity, selling books or providing a service, is the end; it’s the missional impact. Profits are simply a means to that end. We are called to put “mission above mammon.”
Yes, Christian stores have to meet rent and payroll. They have to purchase their inventory, and they need to stay on top of industry trends while also providing great service to their customers. These are demands that all businesses face, and it is necessary that Christian retailers do these things well enough to earn a profit. Non-profit ministries have many of the same financial demands to meet.
Yet, the reason all of us are in business is to fulfill a mission — a mission given to us by the Lord to build God’s kingdom. For a Christian retailer, this mission might involve equipping the saints, lifting up God’s eternal truths, and providing the tools of discipleship. For World Vision, the mission is to serve the poorest of the poor in the name of Christ. That’s the mission, and money is just a means to that end — not an end unto itself.
Even during these tough economic times, many Christian retailers are providing examples of how to keep the mission first. These retailers are using their place in the market to make a difference in their own communities and around the world.
In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House extends their work of educating Christians by hosting youth pastor breakfasts and by working with church librarians. They are reaching out to neighbors by participating in a community art program. By auctioning off a donated sculpture, Baker Book House is raising money to fund assistance to poor families through World Vision.
Under financial pressures, it is all too tempting to make decisions based on expediency rather than mission. By keeping its focus on its mission, Baker Book House — and others like it — are asking, “Will this product glorify God and build His kingdom?” Such stores make sure that customer encounters are about helping people deepen their faith and their understanding of God’s word.
Also, Berean Christian Stores around the country choose local ministry partners, including homeless shelters, schools, and two groundbreaking ministries that rescue young children from sexual exploitation.
The Christian retail chain Family Christian Stores is working with ministries and educational institutions to find and train 1 million families to support foster children. The company’s foundation, The James Fund, sends employees on mission trips in the United States and six other countries, where they are ministering to widows and orphans.
This is what it means in business to seek first the kingdom of God — to put “mission above mammon.” We have all been given talents to be put into kingdom service. When a business or non-profit ministry puts mammon first, it is burying what God has given it to invest. In Jesus’ Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, it was fear that led the lazy servant to bury his talent. Even in these tough economic conditions, we all need to remember to be faithful to the mission we’ve been given.
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Christian Store Week, October 1-10, is partnering with World Vision to raise awareness and fight hunger. Musicians, artists, authors, and nearly 500 retailers across the country have teamed up in a pro-bono effort to benefit World Vision’s food security programs around the world. Buy the special Christian Store Week compilation CD, “Feed the Flock,” at participating stores.
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How do you put “mission above mammon” in your business practices? Does the “mission” of an organization or business have any influence on your spending decisions? How so?