The Christian business leader

The Christian business leader
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In the past several decades, there has been a steady stream of books on business leadership.

Many of these works are written from a secular perspective. Some approach leadership from the standpoint of personality traits (trait theories), whileothers focus on behaviour (behavioural theories). Still others try to combine the two approaches while also considering the context (contingency model).

A Christian perspective on business leadership, however, must begin with the theology of vocation. This concept was given renewed emphasis in the writings of the 16th century Protestant Reformers, although its origins in the Christian tradition are much more ancient.

The English word “vocation” is derived from the Latin vocare, which simply means “call”. On the basis of 1 Corinthians 7:17 (“Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him.”), the Reformers teach that God has called every individual—not just the ordained priests—to serve him in the different arenas of life.

The Christian business leader must understand his role and work as nothing less than a vocation, a calling from God. This means that the role that he plays and the business that he does simply cannot be bracketed away from God’s own work and purpose in the world.

In providing leadership and running his business, the Christian business leader is by God’s grace participating in the divine redemptive activity. This is surely both a great (and undeserved) privilege as well as an awesome responsibility!

In order to fulfil his vocation in a way that brings honour and glory to the God who has called him, the Christian business leader must follow Christ in all that he does.

But what does this entail? We look very briefly at the philosophies of leadership and business that lie behind the Christian business leader.

Philosophy of leadership

According to scholars, there are basically three types of leadership: Transactional leadership,1 transformational leadership2 and servant leadership.3

Transactional leadership may prove inadequate as it is fundamentally based on a reductive understanding of the relationship between the leader (employer) and his followers (employees). Transformational leadership, where the leader clearly expresses his values and seeks to foster moral transformation in his followers, may lead to a possibility of the leader becoming manipulative, draconian and legalistic.

Servant leadership is arguably the most consistent with the Christian faith and the example of Christ. Under this model, the leader leads primarily because he wishes to serve others. He hopes to follow Christ, who “did not come to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28 NIV).

The servant leader respects the dignity of those who work with him. He recognises their potential and strives to help them achieve both personal and professional growth. The servant leader also develops moral and ethical principles of leadership and governance based on moral virtues such as justice, fortitude and temperance. Furthermore, his consistent application of these moral principles will in turn shape his character.

Philosophy of business

The Christian business leader must conduct his business in such a way that it not only generates profits, but also serves the common good and supports the well-being of society. He must consider that the products produced, the services provided and the jobs created are all integral to the good life of the community, the nation and humanity as a whole. He must avoid any practice that would undermine human flourishing—such as corruption, exploitation, and the destruction of the environment. More positively, he should explore ways to actively serve human needs and contribute to the welfare of society.

In an article entitled “A Goal Greater than Profit”, Cardinal Bertone insists that the business leader should be an innovator and never a speculator. The speculator, the Cardinal explains, simply aims to maximise profit—”For him, business is a means to an end, and that end is profit.”

“It should be immediately clear,” he insists, “that the speculator is not the model of business leader that the Church holds up as an agent and builder of the common good.”4

Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12: 48 NIV). The Christian business leader has at his disposal tremendous resources, and the Lord expects him to use these resources to honour him by serving his neighbours.

1 J. M. Burns, Leadership (New York: Harper & Row, 1979).

2 B. M. Bass, Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations (New York: Free Press, 1985).

3 Kenneth H. Blanchard, Servant Leadership: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003).

4 Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, ‘A Goal Greater than Profit’, library/view.cfm?recnum=9645.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine at Trinity Theological College and Theological and Research Advisor at the Ethos Institute for Public Christianity.