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Christianity the Key to Dignity and Fulfillment at Work

R&L: It is commonly held that it is impossible to be both a faithful Christian and a good businessman. How do you respond to this view?

Beckett: This view is indeed common, but it is seriously flawed. Based on that logic, we would have to assume the Apostle Paul was not a good businessman when he was making and selling tents. More likely, he was an exemplary businessman, his products high in quality, fair in price. Can you see the people lined up to buy his tents?

The wrong view derives from a notion of the early Greeks whose dualistic view separated life into a higher, more noble realm and a lower, common realm. That thinking passed through to modern times bearing the names “sacred” and “secular.” Today, many Christians hold to this dichotomy. Occupations, including business, are typically viewed as secular, and therefore less worthy than church-related, or sacred, pursuits.

One of the stunning achievements of the Cross is that it abolished the distinction between secular and sacred, such that “… nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Tm 4:4). A. W. Tozer, in The Pursuit of God, puts it succinctly: “The sacred—secular antithesis has no foundation in the New Testament.” For the faithful Christian, a calling to business is every bit as noble as a church-related occupation. God gives as much grace to fulfill that legitimate calling as He does any other.

R&L: In your new book, Loving Monday, you list the three “enduring values” that guide the activities of your company: integrity, excellence, and profound respect for the individual. Why did you choose these three values, and not others, as your company’s guiding principles?

Beckett: I wanted our core values to meet certain tests. First, they needed to be elevated and worthy, but possible to achieve. Second, they had to be simple to remember and communicate, and, third, traceable to a biblical base.

To be useful, a set of values must be widely accepted and worked into the fabric of an organization–not simply lodged in the minds of those who formed them. I am pleased to see people at our company wearing t-shirts bearing these values, to hear them mentioned in conversation, and to see them considered as benchmarks for accountability in conduct.

Some have asked why profit is not included. As important as profit is, it is not a core value. It is the result of many things being done right by many people. A business that takes a principled approach, in my experience, always does better than the business that does not.

R&L: I would like to explore each of these in turn. First, how do you define integrity, and why is it important?

Beckett: Integrity means adherence to a standard of values. It is a biblically rooted concept embracing the ideas of truthfulness, honesty, uprightness, and wholeness. The opposite is compromise, fragmentation, and instability.

For example, when a person commits to be at an appointment on time, others are depending on that commitment’s being kept. The person of integrity plans and executes in order to honor that commitment, undeterred by personal inconvenience, thus building a reputation for dependability, trustworthiness, and respect for others.

R&L: What biblical concepts inform your understanding of excellence?

Beckett: Excellence first appears in Genesis, chapter 1. God reflected upon each day of creation, gave a satisfied nod, declaring it “good.” This culminated in His final assessment after the sixth day: “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” Perhaps God was prone to British understatement. It was more than very good. It was perfect!

When man fell, sin abounded and something other than his excellence was introduced and proliferated. The vision for God’s excellence was virtually lost. Then, in the fullness of time, Christ came, and the pattern for heavenly excellence took human form.

Jesus, the man, modeled excellence. Think about His exquisite craftsmanship during His carpentry years. Consider the preciseness of His communication, the commitment to His friends, the thoroughness and discipline with which He completed His task on earth. As we take on the character of Christ, those qualities lost in Eden can begin to reappear in our experience.

The Bible speaks of excellence in so many ways, but the ultimate standard is more than an idea. It is a person, the Person of Jesus Christ.

R&L: Finally, how do you understand the concept of profound respect for the individual, and from where do you derive it?

Beckett: Early in my Christian experience, someone explained that Christ would still have gone to the cross if only for me. I balked at that notion, but eventually realized it was true. God so highly regards each individual that He would have paid that price–just for you, just for me.

Man was created in God’s own image and likeness. What a basis for our identity and our dignity! With this perspective, how can we have anything but profound respect for each other–regardless of situation or station in life. Each person is unique. We are obligated to view each other with the same high regard that the Lord does.

R&L: Can you offer some examples of how your company’s commitment to this ideal affects how it does business?

Beckett: We get our employees together every few months to provide updates on how the company is doing and where it is going. It helps keep everyone on the same page. We met just this morning, so these examples are quite fresh.

First, we announced several promotions and reassignments. Each person had been carefully selected for advancement. These changes were all with existing personnel rather than with new people, affirming the company’s respect for them and desire to see each grow personally. This pattern of advancement encourages others to excel and further equip themselves for future assignments.

Second, I addressed a current problem–excessive gossip among some employees. Using the context of our requirement for profound respect, I described right and wrong kinds of communications. Referencing James, chapter 4, I pointed out how the tongue, though small, is like the rudder of the Titanic, able even in a fierce storm to change the ship’s course. Used wrongly, the tongue can curse others who have been made in God’s own likeness. I set some guidelines for sound communications and gave counsel on how relationships damaged through gossip or slander could be healed through asking for and receiving forgiveness.

Businesses are no stronger than their people. Every investment made in their development will reap great rewards–productivity, morale, commitment, and enthusiasm. Ultimately these benefits flow through to the bottom line. Everyone comes out a winner!

R&L: Have you ever encountered a situation where holding onto these ideals meant making decisions that went against the best economic interests of the company?

Beckett: In the short term, we have. In the long term, no. Several times we have kept employees working during business slumps rather than laying them off and then rehiring. The decrease in profits was more than offset by increased loyalty, commitment, and our employees’ self-worth.

On occasion we have decided to forego business rather than compromise our integrity. Such was the case when a foreign customer asked for what he called a commission, but what we concluded was a bribe. We said “no,” but in this case there was a happy ending. He said, “Fine, I just thought I’d ask.” He kept buying, and I think the relationship was actually strengthened because he realized we could not be tempted in this way.

R&L: As a Christian businessman, how do you approach the free market and the free society? What are the responsibilities of the Christian businessman in each?

Beckett: Our markets and our society enjoy the freedom they have today because of Judeo-Christian thought and practice in the early and ongoing history of our nation. The benefits have been enormous. We are free to supply products and provide services in accordance with customer requirements, not as dictated by a central planning committee. We can establish pricing, distribution, labor rates, and employee benefits consistent with market forces.

However, I am concerned that these freedoms are being progressively eroded. With our nation’s large central government and a “big brother” mentality throughout its vast bureaucracy, we are seeing more regulation, and with it more intrusion into business.

For example, a few years ago the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (eeoc) proposed guidelines that many thought could restrict religious liberty in the workplace. If these guidelines had been adopted, discrimination charges could have been filed against employers for such activities as singing Christmas carols at a company event or using a bulletin board to announce a religious activity in the community. By God’s grace–and a major effort by Christian business leaders–the proposed guidelines were withdrawn. The climate remains unfriendly, however, demanding that we remain vigilant in defense of our precious freedoms.

R&L: In addition to running R. W. Beckett, you also founded Advent Industries, an organization dedicated to developing the work skills of people who are difficult to employ. What prompted you to do this, how does this organization function, and what have been its results?

Beckett: We founded Advent in 1979 during a period of high unemployment in our area. I was troubled about those who were unfit for employment–those with prison records or substance abuse problems, and school dropouts. They simply could not find normal jobs.

Advent performed manufacturing work for area employers whose alternative was to take the jobs to Mexico or offshore. It was led by a no-nonsense boss with a big heart, and we maintained a disciplined but compassionate work environment. Bible study was a regular part of the work day. Employees would typically complete the training program in one to two years, then go into the general labor market.

Over 50 percent of Advent’s 1200 “graduates” found and held good jobs. More important, nearly 90 percent were helped spiritually during their employment, producing some lasting changes in their habits and conduct.

Sadly, Advent was closed within the past year. The labor market has been so tight that employees find they do not have to go through rigorous training to get jobs. We simply have not been able to find enough suitable candidates. Perhaps it will reopen in the future if and when the need arises.

R&L: Finally, in your book you contrast two views of the world of work, one of drudgery and futility and one of dignity and fulfillment. How can people make this latter view a reality?

Beckett: I named my book Loving Monday because this title reflects the importance of our having a positive attitude toward work. The prevailing culture says “Thank God it’s Friday,” but that is not the way God intended us to approach our vocations. Those who find dignity and fulfillment in their work see it as a calling, just as important as a direct form of ministry. They are working “unto the Lord,” not to please men.

I do not want to minimize the plight of millions who find their work to be more characterized by drudgery than dignity, but I would challenge them. Have they really made their work a matter of prayer? Have they considered the lessons God is trying to teach? Have they humbly but with determination tried to make improvements? If the job is intolerable and cannot be changed, that person needs to find work alternatives, trusting the Lord for the place of His choosing. Dignity and fulfillment become a reality when we are in the right job, looking to the Lord for His grace in every situation and circumstance.