Years ago John taught the book of Luke in a high school classroom. This launched his journey of faith into what he terms “voluntary poverty,” or non-accumulation of wealth. In this episode he shares some practical parts of this journey and comments on when the rubber meets the road in his later years.
It is good to work and to be invested in our work. Distributism fits well with traditional Anabaptist values, even though it has largely been articulated by Catholic thinkers. Stephen Russell urges us to “look at distributism and see how it fits with what we have traditionally tried to do, and learn from it”. These themes include valuing craftsmanship, family businesses, and widespread ownership of the tools and infrastructure needed for business.
The Hound of Distributism edited by Richard Altman:
What’s Wrong with the World by G.K. Chesterton:
Economic Policy Institute, “CEOs were paid 351 times as much as a typical worker in 2020.”
Guild of St. Joseph and St. Dominique: “Men rich in virtue studying beautifulness living in peace in their houses.”
“Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them; nay, they learn to love the very soil that yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of good things for themselves and those that are dear to them. That such a spirit of willing labor would add to the produce of the earth and to the wealth of the community is self evident.”
“Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them.
Watch Stephen’s testimony about exiting political engagement on YouTube.
Is the kingdom message socialism? What does the New Testament say about interest and lending? What about interest on business loans? And what really is laying up treasures in heaven? John calls us back to the willingness to give and share as the foundational issue for all of these questions.
Money has rarely been far removed from the biblical narratives or major conversations of the church since the New Testament. Between the close of the New Testament and the protestant reformation, the church had much to say about usury. Stephen Russell, a student of history, orients us to the church’s premodern stance on usury.
Recommended resource: https://www.crisismagazine.com/2011/catholics-and-usury-a-tragic-history
Kevin Brechbill urges business owners to pay employees well think carefully about where to give money, and to build accountability and transparency around their role as business owners.
Money, Possessions, Eternity by Randy Alcorn: https://amzn.to/3ujopoy
- Marlin Sommers
Part Two of Business as Stewardship
A business person should steward his business abilities and roles. Stewardship is not limited to managing profits that may be gained through business. In Part 1 of this blog, I sketched an overall vision for acting as a servant-manager in business. This second part reflects in a bit more detail on some aspects of the stewardly role of business. I reflect on job creation, on business investment in general, and conclude with a few words about the steward mindset in business.
Job Creators as Servant-Managers
Some entrepreneurial types are tempted to think that everyone could or should be an entrepreneur. According to this line of thinking no one should need to depend on someone else creating a job for them, because opportunities for profit abound. Anybody prepared to put in the effort should be able to start their own business. But this line of thought, if taken to its natural extent, obscures the fact that job creation is a needed service in society. There are a variety of reasons why it is often good for one person to create a job and another person to work that job. Thus, the entrepreneur stewards his job creating ability for the sake of people who work for him.
- Marlin Sommers
Factories, Gardens, Giving, Guns: A COVID-19 economy and Stewardship.
Jobs have been lost, hours have been cut, and businesses have closed. So far, the economic impact of COVID-19 is enormous. The scale and duration of the slowdown remain to be seen. It hangs not only on the course of the virus, but on the course our various governments take to fight the virus.
Like any economic difficulty, a COVID-19 economy highlights the need to steward our resources, whether those resources be meager or vast. Hard times can actually clarify our understanding of basic Christian economics. Let’s consider four themes:
- Prepare to Share
- As Public Health Allow, Maintain Fundamental Productivity and Invest for Good
- Lend Righteously
- The One who Takes the Sword Will Perish by the Sword
1. Prepare to Share
“Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have,” we are instructed; “for such sacrifices are pleasing to God” (Hebrews 13:16). Sharing resources with others should be the most obvious stewardship response. It is both a constant biblical theme and an obvious response to seeing people forced to leave their jobs and stay home.
Social distancing requires unemployment to be effective. After all, the goal is to minimize physical proximity and not all jobs can be done remotely. Governments attempt the tricky task of dividing work into essential and non-essential categories so they can keep some people home while others maintain food production and other essentials. Thus some people work feverishly while others can’t work their job.
- Marlin Sommers
This is not an essay about how to handle profits that may be gained through business. Of course, if you do own a business that generates large profits, that does result in responsibilities to use that money well, but that is not the subject under discussion. Rather, the question is what does it mean to be a steward of business giftings and abilities, and of business roles and opportunities?
In my January essay on this blog, I examined the New Testament concept of being a steward (household manager, servant-manager) in more detail. This month’s post has two parts. In this first part, I will recap some of that biblical discussion, focusing on business applications, and encouraging business people to recognize themselves as servant-managers of both a set of giftings and abilities and of certain roles and opportunities. In part two I will reflect a bit more specifically on stewardship in relation to job creation and business investment, as well as on the general mindset of the business steward.
The Greek term oikonomos refers most directly to a slave who played a managerial role within his master’s household. The New Testament makes frequent reference to the oikonomos (steward, household-manager, servant-manager) to show Christians how to live. The parable of the faithful and wise manager in Luke 12:42-45 shows the structure of stewardship. As a steward one has:
- Someone they are responsible to (human master, God)
- Something they are a steward of (wealth, abilities, leadership positions, etc.)
- Those they are responsible for (fellow servants, fellow believers, etc.)
One strand of being a servant-manager is using the skill, abilities, and possessions God has given us to benefit others, as indicated in 1 Peter 4:10-11.
- Marlin Sommers
Fourteen-year-old Bob has the rather grandiose title, “Steward of the Woodpile”. While Dad is gone, Bob is in charge of the woodpile. Bob is thrilled. He promptly messages his friends and says, “Hey nobody’s home tonight, come over and we will have the biggest bonfire you ever saw.” The next morning the firewood has been consumed. The temperature is well below freezing. Bob’s mom and siblings are miserable, and Mom is left with some dangerous makeshift heating methods till Dad returns a week later.
A few miles away, sixteen-year-old Bill has a similar responsibility. Reckless consumption of firewood is not his style. Rather, he only lets Mom put one piece on the fire every three hours. The house stays quite cold, especially for the toddler, but the wood pile is staying full. When the neighbors ask to borrow or buy wood since their gas furnace is out of commission, Bill lends them wood only on the condition that they will return twice the amount within a month. As a result, when Bill’s dad returns, the wood pile is a little larger than it was when he left.
Which boy was a good steward? The correct answer is neither. Everyone can agree that Bob’s behavior epitomizes bad stewardship. But unfortunately, we sometimes think that good stewardship means acting like Bill. In the words of one of my friends, many see stewardship as “merely saving and frugality.” A deficient notion of stewardship is sometimes used to defend miserliness, the pursuit of personal wealth, and questionable practices of the financially shrewd. These misunderstandings exist because we have often missed the point that stewards are responsible to act for the benefit of others.