God’s Bottom Line
Mentoring with the Spiritual Challenges in Business
(A fictional adventure)
By Tim Bock & Jon Trott
Tim waited at the same table. “Ha,” Jacob mused as he closed the door behind himself, glancing at the clock above a busy Zatha’s head. “He’s making up for being late last week.”
Jacob barely had gotten himself seated, when Tim spoke. “Can we pray?” Tim didn’t wait for an answer, and Jacob bowed his head. “Lord, I pray you’d help us as we vision together what our businesses can mean for you. And help me listen better than I did last week. Amen.”
Startled by the last bit of Tim’s prayer, Jacob looked up at the other’s face. “I didn’t notice you not listening.” His words floated off, unanswered, then he noticed their waitress.
Zatha stood at the table, pretending not to have noticed their prayer. “Coffee for both of you?” Tim again ordered his Ethiopian Blueberry, Jacob following suit. “And cream…” She nodded.
“Hot out there today,” Jacob said, sipping his coffee. Great. He was already talking about the weather! But Tim smiled, sipping his own cup before replying.
“Jacob, I felt I didn’t let you speak last week. Sure, your pastor filled me in some. He said you’d expressed interest in my being a sort of mentor for you regarding business. But before I can be of any use to you, I think we need to get to know each other better.”
Jacob paused only a second. “You know, Tim, I’d rather you tell me your story first.” Tim almost seemed ready to disagree, then looked at Jacob’s intense gaze and dropped the idea.
“All right. I guess part of listening is to respond to your cue when I talk!” Tim laughed at that, and Jacob smiled.
“Well, I mentioned last week about the intentional community I’m part of. I joined them when they were only five or six years old. Today we’ve been around just over forty years. There may be a lot of reasons we’ve lasted this long, but lets just say one of the ways we’ve made it from a financial point of view, is that we found ways to support ourselves.
In fact, we have had many businesses in our history.”
Jacob nodded. “Right, and you’d like me to contribute to what you’re doing. So what do you – “
“No, no.” Tim waved his hand. “I mean, if I’m going to pitch you that way, I’ll let you know. I’m trying to tell you how I got involved in doing what I call ‘mission business,’ or even ‘kingdom business.’” He stroked his chin, “See, no one noticed us. We simply didn’t have rich friends, or even moderately well to do friends. The Jesus People were, especially when we began, society’s cast-offs. So what we learned to do was to do… for ourselves.”
Jacob leaned forward, interested. “You started your own businesses? So you must have had some talent on board.”
Tim shook his head negatively. “We only had chutzpah… and our hands and backs. So some of the first businesses we ran were a painting company and a moving company. For furniture we’d rent a truck, or even use one of our old fleet of vans. We learned as we went along, how to do things, and when we made mistakes we made sure to eat the loss ourselves. That way, our customers spread the good word even when we didn’t quite measure up. We had a typesetting business, too, with those ancient Linotype machines. A custom cabinet-building business, though that was later…. I think I figured out once that we’ve had thirty plus businesses over our first thirty years.”
Jacob interrupted. “But how did you get involved in it all?”
“I was a young college kid with lots of zeal for God. I grew my hair long like a lot of the guys back then and how I wish I had some now. I had a real appreciation for what these folks were doing. They were involved in missions in the city meeting the needs of the neighborhood where they lived. It was a super hands-on approach to being a Christian. But there was also this internally aware thing – the spiritual bond, really – between the members. How many places do you know of where you could stop work, walk up to another guy on the crew, and ask for prayer? You might be getting tempted sexually, or maybe just be upset with your crew leader. But whatever, that sort of thing was and is normal for us.”
Jacob silently groaned to think of asking one of his employees for prayer. He resisted his impulse to hurry Tim along.
“Anyway, not long after I joined Jesus People USA – what folks call Jah-pooz-a nowadays for the acronym JPUSA – I started a roofing company. We again learned how to do all the different types of roofing. The art of tearing off a roof in 95 degree weather… we learned that one, and it is a rough lesson! You know if you are up on one of these apartment buildings in Chicago, the old roofs are often half a foot thick or more? You have to tear off the whole thing, all the way down to the wood deck. A big circular saw cuts up the old roof into sections, and then your guys have to peel it up one square at a time. Did I mention the fine pitch dust the saw makes, and how your sweat helps it get right into your skin and burn like the dickens? Anyway, get it all torn off, and then you start the actual roofing work all before it rains. Add ten or twenty degrees to whatever the thermometer says, and that’s what you’ll experience the whole time you’re up there.”
Tim paused, drinking again from his orange-green coffee cup, waiting for any questions. None came. “So, one day we’re up there doing this. And I begin thinking. There are a lot of small roofing crews in Chicago. We know them; they know us. But for roofing material, there are just one or two companies, and they treat the small guys like dirt. I know what roofing materials are needed. I know about the dibble bars, the nails, the spades for shingles, and other roofing tools. I know about the saw blades, the masks, the – I know my stuff! I’m excited.”
“But for what purpose?” Jacob asked. “I mean, you’re excited about making a bigger business, to make more money so that – what – your group can live better? I mean, what’s the bigger-better for, exactly?”
Tim paused, nodding. “I want to get to that. But why don’t I finish the rest of the startup story… if that’s okay?” Jacob nodded.
“I go home, think some more, and ask if I can speak to the JPUSA board. That’s a group of seven men and women directing JPUSA’s larger vision and decisions. I explain to them this idea of starting a supply business due to our recent purchase of a large building we bought for the Roofing company to hold all their tools and equipment. This building had a drive through area and could be used for a supply company also. They listened and then said ‘go for it.’ “
“But none of you know what this will cost yet, right?” Jacob envisioned spaced-out hippies nodding while muttering “cool” under their breaths to whatever cockamamie schemes Tim churned out.
“No, none of us really knew, but they gave me the go ahead to find out what vendors would sell us and how many roofers are actually in the Neighborhood of this building.. And when I came back with my ideas fleshed out some, we started. Small. And then as we were able to let the smaller roofer know that we knew our stuff and that we would supply them with quality products quickly, this helped us grow. And today, we’re one of the largest inner city roofing supply companies closest to down town Chicago. I have a couple of warehouse locations now and 13 trucks and the whole nine yards. That’s the short version, anyway.”
“Sounds impressive,” Jacob acknowledged. “But back to my question.”
Zatha reappeared, and refilled their cups. “Could I get one of those muffins you were working on when I came in?” She smiled slightly at Jacob, “They’re cranberry. I have –“No, cranberry is great.”
She went away, came back with the muffin, and went away again.
“Okay, you want to know why I was so excited about expanding our businesses. We live with a ‘common purse’– that is, with all the businesses we run, we transfer their monies into one pot and we all have all our needs taken care of through this means. Like everything, it is complicated, and there are many details that I wasn’t planning of going into them all. But what we found out was that even living like that, with low individual overhead compared to someone having to maintain their own house and car and bank account, the outreaches we felt necessary to do always stretched us to the utmost. We were always taking in more folks who were in need or felt the call to serve with us and some of them could not participate in the businesses and then were a real cost to us.”
“For instance, during the 70s and 80s homelessness became a huge problem. Our homeless neighbors came to us just one or two at a time, and would eat dinner with us. Then there were so many that we had to create a whole meal for them – we called them our “dinner guests.” That escalated to over 300 people per night. We needed staff to man the desk and care for them.”
“And just when that seemed hard enough to fund, it turned out a number of our poor neighbors were being priced out of their buildings by developers who were turning the buildings into high-end apartments and even condos. Now our neighbors had nowhere to go. And on top of that, we started seeing more and more women with children homeless. What could we do? We made beds for them on our dining room floor at night, got them up when our workers came down for breakfast.
“And that wasn’t the end. Their numbers grew and grew. We’re now running one of the largest shelters on the entire north side of Chicago. Our denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, has helped us in many ways, as have other large churches in the suburbs such as Willow Creek.”
Jacob’s pastor had mentioned homelessness in connection with Tim’s ministry, but the details were sketchy. Tim’s brief outline moved Jacob deeply. “So you’re saying your business’ profits help support those outreaches. That’s amazing. But…” and here, Jacob groped for words. “I’m not living in an intentional community. I don’t have staff working for peanuts because they feel called to live and work as you all do. I’m not sure you can help me, and I don’t mean that rudely. I’m a bit miffed… this is awkward, but I’m wondering if that very unique business model has anything for me in it.” Jacob grimaced in embarrassment.
Tim laughed. “Oh, I seriously doubt that what we do is something that’s going to catch on. Out of all the Jesus communes of that era, I’m afraid we’re just about the last one of any size still around. So yes, you are right, you don’t want and probably couldn’t have a business set up as ours exactly, but I do believe the principles can apply”
Jacob sighed. “But that sense of purpose you must have every morning, I do want that. I’m not sure I’d move into an intentional community to get it” – and here he laughed painfully – “but I do envy you.”
Tim sipped his coffee. Jacob broke his cranberry muffin in two, handing a part to Jacob. “I should be dieting anyway.” The two men sat in silence for a moment, sipping and nibbling.
“Jacob, I think that a sense of mission for your business is the important thing. No, I mean it. Remember what I said last week, and maybe it sounded too direct. But I asked you: What it is you want, and how far are you willing to go to get it? That still seems to me to be the central question.
“We business folk are driven, more often than not, by the need to get things done, to succeed. And by “succeed” we usually use a measure of success that exists in our own minds. Sure, it has to do with profit, the bottom line. But how much of it – and I ask myself these questions almost daily, Jacob – has to do with ego? After all, even our roofing company and supply company, they were my idea. I feel like I owned them. But that is only wrong if I allow my ego and pride to run the business instead of surrendering the business passion to Christ.
“I need to continually surrender my business to God. I know that sounds like an empty platitude, I know. After all, invoking God is convenient. He can’t be directly seen or heard. So if I say ‘God told me to do x or y with my business,’ who can challenge me? I just played the ace card, Authority-wise. So I get my will and God’s will mixed together, and if I’m not careful I’m calling my own will God. You get that?”
Jacob nodded. This he understood, if somewhat dimly. And its implications made him uncomfortable.
“God’s will has got to predominate my will. If I’m not really truly surrendered to God myself, how can God do much with my business? My business is a reflection of my own spiritual condition. Or at least it tends to reflect that condition. It’s a lot like a marriage…” Suddenly, Tim stopped, obviously realizing too late where he’d taken the conversation.
“Its okay, Tim. Business IS a lot like marriage. Mine took my marriage. And maybe that’s why I don’t feel all that in love with my business any more. Let’s not get into that topic for now, though. Go ahead.”
Tim nodded, his face reflecting a compassion which Jacob noticed.
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