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Worldview at Work: Running Companies More Truly

Chuck Colson was always pushing people to not only know their Bibles — which is critical — but to know how what was in them applied on the ground, in the real world. If you knew Chuck, he could push pretty hard! He believed that people with impeccable theology and a wholesome morality may still be no match for a godless culture that played by the rules of a secular worldview. Christians need a Christian worldview.

Lots of erudite tomes have been written on the subject of worldview, so it’s easy to forget the real-world implications of Christianity that go beyond the hot-button issues of abortion, infanticide, and marriage, as important as those are. After all, as we often say around here, Jesus Christ is Lord of every square inch.

Take business, for example. How does a Christian worldview — what we think about God, people, and the meaning of life — affect the kinds of goods and services we sell, how we market them, how we think of and treat customers, and how we compensate employees?

Because all truth is God’s truth, Christians can learn from others in the marketplace who have stumbled upon it, whether Christian or not. For example, a small but significant group of retailers is bucking the common practice of seeing employees as “a cost to be minimized,” and therefore paying them as little as possible. Zeynop Ton of the MIT school of management recently noted QuikTrip, a convenience store-gas station chain that pays its starting cashiers $40,000, almost double the national average. Why do this? “They start,” Ton notes, “with the mentality of seeing employees as assets to be maximized.”

Hmmm — sounds like a worldview shift to me! Whether we view people as burdens or blessings, consumers or creators, slaves or potential saints — this plays out in significant ways. Genesis, of course, tells us that God put people in the Garden and on this earth to rule it in His stead. While sin frustrates that picture in so many ways, every human, both male and female, has been created in His image and brings value to the world. That starting point is robust enough to survive and flourish anywhere, even behind a cash register.

And this view of human value is something our struggling society desperately needs. The fact is, we can learn something from the QuikTrips of the world. This chain has higher worker costs, of course, but also higher rates of employee satisfaction, efficiency, and productivity. Entry-level workers are trained for two full weeks before they see their first customers. They learn not only how to work the register but how to order stock and even clean bathrooms. Those who succeed have a reasonable expectation of promotion. The result is people feel as if they’re making a contribution, have a stake in the overall business, and will be rewarded for keeping shelves stocked and customers satisfied. In other words, they’re not just a means to an end. While many low-cost retailers have had to lay off staff during this brutal economy, QuikTrip has been hiring, and expanding.

And they aren’t the only retail employer doing well by treating its people as assets rather than liabilities. Trader Joe’s and Costco, for example, also pay workers above-market wages, and are thriving. Another well-known enterprise, Toyota, gives all its employees the opportunity for input on improving its vehicles.

Of course, this approach has both literal and figurative costs. Quarterly earnings can sometimes be affected negatively, so patience is needed from corporate leaders and stockholders. Trader Joe’s keeps costs down by offering a smaller number of products. But the approach works, proving that businesses can do good and make money.

It sounds like a lot of work to align our jobs with a Christian worldview, but a worldview that makes no difference from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday, isn’t much of a worldview at all, and isn’t very compelling. To paraphrase Dorothy Sayers, who would want a worldview that only works one day a week?

John Stonestreet, the host of The Point, a daily national radio program, provides thought-provoking commentaries on current events and life issues from a biblical worldview. John holds degrees from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (IL) and Bryan College (TN), and is the co-author of Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: May 2, 2013

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