Business Faith Leadership

Business is Ministry – The Worship and Love Inherent in Fair Exchange

Business owners can be just as pastoral and missional as paid ministry staff. When you run your business with integrity, your work is an act of worship to God. It is also an act of love to your neighbor (or customer).

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men… – Colossians 3:23 (ESV)

The work we are called to do every day is an important part of our image-bearing nature and stewardship. As human beings, we were created to do things. In this sense we are not only human beings, but we are also human doings. – Tom Nelson

This post comes out of a conversation about two years ago with my dad. As I was struggling to describe my long term goals, I was using terms like

  • business of ministry
  • business and ministry
  • business as ministry

I was even writing them down and using a Venn diagram to try to describe what I was getting at. Finally, dad just said, “Okay, so business IIIS ministry.” Loudly emphasizing and drawing out the word, “is.”

How did I miss that? It had been right in front of me the whole time. I think that I missed it because I was afraid. I often hear things like “selling is stealing.” (Bernie Sanders supporters, anyone?) Even in circles where people would deny that claim, it is common to fear to charge fairly for what you do.

I think that fear is what kept me from seeing what was right in front of me. Once I acknowledged the fear and got past it, I felt more comfortable charging fairly for what I do.

What is Business

In modern English, the word “Business” means many things. It can be a euphemism for bodily functions. (Skylar and I had just loads of fun potty training Keaton, now we’re in the diaper phase again with Sawyer.)

It can refer to what some of us do to bring home a paycheck. It can apply to things we do at home like keeping a calendar or a budget.

In this case, I am using it mainly in the economic sense. What we do to bring home a paycheck.

What is Ministry

Some people think that “ministry” is only done by religious professionals. People like pastors or rabbis. Some people think “ministry” is only done by religious leaders. They add elders or deacons to the list. Others think that “ministry” is only done when it meets basic needs. Like food, shelter, or the spiritual need for a Savior.

Others recognize that all Christians are to be doing some sort of ministry. Everywhere. At all times.

In this case, I am using it in a way that recognizes that spiritual and basic physical needs can be met…

  • by unexpected people
  • in unexpected places
  • at unexpected times
  • in unexpected situations

I think that ministry is preparing to meet people’s needs. Not just spiritual, and not just the basic physical needs. Ministry meets people’s needs in a way that leads to human flourishing, in this life and the next.

Business of Ministry

“Business of ministry,” usually refers to business aspects of running a church or nonprofit. Thinks like accounting, leadership meeting agendas and minutes, filing taxes, etc. In this case “business” is more like what we do at home with our calendars and budgets. It is less like an exchange based economic issue. It’s mundane and routine, a necessary evil.

This term is somewhat helpful. It acknowledges that there are necessary business functions in any ministry. Yet, it is problematic because it creates an artificial separation between business and ministry. It conveys the idea that ministry can never overlap with business.

Business and Ministry

For some absurd reason, we put little economic value on vocational ministry. Pastors, missionaries, church staff, nonprofit executives and nonprofit staff are obscenely underpaid. Because of this, bivocational ministries are increasingly common. “Bivocational” just means having two vocations.

Bivocational ministry is not new. It’s what Paul did (he built tents for people so that he could be a missionary).

There some great things about bivocational ministry:

  • It provides for the financial needs of religious workers
  • To outsiders, it breaks down the sacred/secular divide
  • It keeps ministers connected to culture outside of the “Christian bubble.”

There are also some not so great things:

  • It excuses and perpetuates low pay for ministers, missionaries, and nonprofit workers
  • To some insiders, it highlights or reinforces the sacred/secular divide
  • It’s hard to excel at more than one thing
  • It divides attention

Business as Ministry (or Mission)

Now we’re getting warmer.

Sometimes Missionaries need a cover story to go places they could otherwise go. A business provides an easy cover story that is difficult for governments to turn away. It’s a great way to get the gospel into places where missionaries aren’t allowed.

The problem is this. Business as Ministry perpetuates the sacred/secular divide in closed countries.

Business IS Ministry

To avoid being misunderstood, Ministry IS NOT Business. It doesn’t work the other way around. Evangelism and missions are done to save souls and glorify God, not make a profit. But making a profit does not exclude evangelistic or missional activities. Making a profit does not preclude caring for souls and basic needs.

In business, we have opportunities to serve people that may not attend a church. We set a positive example when we:

  1. Are open about our faith
  2. Run our business with integrity

The internal ministry of a business

Business leaders can care for souls by having meaningful relationships with their teams. Business leaders can care for basic needs by investing in their teams, not just by paying them. To invest in their team, leaders must have meaningful relationships with their team members.

To have meaningful relationships with team members, leaders must:

  • Know their team members on a personal level
  • Know, at least generally, the home or family environments of their team members
  • Know, at least a little, the personal growth struggles of their team members
  • Be willing to support team members’ personal growth
  • Be ready to provide support in ways other than with money
  • Be prepared to provide financial aid at unexpected times

The external ministry of a business

Businesses can care for the souls of their customers by caring for the souls of their teams. Customer interactions may not lead to salvation. But they must not lead away from it. When you care for the souls of your staff, they will have a much easier time doing their work as unto Christ. If they are not Christians, they will still have an easier time keeping a good attitude. Customers will notice the real attitudes of your staff.

Businesses meet the basic needs of their customers by … doing business. It’s easy to see how any business that sells food or shelter meets basic human needs. Whatever you sell helps to solve a problem, or you would not get paid. Solving problems leads to human flourishing.

The fundamental principle of a fair exchange is that both parties place a higher value on what they get than what they give. The apple I just ate from a local farmer’s market was worth more to me than the money that I paid for it. The money was worth more to the apple grower than the apple.

A few weeks ago I heard an interesting spin on the Lord’s Prayer on the radio. It went something like this:

Father in Heaven, may your name be made Holy.

May your Kingdom come, and your will be done in my life, as they are already in Heaven.

Give me today my daily bread. And thank you for the grocery store cashier, water, and electrical utility workers, that work to provide for my daily needs. Help me to see opportunities to provide for the needs of others.

Forgive me as I forgive. And thank you for the pastors, counselors, and mentors that help me work through the process of forgiveness. Give me a hand to see the hurts that I haven’t forgiven.

Lead me not into temptation.

And deliver me from evil – and thank you for the police, EMTs, and firefighters who will come to help if I need them.

Further Reading

Add Your Voice (comment below)

  1. What divide or unity do you see between business and ministry?
  2. How are you keeping a ministry mindset in your job or business?

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Faith Personal Growth

2 Critical Questions to Help Discern the Greatest Good

So, what should I do?

I had been talking to my dad, getting some fatherly advice about whether to accept a job offer. As we often do, we had gone down a rabbit hole about worldview and why we do what we do. For me to say “yes” or “no” to this job offer, I had to be certain that it fit with my “why.”

Synergies per hour is the long term game. There's where you find the greatest good. @DanielTStephens


The whirlwind that led to this conversation was a bit confusing. so here’s a quick timeline:

  1. Sunday, April 5th. My parents and one sister left on a mission trip to Haiti to serve at the orphanage where we adopted my sisters from.
  2. Thursday, April 9th. Even though I hadn’t been looking for work, a boss that I had worked for two years ago called out of the blue and offered my old job back, with some very appealing modifications. I’m thrown into decision confusion.
  3. Monday, April 13th, I told the old boss I wasn’t sure that I could make it work (soft “no”), and they modified the offer.
  4. Thursday, April 16th. I told the old boss that I couldn’t make it work (hard “no”). My parents got back from Haiti.
  5. Friday, April 17th, they modified the job offer a second time.
  6. Saturday, April 18th. I got to lay things out for my dad, and ask him that question.

From the 9th to the 18th, Skylar and I had spent between 20 minutes and an hour each night discussing the pros, cons, and logistics of the decision.

When I finally got to re-hash the discussions that Skylar and I had already had for my dad. He asked me one question: What are the potential synergies? I had to stop and think really hard about that to see where he was going.

What is the long game here?

Aside from whatever mission is being served, all job offers come with the opportunity to put money in your bank account. However, the opportunity cost is that jobs subtract time from your calendar. Most people stop considering a job offer if the dollars added per hour taken aren’t satisfactory.

That is a short term view.

If you really “want to help people” (what a vague cliche!) then the currency to measure your job in isn’t dollars, it is lives impacted. This particular job happens to be in child and family services, so the lives-impacted-per-hour math is really easy.

This is a medium term view.

What are the potential synergies?

When you’re going to add something new to an already full plate, can it create a positive synergy with things that you’re already doing? What about negative synergies?

This goes way beyond asking whether the tasks fit in your schedule, or whether the difference in pay is worth it. Any time that we’re asked to add something to our schedule, and  we’re faced with a good vs. great dilemma, it is about people and causes. To use this question to discern the greatest good, follow these steps:

  1. Consider the people and causes that you’re already committed to
  2. Consider the people and causes that you’re making a decision about
  3. Ask:
    • Are these causes aligned?
    • Are there people or skill gaps in either cause?
    • Are the people on either side interested in working together?
    • What greater cause might be served by facilitating synergy?

Back to “what is the long game here?”

Dollars per hour is the short term game. Lives per hour is the mid term game. Synergies per hour is the long term game. There’s where you find the greatest good.

I took the job. We’ll see what happens.

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Personal Growth

What I know about myself and Why I’m doing this

“Could it possibly be any more about you?”

I had to stop and give it some thought before I answered.

There are always critics and always people who will balk when you tell them you’re going to try something new. The trick is knowing which critics to listen to and which critics to ignore.

Critics you should listen to have your best interests in mind, and their interests are aligned with yours. You do well when they do well, and visa versa.

Critics you should ignore have no shared interests with you, and don’t have your best interests in mind.

Dirty Hands 16-9


Not long after I bought this domain (Daniel T Stephens dot com) and set up the email to go with it, my wife overheard me give my new email address to somebody. Her immediate response was to ask that question, “could it possibly be any more about you?”

That gave me pause. Skylar is a critic that I need to listen to, because what is good for one of us is usually good for both of us. Our interests are aligned, and she has my best interests at heart.

Was I being narcissistic? Was I being arrogant?

Pride goes before the fall, so we need to be careful not to be prideful when we start something new (Proverbs 16:18).

Setting up a blog or website under your own name is prideful, isn’t it? No, it isn’t. Not if you’re doing it for the right reasons. So here are my reasons for setting up this site under my own name instead of some other name or title.

Facing Poser Syndrome

Sometimes I feel like a poser, a fraud, a fake. Usually when that happens it is because I am helping someone in a process where I am only one or two steps ahead of them in my personal or professional life. Other times it happens when I am one or two steps behind the person I’m helping.

When I was in the Marine Corps, we practically worshiped guys like Dan Daily, Smedley Butler, Bradley Kasal. They were war heroes. They were the guys who had gone and done it. They were the ones we wanted to be like. The distance between them and us seemed massive. I was just some reservist poser, right?

No. The title of Bradley Kasal’s biography is “My Men are My Heroes.” I haven’t read it, but what that title says to me is that Sergeant Major Kasal is incredibly humble. When new Marine recruits and SGTMAJ Kasal look at the “heroic gap” between them, the recruits see an impassable chasm, but he sees a small valley.

If I am here publicly processing, or just being vulnerable, transparent, and authentic about what I am learning right now, then I don’t have to worry about poser syndrome. This way, I don’t feel like a fake, and you don’t get a fake.

To borrow SGTMAJ Kasal’s biography title, “my clients are my heroes.” Additionally, I am sure that SGTMAJ Kasal deeply appreciated the junior marines that carried him out of that house in Fallujah.

Building Relationships Instead of a Resume

Getting a job or securing customers in today’s economy is not about having a great resume. Resumes can be faked, relationships can’t be. Granted, blogs and most of social media are primarily one-way relationships and relationship surrogates. Even so, if you leverage them in the right way, you can get face to face relationships out of them.

Here are a couple of book titles from my wish list about this very topic:

When you leverage modern technology to grow your network (start new relationships), and facilitate follow up (maintain old relationships), you will have a higher level of financial security and freedom. You’ll receive job offers instead of sending resumes.

It’s not about money for money’s sake, the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Timothy 6:10). We all have bills to pay, mouths to feed, and unique ways to help others with our resources.

It’s also not about using people for positioning. It’s a tool to build relationships, and being honest about what some relationships might bring.

Shortening Others’ Learning Curve

If I can share my thoughts and the lessons that I am learning right now, and help other people to learn what I know faster than I learned it, then this project has been successful. That goal isn’t selfish, it’s generous. It’s not about my successes or failures, but your success and chances to avoid my failures.

Tying Everything Together

What do I want to do when I grow up? My answer is different every day. I could be a pastor, a counselor, a coach, a consultant, a web designer, content marketer, project manager, or nonprofit program developer and make a great living at any one of those things.

But something deep down tells me that I am not being a faithful steward of that eclectic skill set if I don’t find a way to tie them together, or find the vocation and service that is at the intersection of each those practices.

This website is not about me. Its about you, and how I can help you feel better, function better, and live with intentionality and intensity, so that you can make a deeper impact on more lives. Or how I can help your company or nonprofit to simplify, streamline, and scale your products or services to make a deeper impact on more lives. I hope this blog is your impact multiplier.

Add Your Voice (comment below)

  1. What are your reasons for starting something new?
  2. Who are you helping?

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