This is the question, of sorts, I recently posed to a local businessman. As I indicated in my last commentary, I have embarked on an enterprise that I believe offers a modern example of what Jesus meant when he told his disciples to "seek first the kingdom" (Matt. 6:33).
If we read these words in context, Jesus is emphasizing something that transcends reason and material reality. He begins by denouncing anxiety associated with the procurement of life's necessities. Notice he does not denounce the necessities themselves, merely the worry over the means by which we obtain them. Jesus is addressing our limited view of reality in which we believe that we, through our own efforts, are our only hope of survival in this life much less flourishing. Jesus is expanding our view of reality to include a view of life in relationship to the loving, sovereign God – true reality.
There is an implicit formula here that invites us into a new way of living. In contrast to the world's way of thinking and living, Jesus tells us that his way is rooted in the pursuit of life under the rule and reign of God; if we follow his way – the way of the cross – God will provide all that we need. So rather than focusing on and working to accumulate "treasure" on earth as the source of our peace and security, Jesus declares that if we focus on bringing peace, justice, righteousness, and love (the virtues of God's kingdom) into the world, God will provide our necessities. To remain in the old way of living only heightens our anxiety and fear as we inevitably discover the limitations of this world and the flesh.
Our new life in Christ should sever reliance on the temporal things of this world and replace it with dependence upon the Father who controls all things and provides abundantly for his children. This is the proper ordering of life that Christ came to restore. It is this "proper ordering" that we should seek after.
In an effort to restore economic order among the poor, I – along with H.I.S. Bridgebuilders – am working to create businesses in poor communities that offer those with meager employment opportunities the prospect of meaningful work. For some, this will be their first legitimate job, as many have been engaged in either no work or illegal work, such as drug dealing and prostitution. For those of us who haven't been raised in the inner city, it is easy to think that overcoming these disadvantages is simple: "Just apply yourself and your situation will change!" Not true! How can you change your situation if every social structure around you is defective? Fathers are absent, families are broken, education is inadequate, crime is rampant, and the only economic means available are government dependence or criminal activity. In such conditions, there is little to no hope of ever rising beyond your circumstances and the cycle of crime and poverty continues.
Our strategy is bold: create companies that provide value in the marketplace, generate profit, and operate under the "right-side-up" principles of the kingdom. This means that we will structure companies in which power, profits, and people will be treated according to the way God would have his creation function.
All of our companies will be employee-owned. Every employee will share in the ownership of the company so his or her opportunity extends beyond a subsistence wage. A share of the profits will be distributed equitably with those who have labored for the company's success. We aim to avoid a situation where the many work for the benefit of the few; instead all will share in the fruits of success.
In contrast to the conventional power structure that is vertical in nature, our companies will be governed by a more horizontal management structure. Employees will share in the decision-making activity through their participation in a "Partnership Council" made up of employees elected by their peers. This strategy will serve to include employees at the highest levels of decision making in order to educate them in the business process and maximize creativity in problem solving.
Prior to employment, each employee will receive rigorous spiritual discipleship along with essential job- and life-skill training through H.I.S. Bridgebuilders. Following employment, each employee will be assigned a mentor who works to disciple and support him or her as they grow into Christ-likeness. This, we believe, is the whole-life redemption offered in the gospel of the kingdom!
Returning to the businessman I referenced earlier, this is what happened. At present, we possess window screen manufacturing capability but no sales and marketing resources. Our businessman has the sales, marketing, and installation but currently buys from other manufacturers. So I proposed a merger with one significant caveat: "Are you willing to give up the ownership of your company?" By God's grace, he agreed! His company will merge into our employee-owned management structure and the businessman will continue to lead the new enterprise under our governance. Instead of maintaining 100 percent ownership, he will now share ownership with the rest of the employees. His company will generate over $1.2 million in sales this year, bringing immediate jobs to the community. With added capitalization we believe we can achieve significant growth over the next few years, employing many more people. This man has taken seriously the principle of Matthew 6:33, being determined to "lay up treasures in heaven," abandoning his earthly concerns into the hands of God.