What is the purpose of business?
From a blog by Hugh Whelchel, Executive Director of the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics
In 1970, Milton Friedman emphatically stated that the purpose of business is to maximize shareholder value. This position was picked up by business leaders and the media and has been so often repeated that it has become an established corporate mantra, driving the behaviour of many of today’s businesses.
Yet, we as Christians need to reject this self-centered purpose for businesses because God designed businesses for a higher purpose. Tim Weinhold writes:
"God’s purpose for business (and everything else) is that it foster human flourishing— that it make people’s lives better. In practice, business does so when it fulfills ‘Love your neighbour’ by creating real value for customers, employees, and others. Taken together, these are the essentials of ‘business for blessing’—God’s grand intent for the purpose and practice of business."
We see clearly in the opening chapters of Genesis (1:28, 2:15) that work, and by extension business, was intended to bring flourishing to God’s creation. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah writes to the exiles in Babylon, relaying God’s message to them, "…work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare." (Jer. 29:7).
Here we find one of the sustainable principles for all business: take care of your clients and they will take care of you. This principle always works. Why? Because it is a principle that God wove into the very fabric of his creation. It is like gravity, it works whether we believe it or not.
Again, Tim Weinhold’s observations are very helpful in sorting this out:
"Business loves its neighbours by creating value for them. When business does so, when it creates substantial value for customers (and others) by serving them well, it reaps blessing. Both people and business flourish. Of course, business can do the opposite, it can serve itself at the expense of customers (and other neighbours). In which case, rather than creating value, business extracts value. Scripture refers to this dynamic—to taking value from those to whom it belongs—as ‘stealing’ and ‘plunder’ and says it brings death to all involved (see Proverbs 1:10-19)."
Hugh Whelchel then goes on to give an example of a business that has not sold out to Friedman’s misguided directive. See his blog here.
How can you as a 'marketplace minister' help apply these principles to the organisation you are involved in?
How can you support businesses that seek to help people flourish?
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