In this final post, I’ll get into the implications of living in the spotlight, dealing with compromise and aiming to leave a kingdom impact. Let’s jump in.
Living in the Spotlight
When you’re watching football or basketball it’s common to fix your eyes on whoever has the ball. They are in the spotlight. When you tell anyone that you love and follow Jesus, you place a kind of spotlight on you. People already carry around a stereotype of what you should be like based on experiences they had with other “Christians”. They might have just relied on the negative narrative in the media or social circles. In some cases, people are just looking for evidence that their label of a “Christian” has been validated with yet another data point. Don’t we do this for stereotypes we have about others as well? That’s a separate topic.
This reality gives me pause. I don’t litter my car with Christian bumper stickers, because, I’ll admit: I haven’t fully brought my driving under the lordship of Jesus Christ. More bluntly, I don’t want to tarnish the name of the Lord in my weaker moments of bad or “assertive” driving. (I justify myself because I used to be an “assertive” city bus driver while in college).
In the workplace, especially as a leader, I’m very aware of my ability to tarnish the name and reputation of Christ. Making decisions, building the product, working with customers, and caring about life outside of work are all opportunities to show people who Christ is and what His Kingdom is about. Ask yourself this question: How am I helping or hindering people experience the goodness of God in the workplace? As my pastor challenges me with often, “What do you see left ‘in your wake’? How do people experience you as a leader and what do they think about you after working with you?” Is it a good taste? Or not?
Since you and I are not Jesus we will often fail the “what’s left in your wake” test. But isn’t that part of the good news as well? As difficult as it is to admit and face failure, it presents the chance for us to point to the Gospel of grace. We can highlight how God made a way for failure-prone children to still enjoy relationship with Him – through repentance and faith in Jesus. Our identity is not in our performance, but in Jesus’ perfect performance on our behalf. That is good, refreshing news to a stressed-out worker who is constantly evaluated by their performance.
Compromise, Shortcuts & Regrets
Gray areas. How do faithful founders handle them? I’m regretful that I didn’t do as good of job submitting these quandaries to the Lord as they arose. Why do we like to cut corners to get our way? Is it laziness, … greed, … frustration? Why do we justify and explain away our decisions so easily without going to God with the quandary – believing that He is a rewarder of those who seek him? I regret not pausing and holding these things before the Lord in prayer more diligently.
While we made some good decisions to not hire certain candidates, we had an experience that I wish I could go back and redo. We hired a generalist to fill the shoes of two specific roles we needed to fill. Being in a high-performance role we defined what levels of success were, but we failed to clearly define what failure was. We needed to test the skills earlier on to help the person focus on their deliverables, but I got them distracted. When I looked up, I realized how little progress was made on the bigger goals and I didn’t have enough time to help the employee improve. That resulted in a rather abrupt performance improvement plan and the employee was unable to hit the milestones we need to hit.
Good leaders help their employees succeed and provide the arena for them to improve. Given how cash-strapped we were, I didn’t have the time and space for improvement, making the departure a difficult and tear-filled last day. I admitted my shortcomings, but I also had to make a business decision as well. That was the most painful day I experienced as a manager. Faithful founders need to own up when they screw-up.
While the firing decision couldn’t be reversed, we did decide to offer a reasonable departure package (for a startup to give) to help the employee through the transition. Caring for people beyond your obligation is another way to live as a faithful founder – although I fear all the times I only did the minimum required.
Lasting Kingdom Impact
I’ll write more on this topic later, but faithful founders keep their eyes fixed on the goals of God’s Kingdom. Not the goal of starting or running a sustaining or successful business, but that of making a mark for the King and His Kingdom in a world that is dying without hope and needs Him badly. They need to experience the grace, the patience, the justice, the sacrificial love and strength that comes when you’re following the King of all kings. But where does this impact happen, and how?
Kingdom impact can happen on a personal level, a community level, or even an industry level. For those of you working in a busy high-tech city like Seattle, or San Francisco, or New York, you likely have the challenge of slowing life down so people can feel and face the emotions of life. You might need to show entrepreneurs the freedom from their “slavery to succeed”. You might want to show off a workplace that highlights showing grace to each other and working as a team, instead of inflating individual status or ego. You might aim to be a purpose-built business that focuses its efforts on an underserved or overlooked population in your community.
For those of you reading this who intentionally built your companies in locations that are less developed, you have the chance to bring economic prosperity, vitality, innovation, and service to this community, city or nation. When you show-up, create wealth, jobs and care for people in ways that most other outsiders wouldn’t care about, locals take notice. When your light shines brightly before men, for the good of the people you are employing, the customers you’re serving and the community you’re building up, people will being to praise your Father heaven (Matthew 5:16). That is what Kingdom impact is all about. There is a transformational impact and a spiritual impact happening at the same time.
But how we accomplish this if we’re not ready to give a reason for the hope that we have?
“Anyone who acknowledges me before men, I will acknowledge before my Father in heaven, but anyone who does not acknowledge me before men I will not acknowledge him before my father in heaven.” Matthew 10:32-33
How do you feel about those words of Jesus? Are you acknowledging Christ in your business, for His grace in giving you the skills or opportunities you have, the favor you’ve received in the marketplace from new customers or partners, from governments or economic authorities?
If we don’t acknowledge God’s grace in developing a product, meeting deadlines, delighting and serving customers and generating revenue, who are we bringing glory to? Just to ourselves, or only to our team, or even to luck?
Good leaders should praise the accomplishments of their team and draw attention to the ones who help you realize your dream. But who gave you that team? And how did all of the pieces come together at the right time to make it happen? You might not have the liberty to speak openly about the Lord on public stages, but some of you do. Others can look for ways to share what God has done in the smaller venues or in conversation.
When is the last time you sat back and observed the evidence of God’s grace active in your business? When was the last time you internalized and meditated on that? When we realize how God is at work, we will more naturally point to this reality along the way.
At the celebration dinner post-acquisition, we made it a point to thank a bunch of people who helped us achieve a success. We honored the team and family members who were there as well. But we spent the last several minutes thanking Jesus for how God’s Spirit had united us together as founders, gave us success the way He did and showed Himself faithful to us in the process.
There have been times when I excelled in these areas and other times when I face-planted. Amidst it all, I encourage you to honestly evaluate how well you’ve acknowledged the Lord before people. Ask him to highlight areas of compromise in your life; go ahead – I dare you.
What areas have you not fully surrendered to Him? List them out and confess them to God. Deal with your Creator, who faithfully founded you long before your heart ever started beating. The answers He gives will be sobering, but eternally rewarding.
Once you do, you will find the same joy that the Apostle Paul found, when he worked the marketplaces building tents but also drew people to God.
Perhaps one day, you’ll look back on all those hours you spent “working your job.” After the money has been forgotten, titles have disappeared, and customers remembered no more, you will see all the souls of people who were affected by your living. Some might have even come to faith in Jesus because you decided to live as a faithful founder. We can see some of the fruit of our labor in the short term, but ultimately, what will God say when you meet Him at the end of your life? We all hope to hear what the Master told his faithful servant:
“Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21)