Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen
This text provokes one question within me that I’d love to ask Jesus:
Please, pray tell, what on earth did you mean?
Commending the dishonest steward for being even more dishonest and self serving is not the stuff of good old Gospel preaching. I’ve always struggled with this text, and am again today.
Having said that, what stands out for me in this reading is the verse:
“And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
The dictionary defines shrewdness as follows:
“Having or showing sharp powers of judgment, astute.”
It seems to me that Jesus is telling us that we have much to learn from others. We simply do not have a monopoly on wisdom when it comes to carrying out our mission. One of the things I am becoming more and more convinced of as time goes on is that we could learn a lot from the business world. “This is no way to run a business” is a statement many a business person has thought when they’ve dealt with the Church. And many a pastor would respond to that statement by declaring that this is a Church, not a business.
But Jesus says: “the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.”
Could Jesus be telling us that there are “best practices” in the business world that we could learn from, and should learn from, if we are to be more effective in carrying out our mission?
What can we learn from business?
What are the principles that guide businesses, and how might those same principles help us in our mission?
I did a Google search on business principles and one of the first items that came up was from Goldman Sachs, the global investment banking firm. In recent years investment bankers have epitomized what many would consider “dishonest wealth”, but before we dismiss them, let’s look at their business principles and ask ourselves if there is anything we could learn from them.
Goldman sach’s Business principles:
OUR CLIENTS’ INTERESTS ALWAYS COME FIRST.
Our experience shows that if we serve our clients well, our own success will follow.
For the church the big question is who is the client whose interests always come first. Here there is a blunt fact to consider: The most important persons in a dying congregation are the long time members, the core group. Every decision must meet their interests, and requires their approval.
In growing congregations, the most important people are the ones we have yet to reach. I attended a mega Church once and was struck by their philosophy. Everything they did Sunday morning was done with the first time visitor in mind. Period.
OUR ASSETS ARE OUR PEOPLE, CAPITAL AND REPUTATION.
If any of these is ever diminished, the last is the most difficult to restore. We are dedicated to complying fully with the letter and spirit of the laws, rules and ethical principles that govern us. Our continued success depends upon unswerving adherence to this standard.
What Goldman Sachs is saying here is that at their core, as bankers, they are to be faithful stewards of all that is entrusted to them.
OUR GOAL IS TO PROVIDE SUPERIOR RETURNS TO OUR SHAREHOLDERS.
Profitability is critical to achieving superior returns, building our capital, and attracting and keeping our best people. Significant employee stock ownership aligns the interests of our employees and our shareholders.
A business’s success is in delivering results. Are we achieving the results we set out to achieve, which for a business is profitability. As a church we have a mission and purpose. Are we willing to be held accountable to that mission?
WE TAKE GREAT PRIDE IN THE PROFESSIONAL QUALITY OF OUR WORK.
We have an uncompromising determination to achieve excellence in everything we undertake. Though we may be involved in a wide variety and heavy volume of activity, we would, if it came to a choice, rather be best than biggest.
An uncompromising determination to achieve excellence. Does God deserve anything less than our best? Too often we settle for mediocrity, because, for example, we think “their heart is in the right place”. Besides, to be uncompromising in our determination just doesn’t seem to fit with our nature as a Church.
WE STRESS CREATIVITY AND IMAGINATION IN EVERYTHING WE DO.
While recognizing that the old way may still be the best way, we constantly strive to find a better solution to a client’s problems. We pride ourselves on having pioneered many of the practices and techniques that have become standard in the industry.
The Church is typically not at the cutting edge of innovation. We have a tendency to believe that if it worked a generation ago, it will work today. But the world is changing, and changing times require new approaches.
WE MAKE AN UNUSUAL EFFORT TO IDENTIFY AND RECRUIT THE VERY BEST PERSON FOR EVERY JOB.
Although our activities are measured in billions of dollars, we select our people one by one. In a service business, we know that without the best people, we cannot be the best firm.
As a Church, rather than recruiting the best person for every job, our tendency is to accept whoever might volunteer, regardless of their abilities and gifts. This is true even with respect to our pastors.
WE OFFER OUR PEOPLE THE OPPORTUNITY TO MOVE AHEAD MORE RAPIDLY THAN IS POSSIBLE AT MOST OTHER PLACES.
Advancement depends on merit and we have yet to find the limits to the responsibility our best people are able to assume. For us to be successful, our men and women must reflect the diversity of the communities and cultures in which we operate. That means we must attract, retain and motivate people from many backgrounds and perspectives. Being diverse is not optional; it is what we must be.
Diversity is not being politically correct, it is essential to the mission. Being diverse means that there will be a variety of gifts to meet the demand of our work together.
WE STRESS TEAMWORK IN EVERYTHING WE DO.
While individual creativity is always encouraged, we have found that team effort often produces the best results. We have no room for those who put their personal interests ahead of the interests of the firm and its clients.
Paul put it this way: “Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.”
THE DEDICATION OF OUR PEOPLE TO THE FIRM AND THE INTENSE EFFORT THEY GIVE THEIR JOBS ARE GREATER THAN ONE FINDS IN MOST OTHER ORGANIZATIONS.
We think that this is an important part of our success.
Do we try harder? Are we dedicated to do our best? How often would we use the words “intense effort” to describe our work together?
WE CONSIDER OUR SIZE AN ASSET THAT WE TRY HARD TO PRESERVE.
We want to be big enough to undertake the largest project that any of our clients could contemplate, yet small enough to maintain the loyalty, the intimacy and the esprit de corps that we all treasure and that contribute greatly to our success.
Sometimes it is easy to focus on how small we are as an organization. What is often overlooked is the tremendous amount of resources we have as a Church, if we see ourselves as part of the larger body of Christ.
WE CONSTANTLY STRIVE TO ANTICIPATE THE RAPIDLY CHANGING NEEDS OF OUR CLIENTS AND TO DEVELOP NEW SERVICES TO MEET THOSE NEEDS.
We know that the world of finance will not stand still and that complacency can lead to extinction.
When people say that they are “spiritual” but not “religious” what they generally mean is that the Church is not meeting their needs. As Lutherans, our core message was framed in response to the needs and questions of people 500 years ago. Do we know what people hunger for today????
WE REGULARLY RECEIVE CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION AS PART OF OUR NORMAL CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS.
To breach a confidence or to use confidential information improperly or carelessly would be unthinkable.
This is a basic issue of trust. It should be a no brainer.
OUR BUSINESS IS HIGHLY COMPETITIVE, AND WE AGGRESSIVELY SEEK TO EXPAND OUR CLIENT RELATIONSHIPS.
However, we must always be fair competitors and must never denigrate other firms.
As an organization you will either grow by reaching out to new people, or decline. You cannot stay the same. If we don’t reach out to others, others will.
INTEGRITY AND HONESTY ARE AT THE HEART OF OUR BUSINESS.
We expect our people to maintain high ethical standards in everything they do, both in their work for the firm and in their personal lives.
We are in the forgiveness business. We recognize people’s failures, and on behalf of Christ, declare God’s pardon. That said, we cannot lose sight of the fact that Jesus calls us to live with integrity and honesty and the highest ethical standard of all, loving one another as he first loved us.
So there you have it. Fourteen Principles that guide the work of Goldman Sachs, an investment banking firm. A number of questions come to mind:
1. Are you surprised at all by the depth and breadth of these guiding principles of a major corporation in our country?
2. Can we admit that a major financial firm like Goldman Sachs, is “shrewder” in its dealings with the world than we are as a Church? That their success is directly related to the astuteness of their judgments?
3. Can we recognize and admit that there are many things we can learn from a business such as Goldman Sachs?
I believe that we have a much more important mission than simply turning a profit for our investors. To be servants of Christ Jesus is to be part of a mission to bring life and salvation to the whole world. That is the treasure that has been entrusted to us. We are stewards of the Gospel. It’s a sacred trust.
There’s one word that is not mentioned in today’s Gospel lesson that perhaps should be: Humility.
Can we be humble enough to learn from others those things that might make us more effective disciples of Jesus Christ? That, I believe, is exactly what Jesus is encouraging us to do.