By Catherine Sandgren
February 10, 2022
I recently sat down with JoAnn Flett, executive director for the Center for Faithful Business, to discuss what it means to pursue business for the sake of the common good. JoAnn joins us as a speaker at Business for the Common Good on Friday, February 25th, 2022. Her insights were impactful as well as practical. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
CS: When we talk about the “common good,” what does that actually mean? What does the “common good” entail?
JF: When I think of the common good, it looks like human flourishing and shalom. Nicholas Wolterstorff defines shalom as “the rightness of relationship with God, with self, with others, and with creation.” If you think about what was broken in the garden of Eden, it was this concept of shalom. With this brokenness came these myriad ways of having dysfunctional relationships with one another, God, and His creation. The common good entails a restoration of shalom, restoration of human flourishing, and access to all these lost relationships.
CS: How does the common good and this idea of shalom, apply to business as we see it in the world? Why should businesses and business owners care about the common good?
JF: If we’re looking at Shalom as the rightness of relationships with God, self, and with others, we want to take a step back and think of God as a Trinity of beings. God in God’s self is relational. We see this in the God-head of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the concept of the relationality of the Trinity, God says in Genesis 1:26, “Let us (plural) make human in our image,” and that image is relational. We’re relational beings, in fact, we are birthed out of having relationships. In fact, the minute we come into this world, we need to have a healthy relationship or there could be serious repercussions. So relationships are really key. I see then in business that God has given us a medium of relationships. This includes stakeholders, employees, customers, suppliers, the local community, government, etc. There’s just this myriad of relationships within the stakeholder world and business has the opportunity to mediate this space.
In Micah 6:8, we see how we are to live out and represent the faith. We are asked to love justice, to act justly, to love kindness, and to walk in humility. I think when we are working in business we often forget these elements. If we were to take those three things, justice, loving-kindness, and humility, as organizational traits in business, we would be advancing the kingdom in an important way.” But justice is not simply for justice’s sake; justice is always tethered to kindness and humility, and humility is always tethered to kindness and justice. Everything is tethered together and hooked in, and that’s when a nice balance happens. I do think businesses and organizations can pursue good work and in this way, represent God in the world.”
CS: What unique role(s) do Christian business owners play in the world?
JF: The Christian business person is a priest in the marketplace. The Christian business person is uniquely different because while they have the mandate of pursuing shalom, they are also oriented toward the vision of the kingdom of God. So for Christians in business, it is about exhibiting the fruits of the spirit not just so that they can “check the boxes,” but so that they themselves are mediating the presence of God to their coworkers, to their suppliers, and to their employees. That’s a pretty powerful testimony of who the Christian business person needs to be, and it’s a huge mandate.
CS: How have you been formed through your work? What interested you in business and how did you come into this realm of work?
JF: I began my work in business as a missionary. I wanted to do missions and went to Canada to study missions and began to learn that if I wanted to embody the gospel and represent Christ in the world, I needed to come alongside people. For me, business was always that medium.
After Bible college and seminary I started working in the business sector as an accountant at a startup called Costco Wholesale, which was really small in 1990, but huge today. I did my best to mediate God’s presence to my coworkers; all they knew about me when I started was that I’d come from seminary. But when they had difficulties in life, whether it was a car accident or a threat to a marriage or a sick kid, they would come find my little cubicle to have a conversation because they needed someone to listen to them. I was drawn to the business sector because I intuitively understood it to be God’s work in the world in a really fundamental way.
CS: What has been your experience being a business professional in your church? What unique challenges or encouragements come with being one of the people in your congregation who is business-minded?
JF: That is actually at the heart of the questions that we’re trying to bring together, right? This idea that business is secular stuff, and when we step into the church it’s sacred stuff. But if you’re reformed as I am, you believe that all of the world belongs to God and that there is, according to Abraham Kuyper, “not one square inch for which Christ, who is Lord doesn’t cry, mine.” Both inside the church and in the corporation exists this way of working alongside Christ.
However, I have noticed this suspicion on both the church’s side, as well as in the business sector for the Christians showing up. Those that I work with know that I’m a Christian and that I have a faith orientation. It’s called the scandal of particularity. I’m not just a Christian, I’m actually a believer in the person and work of Jesus Christ, and that has a claim on my life in really fundamental ways. And so I find that I have to be very intentional when negotiating in the boardroom. So I have noticed that we have the sacred-secular in the church, but we also have it in our society too. There are people who are suspicious of our Christian intentions when we step out into the world. I contend, however, that the marketplace is a place of relationships in really fundamental ways.
Join us in Denver or anywhere online on Friday, February 25th for Business for the Common Good 2022.