Sunday, June 30, 2013

Layoffs, Cutbacks and Downsizing

Recently my nephew asked me a question about employers and workers.  In particular, he wondered about efficiency projects including mechanization and outsourcing that often lead to layoffs, cutbacks and downsizing.  How does a Christian balance good business sense with care and compassion?

Fortunately, the Bible is always an appropriate source for wisdom and understanding when it comes to decisions we need to make.  This is especially true when we are dealing with other people whether they are our family, friends, co-workers or even our enemies.

There are about 100 references in the Bible to a worker, most off these are referring to laborers including those that work in agriculture, hired hands, domestic help and tradespeople.  Some are particularly relevant.  For example, Malachi 3:5 says that there is judgment coming on those that oppress the hired worker.  In the New Testament Timothy says the laborer deserves his wages.

In these and many other verses the Bible encourages us to treat the workers fairly.  Having Christian compassion goes even further and would certainly apply to how we care for employees including severance packages and treating them well and not harshly.  However, the employer has rights that the worker does not and in Matthew 20 for example, Jesus tells the story of workers in a vineyard who thought they were being under paid. However, in this story the lesson is the employer has the right to pay as he desires and not according to what the workers believe is fair.

There is no duty found in the Bible of an employer to provide a job. We find today that it may be beneficial to some organizations to maintain employees even during down periods.  However other organizations, typically with lower skilled workers or when work is seasonal, find it expedient to lay off or downsize during slow periods.  Some firms hire workers for specific jobs or as ‘contractors’ and provide no job security, pension plan or retirement benefits.

In reality, unless you operate a sole-proprietorship or a partnership, few of us are actually employers.  Employers are primarily companies, churches, nonprofits and government agencies where we as leaders, managers and even directors assume the role not as owners but stewards.   Stewards are responsible to run the business well, provide a fair return (or good value) to the shareholders or the actual owners and make responsible decisions that likely have an impact on many matters including who, how many and where labor is employed.

As a manager, I’ve had to layoff people, close plants and fire people over the years (even in the church).  I do so with lots of prayer and hopefully the appropriate amount of compassion. I try to use words that build up and edify and have even found times it was necessary to approve additional financial compensation even from my own pocket when appropriate.  In the end I still had to accomplish the changes that were necessary and have always been able to do so without knowingly violating my moral compass.  That compass is my Bible and it has served me well for many years.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Prayer for Christian Unity

Jesus prayed for it; Paul wrote about it; we often talk about it but unfortunately Christians are not known for their unity.    The legacy goes back a long way.  The Apostle Paul wrote about the disunity in the early church in Corinth when he says, “One of you says, "I follow Paul"; another, "I follow Apollos"; another, "I follow Cephas"; still another, "I follow Christ."

Paul’s desire for unity in the church was expressed often.  He warned the church to ‘watch out for those that cause division and put obstacles in your way’ (Romans 16:17).

In John’s Gospel, Jesus prays for His disciples as well as us that we may be ONE.   This oneness is a unity that is based on purpose and mission.    Jesus said that “they may be as one as we are one….so that the world may believe” (John 17:21)

The unity and relationship between Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit has been an interesting discussion since the beginnings of the Church.   While we believe in just one God, we acknowledge that there are three persons in the one God.    This triune God is One but obviously not the same.  

The same should be said of us; we are not the same but can still be one.  Unlike the Trinity, we are frail and weak so we often get it wrong.  However, we need to strive for unity while still enjoying the diversity and variety within this movement we call Christianity.

All too often, Christians can’t understand Christian unity apart from sameness or uniformity.  That was the big problem with the early Church.   While it started off so well and there was a great understanding  of what Christ had accomplished and of one mission and one purpose unity quickly went off the tracks.  The church leaders decided that unity was to be expressed in conformity and sameness.   Liturgies were written, prayers prescribed, doctrine decreed and rules established.

Today we often do the same.  We pray and often pay lip service to Christian unity but are unwilling to consider that we can have differences in our worship style or even some of our doctrines but still have unity.  We can still be one with Jesus as our Savior and can still have the same purpose and mission.    There isn’t any one group or denomination that get’s it wrong; typically we all get it wrong. Personally I’m not really sure how to define unity but I certainly smile when I see it.

Back about 30 years ago (seems like just yesterday), Russ Taff wrote and sang, “We Will Stand” that has these memorable verses:

The day will come when we will be as one
And with a mighty voice together
We will proclaim that Jesus, Jesus is King
And it will echo through the earth
It will shake the nations and the world will see, see that

You're my brother, you're my sister
So take me by the hand
Together we will work until He comes
There's no foe that can defeat us
When we're walking side by side
As long as there is love we will stand

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Woe to you who are rich

Recently a study done by the University of California at Berkley took a look at the ethical behaviors of those that are rich vs. those who are poor.

They conducted some laboratory as well as field tests that included over 1,000 individuals, both those that were rich as well as poor.   The results of the study surprised even that liberal academic institution.  Researchers found that the people that drove more expensive cars, had more money or more education were less likely to obey traffic laws, have compassion for those that are suffering and were more likely to cheat for financial gain, even if the financial gain was only $50. 
We shouldn’t be surprised.  Jesus said “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:24).   Later in the same Gospel he talked about gathering together all of the people at the end of this age.  For lack of compassion, others were turned away.  “I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink.” (Matthew 25:42).  

There are also the ‘Three Woes” of the Gospel of Luke that immediately follow what we refer to as the Beatitudes where the poor and those who hunger and those that weep will be blessed.   Jesus then says,  “But woe to you that are rich! for you have received your consolation.  Woe to you that are full! for you shall hunger. Woe to you that laugh now! for you shall mourn and weep.  Woe to you, when all men shall speak well of you! for so did their fathers to the false prophets.”

While we have plenty of Biblical guidelines for handling money responsibility and hard work and thriftiness are often admired qualities, there are many more warnings about greed, covetousness and not being compassionate.   The Gospels are clear that having compassion alone won't get you into heaven but it is a great indication of the condition of your heart.   Jesus came that we may live a life that is abundant but that abundance needs to be shared and used to also advance the welfare of those that are less fortunate.

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