Business, it seems, is doomed to failure. Despite the huge increases in self-help management books and seminars on business, a huge percentage of new businesses fail. Eighty percent are expected to die within five years, and of those remaining over half will have expired within another five years. For those starting a business, the odds are against them.
In God We Trust
But Biblical wisdom is supposed to reverse all this. With a simplistic belief that God will provide — a necessary belief, by the way, unless it is misplaced — many Christians launch themselves into business only to find that they join the failed statistics, making up the eighty percent failure rate. Faith in God, it seems, is not enough.
If we take a look at the issues of business through a Biblical lens, we find that so often there is a superficial taking from the Bible those things that seems to guarantee success but which can easily be misread. Take our text above. It seems to indicate that with proper accounting and management, we will succeed. At least, this is the implication.
But by taking the text too far, we can soon get caught up in a set of problems for which, if we're not careful, we blame God.
When we rely too heavily on our own methods and not on a living faith, failure is in our wake. For example, counting the cost is an idea that appeals to CPAs and those with a bent for number crunching. They love to work with their spreadsheets, calculators, and their forecasts of what can be expected. Another group will assume that proper business planning is essential to success. So they run their workshops, undertake their analyses, and come up with the next one, two, or five-year plan. Yet in spite of this, some big companies go to the wall along with the smaller companies that make up the eighty percent of failures.
Is there an explanation for these failures? I think so, and it comes down to the meaning of faith.
As a business manager, it is easy to identify the need for counting the cost. It is an essential ingredient in working out whether or not there are sufficient funds to start up a business. But the reality is that many people start a business without adequate funds. Some succeed, some fail. So the lack of counting the cost is not always an explanation of what has gone wrong. I have seen companies with adequate finances make the mistake of spending the money on expensive offices and fitouts, none of which, at the end of the day, contributed one dollar to the bottom line. Then there are business owners with little resources who make sure that nearly every dollar spent contributes in some way to new revenue. The latter succeeds while the former fails. Which one, then, has followed our text, and counted the cost?
The business planning group, on the other hand, says that the lack of business planning leads to disaster, and there is an element of truth in this statement. But as some very serious organizations have found, there is also disaster to be had in placing too much emphasis in planning.
No modern city business seems to compare with the farmer who can plan as much as he likes, but if it doesn't rain he doesn't get this year's income. While man-made irrigation systems make the farmer less dependent upon annual rainfall, long drought seasons, as currently experienced in Australia, can dry up the irrigation system as well. Where does that leave the farmer?
It leaves the farmer in the same place as the city businessman whose plans have not taken into consideration all the possible factors. And this is a very real problem with planning. None of us sees the future clearly. Plans can be made obsolete very quickly, undermining the essence of planning, whose aims were to take chance out of the business.
But if planning can be overturned by circumstances out of our control, and if successful farming depends on the movements of the weather, how is a man to plan his business activities?
Faith, it seems is the only option. Faith being the "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen . . . By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible" (Heb. 11:1, 3).
Now this passage of Scripture gives us a much better idea of how we are to live: by faith. Our planning, our cost counting can be of no avail if at the end of the day we do not accept the world as God made it. When our business planning is complete we must, like the farmer, recognize that the best laid plans will fail if God does not bless them. And while God does not promise to send the rain every year, He does, at the very least promise to "never leave us nor forsake us" (Heb. 13:5).
So while me may count the cost and while we may plan, and the Bible encourages this, this does not mean that our businesses will succeed. But to the man of faith, whose eye is constantly on the God who controls the seasons of our lives, his planning will not be an end in itself but an act of faith knowing that plans come and go, but God remains for ever in control. It is His plan for the world and our businesses to which we must all conform.
- Ian Hodge
Ian Hodge, Ph.D. (1947–2016) was a long-term supporter of Chalcedon and an occasional contributor to Faith for All of Life. He was also a business consultant in Australia, USA, Canada, and New Zealand, and a prominent piano teacher in Australia.