Biblical Decision Making Models for Business – The Decision Tree

Biblical Decision Making Models for Business – The Decision Tree

Making a Decision Tree – Developing A Process For Making Biblically-Based Business Decisions

Certainly there are many other obstacles to godly decision-making as well but as a means to address the primary ones  we discussed earlier (our ears not listening-our hearts not  obeying- our minds not knowing) as Christians in leadership  positions, we can use a time-tested tool called a “decision
tree.”
This process offers a series of questions designed to keep  before us a few neutral, consistent and non-negotiable biblical  principles for decision-making. By doing so, it effectively  deals with those key obstacles that continuously fight the  overconfidence and self-reliance that so often hinders our  decisions.

It would be wise and recommended that you set up your own  set of “decision tree” questions to guide you in your future  critical issues. However, to help start the process, we will  provide two separate sets of questions that could serve as  part of your foundation of a “decision tree.” These are meant  to be a catalyst in you developing your own set of questions  to establish as your own “decision tree” when making  decisions in the marketplace. The first set of questions come from business consultant and college professor Michael  Zigarelli, the second set is derived from a series of questions  based on Philippians chapter 4.

The “decision tree” process begins with a basic question  (“Is it Legal?’’) that should be of interest to ALL marketplace  leaders- be they Christian or not – and proceeds to a very  deep level of balancing the tension between what is good for  one verses what is good for the balance of those involved.

Question 1:  Is it legal?

This may  seem elementary to start here- but obviously we would  never want to seriously entertain an option of making a  decision that would either be illegal or even border on it.  So- don’t break the law. That’s foundational and at the core.  Of course, there are times when in order to obey God and  His Word, we must make an exception, such as when Jesus  overturned the tables in the temple (Mark 11)- or perhaps  when Daniel refused to pray to the Babylonian king (Daniel 6) but those times will be exceedingly rare. Almost never in  Scripture did God ask someone to break the law. In fact, God  teaches us to submit to earthly uthority (see Romans 13).

Question 2: The Servanthood Test: if people  will be impacted by my decision, can i envision Jesus  being pleased with the way i am treating them?

There is a real dilemma for the Christian leader when it  comes to making decisions. He/she must seriously weigh the  issue in terms of the “servanthood” issue.

Let’s define “servanthood” as making a decision primarily  considering the needs/wants of an individual person or  persons (i.e. stakeholders).

To pass the “servanthood” test means to truly understand  that all people are children of God, created in His image, and  that we must treat them with both love and respect in every  decision that we make. Jesus both teaches and personifies  this principle in places like John 13 (Jesus washing the  feet of His disciples), Matthew 20 (Jesus teaching that a  godly leader is one who serves), and in the ultimate act of  servanthood, His sacrifice for us on the cross. That’s why in the decision tree, this “Servanthood Test” might be captured  well by the question: If people are affected, can you envision  Jesus treating them this way?

Examples of this might include making the decision to not  terminate an under performing employee because you know  they are the only breadwinner in the family and there are 3  small children they are providing for. Or providing an  opportunity for an underprivileged person to come work in  your company because you want to “give them a chance.”

Or you may decide to not pursue a certain sales strategy  because you really do not think your current sales staff has  the skill set to successfully implement it.

This is a critical threshold question, a clear prerequisite for  us. As imitators of Christ, we are not to take any action that He  would not. So options that do not pass this litmus test should  send us back to look for better options that are consistent  with the character of Jesus. Which of these “better options”  should we select? That’s where Question 3 comes in.

Question 3: The Stewardship  TEST: Will the  choice i make maximize organizational performance?

Serving individual needs is a central virtue, but at the same  time, we need to remember that there’s more to our faith  than servanthood. On the job, God also encourages us to be  mindful of the corporate good when making decisions. This  is what we would refer to as “The Stewardship Test.”

For our discussion, let’s define “stewardship” as being  faithful in maintaining good overall performance (i.e.  financial, strategical, efficiencies, etc.) on behalf of the  organization. Often times, it will be more important for the  Christian leader to come down on the side of “stewardship.”  Given our examples from above, it may mean that the under  performing employee has to be terminated, in spite of the fact  they are the only income producer in their home- because  you must protect the long-term performance of the company  in order to maintain the most jobs for the other employees.  Or you may come to the conclusion that you really cannot  afford to hire someone to primarily “give them a chance,”  but that the position is much too important to hire anyone but  the best and most qualified candidate you can find. And in  the last example, perhaps the answer to be the best steward  is to go ahead and launch the new sales strategy, and replace  or reassign any of your current salespeople who cannot pull  it off.

As you would suspect, there will usually be a tension between  living out “servanthood vs. stewardship” in moments of key  decision making.

But we see a perfect example of this in Jesus himself. John 3:  16 tells us that God sent His one and only Son (servanthood)  and sacrificed Him so that whosoever would believe in Him  would be saved (stewardship).

God gave up the one for the benefit of us all. Sometimes in  business, we must do the same- bring about pain to the one  in order to maintain the best for the rest.

Here’s the basic theology. Everything belongs to God and we  are to manage (i.e., “steward”) these God-owned resources  in accordance with His will. We find stewardship taught  throughout Scripture, namely in the Dominion Mandate  (Genesis 1:28), in the Psalms (“The earth is the Lord’s and  everything in it, the world and all who live in it” (24:1); “for  the world is mine and all that is in it” (50:12), and in the  Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25, Luke 19)).The application to decision-making is quite clear: Christian leaders are to act  as stewards, not owners, of their organizations and of the  capital resources at their disposal. These things belong to  God and our traditional Christian theology maintains that  God’s will is that we sustain and grow the organization He  has entrusted to us. Under our care, five talents are to become  ten, two fish are to feed many, etc.

However, the same caution applies here that applies to  Question 2 above. Just as it would be too narrow to reduce  Christian leadership to servanthood, it’s also too limiting  to reduce it to good stewardship of the organization. Some  well-intentioned business leaders would take the exclusive  approach that when you are a good steward for the company  you are automatically honoring the Lord and doing “what  Jesus would do” by default. This is just simply not always  the case.

Truth be told, though, this approach would be like building  a car and saying: “The back wheels of the car are more  important than the front, so let’s cut costs by eliminating  the front wheels.” Such an automobile would clearly  never reach its goal. In the same way, Christian leaders  cannot reach their goal of godly ecision-making through  an unbalanced, stewardship-dominated approach. In  fact, they will almost always crash the car in the process,  rationalizing away the God-given responsibility to care  for the individual needs of people involved in a given set  of circumstances or decision. Whether that stakeholder is an employee in need of more time off or higher pay,  a prospective customer who needs more details about  your product, a small supplier who can be coerced into reducing his price, or a community desiring that a plant  not be relocated, an exclusive focus on the back wheels  of “organizational stewardship” abandons the front  wheels of serving individual needs as Jesus would.

That does not mean that servanthood always takes  precedent over stewardship either. The car cannot do  without the back wheels, either. What this means is that  for the committed Christian leader the central challenge  is to retain both ideals when making decisions – to  practice BOTH servanthood and stewardship, pursuing  those initiatives, policies, and practices that pass both  tests whenever possible. Without question, at times this  will be very difficult to do- to be able to discern where  those two merge in any given decision to be made.

So what do we do when we cannot see which decision  will allow us to successfully pass both tests? How then  will we know when to lean more toward “servanthood”  in one case, and “stewardship” in another?

That’s when we ask Question 4.

Question 4: Have you discerned from God how  to resolve the tension between servanthood and  stewardship?

Anyone who has been a leader in business will tell you  that they’ve experienced many occasions where they  just did not know the best decision to make.

Often, the choice is not between right and wrong; rather,  it’s between one decision that seems right vs. another  that also seems right. In these situations, one can see that  a given decision would pass either the “servanthood”  or “stewardship” situation- but not both. The decision  to do something that would maximize return to the  organization just did not “feel right” because the impact  that decision would have on an individual or two. Or in  contrast, a decision to do something that “felt right” for  an individual person would have a negative impact on  the organization as a whole.

It’s right to maximize organizational performance. But  sometimes we make decisions that will probably have a  negative return on investment. Giving away expensive  product, as drug giant Merck does with its drugs in  developing countries, is one example. Paying suppliers  more than market rate so that they can make a better  living and contribute more to economic development,  as Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts do with coffee  farmers, is another. Refusing to open on Sundays so  that all employees are assured a day of rest, as Chickfil-A  does, is a third example. In each case, stewardship  steps back to serve a common, arguably greater good.

There are other times, though, that the ideal of  servanthood must be subordinated for the sake of the  collective organizational good. Cutting loose a chronic under-performer, mass layoffs to remain solvent, and  reducing factory pollutants no further than the law  requires are but a few examples. Accordingly, for Christians, there will be times when, even though an  option may not survive one of the litmus tests in the  decision tree, it still passes God’s test for decision-making.  But how would one know?

Not through a flow chart.  

Ultimately, any decision-making model that claims to  be consistent with a Christian worldview must rely on  God for answers. Practically speaking, that means we  marinate every step of our decision-making in prayer  and discernment. How much more necessary, then,  is discernment when godly ideals compete with one  another?

It is especially at these moments that we need to slow  down even more, to reflect more deeply, to gather  more advice, to recognize and reject any faithful
misinterpretations of Scripture we may have formerly  embraced, and to substitute instead a humble, patient,  and radical discernment God’s sovereign will, letting  Him lead our leadership. We are to defer rather than  to default, receiving God’s direction on a case-by-case  basis.

This is exactly the time to pull out all of the tools that  we have discussed in [email protected]:
– God’s Word
– Prayer
– Godly Counsel
– Experience

Hence, Question 4: “Have you discerned from God  how to resolve the tension between servanthood and  stewardship?” If the answer is ‘yes,” then move forward  in faith. If “no,” then don’t move until the answer is  ‘yes.”

For sure, this more “biblical” approach to decision-making  is not quick and easy, which is what we seem to  want in business quick answers. But more importantly,  this process is not hasty. Of course we can never be  guaranteed that we will always make the right or best  choice in God’s eyes. Having a thorough process in  place helps guards us against the common mistakes of  overconfidence and self-reliance, guaranteeing, at least,  that we will always do our best in seeking His choice,  and not our own, when making decisions.

Another possible way to develop a “decision tree” might  include taking a direct a direct approach from a passage  of Scripture and applying a set of standards whereby to  guide the decision-making process:  Whatever is true – whatever is noble – whatever is  right – whatever is pure – whatever is lovely – whatever  is admirable if anything is excellent or praiseworthy think  about such things. – Philippians 4:8

So when faced with a key decision-ask yourself the  following:

1. Am I  telling the truth in my comments as it relates to  this decision? Have I  been told the truth by others  involved? Do I  really know what the truth is here?

2. Am I applying nobility in this situation?  Am I  putting my own preferences and wellbeing  after those of others? (i.e. employees,  customers, vendors, etc.) Am I acting with the  utmost character and integrity in this situation?

3. Is this decision going to be the one that is right  for those involved? Can I clearly discern between  what is best for this individual vs. what is best for  the larger group of people this decision will effect?

4. Am I acting in love in this situation? Can  others around me see that I am doing my best  to handle this issue with the love of Christ?

5. Am I addressing this in a way that others can respect and admire in spite of the difficulty involved?

6. Am I honoring God and bringing glory and praise to Him in the midst of this decision?

So as we can see, it is possible for us to begin to develop a specific process for making biblically-based decisions,  in spite of the obstacles we must overcome in doing so. The process of developing a “decision tree” can add clarity  to the situation-particularly when we have potentially studied “opposing” viewpoints from Scripture, received  varied Godly input with different angles and considerations, and even when our prayer life has not led us in a  specific direction.

Join the conversation at Truth At Work.

Ray Hilbert

Ray is the Co-Founder of Truth At Work. Prior to this role, he served as CEO until January 2016. In his role of Co-Founder, Ray is responsible for building high level strategic relationships on behalf of Truth At Work, facilitates several Round Table Groups, helps establish new markets, develops new curriculum, as well as serving as host of Truth At Work’s “Bottom Line Faith” podcast series. Additionally, Ray is in the process of writing two new books that will be released in the coming months.

Ray is also a highly sought after speaker at churches and retreats across America, where for years he has challenged followers of Christ to integrate their faith in and through the marketplace on a daily basis.He is also part of the speaking faculty for Orlando, Florida based “Man In the Mirror” ministry where he conducts seminars and retreats across the country.

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Ray is the Co-Founder of Truth At Work. Prior to this role, he served as CEO until January 2016. In his role of Co-Founder, Ray is responsible for building high level strategic relationships on behalf of Truth At Work, facilitates several Round Table Groups, helps establish new markets, develops new curriculum, as well as serving as host of Truth At Work’s “Bottom Line Faith” podcast series. Additionally, Ray is in the process of writing two new books that will be released in the coming months. Ray is also a highly sought after speaker at churches and retreats across America, where for years he has challenged followers of Christ to integrate their faith in and through the marketplace on a daily basis. He is also part of the speaking faculty for Orlando, Florida based “Man In the Mirror” ministry where he conducts seminars and retreats across the country.

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