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
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 Truth@Work:
• God’s Word
• Godly Counsel
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.
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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.