As part of Comment‘s ongoing mission to build Christian leaders, we approached Christian business and management faculty on campuses across North America, and asked for the best advice they could give their students and proteges.
Jump to advice from:
|David Schmidt||Cedarville University||Ohio|
|Mark Ward||Trinity Christian College||Illinois|
|Amanda Flint||Trinity Western University||British Columbia|
|Evert Van Der Heide||Calvin College||Michigan|
|Keith Starcher||Geneva College||Pennsylvania|
|Doyle Butts||John Brown University||Arkansas|
|Jonathan Warner||Dordt College||Iowa|
|Steven Bovee||Roberts Wesleyan College||New York|
|James Coe||Spring Arbor University||Michigan|
|Ivan Filby||Greenville College||Illinois|
|Stephen Bretsen||Wheaton College||Illinois|
|Phil Vardiman||Abilene Christian University||Texas|
|Chris Medenwald||Central Baptist College||Arkansas|
|Jeff Guernsey||Cedarville University||Ohio|
|Mark Lee||Trinity Western University||British Columbia|
|Rob Harvey||Redeemer University College||Ontario|
|Andy Wilson||John Brown University||Arkansas|
|Deidra Ann Colvin||Anderson University||Indiana|
|Brian Huffman||University of Wisconsin||Wisconsin|
|John Boersema||Redeemer University College||Ontario|
|Peter Bowal||University of Calgary||Alberta|
|Tom Herskowitz||Southern Nazarene University||Oklahoma|
|Orlando Griego||Azusa Pacific University||California|
|Susan Van Weelden||Redeemer University College||Ontario|
|Debbie Snyder||Mount Vernon Nazarene University||Ohio|
|Yvonne Smith||University of La Verne||California|
|Monty Lynn||Abilene Christian University||Texas|
|Tood Steen||Hope College||Michigan|
|Stuart Strother||Azusa Pacific University||California|
|Mark McKay||Trinity Western University||British Columbia|
|Brian Porter||Hope College||Michigan|
- School is a means to an end. Decide what you want to do when you’re done and fit your education around that. If you don’t know what you want to do, spend the time and effort to go find out. Most students spend less time deciding what to do for a career than they do deciding where to go out to eat on Saturday night.
- Get the best education you can. Apply to the best schools for grad school. Don’t assume that all grad programs are the same. They are not. It’s important to get the best degree you can—for credibility, for learning, and to be able to be used in the best possible places God may want to take you.
- Have fun in college, but put your education first. This is a time in your life to focus on your preparation. Social relationships are important, especially the networking part of them, sports are important and fun, but it’s your competencies and knowledge that will carry the day in the end. Lack of effort in your education, lack of performance on the job, lack of credibility with co-workers, superiors, customers and ultimately no real ability to influence other people.
Seek out ways to point this world toward Christ—not only through your relationships, but also in the very ways you structure business activities.
Before you proceed in any action be sure you know what parties stand to benefit and what parties will be disadvantaged by it.
Strive for excellence in every aspect of your business and don’t compromise on your values for the sake of economic outcomes.
You will learn to do well—to perform with excellence in the marketplace. But if that is all that you learn, you will be no different than thousands of other college graduates. Ask God to develop your character. Learn to do right, and commit to doing right—no matter what.
Avoid the temptation to accept a position with a firm based strictly on a comparison of incomes and benefits. Things such as working environment, compatibility with colleagues, and ethical climate within the company, are extremely important considerations in your job search.
Take a few classes outside your discipline. You’re a person made in God’s image—don’t be defined by your occupation!
Earnestly seek and make yourself available to God for opportunities to sharpen the skills, gifts, and abilities He has given you.
Surround yourself with successful Christian mentors. Propel your career with a strategic plan for obtaining your dream job through some research and networking to obtain the internship closest to your plan.
See business as a high calling from God.
Avoid the dualism that separates your faith and your business practices at all costs. The classic business saying, “It’s not personal; it’s just business” is merely a classic example of dualism. Personal morality and business ethics can only be separated at the cost of pushing God from the center to the outer periphery of your life.
Realize that the most important things in life are not what you own but the relationships you build and sustain. Be a leader that understands the importance of developing and helping others succeed.
Strive for excellence in and through your integrity, efforts, attitudes and relationships.
Whatever you do (including the vocation of being a student), do it heartily, as unto the Lord, rather than for men. I believe Elizabeth Elliott has been quoted as saying something like: the best preparation for tomorrow is being faithful today.
The best advice I could give students is the same advise my father gave me when I was in my 20’s, namely to eliminate as many “what if’s” as possible, because it makes it easier to live with yourself when you get older. What he meant by this is that as you get older you often regret not having tried something, or done something, career-wise, business-wise, or whatever, when you were younger. My dad’s advice was to go ahead and try those things, because it’s easier to live with having tried something and failed, versus never having tried things. I think this was excellent advice for me personally, because at the time my Dad recognized I was a risk-taker and an entrepreneur by nature, yet I was constantly playing things safe. I think at the time I was more afraid of failure than anything, instead of pursuing opportunities regardless the outcome. I took his advice to heart, and have never regretted it.
Remember you are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for you to do. God has uniquely equipped you with gifts and talents to play a role in his great unfolding narrative. As you seek to fulfill your calling in business as an entrepreneur or on a corporate career path, be a good steward of everything that has been entrusted to us in creation.
- Don’t compromise your character. Leadership is only possible when people trust you, and people will follow you as far as they trust you.
- Communicate clearly. Lack of clear communication is the biggest problem in most personal and professional situations. Learn to listen first.
Take the time to listen quietly for God’s call and to savour the unknown; remembering that God has plans for you that are bigger than anything you can dream for yourself.
- Students who plan to work for someone else should consider whether or not a potential employer offers any training. And I’m not talking about “on the job training” which is often no training at all (unless it is part of some formal job rotation to give the new employee a look at various aspects of the operation). The true test of the value of training is how long the company is willing to keep you in it while you are making them absolutely no money at all. Although I am not necessarily recommending the military, they do provide an example of an employer that does excellent training. Training at the Air Force and Navy flight schools lasts well over a year. During that time a student gets millions of dollars of training while the military gets nothing in return. So why do they make the investment? Because they intend to put that future pilot in a very responsible position … in command of an aircraft that costs hundreds of millions of dollars. Any company that plans to put you in a very important place is willing to spend the money up front on training. In contrast, any company that plans to chew you up and spit you out would be foolish to invest a dime in you. My brother took a job with a large “respectable” company as a salesperson. His training consisted of a few minutes of instruction about the product after which he was tossed into the pool to sink or swim. The company figured that if a new hire didn’t make it he could easily be fired and another one could be found.
- If you see a lack of ethical behaviour in the company that hires you, quit immediately. Don’t tell yourself that you should stay awhile because you just started and “how would it look?” Get out like you would get out of a burning building. Sooner or later all crooks need victims or scapegoats and you don’t want to be either.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22). In difficult ethical situations in business seek always God’s truth—particularly as embodied in the Ten Commandments. Be God’s steward with the resources entrusted to you, whether money or skills. “Love your neighbour as yourself” in dealing with employees, employers, customers, suppliers, the community around you—even competitors.
I would advise business students to see their university years (and all that takes place during this wonderful period of life), interviewing for career positions, and the life of career and work afterward as all the same—it is a calling from God, a mission field.
That pervasive attitude and thinking will keep one close to God always: in prayer, loving relationships with one’s neighbour, in a right balance between study/work and personal priorities and the wise stewardship of one’s time and resources.
If one is consistently true to one’s faith and the Word right from this day forward (and not wait until, for example, until one graduates or gets the good job), one honours God in all circumstances.
Remember that there is nothing more valuable than your own personal integrity. No matter what the apparent short-term, or even long-term, gain, if such gain is at the cost of violating your personal values, it is too high a cost.
Building a successful business or career does not occur when you focus on acquiring wealth, fame, or academic honours. Rather, it occurs when you find your passion. Through prayer, ask God to help you find your passion in life
Psalm 78:72 lays out the two keys for successful leadership: integrity of heart and skillful hands. Use your time at university or college to develop not only technical skills but also integrity of heart. Deliberately choose how you will define success and what values and goals will guide your decisions in school, business, and life. Then ask God daily for the courage to stay true to your convictions.
While pursuing your education as well as upon graduation, seek an ongoing dialogue with Jesus Christ and get to know His heart. Know that all of creation, including you and your classmates or co-workers, was created by God.
- Read the Puritan authors in contemporary translations. The Puritans lived in an age of technological and economic expansion very like ours and they developed a strong, Biblical, theology of business. A place to begin: William Law, A Serious Call To a Devout and Holy Life.
- Get an internship or better yet, a series of internships. This helps a person become realistic and also gives him or her venues from which to pursue a future career.
A clear sense of priorities and the discipline to stick to them yield success in college and beyond. Priorities come into play in ethical dilemmas, work-life balance, time choices, and dozens of daily decisions. The best way I’ve found to think about priorities is through the old word “vocation” which refers to a calling. Often, students listen for an individual calling, for example to the major or profession that’s right for them. But there is a general calling too for the Christian, a vocation that arcs over all of life like a rainbow. Under this general vocation, one’s work and personal life, one’s community service and time among Christians, one’s efforts for the poor and disenfranchised and for children, are united as part of the same service. Sometimes priorities indeed have to be balanced or ordered and you have to deny one action to favour another, and often there are costs associated with those choices. But in another sense, there is an equal challenge to see all of life as one’s vocation.
My best advice for students is to think about the idea of vocation while they are still in college. They should read Lee Hardy’s The Fabric of This World while they are forming their ideas about their careers and majors. It can be very difficult to think about these issues and actually make changes when one gets into a job and has other responsibilities such as a family. College is the time to seriously consider issues of calling and vocation, so that one can make a difference for the Kingdom after college.
While in college, develop hard skills, such as the ability to crunch numbers or present information, to please your future employer.
Develop soft skills, such as the ability to communicate cross-culturally, so that you will be able to help your fellow man.
But most importantly develop a tender heart that you may please your heavenly father.
As a student and a Christian scholar, read with purpose. Unless you read critically and widely, your thinking and your principles will be pushed around by the crosswinds of popular culture. Keep in mind also that your education will only teach you a tiny percentage of what you need to know for business success. Purposeful reading helps you learn how to learn, and the thought process that follows will help you put faith and principles into action.
In addition to the readings for your courses, Christian readings, and Canadian-focused business journals, I recommend the following: Read the Wall Street Journal, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Atlantic Monthly and The Economist. Plan on subscribing to the Harvard Business Review within 3-5 years after graduation. This isn’t your leisure reading. This is part of your job.
Participating in business is a wonderful calling, but there are many temptations. The ability to participate in business, without being attached to its material trappings is a tremendous witness to others that will be watching to see if your actions in business are consistent with Biblical principles.