Faith Is a Compass
Being an entrepreneur brings many possibilities – along with challenges, demands and pressures. We can think of faith as a compass that gives us direction in decision-making. As in all areas of life, we can be thankful for the God-given gifts and opportunities that we utilize to earn a living and contribute to building our communities and society as a whole. The heavenly Father allows ventures to succeed according to His will.
On these pages, believing entrepreneurs share their thoughts on the ethics and values that guide them in their daily calling and the worth of being involved in one’s community.
In Real Estate, Personal Values Matter
I am nearing the one-year mark of my career as a real estate agent. But I haven’t waited until this point to reflect on how the year has gone – I have marveled every step of the way. These steps, though imperfect, have pursued honest and ethical business practices.
The real estate industry had intrigued me for several years, yet it wasn’t until last year that things lined up and my career began. I work with a team, and this team supports each other.
In the real estate service industry, we market ourselves. You hire me to assist you with the purchase or sale of your home. I want to provide the best service I can. I have found that this “best service I can” is good enough and God blesses as He determines. In this current housing market, though, it would be easy to try tactics beyond the accepted business strategies that are backed by ethics and values.
When we understand things happen for a reason, no matter what we think we can do about it, why wouldn’t we just peacefully accept outcomes? Even in real estate we can see it. With the current hot seller’s market, homes are selling so quickly it is hard to be patient. “Perhaps it’s not time to buy a house,” I often hear. That might be the case, but that will be shown with time also. Even in cases where there were multiple offers, we have had offers accepted that definitely were not the best offer in hand. One of my clients missed the opportunity to buy a home not only the first time, nor the second. Then, a few weeks past hearing we weren’t the offer chosen we received a call asking if we were still interested in the home. It was meant to be, is the only thing we could determine.
In this market, it is easy to see unethical interactions happening where truthful statements aren’t being made. It is unfortunate to see, and it could be easy for any competing realtor to fight back is some way. Still, we believe and pursue ethical business practices such as honest representation and statements. I think it better to pursue each interaction with the values we live by because at the end of the day, I take myself home. I spend some time alone and eventually put myself to sleep. I want to be content with how my behaviors that day have reflected who I am as a person and who I am as a believer.
We want to be obedient and work hard as God instructs. At the same time, we are also human and we rationalize. Our minds easily think, “When I tried a little harder, I received a greater reward.” This is not wrong of itself. It is when we forget that God gave the increase that we veer off the path. I have peace when I remember that God guides my life.
Proverbs 16:9 instructs about taking the steps but God guiding them: “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the LORD directeth his steps.” When I trust that God is in control, what is left for me to do is to care for those things He has given and trust that the path I am on is not of my work alone.
My faith centers me. I know I take the steps, but I pray that God guides my path. My prayer is that which can be found in Psalm 17:5: “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.”
When Nobody Is Looking
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is full of forests. These forests are a renewable natural resource that have been utilized by generations of settlers in this area. Peter Hill of Negaunee, Michigan, is a logger. He owns and runs Hill Logging, Inc., which harvests and manages forests for landowners. Peter specializes in selective cutting and cultivating forests to maintain their value in the long term.
Managing a forest is like managing a garden. You pluck ripe trees just like you pluck a ripe tomato. Whether you grow tomatoes or apples or beans, you want quality, which means removing the weeds.
It’s the same in a forest: the weeds there are poor-quality trees that are of little value. We weed the forest like we weed a garden; there’s always weeds popping up. We cultivate good, healthy trees, and we remove the weed trees.
In managing a forest, we want to maintain the highest-quality forest. Landowners rely on me to manage the long-term value, the long-term prospects of their forest land. And the way we do that is by careful selection of trees, so that we’re growing quality trees.
It wouldn’t be hard, however, to high-grade the forest, which means harvesting only the valuable trees and leaving behind those of little value. Not all landowners are well-versed in forest management; they don’t know what’s of value and what isn’t. I could get more revenue in the short-term and leave a poorer forest behind.
It’s common to find forests that have been high-graded, with not much value intact. I see it all the time, for example when I’m looking for timber, or if a landowner calls me for a consultation on what to do with their forest. Sometimes it’s not worth it to do anything, since there’s no value there.
I choose not to work this way, though, because it does not align with my sense of integrity. Integrity is one of the most important values in running a business. There are other ways too in which I could manage timber and get a better return for myself, and my customers may not know better. Honestly, most of them are landowners that are not in the timber business. So they mainly rely on me to develop a plan for their forests. If I were to high-grade their land, they may not know the difference. It is integrity that guides me to manage forests to the best of my ability, to cultivate them properly and upkeep future value.
Running a business, I’m trying to survive every day. Logging and forest management is not an easy business. I have to maintain the bottom line, preferably with a profit margin. It is often difficult to even reach the break-even point. I would say in one way I’m hungry for money, as other entrepreneurs are, since it takes a lot of it to pay the bills every month.
Yet, I would not want to have to cheat customers to survive. As mentioned, it wouldn’t be too hard. I sell landowners’ timber to mills, who pay me for what they buy. The landowners rely on me to give them their share of the proceeds. Since this money goes through my pocket first, the landowners rely on my honesty and integrity to get their fair share. Without belaboring the point, there are many ways throughout this process where one could misrepresent what is harvested and sold, and how much the sale yielded. But I want to act as a believer does and pay the landowner what they’re entitled to.
I feel it’s necessary to have a certain level of integrity to stay in business. Without integrity, my reputation would suffer and eventually no one would want to do business with me.
As a business owner, it boils down to what you are willing to do or how far you are willing to go to make your bottom line look good. I sell timber to mills and other places and sometimes it feels like they’re squeezing every penny out of me to make their bottom line better. It would be easy for me to get bitter about this, but it’s part of business dealings. If the bottom line is all you care about, you’re going to act accordingly. It requires sacrifices to grow and succeed and make money. The higher you aim, the greater the sacrifice, whether that is time, reputation, relationships, or other things. We all make choices in this regard.
Personally, I make the choices I do because I have a vested interest in maintaining this business in the long run. After I harvest a forest, I can work with that same client again 12–15 years later. I have recently returned to forests I’ve managed a dozen or more years ago and found a healthy forest, ready for harvest. To me this is very satisfying, and I know I’ve done the right thing by upkeeping the value of the landowner’s property.
How I act on a daily basis is also a matter of conscience: a good motto to follow is to do what’s right when no one is looking. Act like a Christian when no one can see what you’re doing. After all, God knows. We all must answer to our Creator.
In my business, reputation is very important. Most of my business comes to me through word-of-mouth. Landowners are willing to work with me because of what they’ve heard from others.
Overall I have been satisfied with how my career has gone. There have been times of difficult trials, but when we have placed trust in God, He has blessed us sufficiently; there has always been enough work to feed, clothe and shelter my family. I get to do what I have a passion for. I can enjoy the beauty of God’s creation around me every day. My work is that which God ordained: to harvest and replenish. I try to remain thankful for the opportunities God has blessed me with.
I want to pass my values on to my children as well. I encourage them to work hard and be successful in their chosen career. The oldest ones are just entering adulthood. If they have a passion for this business, I will teach them all I can. If not, that’s fine too. I will remind them to work hard and to be honest in what they do, to act like a Christian when no one is looking.
I guess my values as an entrepreneur are not different than those of any other believer.
Peter Hill, as told to Matthew Keranen
Volunteerism Reflects Values
We are in the world but not of the world (John 17:16). We have heard this statement, based on John’s writing, said many times. And we agree that it is so. As we travel in God’s kingdom – striving to keep faith and a good conscience, there are many activities in the world with which we do not want to be associated.
Our interaction with the people of the world is important though. Our light of faith shines to them even if we don’t confess it with words. This is true especially in small communities. Because I know my neighbors and friends so well, I have felt the need to participate in community activities that do not harm my faith life. Community tasks need community members to assist and serve.
There are many associations within our communities that can use the services of a volunteer. I have found it fulfilling to serve in some of these capacities over the years. I have also been able to form lasting relationships for both my personal and business life.
I found it especially rewarding to spend time on the school community council. To me it was a productive time of creating some understanding between the school and the congregation. We had a couple of meetings at the church with school officials and parents where many topics were discussed. The teachers and the director of education were happy with the input they got at that time and said it helped them to better understand how we believe. The relationship between the believers and the school was strengthened. Just this one example shows how our involvement can be so important.
There are other capacities that a believer can freely take part in our communities. Volunteering to sit on a board of directors for our local municipal council can also be very beneficial in strengthening ties. Local co-ops have boards that can use help. Here in our communities the local fire departments are all volunteer. Not only are we helping with a good cause, but it is also useful to learn about fire control. These interactions have deepened friendship and trust between me and other community members.
I have sometimes got the feeling of resentment from some community members if we do not do our part in these capacities. Why might that be? “We are in the world but not of the world” and it’s the “in the world” part that asks us to take the time and energy to help where we can. Volunteering in the community is one way to show love for our neighbors.
1. Our values denote what is important to us. How we spend our time reflects these values. Discuss.
2. What can we do when our values are clearly out-of-line?
3. How does the gospel help us keep our values in order?