Introduction: How Do We Decide?

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We – Alistair and Wayne – are the authors of this book. Our friendship goes back a long way, and has helped us bring together several perspectives on life. Both of us – like you, perhaps – have a considerable stake in the world of commerce and business. The routes our two lives have followed have brought us face-to-face with many of the dilemmas of that world.

When Wayne answers the phone at his home office he is never sure exactly which of his many roles he is about to assume. Maybe it will be some person he’s consulting about his current writing project. Maybe it will be one of his local commitments – an issue of church leadership perhaps, or a request for help from one of the voluntary organizations that he works with, or a query from the high school where he’s a trustee.

Over the last twelve years it might also have been a business matter. Amongst his other roles, Wayne has been a car dealer – surely a source of ethical questions if ever there was one. (In fact, in a moment we are going to launch you into one of Wayne’s business dilemmas. Hold tight. You’ll be looking for God’s guidance on the car lot!)

Oh yes, and of course sometimes you won’t get Wayne on the phone because he may be attending to one of the domestic chores that need to be done around the house, which he shares with his wife Jill and young adult children – Maria, Kelly and Melody.

If you call Alistair, on the other hand, you may be lucky to catch him at all. Some days you’ll find him teaching as a lecturer in practical theology and ethics. Other days he’ll be travelling as a consultant, resourcing churches to support Christians at their work. Or he may be at a board meeting for one of the several non-profit and commercial enterprises he’s involved with. Or he could be busy mentoring one of a number of people he regularly helps.

Alistair was raised in a family involved in the timber industry where he worked for a number of years as a truck driver. Since then he has been a pastor with three Baptist congregations in New Zealand, and has headed up an overseas mission and development agency working among the urban poor in Asia.

Like Wayne, Alistair is a proud father. He and his wife Alison share their home with son Chris (motor mechanic), daughter Catherine (teacher) and Catherine’s lovely young daughter Ruby who keeps the house bubbling.

Though they live in cities on different islands and support competing rugby teams, Alistair and Wayne have managed to remain friends. Their mutual tolerance has even survived several demanding projects they have worked on together over the years … as well as a certain round of golf that neither of them mentions any more.

Wayne doesn’t understand why Alistair is such a dedicated fan of Bob Dylan, but is glad to have him there to thrash out issues of real concern. One of them is the question of how we as Christians can progress our service of God from Sunday worship to Monday workshop – from the Christian community where biblical values are the focus, to the marketplace where competition, profit and success seem to be what matters.

Are Christians aliens in that Monday-to-Friday world? Do the two worlds ever meet? Do they clash? Do we change, chameleon-like, as we cross from one to the other?

For us – Wayne and Alistair – this is no trivial issue. We believe that God has called us to live enthusiastically in this world he has made, and that includes the commercial and business part of it. To some degree we, all of us, are participants in the marketplace. Many of us live the greater part of our lives there.

If we don’t understand our nine-to-five job (and many of us spend even longer in our workplace) … if we don’t realize the implications of the business steps we take and the employment decisions we make … how can we possibly pretend that we are taking God’s call seriously?

This book is all about the challenges we face in the marketplace. Let’s start by throwing ourselves in at the deep end – by entering Wayne’s business world, just to see how complex it all can be…

Wayne is a car dealer. Just over twelve months ago he sold a secondhand Toyota Camry to a customer, in good faith. The car had a comprehensive check before sale and was determined to be in above-average condition for its price range.

Now, twelve months later, the customer calls Wayne. A problem has recently developed with the automatic transmission. What is Wayne going to do to fix the problem?

Wayne is under no legal obligation to pay for the repair – nor even any moral obligation, given the length of time that has elapsed since the sale. But he is sympathetic to the client’s plight. Should he (Wayne wonders) take responsibility for the problem and carry the cost of fixing the gearbox? In reality this would mean choosing to accept a financial loss on the Camry. Adding the cost of the repair will make the car more expensive to Wayne than the price he charged for it.

Rather than immediately commit himself to a particular course of action, Wayne tells the customer he will get back to him within a day.

As Wayne puts the phone down a number of different concerns begin swirling through his mind. Who should carry the cost, Wayne or his client? On what basis should Wayne make his decision? And in what ways might his Christian faith influence what he chooses to do?

Wayne has a decision to make. As we all have from time to time in our daily jobs. Whether we’re employers or employees or self-employed; whether we work at office or workshop, on hospital floor or factory floor, in a truck or a dairy or a market garden … we are all faced with problems. Sometimes, very tricky problems.

This book is all about making decisions – ones that are consistent with our Christian faith. Ones that are good, right, just, and appropriate.

Part 1: Wayne’s decision

To help us do this, in the first part of the book (chapters 1-5) we’re going to follow Wayne as he weighs the arguments for and against meeting this particular repair bill. Wayne wants to be guided by God’s perspectives in his dilemma, so we’ll join him in a search for the principles that God might want him to follow.

We’ll look at the three most common approaches among Christians for making moral choices:

  • Looking for a command from God that will apply to our situation.

  • Calculating consequences to decide the best course of action.

  • Assuming our character will enable us to make a good decision.

We will consider how much the Bible provides help in each of these approaches. Then we’ll explore whether we can combine the three in some way to give us a more balanced and integrated approach.

Using Wayne’s problem will help us enter into this issue of guidance and ethics. But of course its greatest value will be in helping you apply the same principles in the context of your own work. As you read this section of the book we’ll suggest that you try to think of a similarly perplexing situation that you find yourself wrestling with at the moment. Or maybe you’re aware of a predicament someone else is in – an individual or corporate or community group that you know. So, using Wayne’s decision-making process as a guide, we’ll invite you to chart your own framework for dealing with the tricky decisions you meet in your workplace.

Part 2: Creative tensions

The second, and larger part of this book (chapters 6-12) takes a slightly different tack. Here we’ll cast our net wider and explore seven of the most common ethical tensions that Christians find themselves wrestling with in the modern marketplace. It’s likely you’ll be able to identify with at least some of them. But we’ll leave it to the introduction immediately before chapter 6 to set out the nature of these discussions.

Getting the most from this book

Like our other books in this Faith at Work series, Just Decisions is written for both individuals and groups. At the end of each chapter you’ll encounter case studies and questions. We hope you’ll find them useful for mulling over personally, and for discussing with others.

Their purpose is to help you digest and process the material. Often the value of this is amplified when done with others. So we encourage you to find, if you can, a group with whom you can explore this book.

Now, where were we on Wayne’s car problem?