Christian Managers Discuss Their Work (Video)

Video / Produced by TOW Project

In this video, New Testament scholar Sean McDonough argues that professional management has its roots in the Bible, specifically Luke 16:1-9. Starting at minute 6:05  professional managers share how the Christian faith changes their approach to their work. This video is part of Jesus And Your Job, a video series on how Christians in different industries view their work. To find out more about this series and how you can use it as a small group study, go to the Jesus And Your Job homepage.

A biblical basis for management

All of us manage something at some time. Today we’re going to turn to one of Jesus’ stories about a manager -  a shrewd manager.  It’s one of my favorite stories partly because it’s funny. It’s a little bit like Oceans 11, the George Clooney heist film, where you have a lovable rogue central character. I appreciate that Jesus doesn’t mind telling funny stories to make a point, stories that feature a protagonist that’s not squeaky clean. So we’ll read about the shrewd manager, and then hear from managers in the real world today.

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!

Luke 16:1-9

The first thing we need to discuss is the word ‘wasting’ from verse 1. A more fun translation is ‘squandered.’ You may recall another story in Luke that’s characterized by squandering or wasting - the parable of the prodigal son. The son squanders his father’s possessions. It’s the same word in Greek, and it’s a rare word. Luke does this sort of thing a lot - he’ll connect two stories by the use of one unusual word in each. Certainly, the manager in this story should not do what he does. It may be illegal, and it’s not in the best interest of the master.

So the manager puts his plan into action, and this guy is as shrewd as can be.

He says to a debtor, “900, boy is it that much? I’ll tell you what, we’re having a good year here, we love your business, I’m very much a client-focused kind of a manager, I’m willing to cut that down in half.”

“Really? Is your boss okay with that?”

“Oh yeah, it’s going to be fine. I think it’ll be fine. He hasn’t been out here in literally two years. This is an arrangement that I think can work for both of us.”

So a few months later, the manager can show up at the debtor’s door and say, “Just want to let you know, I’ve felt my prior position was really restricting me in a lot of ways. I wasn’t fully growing in it. I would love to see what I can do with your place.”

“Oh! Does your boss know about this?”

“Oh yeah, he’s fine. He said that this was a growth opportunity. What do you think?”

“Oh yeah! Come on in. Welcome.”

The shrewd manager’s plan succeeds.

The comedy in this story is in the master’s positive reaction. “You dog! I knew it when I hired you. You had that little glint in your eye. That was pretty sharp business there.” The master commends the manager because he acted shrewdly. ‘Shrewd’ is the perfect English word to use, because there’s a wisdom to it but not in the sense of exalted, noble, or good. It’s just a clever sort of a thing to pull off.

Jesus calls this guy a dishonest manager, but he goes on to say that we should be like that guy. We are to make friends for ourselves by means of, and he uses the same word here, dishonest or unrighteous means. Jesus says that in effect what you need to do is be like that shrewd manager. You are in need of an eternal home, because this home is going to collapse around you in short order. Whether the whole world goes down or you as an individual goes down, you need an eternal home, and you need a welcome there. And how are you going to do that? Jesus says by means of unrighteous mammon.

Jesus is saying in almost comical fashion that just as the manager took the financial situation at his disposal and used it to his advantage, you need to take the money that you have and use it to your eternal advantage. When you look at the whole gospel of Luke, what that means is open-handed generosity, particularly to the most vulnerable. That’s why Jesus goes on to summarize: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes”(Luke 16:9). Just as the steward was supposed to be responsible with somebody else’s money, so God has bequeathed to you gifts, abilities, talent, and treasure, and you are responsible to him for how you deploy that. In that sense, you’d better do a far better job than the unrighteous steward.

We discuss this story today because it’s about a manager.  As we transition to hearing professional managers talk about their work, we don’t imply any of today’s panelists would do anything dishonest in their work.

Patricia’s story:

I started out in higher education management. I was fairly young and I had a medium executive level in a large administrative office in a university. I got hired to be the head of a department at a smaller and very prestigious college. I was handed this multi-million-dollar budget. I had never really managed money like that. I had never managed my own staff. It was very daunting. Thankfully I had a mentor in my previous job that I admired greatly, and he was a great resource for any questions I had. I hired a new staff person and ended up having a great relationship with this person. We became a team that took on this very daunting task.

My little sister is also a manager. She was the first out-of-family recruit at Johnson & Johnson and she’s now the World Chairwoman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson. She was brought in for her troubleshooting and management skills. When she’s new to a company she goes in early 2-4 days a week. She goes in at 5:00am in the morning and just grabs a cup of coffee and hangs out at the loading docks or the manufacturing floor or with the janitor’s staff. She’s determined that every single person that’s connected with that company has something to offer. I think she therefore gains mutual respect back and forth. She also knows that she’s really learning everything she can possibly learn about what’s going on in that company.

Paul’s story:

I’ve been in a variety of management roles. I ran a management consulting company in the financial services sector for about 25 years. From my time as a consultant I learned that listening is really important. Often as a consultant I would get tossed into a situation where I would have no idea what the business was.  I basically had two weeks after which I was supposed to give direction, and it was supposed to be right! The only way was to listen and respect the people who know the business.

The other thing I have found helpful from a management standpoint is recognizing that different people require different styles of management. I have some people who are going to be doing the same thing for years and years, and others for whom their big thing is being motivated to do brand new things. Understanding the person and fitting the management style to the person you’re working with is key.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Read Luke 16:1-9. What makes the manager in Jesus’ story dishonest? What does Jesus commend him for? What does this story have to say to managers today?
  2. Patricia describes a 5am coffee discipline that gives a manger insight into a company and its workers. How much time do you invest in learning about the people in your company? What’s one simple thing you can do to prioritize new relationships at work?
  3. Paul’s big insight as a manger is that people are motivated by different things. Think about someone you work with today, either your boss or someone you manage. What motivates this person? How can you help them achieve their goals as well as achieve your goals?