How much is enough? When Christ gets in your businessAugust 9, 2017
By Franklin Woodland
When we authentically encounter Jesus, He changes us. To follow Him as Lord, we must allow Him to determine how we live our life—every part of it. As an entrepreneur, I knew that included what to do with the profits and wages from my business.
Early in my technology career, I started a successful software services consulting firm in Chicago. From the very beginning, I pledged I would not compromise my family or my faith to make the business successful.
The faith pledge was put to the test early. With my revenue spreadsheet entirely red (meaning I had no revenue and all expenses), I met with a woman named Molly, who worked for a larger firm that could potentially refer subcontracting opportunities to us. During lunch, our conversation turned to family and she asked me if I was a Christian.
For a split second, I couldn’t bear the thought of admitting my religious conviction and have that negatively impact my potentially lucrative business relationship with her.
It seemed like an eternity. But true to my pledge, and before I had time to rationalize a dishonest response, I replied directly, “Yes, in fact, I am a Christian.” She smiled and blurted out, “I knew it. So am I. I’m Catholic.”
It did not take long for the business to become successful. After six months, the firm was generating $83,000 per month in revenue, which meant on an annualized basis, I had a million-dollar business. I was ecstatic to say the least.
But what did not change was the pledge I had made in the early years. It held just as much relevance to my life and business decisions when the revenue spreadsheet was black instead of red. I attend a men’s group on Fridays and often the phrase “How much is enough?” is used rhetorically to ask as affluent, educated Americans, how much money do we really need to live. The one thing that bothers me is that we never literally answer the question.
We let the audience finish the sentence with an exact number with the assumption that everyone needs a different amount to live. But in this capitalistic country, we too often buy into believing any amount could be justified, or further needs no justification because more income is always better—and should never be capped by anyone, for any reason.
Jesus forces us to reorient our perspectives on profit and money. There is a story in the Bible about Jesus when he encountered a businessman name Zacchaeus. This businessman was a subcontractor for the Roman government in first century Palestine. Zacchaeus was hired to collect taxes from people living in the Roman Empire. He was to collect the tax owed and he was allowed to collect a fee for himself as his pay for collecting the tax.
Tax collectors were hated and considered collaborators with the enemy. Tax collectors hid the actual amount of tax owed and their middle-man fees, and demanded that the taxpayers pay whatever they told them was owed.
When Zacchaeus met Jesus, everything changed. Jesus was so compelling a figure, Zacchaeus could not keep his ill-gotten gains but returned them with 300% interest.
After encountering Jesus and experiencing the grace only He could offer, Zacchaeus saw his wealth with new eyes. What he had was more than sufficient and saw half should be given away. This is oh-so-relevant when compared with Bill Gates recently asking fellow billionaires to give away half of their wealth. Surprisingly, many turned him down.
Zacchaeus probably wasn’t a billionaire, but he knew he had more money than he needed. As someone who wanted to identify with Jesus, he felt compelled to give away half of his possessions to help poor people.
The “How much is enough” question became personal as I evaluated my own business endeavors. It ultimately led me to sell my business and start a new one—half a world away. Just as Jesus addressed the excessive taxes collected by Zacchaeus, I wanted to address the need for safe, affordable drinking water in a south Asian city with 23 million people. This meant leaving the software services industry and the comfortable, urban home our family had lived in for the last ten years.
This job paid about 50-75% less (depending on the year) than the job I had owning a software services business. It meant that I had very little disposable income and could only purchase what was absolutely necessary for me and my family.
Eight years later, I am still alive and thriving even though I have had very little extra income. It has been the best eight years of my life and I would do it again in a heartbeat. The personal satisfaction of waking up every day and knowing that thousands of families are drinking our water more than makes up for the lost salary. For me, “How much is enough?” turned out to be a lot less than I ever imagined.
Franklin Woodland is a former software engineer turned social entrepreneur. He is the President of the Global Impact Fund and manages an affordable drinking water business in a South Asian city with 23M people. Franklin attended Moody Bible Institute and Trinity Seminary and graduated from Northeastern Illinois University. He resides in Chicago with his wife Diana and son Spencer. Feel free to contact Franklin at firstname.lastname@example.org.