Book review: Business by the Book

review business by the book

Book

When I review Business by the Book, by Larry Burkett, I’m referring to the version that was published in 1990. The copy I have joined my business library only a few years ago—I don’t remember where I got it. When I was cleaning my office a few weeks ago, I almost put it on the “thrift shop” pile. But something made me decide to peruse it again rather than discard it. I’m glad I did.

Review

This is a classic book for business owners, and by “classic” I mean the principals are enduring. Though some of the real-life illustrations he shares seem a little dated, the advice is still sound.

Early in the book, Burkett lays out six “basic business minimums.” He proposes that applying these minimums is a good way to make a business distinctly Christian:

  1. Reflect Christ in your business practices.
  2. Be accountable.
  3. Provide a quality product at a fair price.
  4. Honor your creditors.
  5. Treat your employees fairly.
  6. Treat your customers fairly.

Now, perhaps it’s sad that Christian business people need to be taught this—it seems like the kind of thing we began learning in Sunday School! But I think Burkett’s assumption is valid: Too many business people—even those who claim to be Christians—believe that the Bible’s teachings are incompatible with savvy business.

Burkett shares plenty of real-life stories of people who applied Biblical principles to their business operations—sometimes at great financial cost. Though he comes close to painting a PollyAnna-ish picture of everything working out for people who do the right thing, he does acknowledge that it isn’t always easy. A Biblical decision may, in fact, not be profitable in the short-term. But in the long term, explains Burkett, God blesses His people.

That long-term view is important, maybe today more than ever. In an age of fast growth and instant gratification, it’s tempting to seek quick, easy success. But the foundation of every business is relationships—with customers, with staff, with vendors, with shareholders. And even today, relationships take time and trust.

Business by the Book

In the end, it doesn’t matter what type of business you’re in. I believe we will all be judged not by the profit margin we generate, or the product we manufacture, or the inspiring Mission Statement we hang on our walls. We will be judged by the quality of the relationships we develop, with God and with the people around us. As Burkett says:

“Since graduating from business school I have been studying another text book. It’s called the Bible. And it takes a radically different approach to business matters than most business schools today–an approach more concerned with eternity than profits.” (p. 11)

 

Book review: Approaching Jehovah’s Witnesses in Love

by Wilbur Lingle

by Wilbur Lingle

Several weeks ago, when CLC Publications asked me to review Amy Carmichael’s Plowed Under, I did some research on their website and noticed Wilbur Lingle’s book there. Because this is a topic that interests me, I asked if I could also review the Lingle book, and CLC was kind enough to send me a copy.

Insightful strategy

What sets Lingle’s book (and his evangelism methods) apart is his strategy. Lingle is not interested in winning arguments with the Jehovah’s Witnesses who come to his door—at least not the arguments they have on their agenda, which they are very prepared to debate. Instead, he works to deflect their attention back to their own religion. His contention is that the Watchtower Society’s teachings cannot stand up to scrutiny, but most JWs do not know this because they are taught never to question the organization.

I think this approach is brilliant, and ultimately loving. In fact, there were times in my conversations with my neighbor that I was in effect employing this approach, but I wasn’t doing it systematically, as Lingle does, so my effectiveness was probably marginal.

Difficult execution

Of course, what’s difficult about laying out a strategy like this, and listing question after question after question in a book (almost courtroom-transcript-style), is that it doesn’t feel very loving. Lingle’s subtitle is “How to Witness Effectively Without Arguing,” but  the questions and answers in black-and-white read very much like an argument.

And, actually, that same dynamic is involved whenever Christians interact with Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is easy to get drawn into a series of arguments. Lingle warns against that because he knows that JWs are highly trained in arguing, particularly about topics that are not “essentials.” (You don’t celebrate birthdays because they are mentioned only twice in the Bible and both times they were an occasion for gruesome deaths? Um, ok, if that’s what you want to infer from Genesis 40 and Matthew 14, feel free.) So his purpose in listing so many questions and answers is not to script a debate, but to help prepare Christians with as much background information as possible. It is up to us then to ask these questions as gently as possible, always working to build a genuine friendship.

Changing information

One of the key points Lingle makes against the Watchtower Society is that they continually change their beliefs—but they don’t talk about the change or admit that they had been wrong before; they simply introduce the new belief and pretend that they have always believed it. For example:

  • Before 1930, Jehovah’s Witnesses could vote, hold public office, join the army, and go to war. Today they cannot.
  • They used to believe that Jesus returned to earth invisibly in 1874. Today they claim He returned in 1914.
  • Throughout the history of the organization, smoking has been frowned upon, but it wasn’t until 1973 that it became a reason for actual disfellowshipping.
  • Today’s Jehovah’s Witnesses do not celebrate Christmas, and most are probably not aware that their founder, Charles Taze Russell, wrote the following about Christmas in an 1898 issue of Zion’s Watch Tower:

“Since the Lord has given no instructions whatever upon this subject, and since it is proper to do good deeds and think good thoughts upon any day, it cannot be improper, in harmony with general usage, for us to remember in a social way our dear Redeemer’s birth at this time. …The custom throughout Christendom of making Christmas Day a joyful one, by the interchange of little tokens of love in the family, and to the poor, seems most appropriate.”

In a conversation with my neighbor, I once explained that I would have trouble putting my faith in an organization that changed its teachings so often. “Jehovah’s Witnesses used to believe,” I said, “that Jesus should be worshipped. Now you don’t. That’s kind of a big deal to me.” She told me that there might be changes in some minor beliefs, but never on anything as important as Jesus. But when I tried to show her the research I had done, she wouldn’t read it because the sources I cited were not approved by the Watchtower.

Lingle’s book was updated in 2004, but even so, I noticed some differences between the beliefs he was confronting and my own conversations with my neighbor. To me, this is further indication that not only do the Watchtower’s beliefs continually change, but their tactics do too. It’s also a reminder that people are different, and it’s a mistake to assume that all Jehovah’s Witnesses are the same.

Good news

In spite of the possibility that some of the information is already out of date, I will keep Approaching the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Love in my library as an important reference tool. I think Lingle’s strategy is sound, and it’s helpful to have so much information about the Watchtower Society in a single book. Although I am no longer meeting weekly with my neighbor, we did manage to build a friendship over my kitchen table, and we continue to exchange pleasantries when we see each other. That relationship is important to me—because it means I might get other opportunities to have a genuine conversation about God and faith.

And that’s the thing about evangelism—sharing the Good News: As Jesus Himself demonstrated, it works best in the context of a relationship.

If you are interested in building a relationship with the Jehovah’s Witnesses, rather than hiding behind the door when they ring the doorbell, I recommend this book. Available from CLC Publications, it will help prepare you for the hard work that relationship evangelism demands.

See also:

Book review: Plowed Under,
by Amy Carmichael

Plowed UnderNote: After posting Amy Carmichael’s poem, “No Scar?” earlier this year, I received an invitation from CLC Publications to do a book review of another writing by Carmichael—Plowed Under. CLC Publications provided a free copy of the book.

Getting my bearings

It’s a slim paperback, and it looks like you could sit down and read it in an hour or two. But it took me longer than that.

Plowed Under, by Amy CarmichaelI got off to a slow start because some of the front matter confused me. Let me start with the title page as an example: it lists the title and subtitle, the author, the original title and subtitle, a poem, a descriptor under the poem that might be the poem’s title, the phrase “A Dohnavur Book,” and the publisher. I didn’t think too much about this at first, but as I continued reading, I would sometimes turn to the title page for context clues, only to find that the information raised as many questions as it answered. Is this a book by Amy Carmichael or about Amy Carmichael? When was the original version published? Did Carmichael write the poem on the title page? Is that the full poem, or an excerpt? What does it mean that this is “a Dohnavur Book”?

The next page, “Notes on Words,” offers definitions of some of the Indian terms used in the story—such as Iyer (a title of respect used for ordained men) and taluk (a division of a district). But because I didn’t yet know what the book was about, I didn’t have any context for these words. I found myself returning to this page as I came across unfamiliar words throughout the book, so it might have been more helpful to include those definitions as footnotes or parenthetical info on the actual pages where the words appear.

The “Notes on Photographs” page identifies the people who took the photos that appear occasionally throughout the book. It seems as though this page may have been written by Amy Carmichael, so maybe the photographers were people she knew, and maybe the photographs appeared in the original publication too. There is also a reference to “the Dohnavur Fellowship,” which might be related to the “Dohnavur Book” reference on the title page.

“About the Story” is sort of a Foreword that gives some background about the main character in the story, an Indian girl named Arulai Tara (“Star”). The author of this Foreword is identified by the initials A.C., but I didn’t realize right away that this must be Amy Carmichael. Since this was the only page with an identified author, I assumed this author must be someone other than the author of the other pages.

These are all small things, but the overall effect is that it was difficult for me to orient myself within the book. Now, it’s possible that this is how the front matter appeared in the originally published book, and CLC Publications feels an obligation to stay true to the original. I respect that, but I think some confusion could have been minimized with a simple introductory explanation. For example:

This book is a re-publication of Amy Carmichael’s Ploughed Under, which was originally published by [publisher name] in [year]. Though book design norms have changed since that time, we have preserved the content—including the front matter—exactly as it appeared in the original. The various “Notes” were all written by Amy Carmichael and appeared in the original publication.

Something like that.

Getting into the story

But anyway, the story itself is an interesting window into Indian culture, a missionary’s compassion, and how the Christian God answered a Hindu girl’s prayers. I grew up in the Christian culture myself, but I also had the good fortune to spend many years writing for an international ministry, and I learned a lot about the different paths people take to Jesus. Reading Carmichael’s story of Star’s questions and hopes and family pressures and cultural expectations—well, it reminded me of stories I heard when I interviewed people in the Philippines, Mexico, China, Cambodia—places where following Jesus is a risk. Star’s story is moving for the same reasons.

In general though, Carmichael’s skill as a storyteller does not match her skill as a poet. The story of Star was probably more meaningful to Carmichael’s co-workers in India, people already familiar with the characters and the context. As an outsider though, I often felt like there were gaps I wasn’t quite able to fill in. Sometimes the chronology seemed to jump around. Sometimes I didn’t understand the significance of events or places or discoveries Carmichael was relaying. It’s possible the original book was never intended for a wider audience than the Dohnavur Fellowship; I think some additional editing would help make it accessible for the rest of us.

Still, there are some beautiful passages worth noting:

To look up into a dark sky and see it suddenly open, as lightning plays across it, to see in one revealing flash deep into the kingdoms of light, is to know what prayer most truly is. There is mystery, but beyond that darkness is not a deeper darkness, but light—kingdoms of light. (p. 27)

[Upon hearing that Star would not be allowed to return to Carmichael’s home:] People tried to comfort me; words, words—it was all words, a wind of words, their comfort, chaff…. (p. 53)

For it is always wonderful to stand with the happy angels and watch a soul take color, like a dewdrop in sunrise. (p. 81)

Summary

I am glad I was given the opportunity to read Plowed Under, but it’s hard for me to recommend it to the general reading public. It would probably be most meaningful for Christians who have missions experience in India, or people who are already Amy Carmichael fans.

If you’re curious though, and you want to purchase a copy of Plowed Under, it becomes available July 1, 2013, from CLC Publications. (This is not an affiliate link.) If you do purchase a copy, I’d love it if you’d come back and share a brief review in the comments!

Introversion and creativity:
a book review of Quiet

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking

QuietI mentioned in my first blog of this year that my books-I-want-to-read list included Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, which is now available through Amazon.com. I have read it now, and I was really fascinated by it. It’s enlightening—not just for business leaders, but also for schools, parents, and anyone who’s in a relationship with an introvert or an extrovert!

Introversion is normal, too

Cain’s revelations are both logical and surprising—surprising, I think, because American culture places such a high value on extroversion, so we have come to assume that extroversion is normal and desirable. For active Christians, this culture of extroversion is reinforced in our churches. (If you dread “mutual greeting” time or “passing the peace,” you may be an introvert.) For example, in a section titled “Does God Love Introverts? An Evangelical’s Dilemma,” Cain writes:

Like [Harvard Business School], evangelical churches often make extroversion a prerequisite for leadership, sometimes explicitly. “The priest must be…an extrovert who enthusiastically engages members and newcomers, a team player,” reads an ad for a position as associate rector of a 1,400-member parish. A senior priest at another church confesses online that he has advised parishes recruiting a new rector to ask what his or her Myers-Briggs score is. “If the first letter isn’t an ‘E’ [for Extrovert],” he tells them, “think twice. …I’m sure our Lord was [an extrovert].”

Wow.

So all that pressure you’ve been feeling to “speak up” or “be social” or “exude confidence”—that’s not in your head. That pressure is very real. Our culture values extroversion, and there is a whole industry of resources for training people to be more extroverted.

That’s why Cain’s book is so important. She cites numerous studies that show extroversion is not better than introversion. In fact, to value either trait to the exclusion of the other is to put ourselves—our businesses, our churches, and even our personal wealth—at risk. Consider, for example, that the 11 high-performing companies profiled in Jim Collins’ famous book Good to Great were all led by introverts, not extroverts, a fact that is often overlooked by businesses using the book as a manual to greatness.

Introversion and creativity

All of this serves as interesting context for the most surprising learning I got from the book: the idea that collaboration can kill creativity. As a “creative” in a variety of roles in my church life and my work life, I’ve always heard that “brainstorming” and “teamwork” and “synergy” are essential to creativity. But Cain presents findings that reveal just the opposite: people (extroverts as well as introverts) produce more ideas and better ideas when they work alone. In groups, only one person can talk at a time, so the others are sitting passively. Group members also suffer from social pressure to not look stupid, so they don’t express all their ideas.

On your own though, you can stay focused on the problem, free of any social pressures, generating as many solutions as possible.

That’s not to say that there is no place for collaboration. All of us need interaction for inspiration and new perspectives. But forced interaction can be harmful to the creative process. Throughout history, Cain cites example after example of amazing creativity that happened in isolation—from Isaac Newton’s awareness of gravity to Steve Wozniak’s invention of the personal computer that would become the first Apple.

Embrace your inner introvert

Are you an introvert or an extrovert? Have you taken the Myers-Briggs personality test?

I took the test many years ago, and my personality line was right between the “E” and the “I,” though, if I recall correctly, it leaned toward “I.” So that means I’m comfortable in front of large groups, but I’m more confident if I’ve had time to prepare. And I enjoy being with people, but I’m more likely to find social interactions an energy expense rather than an energy investment. Having time alone is what recharges my battery.

Quiet, in effect, gives me permission to be alone without feeling that I’m anti-social, or selfish, or shy.

I’m just a little introverted.

And that’s a valid way to experience the world.