December 21, 2010| 0

Changing the World Advent Style

To encourage the philanthropic spirit so readily experienced this time of year, Kelly Greene recently penned an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “How to Change the World … Whatever the Size of Your Wallet.” In this piece, she outlines a variety of programs to which one could volunteer time or donate money.

From committing to service programs to becoming a lender through Kiva to starting a nonprofit or endowing a scholarship, the article recommends a full spectrum of charitable investment options with corresponding prices. While these options serve to better the lives of others, Ms. Greene’s article neglects one of the most important philanthropic ideas: the moment-by-moment opportunities business people have to change the world by investing deeply in workplace relationships.

Positive change happens at both the personal and systemic level. As leaders we should not only work to build departments and businesses that serve well and contribute to human flourishing, but also to invest personally in the lives of the people in which we interface every day. We must choose to subscribe to daily, real-time moments to encourage, empower, and open up possibilities for others.

More than the message of Advent — a time of waiting and preparation for Christmas – the incarnational ministry of Jesus Christ who heals and restores is the ultimate example of this kind of selfless service.

Many years later in remembrance of Christ, the Apostle Paul encouraged the community of faith in Philippi to consider their calling in a similar manner:

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:3-5 ESV).

What would it mean to live an others-focused life characterized by the incarnational God? Although the philanthropic suggestions in Greene’s article detail ways in which individuals can accomplish servitude, attitudinal intentionality expressed by Paul in Philippians demands more — namely serving others in humility.

The demands of this kind of intentionality recently confronted one of this blog post’s authors while he was vacationing in Florida with family members. A notice in the local newspaper for an auction of Bernie Madoff’s personal affects for the benefit of defrauded investors prompted the question: How would I respond if Bernie walked into the room this very moment?

Would I treat Madoff with decency, even though his Ponzi scheme robbed thousands of investors of billions of dollars? If given the opportunity, would I have treated his family members with respect, including Mark, his son, who recently hanged himself on the two-year anniversary of his father’s arrest?

This might seem like an extreme example, but the humble, selfless service to which Paul speaks invites this kind of commitment in the everyday moments of our working life.

Advent is about crossing barriers and caring for others, even those who are difficult to love. Serving colleagues and neighbors with this kind of spirit connects us to the deeper meaning of Advent. It also helps us recognize and confess our own shortcomings and the ways in which we fail others.

At a broader, institutional level, Ms. Greene’s article focuses exclusively on nonprofits as the avenue for service and assistance in the world. Nonprofits are crucial, for sure, but so are vibrant, life-giving, for-profit enterprises. Business, when committed to the service of others, is not tangential to world change, but rather, at the center of opening up possibilities for people to grow and flourish.

As the Advent season closes with the commemoration of Christmas, may our imaginations and celebrations focus not only on God incarnate, born in a lowly stable in Bethlehem, but also on the serving, healing, restoring Jesus who crossed barriers in humility for the benefit of all humanity, and inviting us to do the same.

Donovan Richards is a graduate assistant in the Center for Integrity in Business.

John Terrill is the director of the Center for Integrity in Business.

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