What I Learned Advising Anabaptist Businesses – Verlon Miller – Anabaptist Perspectives Ep. 138

What I Learned Advising Anabaptist Businesses – Verlon Miller – Anabaptist Perspectives Ep. 138

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Welcome everyone back to another  episode of Anabaptist Perspectives.   Today I'm here with Verlon  Miller who's my father-in-law,   and good to be here with you. You're a pastor  here at our church and also do business   advising in your daytime job, and I want to  talk to you about that a little bit today. Sure. Good to be here.

Good to have you here. So the last number of  years you've worked with a business advising team,   and primarily you're working with Anabaptist  businesses, and so that gives you an interesting   view into kind of a cross-section of   our Anabaptist circles. Can you just tell us  in brief what you do, and we'll go from there. Sure. So work with a business advising team, and  what that means is we work with companies that   come to us for a variety of reasons. Typically  there's about three things that people really  

want from us when they come in the businesses.  A stereotypical company that will come to us   is somebody who is really good with their  hands. They like to build something - like   to do something. They're good with that part  of the business, but they don't like the office   part. They don't like the bookkeeping. They don't  understand the numbers. They don't want to do it,   and so it's a necessary thing. They have to have  a level of understanding to make wise decisions,  

and so that's a core piece of  what happens, but it really   leads into other parts of business  management and ownership as well   including just needing someone to talk to. There's  a lot of people out there who own businesses,   and for whatever reason they're not  comfortable talking to their brother   or their dad or someone in the church. Maybe  they're embarrassed. Maybe they're scared,   and they really find it helpful just to have a  third party, confidential somebody who's used to   looking at numbers and talking through business  things, and we do a lot of that where we're just   talking ideas. We're talking about the what-ifs,  and some of that comes out of the numbers because   going through those ideas is very critical, and  you got to have good information, and some of that   comes from the numbers. So then the third piece  is that we do a lot of work with relationships.   Now if you think about many businesses you've got  relationships in partnerships, customers, vendors,   employees, and we end up talking about  a lot of things in those areas as well,   so our team is working with about 100 companies  right now. The heart of our program is monthly   meetings. That's mostly done remotely over the  phone and with the computer, and we just talk  

through the ongoing business operation that they  have, so I really view my job as a teaching job,   as a walk-alongside-me kind of guy, an advisor,  and then there's other days where it's almost like   counseling. We've got to figure out how to resolve  some kind of a problem. I've really enjoyed   working with people. It's been a great experience  working with business owners. Probably 95 percent   or more of our companies that we work with are  in the conservative Anabaptist world, and so we   find that enjoyable having that shared values and  understanding of the people we're working with.

So I mentioned in my last question about this  cross-section of the Anabaptist circles that   you are exposed through the business world. As  you've been in this job the last number of years   what are some things that surprised you  about these businesses in good and bad ways? The view I have best is of the companies  that come to us for help, and I recognize   that there's people outside of that that  this wouldn't be an accurate representation,   but that spectrum of people that we help is  anywhere from companies who are struggling   all the way up through very successful, profitable  companies who come to us for other reasons. They   don't need help on profit. They maybe just need a  third party to talk through some ideas. Maybe they  

need planning. Maybe they're looking at future  projections, and they just want to understand   how to go through that process of making  a wise decision, so we see a broad range,   but what surprised me? Two things I think of. The  one is just the level of generosity that's there.   You know looking in before I was a business  advisor, and I knew people. I had friends,  

and you kind of know things, but you don't really  know them, and you surmise, so I was in that boat.   When I got more into seeing the workings and some  of the insides of the companies and their finances   I have been very blessed at the generosity  that is there. Now that doesn't mean that I've   seen it everywhere. I think that there's room for  growth there, but there are a lot of very generous   conservative Anabaptist business owners, and it's  because of them that many of our conservative   Anabaptist ministries are funded at the level  that they are. That was a very pleasant surprise.   One that wasn't quite so pleasant is the level  of debt that some of these companies have,   and as you think about it I  guess it's understandable.  

The amount of capital that is needed for some of  these ventures unless they had a lot of capital   coming in as a young person they had to get the  financing somewhere. It's not always a commercial   loan. Sometimes it's someone else in the community  or family that's helping to finance that,   so I was surprised that even some companies that  we would view as more mature. They've been around   a while. They still have a significant debt  obligation that they're dealing with. That's   a piece I'm not really intending to present it  positively or negatively. It's just there, and  

I think it's helpful for people to understand that  there is a lot of risk. There is a lot of capital   investment, and it goes way beyond just what  we think of the business world into the farming   community and some of the other ventures that we  have maybe even just the properties that we own. You mentioned these businesses that are  doing well that give a lot and fund a lot of   charity or mission type projects. How do you see  business furthering the gospel and the kingdom of   God? And after you speak to that or as you speak  to that maybe give a little insight into how that   affects your view, and what you do as an advisor  as you seek to speak into those situations. Great question. One that  everybody ought to wrestle with  

whether you're a business owner or not. I  think people in the Christian community ought   to - we ought to get our heads wrapped around  this and to think about business properly.   Can it be used to advance  God's kingdom? Absolutely.   If you think about Kingdom activities whether it's  ministry of serving other people in the church,   whether it's going on a ministry thing to lost  people. Publications. Maybe it's something as  

simple as stopping and visiting your neighbor. If  you go through many of those activities - in fact   I'm going to say all of them you can find  an element of this. Somewhere funding was   required for that, and at some point somebody  had to make money and contribute, so now at the   business level how do we look at that within our  communities? Well, that's obviously a place where   a higher level of funding can be generated and  can go to Kingdom work, so I would back up and say   businesses as we operate them as followers  of Jesus they should reflect to other people   what everything in life does as a Christian. It  should show the world and the people around us,  

this is how it looks when a business owner follows  Jesus, and I think it can be a huge impact in just   here's a Christian business owner functioning  in my community, but then beyond that there   is the monetary aspect of it as well that  actually can contribute to the funding of   these different ministries and local churches -  whatever those needs are. Maybe charity as well. So as a business advisor you're   emphasizing to some extent at least  stewardship. Is that what I'm hearing? Absolutely. Yes, one of the things that happens  in, and we have different levels of engagement,  

but the core of what we do is these monthly  meetings and as a part of that the advisors   will go through little articles. We call them  a Call to Stewardship, and they're not very   long. Few minutes long, but it's a reminder  at the beginning of every meeting that we are   accountable to the Lord. Everything we have  in one way or another has been given to us,   and at some point I'm going to give an account to  Him for how responsibly or irresponsibly I handled   that opportunity, so what does that do for me  as an advisor? Well, we make no bones about   it. We advise from a Christian perspective, and  it doesn't mean that you have to be a Christian   company to come to us. At this point I think all  of them are, but if a company comes to us that is   the perspective from which we operate and advise  and work with them and think about decisions and   vision, so what we say as a team is that our goal  is to encourage and assist business owners to free   up resources for the Kingdom of God, and we say  that fairly broadly because that can go a lot   of different ways, but that's what we really want  to do. Decrease the stress of business ownership.  

Increase the level of contribution  that can be made to God's Kingdom.   It's not overt in every discussion, but  it's this undergirding principle that's   there in all of our interactions as we interact  with the different companies that come to us. I hear you talking about a lot of things  that business can enable. So let's just   talk a little bit about those positives. What are  some positives that you see? Maybe trends even in   the Christian business circles that we  should affirm and continue to cultivate? Mentioned a couple of them already. So the  generosity was one of them, and I'm blessed to   see that, and I'm not privy to what all business  owners do with their funding or with the funds   that they take home. You know it's not all done  through the companies. They will do that through  

their personal finances. Very encouraged by that.  There's a lot of people who who want to give.   One of the things that was a concern to me  starting into this job was I knew I would not   be fulfilled if all I was helping people do was  become wealthy. That seems rather meaningless to   me, and what I discovered, and was told this would  be the case, and it's true is that actually that   level of greed and materialism within the  business owner community that we work with   that tends to be a smaller segment than the  segment of people who are wanting to contribute,   and have the mindset of I want to give.  I'm really blessed by that as I see that  

attitude, and then the other thing goes along with  that. I mentioned the Call to Stewardship articles   that we do. We actually get a lot of positive  feedback on that, and a lot of people resonate   with those biblical principles, and they identify  with it. They aspire to that, and so there again,   I'm just blessed with that whole picture of it's  not just a bunch of greedy materialistic people   although sadly I'm sure that does describe some  business owners, but we have a lot of people who   really care about the Kingdom of God, and the way  that they operate their businesses in a healthy   function, so that's a blessing to me. It's  one of the positives. Another one is the  

personnel development. I see a lot of business  owners who care about the people around them,   and I think of one situation with an employee  where the business owner knew it was going to be   a shorter term employment with the young person.  I think he was I don't know 14 or 15 when he came   to work for him, and he just knew it wasn't  going to be long term. He had other interests,   but he approached it with the express purpose of   I want this young man to be a better person  when he leaves than when he got here,   and so I see that. Not always that overtly as  that particular business did it, but a lot of  

care and concern about what's happening. There  was an employee who was having difficulty at work,   and the owner wasn't quite sure how this was going  to work out. This young man came to the Lord,   and he's a new man, and he was a completely  different employee, and that was really what   the business owner was hoping for. He didn't know  how this was going to work out, but I see that   level of concern and care there for the employees.  It kind of goes into a broader thing that many   of these people feel a degree of responsibility.  I'm providing employment. I'm helping people make   a living in my faith community, in the broader  community. I'm contributing to their well-being,  

and there's that sense of care and responsibility  that they feel as they operate their companies. Well, let's flip that around now.  We've talked about some positives,   but you also mentioned you know some  people have greed and any time you have   a degree of success or wealth there are negative  tendencies that can creep in. Can you talk   to - can you speak to some of the negatives  that you've maybe seen in what you're doing? One of the things I would see, and this is not  always negative. Sometimes it's just what is,   and it's kind of a tension that we have  to learn to manage and to live with,   but that's the thing of time commitment, and so  it's not unique just to business owners, but is   definitely there. There's some things when you're  a business owner you just can't get out of it. It  

comes with the turf. You're stuck with it, and  you're responsible to make it happen, so sometimes   that business just becomes all-consuming. It's  really enjoyable and gratifying to me when we   can help a company go through that - I'll call it  a pain point. Where you're having a growth. You've   got responsibilities, and you can help develop the  company and develop systems to a place where it's   sustainable. Sometimes short-term businesses will  go through phases. Long-term it's not sustainable,   but we can push through it for a short  time, and so I think the key there is   calling people to be aware and intentional of  is this business managing me or am I managing   it? And it can be a struggle, but it is one  that can be worked with and often can be   improved and brought to a healthy level. Another  one is just responsible management of debt.   We have seen a broad spectrum of attitudes towards  financing, and I recognize that particularly in   business there's just a tremendous amount  of capital that's required to start up,   and most of us do not have that kind of capital,  and in order for there to be that kind of a   business venture there has to be some kind of  financing, and so this isn't really intended   to be a discussion if that's right or wrong or  wherever that comes. It's more an observation  

of attitudes that I've observed where some  people are just very, very comfortable with a   very, very large debt load. The question we  have to deal with as advisors then. Okay,   so you have it. How do we service that  debt load and meet those obligations?   And sometimes that can be a very difficult,  lengthy process of helping pull out of that one,   so just the negative I would see is when we  don't have that healthy things. Many people   are cautious. Some people are not cautious enough,  and it's one of those things I was surprised at   how many I would have said would have been more  comfortable with extremely high risk than what   I would have expected, so another one that I've  seen on the negative side is people who are   controlled by fear, so there's healthy fear that  we ought to have, and then there's a debilitating   fear that keeps us from doing the the right  thing sometimes or from making wise decisions,   so some examples of that would be fear of dealing  with a problem in the company. Maybe with an  

employee. Maybe even with a customer, but any  kind of a problem area. It's like, I don't want   to touch that. I'm scared of what will happen. You  know I'm scared of losing business. I'm scared of   losing an employee. Really as we can identify  those and begin to remove emotion there again,   it doesn't have to be a negative in the big  picture. We can flip that around. We can take   what should be a valid caution. We talk through  it. We gather information and go to fact-based  

decisions more than emotion, and that's what fear  does to us is it keeps us on the emotion side. Another question I have is you're working  with businesses that a lot of them it sounds   like have numerous employees. They're not  just one or two-man shops. They have have a   number of employees. How can that be a mutually  beneficial relationship, and how can that be   more than just somebody coming in and punching a  time clock and going home? How can there be more   mission or purpose behind that. You're speaking  to the business owner and instilling value or   cultivating values there that are hopefully  Kingdom-focused. How does that trickle down? So one of the things that we do  with some companies as they want   us to is we'll do team building events  where we try to help them understand   care and just understanding the personalities that  are present and how people function and learning   to interact well on a personal relationship.  For the business owner what can he do? Maybe I  

ought to start with a phrase that  I've heard in the business community   which says this, and I wish I know who to  attribute it to. I don't know who said it,   but they said "People don't quit their jobs. They  quit their managers." And I think that that is   often the case. As I've observed people working,  and what happens in those workplace environments   what determines if an employee is really  happy there and will stay there long term   is much more than compensation. That matters.  They've got to be compensated, but it's down  

the list a little ways, and ahead of that  you have things like job satisfaction,   personal satisfaction of I'm contributing  in a good way. There's any number of things   that come into play where they just enjoy being  there. The workplace is a friendly environment,   and I'm going to say that there's got to be some  appropriate boundaries. We don't go to work,  

and it's just all fun and games, and this is  a wonderful place to goof off, but it's got to   be a place where we can come and enjoy and feel  satisfaction in working there, so for employees   and business owners, how can that be mutually  beneficial? Well, one is the owner needs to   be good at communicating that appreciation.  You're doing a great job. I appreciate what you   contribute to the company. You know you've helped  out in this way. Verbalizing some of those things   just on a healthy communication. Another thing  that we see often working well is what I'll call   an incentive pay system in which people are  compensated for helping the company do well,   and it really promotes teamwork, and it motivates  them. They know I can help improve my level of   compensation. When I help the company succeed, the  company is going to kick some of that back to me,  

and it's mutually beneficial, but there again  if that was the only piece that was there,   it wouldn't work. It's the bigger picture of  people like to come to work, they enjoy what   they do, it's a good fit for them, and they're  contributing well to what's happening at the   company. Maybe another simple way of saying  it is the boss is able to communicate to them   that he cares about them as a person, that  they're not just a number, another cog in his   business machine that keeps turning out  products and hopefully making money.   The business owner can communicate  that level of care and concern   for what's happening in their lives  in a very healthy, helpful way. So fostering a sense of teamwork, and even maybe  through an incentivized pay system. A sense of   ownership and contributing to the overall cause  can be impactful. Have you seen any companies  

put any sort of giving program in place  for their employees to match giving to   charities or anything like  that or have some sort of   public goal as a company of hey, let's  try to hit this target and share? I have seen some of that. For some companies  they've not gotten to the level where   that's a good option, but yeah, I have been  involved in some of those discussions where   what's a good way to structure this? How can we  encourage our employees? In fact one business   owner I was familiar with he actually said, I'd  like to give them more, and what he was wrestling   with in his mind was he'd like to give them more  so they can give more, and then the discussion   was okay, well, how do we balance it? We give it  to them. It's up to them what they do with it,   but yeah, that heart of figuring out how can we  give together is definitely present with some   companies, and I think it's one of those things  that's maybe more unspoken than structured like   you're talking about, but that is definitely  present in many people that I work with. Well, very good. Those are  some things that are inspiring   and things that are a challenge to those  of us who have been involved in business,   and maybe are. Do you have anything else to say  to anybody who's listening or watching this? I'm blessed by what I see in the Christian  business community. Are there things we can  

improve? Absolutely, but there's a lot of good  there, and I want to foster and encourage that   for people to keep on serving the Lord and letting  their businesses be light and showing the world   around them here's what it looks like when  Jesus is in charge of a business owner's life. Just basic integrity and being a person of your  word goes so far in today's world. Thank you for   sharing a bit of insight into your work, and  the view you have of our Anabaptist circles   and the businesses that are there, and how  they can be part of God's Kingdom and be a   tool. They're not just a large wealth-generating  selfish corporation. They can be much, much more  

than that, so thanks for your time and for sharing  your thoughts, and thank you to each one who has   joined us for this episode. If you want to see  more content like this you can go to our website   anabaptistperspectives.org.  We'll see you next time.

2021-07-26 17:01

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