Shrewd. What do you think of when you hear this word? Do you think it describes you? Would you want someone to describe you as being shrewd?
Yesterday, Dr. James Edwards of Whitworth University taught our adult Sunday school class Jesus’ parable about the shrewd manager found in Luke 16:1-9. The parable concludes with: “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”
To the surprise and disappointment of many people in our class, Dr. Edwards pointed out that godly people should be shrewd. We tend to not be very shrewd, but we should be shrewd. Even though that is clearly how the parable concludes, some people in our class were not comfortable with the idea that we are supposed to be shrewd. Somehow being shrewd does not sound very holy.
A shrewd person is astute and penetrating, often with regard to business. He is artful and crafty, marked by practical hardheaded intelligence. A smart businessman who shows mental alertness and resourcefulness is shrewd.
Are we really supposed to be shrewd in the Church? Should we demonstrate shrewdness in ministry? What about in missions, relief, and development?
As a regular reader of missiological research and an observer and participant in the Church and in missions, I agree with the parable. We should become more shrewd. My observation is that we often have good intentions, but fail to think clearly and act astutely when it comes to investing Kingdom resources. If we could recover the money shamefully lost due to poor planning, inefficient structures, and corruption, there would be more than enough to invest in all the viable, strategic, and effective efforts imaginable.
My prayer is that we will cease the naiveté and become more shrewd, especially when investing resources designated for Kingdom purposes.
Earlier this week I met with two African Whitworth University students to solicit their feedback regarding our Anda Leadership business plan. One student, from Malawi, is pursuing her MBA. The other student, from Ghana, is working on a bachelor’s degree in business. I was eager to hear how our business plan sounded to them.
They agreed that the plan makes sense and our strategy to provide customized training for entrepreneurs in Africa and other emerging markets has potential to add real value. There are smart people starting and running businesses in their countries and throughout Africa. Unfortunately, many of these people do not have access to people who can help them wrestle with normal, but perplexing management and leadership issues. Providing the biblical character-based training we are proposing will be a benefit to them.
The students’ greatest concern is that we will be, in their words, “sucked dry.” They perceive that the need for the kind of training we will bring is huge and we will not be able to adequately respond. They were also concerned that we could be hustled by unsavory characters who appear to want our help, but actually want to take advantage of us in some way. These are good warnings for us.
The best idea that I heard from them seems obvious now, but was something I had largely overlooked until they said it. They suggested that we work with churches. Churches in Africa have business-people who are struggling to succeed in business and desire to integrate their faith into their work. African Churches would host training events for the men and women in their congregations who seek to please God as they build their businesses.
Working through churches would accomplish our agenda of helping to break the cycle of poverty by equipping local talent. It would also build up the body of Christ and break a commonly accepted error. Currently, the general understanding is that the committed Christians go into ministry and the less committed go to the marketplace. Wow, what a joy it would be to help break that miss-perception!
If you would like a copy of our business plan, let me know.
Whitworth University has a policy that courses with student enrollment of less than eight will be canceled. I understand this policy. Every organization, business, and institution should know its financial break even points and discipline itself to only engage in activities that are financially viable.
For the past month, the enrollment in my course, TH317 Cross Cultural Ministry, has never gone above seven. The head of my department wanted this course to go, so he petitioned his superiors and they agreed to allow an exception. They said the course could go as long as there were at least six students. The first class meeting was yesterday. Only five students came. Two students had decided to transfer to other courses. This left us short and disappointed. However, with the possibility that some students might transfer into our course, we experienced positive energy in the classroom and began to look forward to spending the semester together. Unfortunately, no students chose to transfer into TH317 and today the course was terminated.
During my career I have regularly observed organizations who refused to let go of projects and initiatives that were financial potholes. So, when I was notified today that the course was being canceled I was simultaneously disappointed and pleased. I am disappointed that I will not be teaching, but I affirm the University’s decision. Canceling my class demonstrates institutional integrity.