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

Jul 22, 2021 10:30 · 4012 words · 19 minute read

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.

00:27 - 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.

00:48 - 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.

03:35 - 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.

06:28 - 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.

07:00 - 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.

08:48 - 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.

10:34 - 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.

14:08 - 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.

18:04 - 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.

21:44 - 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.

23:10 - 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.

23:47 - 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. .