Reprinted from the Chalmers Center.
Adapted from Practicing the King’s Economy: Honoring Jesus in How We Work, Earn, Spend, Save, and Give (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books 2018), 90, 130-31; 153-54
Connecting people with good work is a crucial component of any long-term, sustainable poverty alleviation strategy. For most of us, supporting job-seekers looks like advocacy, providing references, and helping out with things like documentation and transportation. But imagine what possibilities could be in your capacity if you were actually in a position to offer good jobs to people through your leadership role in a business or through a business (whether large or small) that you own.
God has mightily used Christian business leaders to fund and support the ministry of local churches and parachurch organizations throughout the history of the church. Beyond fulfilling the creation mandate and providing for the financial needs of God’s people, businesses themselves can be an integral part of restoring people and communities.
Business as Kingdom Tool: Wes Gardner’s Story
Wes Gardner is a serial entrepreneur and founder of Prime Trailer Leasing in Colorado. “There came a point in my business career,” Wes says, “when I realized that business could be a platform for serving my neighbor.” He had already begun praying over how God would have him give more and more of the income he’d been blessed with, asking God for wisdom to manage every bit of it. When he read a Gallup study that concluded that what everybody wants is a good job, Wes realized that as a business owner, he had a special opportunity to serve.
In 2011, Prime Trailer began the Career Partner Program (CPP). Through this program, Prime hires unlikely job candidates through partner ministries and provides them with above-market wages for at least twelve months, while investing in them personally and professionally.
Lauren was living at Hope House, a home for teenage mothers, when she got hired by Prime through their CPP program. Through the program she became a full-time permanent employee and outstanding contributor to Prime. But that’s not how things got started. “My mom was a teen mom,” Lauren says. “My dad joined the military, my mom was homeless, so we lacked stability.” When she was sixteen, Lauren became pregnant herself. “I remember thinking, Oh my gosh, even when I’m trying to do something, I’m not really getting anywhere. “The first six months at Prime were extremely rocky,” Lauren says. “I struggled so much. I was like, I don’t want to let anybody in. People just leave, and they’ll just abandon me, or if things get too tough, I’ll just be out on the streets. But this company is nothing like that.” Prime’s willingness to welcome Lauren and love her along the way allowed her to contribute to the company and her community.
Through work, Lauren is able to provide for her daughter. “She’s three and a half, and she’s sassy, but she has stability I never really had even at that age,” Lauren says. “This company has done so many things for me. The reason I come into work every day and want to work my butt off for this place is that they provided me with an opportunity that I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.”
Wes and the team at Prime, like most of us, wanted to do something about poverty. They had given generously to charities and charitable causes. But through their CPP program, they went further: they sacrificially adjusted their hiring practices to focus on marginalized workers such as Lauren. This didn’t mean they became a nonprofit or stopped making money. They still value profit-making as a core part of their business. But they adopted a new way of looking at their work when they began bending their business toward folks like Lauren.
For instance, Prime no longer views what they pay workers simply as a cost to be controlled. “I look at our payroll as profit,” says Wes. “I look at that line in my financial statements that shows how much we spend on wages and I think, ‘Look how much money we’ve made.’” Prime has created a real, dignifying, life-changing chance for people to work. The company’s story gives us a glimpse of how God’s people can bend their economic activity toward Jesus’ work in the world.
How Can You Put This into Practice in Your Workplace?
Consider: Do you own a business, have an entrepreneurial bent, or have influence on hiring at your current job? How could your workplace, coworkers, or capital bend your business or toward those typically left out of the job market? Some ideas for practicing restorative job creation at your workplace include the following:
- Partner with a nonprofit to hire marginalized job seekers. These people may include the long-term unemployed, single mothers, people with disabilities, people with criminal records, those with low education who may require more on-the-job training, and many more. Pay them more than the market requires. Consider working with a nonprofit to outsource some work to clients from that ministry or helping host a job-training program like the Chalmers Center’s Work Life training.
- Create a paid internship or apprenticeship program for youth from low-income communities. An eight-week paid summer jobs program for disadvantaged teenagers from Chicago resulted in a 43 percent decrease in juvenile delinquency for participants over an eighteen-month period.1 That makes hiring at-risk youth for a summer job one of the most successful community development initiatives ever! Nearly every business could find ways to welcome a teen or two into its workforce.
- Change your hiring policies. Allow people with criminal records to access at least some jobs. Provide more on-the-job training to allow the undereducated and lower-skilled workers access to work in your company. Consider adopting family-supportive policies that make it easier for parents to flourish in their work while caring for their children—this toolkit from our friends at the Center for Public Justice is a great place to start.
- Start a social enterprise. Tap into your inner entrepreneur to create opportunities for others. Most social enterprises require a team of people, often bringing together younger, entrepreneurial risk-takers with committed, more experienced business folks.
While not everyone is in a position to pursue such initiatives, we hope that stories like Wes’s and Lauren’s and others (like this one from our friend Alan Barnhart or this one from a small business in Pennsylvania) inspire conversations and ideas between nonprofits, for-profits, investors, entrepreneurs, and more about ways to bend our lives toward God’s plans for our economic endeavors.