Summary: Are we as willing to work hard on our relationship with Jesus as the dishonest steward was willing to work for his own future?
The Clever Servant
October 2, 2005
A few years ago, I became friends with a fellow named Roger who had built a very successful business from the ground up. Starting from almost nothing, he had become President and CEO of a paging service. You know, when you need your doctor in the evening or on his or her day off, you dial the office phone number and the service answers, which then passes on your emergency to the doctor. His business started with just him and his wife working out of their home, and had grown to a staff of more than fifty employees working out of two floors of a large office building in Calumet City, Illinois. When Roger and I first met, he was nearing retirement age and was grooming his daughter to take over this company which now had multi-million dollar annual sales.
One of the things I learned from him was that people who were very successful in business have a least three major characteristics. First, they work VERY hard. Secondly, they are VERY smart. And thirdly, they are not afraid to fail. They know that, if they do fail, they will learn valuable lessons which can be put to use in their next venture.
Roger worked very hard. When I say that, I don’t necessarily mean that he worked long hours. Of course, there were times earlier in his life when he worked some very long days, but over the years he had learned to be incredibly productive when he was working thereby cutting down on the need to spend most of his time in the office.
He was smart. Entrepreneurs like him are always looking for new ways of doing things. They always watch the culture very carefully in order to discover what people really need. And when they find out what people need, they go to work to meet that need.
I don’t see them around here, but if you travel in northwest Indiana, you will often see a little shed behind gas stations, convenience stores, and strip malls. They are filled with 40 pound bags of water softener salt. You see, Roger had gotten tired of having to take the time to go into grocery stores and discount department stores to buy the salt for his water softener. He thought it would be a great idea if it was sold at gas stations and other place so that he could buy it on the way to or from work. He talked one gas station operator to try is little shed idea. The idea caught on and there are dozens and dozens of those little sheds all over Lake and Porter Counties. Roger made a bundle of money off of them.
He wasn’t afraid to fail. He had been involved in a number of different business careers over his life: Real Estate, Insurance, and Manufacturing. He made mistakes and lost a bit of money a couple of times. But he never made the same mistake twice. His personal philosophy was that if one doesn’t fail on occasion, then you are really not working very hard.
As much as I hate it, the church has a lot that it could learn from the business world. Sometimes I like to pretend that we in the church are too good to get corrupted by entrepreneurship and business practices. That’s worldly stuff, I am very likely to say, and as such, has no place in the church because, after all, we do spiritual stuff around here. But business does indeed have much to teach us Christians. I think we really ought to pay attention.
Lloyd Olgilvie, who went from being the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California to becoming the Chaplain of the United States Senate, tells the story of being on a plane one day. Sitting next to him on this cross-country flight was a well-known and very successful industrialist. Olgilvie asked him what the secret of his success was. The response came very quickly: shrewdness. The man said that he spent much of his waking moments thinking, scheming, planning, developing, and putting details together in order to make his company the largest profit possible. Though some of his competitors considered him to be ruthless, he told Olgilvie that he did the very best he could to be honest and fair in everything he undertook. He was single-minded and left nothing to chance. He used all of his energy, intellect, and determination to accomplish his goals. Later, Olgilvie reflected on that conversation and wondered what would happen to the church if the people of God put the same sort of shrewdness to work for the Kingdom.
The lesson from Luke this morning comes to us in the form of a parable. Depending on the biblical translation you read, this story is about a rich man and his servant, or manager, or steward…who was wasteful, incompetent, dishonest, or shrewd.