Hannah Stolze: Loving Your Neighbor Through Your Business

Hannah Stolze is the inaugural William E. Crenshaw Endowed Chair in Supply Chain Management in the Department of Management in Baylor’s Hankamer School of Business. She is a teacher, speaker and academic with a focus on sustainable supply chain management and the intersection of faith and business, and is the author of Wisdom-Based Business: Applying Biblical Principles and Evidence-Based Research for a Purposeful and Profitable Business (Zondervan Academic).

In anticipation of her talk at the 2023 Amplify Conference at Wheaton College on October 18th, Andrew MacDonald, associate director of the Wheaton College Billy Graham Center Institute, sat down with her to learn more about what she’s learned working with Fortune 500 companies, how we can integrate our faith and our work, and how the church can effectively disciple Christian business leaders.

You stand at a unique vantage point between two worlds: the business world and the ministry world. Talk about your journey.

When I started out, I was in the Army in a logistics and supply space of moving product and making sure people have what they need to do their job. As I transitioned into business and into global supply chain in the late ’90s, early 2000s, I looked at my job and my skill set more from a tentmaker mindset. I think that’s godly and it’s a good starting place, but I got into it and realized that, well, first of all, who cares about faith without works that demonstrate our faith? James actually says it’s dead. So I was really arrested as I started doing research that if faith without works is not enough, then how do we do our work? How do we integrate it so that every day of our life, everywhere we step, brings a glimpse of the kingdom of God?

That’s really what motivated me in global supply chain. You have opportunities every day to interact with people and to make business decisions that impact people’s lives around the world. My big marrying point was in Matthew 25, where Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats. The sheep are the ones that pay attention to the resources: water, food, shelter, clothing, healthcare, time and companionship for people in need. And that’s all you do in supply chain management. I was like, man, I need to stop thinking about my work in logistics and my work in the church as separate. And if I really want to honor God, I need to think about a way of integrating these in everyday life.

Peter Drucker called himself a social ecologist. Social ecology basically says no person, no business, operates in a vacuum. Our decisions impact other people. So, when you go into business every day, think about the ecosystem that your decisions impact. When you go into your church every day, think about the ecosystem that your decisions impact. As Christians, we love God and we love people. So in my work, I actually look at the impact of business strategies on people throughout organizations.

For example, if a CEO comes in and says, We’re in the linen market, and we’re going to have a supply chain strategy that makes sure that the linen we’re buying isn’t coming out of slave labor in terms or sweatshops in terms of the sewing factories or the textile mills or even where it’s grown as flax in the primary raw material state. Everybody in the organization has to agree to that strategy and buy in for it to work. So a lot of the work I do is say, you could have a really great strategy for your church, for your business, but if you haven’t communicated it in love in a way that gives people ownership of the strategy, it’s gonna be yours alone and it will die with you in your organization, or it’ll die with you in your church. The culture will not outlive you and we don’t want that. If we’re preaching the gospel, we want it to outlive us.

In your book, Wisdom-Based Business, you guide business leaders to apply biblical principles in ways that help them integrate their faith and vocation. Talk us through the origins of this book and the impact it’s making.

Yeah, I feel like with this book I’m reclaiming the Word of God for Christians. Not that we don’t believe it, but sometimes we believe it in our personal spiritual journeys, and we don’t necessarily apply the social ecology elements of Scripture in everyday life.

About a decade ago, I was working on a big project with Fortune 500 companies, and we were focusing on global lean and green strategies within businesses. What does that look like and how does that play out in the Fortune 500? Lean really focuses on quality and excellence. It also focuses on human dignity. And then you start looking at the environmental (green) [aspects], and it’s creation care. And I’m working with these multibillion-dollar organizations, and they’re saying, Look, these strategies of treating people well, of really honoring human dignity, of taking care of our natural resources, not only does it align with what consumers want from our organization, but it actually saves us money. And if it’s bumping up our brand and our story, it is who we are as a company. We’re saving money and making more money at the same time. So it makes us a lot more profitable. And I was like, man, these are all really biblical principles that are making hundreds of large companies more money.

I wonder if Christians know that following the Bible is actually really good business. And that’s a key argument in the book that goes against a lot of conventional wisdom.

That conventional wisdom is that if you’re a business leader and you’re a Christian, that your Christianity holds back your business in some ways, that you are more docile or that you’re less profitable or dynamic. But you make the complete opposite argument that it actually emboldens you. Help us understand how Christianity opens up business opportunities.

Yeah, I think all of it comes down to your posture as a leader—and business research has known this for 50 plus years. It’s been studied and tested and almost proven that if you go to work as a CEO who’s like, this is all about me, it’s actually really detrimental to an organization. There is secular business research saying that if you show up at work every day in humility, loving your employees, wanting them to excel, wanting them to be heard, your business is going to prosper. We’ve gotten a false narrative in the church that if you go into a business place and you’re humble or you’re kind, that that’s soft.

I love the biblical imagery—it’s probably Greek or Roman imagery—around meekness. We know that the meek inherit the kingdom of heaven, but we think you have to be a doormat to be meek. But I think the best descriptor is that meekness is like a war horse who is trained for war. This is a stallion that’s strong, that can run head on into battle, but can be guided by the touch of a heel. That’s meekness. Meekness is knowing that you have all the strength of industry, you have all the might of leadership, but that you can listen and change course, that you can go in with humility and realize you’re not the one with the weapon. Our battle isn’t against flesh and blood anyway. And I think we need to say, look, the world recognizes that arrogant narcissistic leaders are really hard to follow, so why would we go into the marketplace like that as a Christian? If you want to have a really healthy culture, go to work with a posture of humility, with a posture of love. I have tons of publicly-traded Fortune 500 examples of why that makes your workplace a better place to work for your employees and for your organization to grow.

In your upcoming Amplify session your focus is going to be on discipling Christian business leaders. How can Christian leaders think about this critical challenge in our churches and in our organizations?

When I think about discipling Christian business leaders, my goal and my heart is that we have to keep it simple. It’s about loving God with all of our strength, with all of our heart, with all of our resources, and with all of our mind. So we have to start there. The second step is love of neighbor. And I think a lot of times when we think of love and neighbor, we think of [the domestic sphere]: How do I love my family? How do I love the person who lives next door to me?

If you go back to Leviticus 19, or if you look at how Jesus taught on neighbor, he taught on neighbor in a very social and public space. That Samaritan going down the road was not the actual neighbor of the man laying on the side of the road in terms of an address. As pastors, we want to encourage people within our church to think about love of God and love of neighbor. How do you demonstrate that with your resources? How do you love God with your profit margin in your company? How do you love God in how you demonstrate your love for your employees? In the ancient times, the household was the economic center, so it’s actually saying, if you think about your neighbor as the organizations that are around your company, how do you go in every day, postured to love God and postured to love people? I think that pastors need to get an imagination for that. Love of neighbor isn’t just something we do in our community; it’s something we show up at work and do every day. When we do it strategically, it’s really beneficial and impactful in business.

How does your commitment to evangelism and mission shape your personal ministry both in the classroom and as you do consulting for Fortune 500 companies?

It’s exciting to me that in business everybody shows up at work Monday through Friday, and we show up at church for maybe an hour and a half on a Sunday morning. So when you go into a workplace, you have an audience 40 hours a week where people you know are going to show up. We don’t know that everybody’s going to show up on a Sunday morning in a church space.

So we have a really unique opportunity in workspaces to demonstrate the love of God, invite conversation, build relationship and really be strategic in terms of how we reach the lost and how we demonstrate God’s love for all of creation and show up in ways that reflect that. If we aren’t thinking strategically about Monday through Friday, we’re going to minimize the impact we can have. We need to be evangelizing the lost. We need to disciple the saved. And if you want to be in a space where you can really demonstrate the love of God, the marketplace is the next mission field. People are showing up there every day, and they’re lost and they want answers and they want to be seen and heard and loved.

To hear more from Hannah Stolze and other forward-focused church leaders, join us online October 17th and 18th at the Amplify Conference hosted at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.