Employees can also be Marketplace Disciples, and that is why I interviewed Peter Rhebergen. He works at a software company owned and operated by Christians, where part of his responsibilties include telling clients about Christ.
What is your business?
ELM Computer Systems is a custom software & IT house.
How did you get started?
ELM was started as a stand-alone in ’78 by an accounting firm wanting to have an IT department that it could also refer to its client base.
If you want, can you explain a bit about your faith journey? How did you come to Christ, and are you involved in any ministries or church activities?
I cannot recall a time when I was not a Christian and have seen my commitment to Christ become more serious and thoughtful as time passes.
If you don’t know the Bible, there’s no point knowing any other book
I was at one time an assistant pastor at a small church north of Pickering and was heavily involved in youth ministry (as a youth member) for many years. Currently my church involvement is limited to being an usher and counter, but I have a personal website that I use as a Christian ministry (as well as a high percentage of my social media postings).
Do you think of your occupation as a ministry?
Yes, a Christian’s occupation is definitely a ministry. I see this as being achieved in two ways:
- As a Christian, I owe my superiors loyalty and have a responsibility to represent God well; both in how I interact with my co-workers and how I occupy my time.
- Since I am a Christian in a business operated by Christians, it is easy to extend the previous into our interaction and business dealings with our clients. Specifically, we will not cheat or take advantage of them nor do we lie to them to make ourselves look better.
If your business is run by Christians, does the topic of faith come up often? Or is it treated as off limits like in most companies?
Our business is run and operated by Christians and our faith is central to our operations. Staff meetings typically include prayer and discussions regarding our faith and its practice occur regularly (and are not discouraged).
What are some ways in which you run your business differently than someone who is not a believer?
I’m not sure, since I’ve never been employed by a non-Christian who was not also a good person. I’ve had the luxury of spending all of my career with employers who were either Christian or who adhered to a Christian morality.
One thing I do know, however, is that as a Christian in a Christian business my employment mandate is as much to seek opportunity to present Christ to the client as it is to provide good labour to my employer.
Have you ever had the opportunity to present Christ to a client? What was that like?
Yes. It was … interesting. The typical response is either disinterest or an impression that when we grow up we’ll know better.
Do others in the church mistakenly believe you are in business only to “get rich”? What have you done to help them understand your motives better?
As an employee, I feel poorly qualified to answer this question. That being said, I believe that there will always be naysayers and that, to the extent that they’ll listen/see, it’s important to make clear to them that being wealthy is not a sin; being selfish with one’s wealth is.
If I ran my own business and was told that I did so merely to become wealthy, I’d most likely respond: “Well, I sure didn’t start my own business to become poor; but if I do become wealthy through it, then I will do my best to honour God with what He’s given me.”
Have you ever seen a conflict between serving profits and serving God in your business? If so, how have you dealt with this?
Very rarely. In each case I mentioned to my superiors that I believed what I was being asked to do was in conflict with how I felt I should exercise my faith. And in each case a mutually satisfactory compromise was agreed upon.
Do you struggle with the ethics of selling and marketing?
No, not at all, as long as I can market honestly and let the client make their own decision.
Is there a time when you really had to rely on God for something? When you have had to make a “leap of faith”?
If one knows that God has told them to do this thing then how can there be any response but to do it? If it results in failure then perhaps God wasn’t interested in your success so much as He was interested in the lesson you could learn or the example you could be.
God has given you this business, and expects that you will be a good steward of it. Yet we are also called to be in relationship with others, especially our family. How do you think about work/life balance?
God first. Family second. Nothing is more important than God, and after Him, nothing is more important than our family.
Do you have any books or other resources that you would recommend to other Christian business owners?
It’s going to sound cliché but I’d recommend reading the Bible. Regularly. To the point that no matter where you are in it you know what happens next. If you don’t know the Bible, there’s no point knowing any other book.
What habit have you developed over the years that you think others would benefit from having?
I really couldn’t say. Other than to put everything beneath God, nothing comes to mind.
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