What is a redemptive company?

A redemptive company doesn't follow one specific blueprint but rather pulls unequally from a list of 10 ingredients. Learn what those are and think through how you can apply them in your startup.

It was September of 2022 and I was on the highway, driving to Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I had recently sold the company (Breeze) that I poured my heart and soul into for nearly the past 10 years and I was stepping into a new chapter in my life.

Throughout my time running Breeze, I developed a deep passion for the positive impact business can have in the world - specifically when a company strives to be a redemptive force in the world.

And so, as I pulled into Calvin University to run a startup incubator focused on college students, my mission was to help students start, run, and scale not just companies of their own but to create companies that shared this redemptive heartbeat.

As I put the plan together for the incubator, there was one common question that kept coming back up. The question was:

"What does it mean to be a redemptive company?"

It’s a good question. Is a redemptive company simply any company that tries to help customers? Does it need to give some of it’s profits away for a good cause? Is it about HR policies and employee satisfaction?

While the way I ran Breeze certainly had traits that I would very much call redemptive, another founder might define a redemptive company differently than I did. Is one of us right and one of us wrong?

Fortunately, there’s someone way smarter than me who can help answer this question. A number of years ago Timothy Keller released his book “Every Good Endeavor” which talks about how God views work and encourages us to see work as God sees it. And right in the introduction, he addresses this idea of what a redemptive company is.

The different ingredients that form a redemptive company

Keller lays out in his introduction the different forms redemptive companies can take. There is no one prescriptive blueprint a company must follow in order to be considered “redemptive”, but rather a number of different ingredients and that each founder should be open to how God is leading them in their own company.

Not all redemptive companies include all these ingredients nor should the ingredients included be added in equal measure. Rather, each founder should wrestle with how they see God guiding their path.

Here are the ingredients I see as I look at Keller’s words combined with my own experience:

1. Social justice

Focusing on righting wrongs in the world (e.g. racism, environmental issues, wealth disparity). A student in our startup incubator is starting a coffee shop and her desire is that proceeds go to help prevent human trafficking.

2. Being a person of integrity

Placing a high value in always telling the truth even when it’s uncomfortable. When a founder is reporting on how a business is going, if they are high in integrity they will be careful to not exclude information simply because it might make them look bad.

3. Witness for Jesus in the workplace

Seeing the workplace as an opportunity to tell others about Jesus. This is often how evangelical churches present the workplace as a mission field for Christians to share what Christ has done.

4. Do skillful excellent work

Do work with excellence as a way of reflecting God’s excellence. This echo’s Paul’s words to the church of Colossae when he writes “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters…” (Col 3:23).

5. Create beauty in the world

As image bearer’s of the ultimate Creator, creating beauty in the world. Artists, designers, film makers, and other creatives often resonate with this idea.

6. Influence culture to be more Christ-like

A company is focused on changing the culture around them. This might be through intentional conversations with customers, Bible studies hosted by company leaders, or Christian music playing in the lobby.

7. Work with a grateful joy-filled heart through ups and downs

In the Biblical book of James, the author starts by writing “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds…”. When life gets difficult for founders, leaning into these words can help the company reflect God.

8. Do whatever gives you the greatest joy and passion

In the Genesis account, work existed before sin entered the world. Therefore finding a deep joy and passion in one’s work reflects the kind of world God originally intended.

9. Make as much money as you can to be as generous as you can

Generosity is an important idea in Scripture and companies that lean into this can create tremendous good. One of my favorite is the story of a founder who gave away his entire company.

10. Taking care of your employees

Having policies that care for employees well reflects God’s provision for us. Health benefits, paid time off, bereavement policies - these all go into caring for employees.

Think of this list like ingredients that can go into a smooth (I love smoothies 🥤). Bannanas, malt powder, blueberries, milk, coconut milk, mango, and the list goes on.

Not every smoothie is going to include every ingredient, and that’s okay. Instead, the smoothie creator selects which ingredients they think would go best together.

So it is with the job of a Jesus-following founder. There is no one right way to create a redemptive company. Rather, considering the different ways a company can reflect our heavenly Father and, in prayer, picking those that you feel led toward is what it means to be redemptive.

As I walk into Calvin’s School of Business building and stand in front of a group of students, my heart is not just that they would create startups of their own or even that they’d find success, but is ultimately that they’d be able to better reflect the love, grace, truth, and creativity of our heavenly Father by applying the appropriate ingredients in their own businesses.

p.s. If you’re interested in diving deeper into redemptive entrepreneurship, I’d encourage you to check out Praxis and the redemptive framework they have created. The framework is high-level enough to not be prescriptive but can be a helpful model for those looking for more.