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Do You Have a Council of Counselors?

It is the time of year that we typically look back over the last twelve months and take stock of what went well and what didn’t quite measure up to our ideas of success. We hopefully spend some time using the lessons of the past and planning for future accomplishments in the coming year. This is an exercise successful business owners definitely engage in. The most fruitful ones have some form of a council to help them, not only during this annual evaluation and planning time, but on a regular basis.

Why should you have some kind of council of counselors? God tells us through His instructions to us in the Bible that we should have trustworthy people giving us advice. Proverbs 12:15 states it this way in the New Living Translation: “Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to others.” There are many other such statements in Proverbs. As imperfect people, we tend to have weaknesses and blind spots that prevent us from making the right decision or doing the right thing 100% of the time. If we have some wise people around us as we go through life making these decisions and doing these things, they can hopefully help us avoid the wrong ones or at least make a proper course correction in the wake of mistakes.

Here are some suggestions from a C12 Group segment on how a Christian business owner can put together that helpful council of counselors:

■ Formal Board of Directors – common for large or public companies

■ Christian Peer Advisory Board – A group such as C12 provides a readymade format for asking and receiving counsel, being challenged by best practice ideas, and submitting issues and plans to other committed Christians for feedback. C12 also provides a degree of accountability, prayer, planning, and one-on-one counsel.

■ Council of Advisors – Another resource that can complement either of the prior two alternatives is meeting with a smaller group of trustworthy colleagues (often two to four local C12 members and/or church members). Real benefit can be generated by meeting together regularly for counsel, accountability, and prayer. Due to their informality and small size, a COA can provide an opportunity for deeper intimacy which many C12 members have found to be extremely helpful.

■ Mentor – More than teachers, mentors are generally role models with more experience or authority in areas where we desire to grow. Teachers impart knowledge; mentors impart life. Long-term mentors are difficult to come by, but they can be hugely beneficial.

If you aren’t a business owner you can still benefit from having a council of counselors. I’ve found that having a group of three additional people of the same sex that meet together at least twice a month for at least 90 minutes each time provide a good format for sharing life and getting advice on the challenges we all face. Having a small number of all men or all women in the group fosters a higher degree of transparency and trust that is difficult to achieve in a larger group of men and women.

As you gather together with your council, here are six common characteristics of finishing well that you could pose to them, asking if there is evidence of these characteristics in your life.

 The Six Common Characteristics of Finishing Well

Develop and fight to:

  1. Hold an Eternal Perspective. Don’t get caught up in the short term thinking of the culture. Eternity is considerably longer than even the longest life we could possibly have.
  2. Build Intimacy with Jesus Christ. In Philippians 4:13 we are told “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” A relationship requires time conversing. To converse with Jesus Christ you need to read His words in the Bible and spend time talking to Him through prayer.
  3. Maintain Self-Discipline. The self-discipline being raised here is avoiding “many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction” Timothy warns us about.
  4. Maintain Open and Accountable Relationships. This is a key part of having a council you can trust and be transparent with. They also need to be able to challenge you when you have a blind spot.
  5. Maintain a Teachable Spirit and a Lifetime of Learning. Proverbs 11:2 is one of a number of verses that tell us “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” I can trace nearly all my worst mistakes back to pride and arrogance. I can trace nearly all of my successes to wisdom that came from someone else that I acted on.
  6. Maintain a Heart to Help Others Finish Well. Since others need a council of counselors, invest time, energy and prayer in being a wise counselor for someone else, sharing the benefits that you are receiving from your council.

Best wishes for a fruitful and blessed year, one that is focused on relationships, both earthly and eternal!

 

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Planning with an Eternal Perspective

This time of year many of us are starting to think about making plans for 2015. Business owners and executives are evaluating how 2014 has gone and will work on business plans for 2015. There are of course the New Year’s resolutions that many of us are beginning to think about. God encourages us to plan; He tells us that in many Bible verses including Proverbs 21:5 (NLT) Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty. Many of our plans are focused on bigger and better results than last year.

Something we need to keep in mind however is that God’s plans come before ours. He tells us again in Proverbs 19:21 (NLT), You can make many plans, but the lord’s purpose will prevail. Jesus’ brother James makes a point by warning us against being overly self-confident: Look here, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.” How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:13-15 (NLT)

Life Disrupted

Many times our plans and our lives are disrupted by things beyond our control, like lack of sales in our business, key employees suddenly leaving, children making poor decisions, or an overwhelming illness or death of a family member. These are situations that we should be thinking about when we are doing our planning. What if things don’t go as we planned? What are our contingencies? What if our days in this life are fewer than we planned? What about those left behind? I’ve seen this in my own family a number of times in recent years.

The first plan everyone needs is the one that addresses where they are going to spend eternity when they die. Every person will spend eternity somewhere and there are only two options. The first and best is spending it in God’s presence, otherwise known as Heaven. The second and worst is spending it away from God’s presence, otherwise known as Hell. If you don’t have a definitive answer to this question, that answer must become a priority for you because you don’t know the number of days you have. The only plan that works for getting into Heaven is the one where you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord of this life and personal savior out of Hell into Heaven. God has given us free will to make our own choice in this matter, so it is up to you. Here are a few places you can hear this explained in greater detail: Whiteboard Salvation, Peace with God, Know God, Life Questions

Evaluate Where You Are

Assuming you’ve made that choice already in your life, do your plans submit to Jesus’ lordship and God’s plans for you and those you influence? Every December in each of our C12 groups we take a Christ-centered retrospective look at the results of our past year’s activities, focusing on the eternal perspective. We do this in the form of a personal audit of ten soul searching questions, scoring ourselves from 1 to 10. Using the scores from this audit our members can adjust their business and personal plans for 2015, spending time and resources on reordered priorities. Here’s the list of the ten questions without the expanded background:

  1. You spent more time with The Lord.
  2. Your family relationships strengthened.
  3. You spent more time listening and relating to your team members on a one–to–one basis.
  4. You saw the people that you deal with more as objects of your personal ministry than as objects to be exploited for your personal gain.
  5. You are even slightly less acquisitive than you were a year ago.
  6. You are truly more thankful for what you have and content with all aspects of your life.
  7. You have more peace in your heart.
  8. You learned more about your profession and are able to apply greater technical expertise in your field.
  9. You took measurably better care of your body.
  10. More eternal fruit has been produced through and around you, due to your effort and influence while abiding in Christ.

 

The How To

So, how do we go about planning with an eternal perspective? It starts with reading God’s instructions to us, which are given in the form of His Word through the Bible. If you aren’t reading it on a daily basis then you are missing part of the instructions of how you are supposed to be within God’s will (unless you’ve memorized the more than 30,000 verses). Second, you need to pray regularly and ask for wisdom and guidance from God. This helps you to see as clearly as possible, given that we are trying to be obedient to a God who is invisible and doesn’t speak audibly to us. Third, get advice from others; “Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.” Proverbs 15:22 (NLT) This advice can come from a board if you are a business owner or a small group of others who are trustworthy resources if you are not. This is one of the primary benefits that the C12 Group provides to its members. You want your advisers to be like minded and caring enough to confront you when you are making poor choices.

What kind of plan has an eternal perspective? If you have a business, you should be incorporating ministry plans into your business plan; how will you share Christ with your employees and their families, with customers, vendors, suppliers? What ministries will you support and what will that support look like? If you don’t own a business, you can incorporate the same concepts into your personal plans, focusing on family, co-workers, friends and neighbors. A common requirement that you will find in these plans is that of time. It takes time to serve others and it takes time to build relationships, two of the most practical ways you can have an eternal impact. You will need to build time into your plans so you don’t spend all of it on short term, temporal things. C12 Group founder Buck Jacobs’ book A Light Shines Bright in Babylon does an excellent job of describing practical ways a business leader can live out these principles.

It really takes wisdom to balance the plans of a good steward, using the talents and resources God has given you to serve Him in the short term and with an eternal perspective. Don’t delay the planning and don’t do it alone.

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Do You Know Your Purpose?

“Christian CEO’s and business owners building great businesses for a greater purpose” is the C12 Group motto. That purpose that every C12 Group member and area chair shares is honoring God in the way we conduct our businesses and serving Him according to our talents and abilities. That purpose has an eternal perspective, which helps us when we are faced with challenges in this life, whether those challenges are in our businesses, our families, our churches or our communities. A greater purpose helps you overcome and it helps you deal with circumstances that prompt the question “Why?”

Do you have a purpose for your life? Is it to accumulate wealth or stuff? Is it to have the most pleasant life experience you can? Is it to be recognized as a leader in your community? These are all things our American culture promotes on a daily basis. If you hear it often enough, you can start to believe those are purposeful things, especially if you don’t have any other source of truth. So, where do you discover your purpose, where do you discover the truth? My answer is that it all starts with the Bible.

The Bible is what God has given us to begin to know Him and understand His plan for all of humanity, as well as our individual role in that plan. That plan applies to both here in the present on this Earth and in the future eternity. If you don’t believe in God I challenge you to read the Bible and see if your opinion changes. You don’t even need to read it all at first (everyone can gain wisdom from reading the entire Bible at some point in their life, preferably multiple times). Just read a few books in the Old Testament and in the New Testament. If you aren’t willing to take that step consider reading a book or two like “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel or “The Reason for God” by Tim Keller. If you aren’t much of a reader you could start with Josh McDowell’s web site providing answers to skeptic’s questions, http://www.josh.org/resources/study-research/answers-to-skeptics-questions/. If you truly want answers, seek out a Bible reading evangelical Christian in your community and invite them to coffee or lunch and begin a dialogue.

Do you believe God exists but you don’t see Him active in your life or you’ve experienced loss and can’t understand why God is letting that happen to you? Again, you need to invest some time and effort in searching for answers. God doesn’t turn His back on us, but He also doesn’t always grab us by the shoulders and turn us around when we turn our back on Him (that free will thing, He can’t force us to love Him). A book written by a pastor who lost his adult son in an accident may be helpful, it is “Hope For Hurting Hearts” by Greg Laurie. Another is Tim Keller’s “Walking with God through Pain and Suffering”. Keller and his wife both have experienced life changing diseases. The previously mentioned books and web site are still relevant for you as well. That coffee with a Christian idea is a good one for you too.

What about you who are Christ followers but don’t have your purpose figured out? The first question I would ask you is how much time do you spend with God on a daily basis? What kind of relationship do you expect to have with someone if you never talk to Him or listen to Him? I realize it’s a little harder because He is invisible and very rarely audibly speaks to anyone, but it’s worth the effort. Don’t just show up for an hour or two on Sunday and expect the relationship to be the same as when you spend time every day reading His Word (the Bible) and talking to Him about the things in your life (prayer). There are plenty of Bible reading plans available to help you develop a new habit. Bible.com offers apps for multiple platforms. One of the best books on prayer that I have recently read is Philip Yancey’s “Prayer, Does It Make Any Difference?” Instead of the coffee with a Christian idea, you need to make a bit more of a commitment, get together with two or three other Christ followers (men with men and women with women for transparency reasons) who all want to live out their purpose and help each other discover how to do that (it’s called discipleship).

Here are some other ways I stay plugged into what God wants me to know about His will for my life (in addition to the daily Bible reading and prayer):

  • Going to a Sunday service where I worship Him and give thanks for His provision, listen to some Bible teaching from someone who studies the Bible for a living and spend time in community with other Christ followers.
  • Listening to Christian music that is uplifting as well as sometimes challenging.
  • Listening to other Bible teachers in addition to the one I listen to on Sunday (Greg Laurie is one of my favorites, http://www.harvest.org/radio/ways-to-listen.html)
  • Reading books like the ones I’ve shared.
  • Spending time with other men on a regular basis encouraging and challenging each other.

I hope you find your purpose and more importantly I hope you find God through the person of Jesus Christ, not just for this brief time on Earth, but for all of eternity. Eternity without being in God’s presence will be horrific and I don’t wish that on anyone.

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Do You Need Business Advice? Where Do You Get Yours?

If you are a business owner do you find it challenging to run that business successfully? Do things always go just as planned? Do you have week after week of your employees doing everything with excellence and exceeding expectations? Do your customers never complain and pay you early? Do your suppliers and vendors always deliver the products and services you need on time and on budget?

If these things are happening in your business every day, then please contact me so I can come to work for you! I don’t know any business owner who consistently experiences this kind of success. I didn’t experience it when I ran my IT company of twenty plus employees and I don’t consistently experience it now, even as a sole proprietor without any employees. The reality is that because the world is broken by sin, our businesses will always be broken too.

That doesn’t mean we should just give up and go home. We still have to provide for ourselves and our families. As business owners we also have an obligation to provide for our employees and their families. It will be a struggle at times, sometimes easier than others, but still a struggle.

So, given we will struggle at times, where do we get help and advice for those times? If you are a learning leader you probably spend time reading the latest business books and articles. That is one method that I agree with and encourage all leaders to do. But, as a Christian business owner the first source should be the Bible. The Bible itself tells us through the writing of Paul that it is the first place we should turn. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 he tells us:

“All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

So, how do we apply that exhortation in our business? First, you need to be familiar with what’s in the Bible so you can apply the wisdom as you need it facing the challenges of the day. That means reading it regularly, ideally daily. The typical Bible is about 2,000 pages and some of it is not real easy to understand, so it requires a life-long study approach. A reading of the Old Testament will help you to understand how stubborn and thick-headed we can be.

The most valuable Bible book for a business owner is the book of Proverbs. Last year I read all 31 chapters in Proverbs each month and benefited greatly from reading it twelve times in a row. The first seven verses of the first chapter tell us why this is a good idea:

“These are the proverbs of Solomon, David’s son, king of Israel. Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young. Let the wise listen to these proverbs and become even wiser. Let those with understanding receive guidance by exploring the meaning in these proverbs and parables, the words of the wise and their riddles. Fear of the lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.”

The next source of advice and counsel is trustworthy, like minded advisers as Proverbs 15:22 tells us:

“Plans go wrong for lack of advice; many advisers bring success.”

The C12 Group is one great place to find these advisers. The members of the groups are there to give and get good advice and to hold and be held accountable. They want to do the right things in order to be successful and more importantly, to do them in a God honoring way. They know the people around the table have the same values and will be transparent when sharing problems and honest when giving advice. The C12 Group also provides a structured framework at the monthly meeting to help the members share their issues and get that valuable advice. We have the added benefit of a morning full of biblical and business content to read and discuss, increasing our knowledge every month.

If you don’t have access to a C12 Group in your geography then try to find some other Christian business owners, six to twelve would be a good number, and commit to meeting once a month and share your issues. I recommend starting that meeting with a devotional. If you don’t have any other business content, then half a day should be enough time for the issues sharing.

Read your Bible every day, pray without ceasing and regularly get wise counsel from other Christian business owners and you will be better equipped to meet the challenges you will face today and tomorrow!

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Are You Coaching, Mentoring, Discipling?

The last couple years of being a C12 Chair has given me a greater awareness and appreciation for the value of good coaching, mentoring and discipling. It was a recent topic in our February advisory board meeting content, specifically in our devotion time, focused on this verse from 2 Timothy 2:2 You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.” Some of the questions we discussed included:

What specific things do you do or might do to apply this principle in your business?

Practically speaking, how can we track our effectiveness in developing next generation ministry leadership using life-on-life discipleship, mentoring and delegation?

As usual there were great ideas shared among the group of Christian business owners who form the C12 groups. One of the resources offered by the C12 Group to the members is the Leaders Program materials from C12 member Troy Meachum of ACR Supply Company. I will share some of the elements of Troy’s program, as well as my own suggestions on how to implement a coaching, mentoring or discipling offering in your business or your church or your neighborhood.

Why is it important to provide this kind of leadership and do it well? For a business the benefits can be significant. “Training increases productivity 22%, when paired with coaching it increases productivity 88% to 400%.” (International Personnel Management Association, 2001)

The Leaders Program at ACR Supply Company has a formal application process for participants. The mentoring is done by CEO Troy Meachum in two three hour sessions each month. Each person participating commits to reading one book each month as part of the program. Troy’s program includes topics like self-knowledge and emotional intelligence, teamwork and cooperation, communication and feedback, stress management and work-life balance, influence, conflict resolution, developing others, and leading change. Troy’s goal as CEO is to spend 50% of his time coaching and mentoring staff.

If you are intimidated by the size and scope of what Troy is doing in his business, I suggest you start on a smaller scale. If I were to implement this in a business similar to the one I used to own (about 25 people on staff), I would start with 2 or 3 people. The group should meet every other week for at least two hours each time. The relationship building process is key and will take time, especially for employees to be honest and transparent with a business owner or senior manager. Each person should start with taking about 30 minutes to share their life story, where they were born and raised, their family life, their school life, their faith life. The coach should be the first to share, setting the tone for honesty and transparency. Our childhood shapes so much of who and what we are and most of us in business leadership roles know little to nothing about that time in the lives of our employees.

The list of topics from Troy’s program would be an excellent framework to use. C12 Group members could use segment topics or the recommended resource bibliography in their member binder to create a monthly topic for the coaching times. Incorporating a personality profile such as DISC would be a good tool for these sessions as well, helping your staff recognize the different ways people think and communicate. As you take your people through this time, be patient and be flexible, be aware of where they are at and their individual growth. Speed up or slow down if necessary, don’t be rigid about sticking with the program you designed. Share your successes and failures from your years of experience. Model for them humility and a desire for life-long learning.

You can use these same principles in a discipleship group focused on growing the members’ spiritual maturity. Again, keep the size small, 2 or 3 plus the mentor and of the same sex as the mentor. Start with the same life story approach to build trust. Cityteam,  http://www.cityteam.org/dmm/, has a discipleship resource called “Discovering God” that is good for a new believer. I was part of a group that used Greg Ogden’s Discipleship Essentials, http://www.gregogden.com/books.htm, and found it to be another good resource. One caveat for the Ogden book is that there is a lot of homework in each chapter and I would suggest cutting out the additional reading in each chapter, sticking to the Bible passages and verse memorization. Another alternative would be to take two sessions for every chapter in Discipleship Essentials.

In all of these models you and the people who are being coached, mentored or discipled need to commit to at least 12 months and ideally to 24 months. A covenant should be presented and signed by all participants as well.

If you are a leader, then you need to be doing this with others. Get started!

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What’s My “Why”?

Why do I do what I do for a living? Why did I sell my three businesses and start over in a new business? Why did I leave the security of a successful, prospering company providing information technology products and services to the business world for a start-up, one man consulting business franchise focused on Christian business owners?

In truth, part of that answer is due to my belief in myself, in my own abilities, skills, talents and determination; all of which are given me by God. But that is not the only reason, because if it were, I would be doomed to failure. The primary reason is that God called me to do it and rely on Him more than me. I didn’t even realize it at first when I decided to pursue being a C12 Chair. When I was interviewed via phone by Buck Jacobs, founder of C12, he asked me if I was called to do this. I was honest in my answer and gave all the logical reasons and shared the sequence of events that seemed to point me in this direction, but couldn’t say with complete conviction that I was called. I believe that my own misunderstanding of what it meant to be called contributed to my lack of clarity on the answer to the question. A severe case of jet lag after returning from Indonesia didn’t help either.

Buck helped me through the fog a little with a couple articles he had written on the topic, specifically for C12 Chairs and C12 members, explaining in detail the concept of calling for a business guy like me. My experiences preparing for the chair role and being a chair have confirmed that I have indeed been called to do this. That doesn’t mean it’s been easy or that I haven’t made mistakes. It does mean that I have to do it, no matter what.

I have now spent a little more than eighteen months in this role of C12 Chair, facilitating one group of ten Christian business owners. In addition to running the monthly group meeting, I meet with each of them individually for a ninety minute one-on-one coaching and accountability session. Each one of these men has grown in some way in the short time they have been a part of the C12 Group. The most rewarding thing to see is their determination to be a better servant of God, making a difference in the lives of their employees and their families, building businesses that are well run and prosperous, but more importantly, being Christ-like examples in the business community and the world. They care, and they care a lot.

So, my “why” is that I have been called by God to be a C12 chair, building groups of C12 members who have been called to be more than typical business owners. My “why” is helping them discover that calling and helping them live it out in their business, with their families, in their churches and in their ministries. I too, care, and care a lot. It sometimes feels like a burden, and sometimes a very heavy one, but only for a short while, especially when I remember the eternal perspective.

We are serving the God who created the universe, we are serving Jesus Christ, who gave us a way to be with God in a new heaven and a new earth for all of eternity, and we are serving the Holy Spirit, who gives us guidance and direction, when we can get rid of the noise and clutter in our lives enough to hear Him. We are making a difference in our communities today and for all of eternity.

If you are a Christian business owner or CEO reading this, what is your “why”? Why are you in business? Who is your business serving? How are you employees and their families being impacted by being a part of your business? What are you doing with the profits from your business? What difference are you making in this world and more importantly, what difference are you making for eternity?

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Use Your Business Platform to Educate

At our December C12 Group meeting I facilitated a spirited discussion about the misunderstandings that a significant portion of the population had of the fiscal cliff situation. The elements of the fiscal cliff problem combined government overspending, a weak economy, poor communication, arrogance and a lack of business knowledge, among other things. We spent a good deal of the time in our discussion about the gap between business owners and much of the population in understanding economic issues. So how do we close this gap, how do we help people understand that free enterprise is the economic engine of our country and taking more money from it and giving it to the government will make things worse, not better?

As I have written before, the core of these truths are biblically based and we need to continue to share the Gospel and disciple people so they can learn them, understand them and apply them to the world around us. We also have to keep the eternal perspective a higher priority than the temporary one of this life.

Beyond sharing the Gospel, we Christian business leaders should be using our platform to educate our employees, customers, suppliers and vendors. We can do this through company meetings, newsletters, corporate web sites and social media. We need to educate ourselves, arm ourselves with knowledge and information and share it in a productive way.

What are some of the areas that we should focus our time on? One of the first should be that the federal government is not good at solving problems or taking care of people. Given that truth, giving them more money doesn’t make sense either. Compare how poorly the government does at just about anything with how well private companies and ministries do solving problems and caring for those in need.

A key to understanding free enterprise and its positive impact on everyone is basic business math. Use your own business’s numbers or use hypothetical numbers if you prefer, but spend some time teaching the basics of revenues, cost of goods, gross profit, expenses and net profit. In the discussion of expenses highlight how much of those expenses are payroll and benefit expenses and how those are impacted by the decisions of our federal government. Explain how small business owners are taxed on corporate profits that most of the time don’t make it to the owner’s personal bank account.

One of the biggest issues that no one in government at least seems willing to tackle is the size of the federal debt and its continued growth unabated. We need to make clear the consequences of letting this continue which include downgraded credit ratings, devalued currency, and the size of the debt eclipsing the gross domestic product and ultimately more recession or even depression.

Here are some sources to help you educate people on these issues:

Take some time to read through the information from these sources. Use the platform that you have to share it with people through meetings, seminars, newsletters, blogs, and social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.). Do something else you probably haven’t done in a while, share it and your opinion with your elected government officials, including our president. (http://www.usa.gov/Contact.shtml)

Someone has to lead our nation through these obstacles; Christian business leaders have the talents, tools and biblical wisdom to do it. Step up to the challenge!

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