Brett Johnson is an experienced strategic planner, consultant, and mentor. He has a lofty goal – to help people find their purpose in life, repurpose their businesses and in doing so, transform communities and nations. His company, The Institute for Innovation, Integration, & Impact (“The Institute”), bases its goal and processes on biblical principles, although the company is not overtly “Christian.”
Johnson sees no disparity between business and ministry, and in fact, he is passionate about the elimination of that dichotomy. He points out that the word for work and to worship in scripture is the same. “We need to realize that our work is worship and that business is our ministry.” It is this idea that lays the foundation for The Institute.
The drive to integrate business and faith is in Johnson’s DNA. His father worked as a businessman and a Congregational minister, self-funding and planting churches when he had the finances to do so.
Johnson grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, the youngest of five children, attending the church where his father was a preacher. He knew about God from a very young age, but he didn’t feel that his relationship with God became real until he was in college. He then began to help out at church, leading Sunday School and working for Youth for Christ.
In 1981, at the age of 24, Johnson was working as a senior manager at Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) in Cape Town, expecting his first child and serving on the elder board at a church started by his father and a few other businessmen. The pastor left the church and the task of running the church fell into Johnson’s lap. He continued his job at PwC and also led the church for five years.
One way that he managed to work both as a pastor and a businessman was by delegating. He says, “Most of our members were business people, engineers, and school teachers. I spread the work and forced people to step up. We refused to get another pastor until we were doing ministry in the church.” Through this process, Johnson began to see the relationship between church and the business world. He could see that churches needed the skill set of business people beyond those of pastors and worship leaders, and that businesses needed the biblical principles taught and practiced in the church.
In 1986, Johnson accepted a transfer with PwC to move with his family to the Bay Area. He only expected to stay for a year, but felt God calling him to stay. He has lived in the Bay Area ever since.
Formation of the Institute
In 1990 he left PwC to join KPMG as a consulting partner, and in 1993, he moved to Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), heading up the company’s West Coast consulting services. While working for CSC, he came up with the idea for The Institute, and initially planned to run it under the umbrella of CSC. When that didn’t work out, he starting The Institute on his own in 1996 with CSC as a partner.
What does The Institute do?
To date, The Institute has trained more than one thousand people and helped over 350 companies worldwide. The Institute offers three main types of services: Repurposing Business and Individuals, Leadership Development, and Work-Life Integration. Under each category, a variety of services are offered ranging in cost and time commitment. The services are available for both individuals and businesses, include assessments, and range from one to two hour sessions and day-long forums to multi-week training programs, workshops, and consultations.
Although the services appear disconnected, Johnson says they are well-integrated under a guiding principle he calls “convergence.” “Convergence is how to live an integrated life as a believer – how to integrate your career, calling, community, and creativity.” In an integrated life he says, there is no barrier between faith and work, and between faith and home, and faith and community.
A core service The Institute offers is a thirteen-week training program for business people. After training is complete, the participants travel overseas to take part in consultations with various companies as a way to put their training into action.
Johnson says, “Our trips are 100% business and 100% mission.” He explains that business becomes a keyhole into people’s lives. In talking about God’s work with business, the conversation naturally expands to issues of identity and purpose and how using God’s principles can extend to other areas of their lives.
This unique kind of mission work is effective. Although The Institute has no formal or explicit goal to convert people, Johnson says that it is rare that anyone either going through the training program or the business consultation will make it through without committing to Christ. He explains, “They see that God cares about business, that He cares about their work, and that their work is important. They see God doing miraculous things in and out of their companies.”
Through The Institute Johnson has also put together a discipleship program called Bizcipleship, where users can read real-life stories about how business people have encountered and addressed faith struggles with business. It is available for free as an app on the iPhone or Android; an in-depth format is available as a monthly subscription.
Advice for Leaders
Johnson has written six books about business and one novel. One of his books is LEMON Leadership, which helps people identify their leadership type and learn how to apply their skills to different situations. Another popular book Brett wrote is Convergence: Integrating your Career, Community, Creativity and Calling.
He offers valuable advice for leaders as they structure their businesses. He suggests they take the time and effort to answer the following large questions:
- How do I align my purpose with God’s purpose for me?
- If someone came into my company, how would they know that this is a company that honors God? This applies at every level — the process, the products and the people.
- If my business were the only vehicle to reach people who are not yet followers of Christ, what would I do differently?
Johnson recognizes that Christians struggle with how to balance work and faith. “The reason they struggle is that balance is bogus. I don’t believe balance is a biblical principle. God never intended work and faith to be separate. Work is a form of worship for individuals who live an integrated life.”
Living an integrated life has powerful implications that Johnson believes can transform not only individuals, but families, companies, communities, and nations. Although it is a commonly understood by Christians to align their calling and purpose with God’s purposes for them, Johnson goes a step further. He believes that businesses need to align their purpose with God’s purposes as well. “We tell business people that the goal is not to get God into your business, but to get your business into His business. The purpose of business is to maximum the glory of God.”
How does a company leader maximum the glory of God in his business? “It is not by just writing a check to a local charity.” According to Johnson, it is by figuring out how the company’s products, processes, hiring practices – everything the company does – embody biblical principles, “so that when you come to such a company you sense God’s presence and you realize this company is something special.”
When a potential client questions the impact they can have, Johnson asks how many employees, customers, and vendors their company has, and what could happen if their company is aligned with God’s purposes. This transformational potential for change is what drives Brett Johnson.
Article by Skip Vaccarello and Christina Richardson