Faith and Family Business: Describing and Choosing During Transitions (Prov. 2:1-5)

By Bill Long on April 13, 2017


       One of the most difficult issues confronting family businesses is how to transfer the older generation’s enthusiasm, commitment, insight and wisdom to the next generation. We older ones would do anything to help our successors avoid some of our mistakes and appreciate some of the tough decisions we made. But how do you communicate what has captured your heart? How do you get those, whom you love, to love what you have loved? The beautiful language of Solomon’s advice to the next generation in Proverbs 2:1-5 gives us some hints at an answer.  

      Though many things can be said about the passage, two things especially stand out to me. First, the older generation needs to describe what is to be passed down using value-laden language. What I mean is that Solomon describes his words and teaching (i.e., what is to be passed on) as something that is to be sought as silver and searched for as a hidden treasure (2:4). It is among the most valuable things in the world. Communicate the value of what you want to pass on to the next generation not simply in monetary terms but in “heart” terms. Your land, your animals, your relationships with employees and neighbors, your rural community and your history are only a few of the treasures that deserve a “valuable” description.

      Second, the older generation needs to realize that it is the choice of the younger generation to accept or reject the treasure. One of the most-overlooked words in this passage is the little word “if.” We tend to look at the value of the older generation’s wisdom and assets, and forget that the entire passage is really driven by two “if’s”— in verse 1 and verse 4.  Great rewards will come, to be sure, but all of this is dependent on the child’s receiving the words and seeking for them as for hidden treasure.  

      Holding these two ideas in equipoise, even in tension, is the essence of Biblical faith. What is to be passed on, in assets and wisdom, is very valuable and needs to be described that way, but it can only be passed on if there are willing ears to hear and hands to receive. Pray for both—the wisdom to describe and the grace of the other to choose.