We are all created in God’s image, and He is the Creator of all. The classical art of Michelangelo, Monet and Rembrandt; the music of Mozart, Bach and Handel; the inventions of Gutenberg, Edison and Ford; God provides the inspiration for creation for the benefit of all, even if they don’t acknowledge Him. Author and preacher Timothy Keller refers to this as “Common Grace.” For Architect Raymond Harris, there is no hesitancy in acknowledging that God has provided the inspiration, wisdom, and perseverance to help him build one of the largest, most successful architecture firms in the nation.
A believer from a young age, Raymond grew to rely on the guidance and provision of his Lord. He made a decision his freshman year to follow Christ and sought out Christian mentors to help him grow in his faith. He was involved in Campus Crusade for Christ during his undergraduate years at the University of Oklahoma, where he earned his Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Architecture degrees along with a Master of Architecture degree. Upon receiving his master’s degree, Raymond started his career in architecture with a commercial architecture firm. He always felt the call to own his own business and was conscious of applying God’s principles to how he managed projects and clients to prepare him for the future. After gaining enough practical experience to bolster his confidence, at the age of 27, he felt that the time was right for him to branch out and start a firm of his own.
But Raymond knew that he wouldn’t be alone; Jesus would be with him every step of the way. He recalls, “I was well aware of the need to follow Christ in all aspects of my life when I started our firm. From the very beginning, I decided to follow biblical principles in my business, as I understood them. The Bible is a tremendous source of knowledge and wisdom, as is the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”
Like many Christian business owners in the early 80’s, Raymond sought out sources on how to run a Christian business. He was drawn to the principles being taught by Larry Burkett and Ron Blue and began to study their books. Much of that information was compiled by Larry and included in his classic business masterpiece, Business by the Book. “I read all I could on biblical business and financial principles, but unfortunately there were not many books available on how to run a Christian business. For me, Business by the Book was an outstanding source of biblical, business insight that I still apply after 33 years in business. I used them as textbooks and even tautght others the principles outlined in these books.”
Raymond spent the first 25 years building and running his business on his own, although he had an invaluable resource in his wife Marydel. Raymond recalled, “She is my greatest counsel. God has given her insights into my business that defy explanation. I would be denying God’s design if I did not consult her. I’m convinced that God uses her to help me become a wiser businessman.”
As everyone who’s started their own business knows, there are many sacrifices that must be made both in the office and at home. “Marydel suffered through the lean start up times and has been able to rejoice in the harvest. In fact, Marydel was my first secretary and would answer the phone when I was away from the office in the days of ‘call forwarding.’ We look back and laugh at some of the situations that we lived through. There were times when one of our most important clients would call, and Marydel would answer the phone in her most professional phone etiquette, all the while trying (unsuccessfully) to keep one of the kids quiet in the background. He knew we were just starting out and just laughed.”
Finding the proper work-family-faith balance is an ongoing challenge that every Christian business owner faces. With four grown children and four grandchildren, Raymond admits there were many times when the pressures and demands of work rose to the forefront.
"Life is hard. Being a Christian doesn’t negate the fact that we will face the harshness of life. However, we gain wisdom to navigate the tough balance. Sometimes we simply have to pick up the pieces and keep going.” Raymond Harris
“I have not done a good job balancing family and work. Faith has always been there, as a deeply seeded part of me. To build my business, I neglected my family at times. But I also realized that had I focused on my family too much, I would not have been able to build a business. It led me to the belief that I am an imbalanced person but I keep trying to come back to a point of balance.”
“It has also led me to believe that Christ was perfectly imbalanced. He was extreme on both ends, but yet He was God. It seems to me that men and women who accomplish something have to sacrifice (along with their families). I’m still sorting that out, whether some sacrifices are really worth it for the accomplishments. When we stand in eternity and look back, what do we want to observe in our lives? Then work backwards towards that.”
“It’s always best to have your spouse in harmony with you on your journey and to be willing to sacrifice with you. Otherwise, if they are left behind, minimized in some way, or not given priority in your life, you are out of sync with God’s eternal purposes. I think God has created a partnership between a husband and wife in Christian business. That partnership is more effective than each person individually.”
Seven years ago, Raymond added two business partners who shared his passion for their work, their faith and their families. “It was very important for my first two partners to be Christians. I did not want to be unequally yoked, as I knew that was a violation of scriptural principle. It’s almost like a marriage, because you are so tightly connected to that person. I had previously passed on others that wanted to be partners in the firm, because they were not Christians or did not display the characteristics of a righteous businessperson. We are like-minded and frequently pray together, especially over crises or problems.”
“It’s so refreshing to have partners in whom I feel comfortable enough to share the burdens of running the business. There are a lot of emotional burdens that go into running a business. I needed someone that was more than just a good professional or a good manager; I needed someone who was not only godly but could help bear those burdens.”
“There were three things that I was looking for in a partner: provide for the firm by being able to bring in work, be willing to protect the firm, and nurture our people—our most valuable resource. Adding my first two partners was critical to the success of the firm, and, with God’s help, I couldn’t have found two better men for the job. I know that in all of the decisions we make, we honor our families and act according to biblical principles. We also love our employees and earnestly seek what’s best for them in lieu of just profits for the firm.”
“As we bring on new, younger partners in ownership roles, they don’t necessarily have to meet those same criteria as my first two partners, and it doesn’t violate the principle of being equally yoked.”
Raymond has taken the lessons he’s learned over the years and has written two books. The first, The Anatomy of a Successful Firm, was a company biography that he wrote for the 25th anniversary of his firm. He wrote it to communicate to his employees the history of the company and its culture so that it could be carried on for future generations. His second book, The Heart of Wisdom: Solomon’s Wisdom for Success in Any Economy, published by NavPress, is a compilation of his extensive study of the book of Proverbs as it applies to business. In addition, Raymond has invested in two young film makers over the past five years. He is an executive producer of three movies. The most current movie is recently released Woodlawn. OctoberBaby and Moms’ Night Out are also movie projects with Erwin Brothers Films. Raymond claims that he’s not in the movie business, but simply invests in two young men that are. This is non-related business from his architectural practice, but is still in a creative industry.
“I’m often asked about how I incorporate my faith into my business. I’ve struggled with coming up with a good answer, because I don’t think you can separate the two."
"I think all actions in business have to be a reflection of your faith. Otherwise, you end up choosing a religious ideology to make you look good in lieu of living what you believe."
"In our business, we take a long-range perspective regarding the welfare of our employees. We’re not just looking at our personnel to produce a bottom line profit. Employees are loaned to us for a season, and we feel it’s our responsibility to care for them.”
“For a Christ follower just starting a new business, there will be a cost to incorporating your faith in business. Counting the cost is important for the person that wants to truly make an eternal impact on God’s Kingdom. It is very easy to compromise because of the morality of our business environment. It has tipped over into an immoral culture. Every day is a battle, so you must gird yourself, primarily by studying the Word of God for His principles, listening carefully to the Holy Spirit, and asking God for wisdom to negotiate the dangerous reefs ahead.”
Counting the cost is important for the person that wants to truly make an eternal impact for God’s Kingdom.”
A firm believer in servant-leadership, Raymond has served on the boards of Crown Financial Ministries, Overseas Missionary Fellowship (formerly China Inland Mission, founded in 1865 by Hudson Taylor), Pine Cove Camps, and the University of Oklahoma College of Architecture. He also co-founded the Christian Economic Forum, a worldwide organization with the mission of bringing marketplace leaders together to improve the world by the advancement of ideas based on God’s economy. His firm has assisted in the construction of a facility in Lusaka, Zambia, for Family Legacy Missions International, comprised of a 126 acre children’s village for orphans and vulnerable children.
Although God has blessed his business, Raymond looks at success from an eternal perspective. He explains, “I believe there are two types of success, worldly success and success defined by God. Some of them certainly overlap, but I believe that true eternal success is having wisdom, humility, and compassion to be obedient and abide in Christ. This obedience is simply being willing to do the right thing once you understand it.”