Serpents & Doves

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© 2007 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

Jesus made an interesting statement in Matthew 10:16b, “…be as shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves.”  (NASB)  I believe these words of His are good guidelines for Christians for every aspect of doing business.  We are to be shrewd, yet innocent.

The word translated as shrewd sometimes means being prudent, sensible, and practically wise. Jesus spoke this counsel to his disciples, and it may also have had the sense of acting with prudence with regard to their own safety.  Being innocent, on the other hand, means to be pure, unmixed, and unadulterated.2 In other words, negotiate wisely; but always honor the heart of the Lord by loving those with whom you negotiate.  Be willing to ask in honesty, and to ask in such a way as to bring the other person closer to Jesus.

What does all of this have to do with computers?  Let’s see.

Off-The-Shelf Software
Some software, such as off-the-shelf productivity suites, offer very little over which to negotiate an improved position.  Open for discussion, however, are:

  • The purchase price of the software.  Don’t be afraid to make a “counter-offer” — a price lower than that posted on the package.  If the salesperson won’t reduce the price, ask that another program or some supplies be added at no extra charge.  While you may hear, “No” fairly often, you’ll be surprised at how often you hear, “Yes.”
  • The promise (get it in writing) by the retailer to give you the next upgrade at no charge.

Vertical Market Software
Software that isn’t normally sold over the counter by a local retailer is often called vertical market software.  Vertical market software usually has a rather narrow market niche, thus its name.  Church, school, and donor management software is vertical market software.  When buying any of these, open for discussion are:

  • Ask for a full-system demonstration.  Demo programs don’t always tell the true story.  If there isn’t a representative in your area, maybe they can do one over the Internet via WebEx or some similar system.  Perhaps this could be accomplished by asking for an extended trial period to help you determine whether the system will, in fact, meet your needs.  Most will be willing to give you at least a thirty day, no questions asked window within which to return the software if you’re not satisfied.
  • One of the greatest causes in church, school, or donor management software dissatisfaction is due to poor implementation and a lack of understanding the program.  Require the seller to include implementation guidance and training.  You may be required to go to their facility, but this is a major investment for your ministry, so it’d be worth it.
  • Insist on getting documentation that details the file formats of the software’s data.  Requiring this as a provision of your license agreement up front may save you a lot of grief and frustration if you decide to change systems a few years down the road.  If a publisher is unwilling to grant this request, they may not be one with whom you want to do business.  Remember, it’s your data.

Hardware
Though profit margins are fairly thin, computer prices are almost always open for negotiation.  When buying a computer, consider asking for the following:

  • Suggest a lower price for the system, maybe 5% – 10% lower.  Keep in mind that most hardware, if it can be purchased, is at least a little outdated (manufacturers are always working one or two generations beyond what they’re offering).  A bargaining chip might be that the system seems a little slow or underpowered.
  • Always ask to upgrade the memory (RAM).  You’ll never be sorry with more memory.  And if the price is fixed, maybe this is an area for negotiating a compromise.
  • Ask for a large capacity USB flash drive to be included with the system.  If one already comes with it, ask that a full-featured software package be thrown in rather than the “software-lite” packages that are usually included.
  • The system should come with an operating system and some software “bundled” with it.  Look over the software, and ask to exchange any of the pieces if you prefer different products.  For instance, if the system comes with Norton Anti-Virus software, but you prefer McAfee’s, ask that the two be exchanged.  The retailer will often accommodate such a request.

The Greatest Of These Is Love

Remember when negotiating to love your neighbor.  There is nothing wrong with knowing what you want and asking for it.  And certainly there is nothing wrong with challenging the profit margin of the seller by asking for more than is normally offered for the same price.  But there is everything wrong with negotiating in a demeaning manner.  Remember to love and respect those with whom you are negotiating.  Jesus died for them.  Be wise, yet innocent.


1. Vine, W.E., Page 222, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, page 222.

2. Vincent, M.R., Word Studies in the New Testament, Volume I. McLean, VA: MacDonald Publishing Company. page 40.

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