With all this talk about Capitalists and outsourcing and whatnot, I wanted to use this blog post to talk about the craziest business person I know: my friend Andy. Andy is a contractor who specializes in high end and historic restorations. He looks like a blonde cleft-jawed super hero and at one point he was doing over a million dollars a year in renovations. Until he decided to engage in the craziest business model ever. Andy decided his business was a ministry. Originally he wanted the business to fund a ministry but God had other plans and slowly Andy’s business got devoured by Andy’s ministry. How crazy is this business model? Andy gets most of his workers from either a homeless shelter or the half-way house where he attends regular bible studies. Currently he has 5 workers who are recovering alcohol and drug addicts. He has them working on roofs, putting up quarter-of-a-million dollar homes, and they pray together every morning before he entrusts them with power tools in someone’s home.
I first met Andy at a small group meeting at my church. Andy’s enthusiasm for the gospel is downright infectious. At that Bible study Andy was lamenting that he hasn’t been able to get into seminary. He really really wants to study God’s word. He tells me that he longs to preach and live the life of a minister of the gospel. Are you thinking what I”m thinking? Yes. Andy is a minster of the gospel. He’s led at least 6 employees to Christ so far and one of his employees is starting seminary soon.I really got to see this insane business model when Andy added “geeky college professor” to his list of ne’er do well employees. I needed some extra money to cover the summer short-fall when I don’t get paid as much and Andy offered to help. I mentioned that I did some house-painting while I was in seminary to make ends meet. He set me to work by giving me an assignment that literally no one could mess up (white walls, unfinished floor so no worry about drips) and you guessed it. I managed to mess it up. Andy spent 5 minutes teaching me how to never make that mistake again and then nearly an hour talking to me about his business where profits regularly and consistently get eaten up by mistakes that personnel make.
Being the curious philosopher I am, I wanted to find out about Andy’s values and what would make a Christian business man do this sort of thing. After all, not everyone has to hire the homeless and the addicted in order to show the love of Christ. What I found was a ministry struggling to maintain a business and I found a minister of the gospel serving Christ with power tools and Sheetrock. I asked Andy the questions that all his successful business associates ask him: what about the bottom line? You know the bottom line. How much did you gross? How much did you net? He tells an interesting story. “If you put it on a graph over the last 7 years you would see the gross go way way up and then go way way down but the net would stay the same.”
Huh? How is that exactly? Turns out the net income will stay the same if you treat your profits like a ministry rather than a business. Anytime his gross exceeds his standard net, that money goes to his workers via payroll or to help a single-mom who needs 300.00 for rent or to help a college professor who can’t paint. I say this without an ounce of sentimentality. Andy lets money slip through his hands as easily as water. When I couldn’t work anymore for him this summer, he still offered to give me money to meet my shortfall. It simply doesn’t register with him the normal desire to accumulate wealth.
He is by no means destitute. He has a beautiful home with hardwood floors and all the trimmings. His family is well-fed and well-clothed. No need to quote 1 Timothy 5:8, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” However, he has no retirement plan at all. All his entrepreneur friends say the same thing: “Andy, you gotta start saving more.”
But Andy can’t start saving. There’s two new guys to hire. One is a recovering meth addict who starts on Monday and the other Andy tells me needs a father figure because he’s had a bad home life.There’s someone somewhere who needs a hand.
It is a reckless grace that Andy employs. His business model is counter-culture and completely bathed in his love for people and Christ. Crazy–definitely. Foolish? Maybe. Maybe not. Consider what Paul said:
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong . . . (1 Corinthians 1:26)
Andy still struggles with defining this ministry/business/recovery project . . . whatever you call it. The ability to study with Scholars and discuss the Bible which I take for granted, Andy still longs for in his heart. Nothing about this foolish calling, has changed that. Andy is also quick to admit that his ministry model isn’t for everyone in business. And yet, just dream with me a minute. What if more a handful of businesses set their net income and said anything over this amount becomes ministry to carry out the Church’s mandate to help the poor, the widow, and the orphan. What if a few brave men and women walked in to work and decided there is a limit to the amount of stuff I want or need and beyond that, I’m going to funnel my profits back into my employees etc. I don’t have to imagine it. While other ministries have an office with a secretary and furniture, MCOI has Don and Joy and a blue tooth headset and mobile Wi-Fi connection. They both drive a truck as a team but that’s just the business that feeds the ministry. That ministry is shining a flashlight. the MCOI staff (all volunteers) essentially walk around with a flashlight in a dark world. When someone is lost in the darkness of a cult or false religion mindset, MCOI helps lead them out and when Christendom has some dark corners where bad theology or bad thinking hide, well, MCOI makes the roaches scurry. This happens all from the bouncing seat of a semi. Its crazy but that’s ministry for you.
The more I think about it, the more I’m convicted that I haven’t thought about what is the limit of my lifestyle. What I mean is, do I have a certain lifestyle that I would say “That’s it. I don’t need anymore to take care of my family and myself. That’s my net. Get me to that point Lord and the rest I will let slip through my hands as the opportunity presents itself.” Can we pray with the writer in Proverbs 30:
Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.
“Neither poverty or riches lest I disown you.” This does not mean that rich people can’t be godly. This is not a commentary on wealth and capitalism. Instead it is question about what we need and what we want and how the Gospel treats that so very differently than the world. Crazy? You bet. Foolish? Not by a long-shot.