About a decade ago I did a short stint as an afternoon drive host on a large Christian radio station. Entrepreneurs are perhaps the most underserved people group in Christendom and so we made a point of trying to talk about their issues from time to time.
One afternoon, a young woman called the show to say that she and her husband had recently started a business. She explained that they had wanted to start a couple of years ago, but they didn't know if they were allowed to. Why? Because of so much religious preachment against business. They didn't know if they were allowed to make money.
My conclusion: that at least in their case (and I don't think they're the exception) being seriously Christian meant a two-year handicap in start-up agility. What a tragedy!
When I read Hobby Lobby founder David Green's new short memoir, Giving it All Away ... and Getting it All Back Again, I was reminded of that incident with the caller. David Green himself had gone through something similar. The son of a pastor, and the brother of a large cohort of pastors, pastor's wives and missionaries, David felt that there was something not fully Christian about his passion for running a successful store.
He loved God and he also loved the retail business, but there was a voice in his head which told him that those two loves were in conflict. The memoir makes it clear that this was to some degree the voice of his beloved and saintly mother who, when David would talk excitedly about his business, would ask him, "Yes, but what are you doing for the Lord?" It wasn't her fault: this is the way most seriously committed Christian clergy thought. And it made David wonder whether he was being truly faithful to God when he was being truly diligent in his business.
Like so many Christian business leaders I've met over the years, David found at least a partial vindication in philanthropy. Yes, missionaries might be better than entrepreneurs, but at least entrepreneurs can cut big checks to missionaries. Business becomes spiritually acceptable via the collection plate. I've seen and heard many executives who believe that the portion of profit which you gave to holy callings rendered the rest of the 'secular' business enterprise, if not fully holy, at least acceptable.
It was not until later that Green saw that when we're at business, we can already be "about my father's business" ... even before any of the earnings were given away. He was already engaging in the great commission (to disciple the nations) when he treated workers well and taught workers to treat customers well. He was preaching Jesus, even at the times when he wasn't using words. And those good deeds gave the words greater weight.
I recently interviewed David Green about this and other topics, and you can find a transcript of that portion below (and the entire interview on audio here). Both are edited for clarity.
MR. BOWYER: We're talking about the book, "Giving It All Away ... And Getting It All Back Again". This book is written by David Green. David is the founder of Hobby Lobby and one of the litigants in the very well-known Burwell v. Hobby Lobby lawsuit, which went all the way to the Supreme Court.
Mr. Green, his wife Barbara, and Hobby Lobby were victorious in that lawsuit and also entered the history books as advocates for religious liberty against some of the mandates, especially abortifacient mandates, in the ObamaCare legislation. Mr. Green, thank you so much for talking to us today.
MR. GREEN: You're welcome. It's good to be with you.
MR. BOWYER: As I read your book -- I read it cover-to-cover, I enjoyed it a lot, I found it inspiring, I saw things in my life that need to change by reading this book.
There was one part that felt kind of tragic to me, which was the amount of time that you spent wondering if it's okay for you to do what you've done. Your father was a minister, your mother was a minister's wife, your brothers and sisters went into ministry, missionary work, et cetera, and you grew up in a culture where to be ordained clergy was to be a Godly calling, but entrepreneurship wasn't seen that way. And it seems to me that you went through a lot of your life before coming to peace with the idea that being an entrepreneur is also a holy calling.
Can you talk more about that, please?
MR. GREEN: Yes, I think it was a positive thing in one respect with my mother and father that — I believe they wanted all of their children to be pastors' wives, missionaries, pastors. I really think it was a positive thing because they saw so much not as temporal or eternal. And I'm not real sure that they understood that we can also be involved in eternal things in the secular world.
And I don't like to use the word "secular" because your job — or if you own your business — it doesn't have to be called "secular". But I think that I never really knew, until I got later into my business, and finally there was different things that came along that I said, you know, I'm just as called to do what I do as my brothers and sisters that are pastors or pastors' wives.
So I believe I have a calling on my life; I think we all can, no matter where we are, be anointed. I sense God's anointing on my life as a businessman.
MR. BOWYER: What was the trigger that helped you make that transition, to shift that paradigm from wondering whether business is a second-class calling to understanding that it is, in fact, a holy calling?
MR. GREEN: You know, I address that in my book when there was an event — I went to a large meeting, and missionaries from all over the world were there. And they were taking offerings for the missionaries for literature to hand out about salvation.
And on the plane coming back home I just felt the Lord was asking me to give 30,000 dollars and I didn't have it. And so I talk in the book about that I said that — we prayed as a family, and we said, I think we can send 7,500, four months apart, post-dated checks. And I did that, and I was called by the individual that was responsible for raising these monies, and said that there were four missionaries from Africa that stayed over. We prayed about this. And the day we prayed was the day that you post-marked those checks. And that was the first black-and-white picture that God can use a merchant just as well as He can a pastor.
MR. BOWYER: So let me dig a little more deeply on that. In business, you're able to make money, and you're able to support pastors and missionaries. Did you move on from realization that to the view that business as a calling is holy, not just because you can give to the church, but that serving people by helping them with picture frames, or helping them pursue their hobby, their source of recreation is holy in and of itself?
MR. GREEN: I think that it became wider than just the dollars and cents that we can give, as you said. I think it has to do with how you serve your customers, how you serve your employees, and that's something that we're very, very key on. One of the key words around here when we have our meetings with our managers is "serve": we're here to serve. We tell our managers you're not there serving us; we're here to serve you, so that you can serve the customers.
So it's broader than the monies that we can make; it's what can we do to influence people for Christ. And we do this to the best of our knowledge as to try to live our lives in such a way that others are influenced by our lives.
MR. BOWYER: Does a company run better on love and service than it does on greed and on acquisition?
MR. GREEN: Well, we certainly think so. We think any company works best on the basis of God's word: following God's word and seeing what it does. There's so much in God's word that we can stand on in our lives; be it in our marriage, our family, or even our business. And we think there's not a better way to run your business than serving one another.