Can a Christian be a great business leader? Bobby Mitchell and Terence Chatmon of the Fellowship for Companies for Christ International, tell how they are taking a stand for Christ in the marketplace.
Can a Christian be a great business leader? Bobby Mitchell and Terence Chatmon of the Fellowship for Companies for Christ International, tell how they are taking a stand for Christ in the marketplace.
Bob: Let’s say there are two dry cleaning companies in your community. One of them is run by a guy who goes to church—he’s a Christian. The other’s run by somebody who has no religious background. Should there be a difference between those two companies? Bobby Mitchell thinks so.
Bobby: A company that’s being run for Christ is not necessarily better than a non-Christian company, but it is different than a non-Christian company. The bottom line for us—we’ve got to have profits and shareholder value; but in addition, we’ve got to be fruitful—walking with the Lord, modeling for the Lord, pointing to the Lord, training up in the ways of the Lord, et cetera.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, July 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. Of course, there is a difference between a company that’s owned by a Christian and a company that is being run for Christ.
We’ll talk about that difference today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’ve not talked about this often, but I think you know—and many of our listeners know—that I have a strong allegiance to the World Champion San Antonio Spurs. It goes back many years from my time in San Antonio.
Dennis: Some have called it a sickness, but it—allegiance is—
Bob: Allegiance is a preferred term.
Dennis: —a dignified term. That’s correct.
Bob: I remember when David Robinson joined the team in San Antonio. There was always kind of a knock against him, as a player, because he was an outspoken Christian. People would often say: “You know, if you are a Christian and a pro-athlete, you don’t have the killer instinct. You’ve got some kind of a higher priority; and so, winning isn’t everything to you like it would be to somebody else. So, a committed Christian just can’t win in the pro-ranks.”
I think the question I’ve got for you is: “Do you think a committed Christian can be a great business leader, given the climate that we’re trying to operate businesses in today?”
Dennis: I think we’ve got a couple of them with us right now who have done that. Bobby Mitchell and Terence Chatmon join us on FamilyLife Today. Terence, Bobby, welcome to the broadcast.
Bobby: Thanks very much. Glad to be here.
Terence: Honored to be here.
Dennis: Yes, these guys, Bob—back to what you’re talking about there—both of these gentlemen have really carved a niche by using the marketplace as, really, a great opportunity of ministry.
Terence is married to his wife Wanda since 1982. They have three children and live in Georgia. He is the current President and CEO of the Fellowship of Companies for Christ International, which now has spread—83 countries?
Terence: Eighty-three countries.
Dennis: Is that right?
Terence: Yes, sir.
Dennis: That’s great. He served in a senior executive role before joining the Fellowship of Companies for Christ at:
—Coca-Cola®, Johnson & Johnson®, and also Citibank®. Is that right?
Terence: That’s correct.
Dennis: And so, he’s done what you’ve talked about, Bob. He’s been in the marketplace and taken a stand for Christ.
His cohort here—actually, his boss—because he is Chairman of the Board of the Fellowship of Companies for Christ—Bobby Mitchell is married to his wife Sue since 1968. Congratulations!
Bobby: Thanks. It’s been great.
Dennis: You’re going for the gold.
Dennis: You’ve got three sons. And he has served as CEO for Applied Ceramics, Incorporated, for now more than four decades. So, you’ve been in business doing this. And in my little interaction with you, I would describe you—2 Corinthians 5:20. You’re an ambassador for Christ. You’re using the language of business to reach out to companies and countries all over the world.
Bobby: Amen. That’s right.
Dennis: Where did you get your passion for seeing Christ honored in businesses?
Bobby: Dennis, I grew up in a godly family. We went to church every Sunday. I watched my dad take abuse for being an outspoken Christian—sort of decided I didn’t want to do that. But early in my 20’s, after I’d gotten out of school, I went to a meeting with a group of businessmen. They shared the gospel. Now, I had heard the gospel before that; but that night, I knew I was more serious than I’d been before. I prayed to receive Christ with my wife, and we started down a journey.
What I realized was that I was something of a fraud—that my life did not match what I said I believed. I wanted to be a man of integrity, and I realized that if I wanted to be that, I’d have to change the way I was living my life.
Bob: Well, and that goes to the question that I was asking. I mean, I’m imagining, Bobby, that I’m on the board of directors for a big corporation. We’re looking for the next president of the corporation. We’re interviewing two guys, and one guy comes in. He says: “You know what? This company is going to be number one with me. I mean, you call me in the middle of the night. I’ll be here. If there is an issue, I will drop everything—doesn’t matter what. This company gets my supreme allegiance.”
Next guy comes in; and he says, “I want you to know I will care for this company, but my relationship with God and my relationship with my family is a higher priority to me than this company.” If I’m on the board of directors, I’m scratching my head about which guy is the right guy to hire to lead our company and get the best return on investment for our shareholders. Doesn’t it sound like the first guy is going to be the guy to hire?
Bobby: Maybe, I’m not sure what sounds the best; but I knew in my heart that I had to seek to walk a walk that was in step with the Lord—regardless of the consequences.
But I wanted a company—my wife and I prayed for a company that we could try to operate on biblical principles. God brought four opportunities across my path. Three of them were very glamorous. I’d had a good career in business, and I was offered some real good jobs. I took the one that was just lousy.
Bobby: Because God confirmed, Dennis, that that was the company. He confirmed it to me, separately, and confirmed it to my wife. We knew that we would have an opportunity to have a laboratory, if you would, and play around with how to run a company to honor God.
So, I took that job. I went in. I was interviewed by a guy who was later my partner and one of the founders of FCCI.
I had two conditions. I said: “You’re going to have to give me a line of credit. I’ve got to have some money to operate this company. Two, you’ve got to let me operate it as a Christian business.”
He said—he looked at me; and he said, “What is that?” [Laughter] I said: “I don’t know, but I’m going to find out. It involves things like tithing the profits of the company, honoring my employees, sending them to FamilyLife conferences, and doing lots of things—trying to get—make the money go as far as it could.”
Bob: Terence, let me ask you—because you give leadership to the Fellowship of Companies for Christ International today—and you work with a lot of business owners. I can hear somebody thinking, “You know, that works fine—what Bobby’s describing would work fine for a privately-held company, where two guys say, ‘These are our values, and this is how we’re going to function.’”
But if you were trying to give away more than 10 percent of the profits of the company, as a shareholder-owned business, the Board of Directors would say, “That—what are you…”—that’s just so foreign to the corporate world—that—“If your private company wants to do that—but that’s not going to work in the real world.”
Terence: Well, you know, the other way to think about that—at Coca-Cola, we just called that community development. At Coca-Cola, I ran two-thirds of the Coca-Cola business. We were very involved in the community. We may not have positioned that as Bobby is describing today, but we certainly understood the value of going into a community and being very generous.
What we found is that generosity brings loyalty. It brings a commitment to an organization. We called it “branding.” We call it “loyalty.” So, I think what Bobby is describing, from a biblical standpoint—we often approach it in business—in traditional business—as marketing or development. And so, I think it works well.
In fact, at Coca-Cola, we gave more than 10 percent in this way that Bobby is describing. I think that most organizations—that are growing and successful—they practice this, although they may not describe it as Bobby has described it.
Bob: So, if you are working with a business owner today—whether it’s a privately-held company or a shareholder-owned company—and they are saying, “Okay, like Bobby, I’d like my business to reflect my Christian values; but I’m not sure what that’s supposed to look like.” Do you have some foundational principles? Is generosity or giving one of those foundational principles? And what would others be?
Terence: Yes, I believe so. I think generosity is one of those principles. I think that the way we look at it—when we look at generosity from a corporate standpoint—you know, I was birthed in the corporate world. I was coming through with Johnson & Johnson, and Citibank, and Coca-Cola. We just positioned it as community development.
We would go into communities—in fact, today, if you go into communities around America, you’ll probably find a Coca-Cola bottle in the scoreboards of America.
Well, that’s called community generosity. In fact, we had an entire department that was dedicated to community development. We just position it that way. What we found is—it brought brand loyalty. It brought customer loyalty in a strong way.
Dennis: Let’s talk about a gentleman or a woman, who is listening today, who is heading up their own small business. They are listening to us talk about a business leader taking a stand for Christ and wants to operate their enterprise in a way that honors God. How would FCCI come alongside her or him to help them do that?
Bobby: Let me go back, Dennis, if I could, and just give you a little bit of the history on how it evolved. When I made the decision that was the decision on integrity, that was one thing; but I also desired to honor God and do it His way. I realized that I didn’t know what that was.
Larry Burkett and I were close friends, at that point in time. We invited 70 business owners to come and see if they wanted to learn how to operate a company on biblical principles. Twelve people came. Nine agreed to meet every other week for two years, and we studied the Bible. We studied: “What did God’s Word have to say about operating a business?”
These would be knock-down, drag-out discussions. I mean, we’d be arguing about “I don’t think it’s that, or this, or whatever”; but at the end of the day, we always had a commitment that we were going to end in unity and that we might have to struggle through exactly what that meant—but that we were going to seek it, and we were going to do it God’s way. So, that was the foundation.
If you really go back and look at FCCI, it was founded on the principle that God owns it all.
We are stewards of what He’s entrusted us with and that we need to use what He’s entrusted us with for His glory—not our glory. That’s what we built the ministry on.
And so, we—after we had met for a couple of years, we decided we’d have a conference. We’ve been known for our conferences for the last 40 years. We have great conferences. We’ll have five or six hundred people this September in Amelia Island. That would be typical of the way we’ve done it. We’d have maybe eight or ten different speakers come through. We’d have plenary sessions. We’d have breakout sessions.
And one of the great things we did—and I’d have to say it was God. I don’t remember exactly how the decision got made, but we recorded every session we ever had. And that became a treasure chest of 40 years of material—that we could break that down into teaching modules.
So, we could set up people in small groups and give them a guide on how to do that—that we could repeat.
Bob: Let me just mention that we have a link on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com. If folks are interested in finding out about your upcoming conference at Amelia Island in September, they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com. We’ve got the information available there. They might want to check it out and see if they’d like to attend.
Dennis: And what I hear you saying, in terms of coaching that businesswoman or businessman—who is leading a company and wants to honor God—first of all, you need to start with a teachable spirit.
Dennis: Then, get into the Book—the Bible—and begin to study. And what better way to do that than with a ministry that has purposed to help business leaders find out what God wants them to do in leading a company? It’s talking about how to do it God’s way; right?
Bobby: Amen. Amen.
Dennis: And you’ve written a book called A Walk in the Market, which is your story of how you helped start Fellowship of Companies for Christ; but it’s also how you really learned to do it yourself, as a businessman; right?
Bobby: It is. It’s the story of ups and downs. It’s testimonies to help illustrate the principles that we’re trying to teach. So, it’s a sharing of a life, really.
Bob: Terence, when you sit down with the typical Christian businessperson today—somebody who says: “I’m good at business. I love Jesus. I’ve never really understood how those two ought to fit together.” What are the issues that you start to work with them on?
Terence: The number one issue—and Bobby kind of began to talk about these principles—our first principle is that God is the owner, and we’re the steward of that business. The first approach—and probably the most challenging for business leaders, whether Christian or non-Christian—is that: “Why did you start the business in the first place?”
And typically, what we teach in MBA school and higher education is—all about shareholder value. It’s about bottom line. It’s about making money. It’s about making money to buy more stuff or to build a bigger house.
Well, that’s the first challenge—is that—the purpose of the business. You’ve been called to do business. There is a greater purpose than just making money. Of course, shareholder value is important. It’s critical if you are going to remain in business. But what is most important is that there is a greater purpose for your business. In this case, we’re teaching the difference between temporal value and eternal value.
And here—what Bobby’s talking about—when you’re talking about using a business as a platform for ministry—it’s where the gospel is being shared—not necessarily what you’re saying—but in how you demonstrate Christian behavior, how you are sharing the gospel and the love of Christ in the way you do business and the way you think about business.
So, the first challenge is a mindset change—that you’re not the owner of the business. You are a steward of the business.
He’s giving you resources—both human, and financial, and economic—that you’re to use it for His glory—not necessarily for your satisfaction and happiness, pleasure, et cetera.
Bob: And the idea that there may be some significance for your business beyond shareholder equity—that’s an inspiring idea for a lot of people; isn’t it?
Terence: It really is. Think about when you shift that from shareholder value to salvation—okay—to living a life that is generous, to living a life with high character, integrity, and living a life that you are the same person where you live, work, play, and worship. Sunday morning spills into Monday through Friday.
Terence: It’s a whole lifetime and life-way change in how you live and how you approach life. To be quite honest with you—how you treat, not only your customers, but your vendors, your staff, and everyone that’s involved in the business.
Dennis: I had a friend whose name was Jim Corman. For a number of years, he ran a telecom business. I believe it was in South Alabama. He really viewed his role as a CEO as almost like a priest.
Dennis: He saw that he had an opportunity to minister to his employees. One of the things that both Jim and his wife did is—they scholarshipped their employees—both the registration and the hotel expense—to go to the Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway.
He said, one weekend, he sent a number of couples to one of those events. On Monday morning, as he pulled into his parking spot at his office, there was a couple standing in his parking spot, waiting for him. They had tears in their eyes. They said it was the greatest weekend of their lives.
They had both met Christ at the event—had found salvation, had heard the message, and had left with a transcendent purpose to glorify God in their own lives. They walked with him from the parking spot to his office—okay—just a few yards—but he said, “I started that day off with a bit of a high energy in my step”—
Dennis: —“to know God used me in the lives of someone who I was, now, going to spend eternity with.”
Bobby: Amen. Dennis, interestingly, I’ve sent a number of employees to FamilyLife conferences. We’ve always paid for everything. Three of them happen to be my sons, who all work in the business and are mature godly young men—maybe not quite so young—43, 40, and 33—they’re a little older now.
We’ve seen great value in appreciating our employees and for them knowing that you appreciated them enough to reach out to them to minister to them.
So, it started off on the right foot—but they went, and they got godly material. They were alone, and they were away from the hustle and bustle. It was just a great way to minister to our employees.
Dennis: I had a businessman tell me—from Grand Rapids—he said, “We’ve given a lot of benefits over the years at Christmastime”—kind of year bonus and benefit. He said, “I have never given a gift where I’ve had this many letters”—
Dennis: —“come back to me.” And he held his fingers up about two inches. That many letters had come back from the hundreds of employees—it was a big business—that he had scholarshipped to go to a Weekend to Remember.
Bob: Well, and the point here is this is a businessman—these are businessmen who are beginning to see their role not simply as a role of the bottom line for the business.
Now, my dad taught me years ago that you’ve got to pay attention to the bottom line. He said: “That’s a requirement. It’s not the goal. It’s a requirement.”
He said: “The opposite of making money is losing money. You’ll never accomplish your goals if you are losing money.” So, you’ve got to make some money. But he said, “When you start to see that as the goal”—he said—“everything’s going to go wrong.”
These are men, you’re describing, who said, “I’ve got a goal to be a shepherd of my employees / to care for my vendors”—as you talked about—“to look at my customers and say, ‘How can we do good in the lives of our customers?’” When you start to see your business that way, it changes things.
Dennis: First Peter, Chapter 4, really grabs what FCCI is all about. They’re really challenging business leaders to use their own gifts / their own stewardship that they’ve been given for the glory of God. And 1 Peter 4:10-11 says, “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” Then, it talks about “Whoever speaks, whoever serves, whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
And I think if there are business leaders today—whether it is a small business and you only have a couple employees—I would really implore you to check out the Fellowship of Companies for Christ and find out how they might serve you and your business and what you’re doing—whether it’s a startup or whether you’ve been doing it for a number of years. I think they can bring purpose—a whole lot of tools, and equipping, and really help you rub shoulders with some of the great business leaders who are following Christ today.
Bob: Well, and we’ll make it easy. If folks go to FamilyLifeToday.com, they can click in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. There is a link there to the FCCI website. There is also information there on how you can get a copy of the book by Bobby Mitchell and Terence Chatmon called A Walk in the Market. You can order that from our FamilyLife Today Resource Center.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the “GO DEEPER” button in the upper left-hand corner of the page. Find out more about FCCI and get a copy of Terence Chatmon and Bobby Mitchell’s book, A Walk in the Market. If you have any questions or if you’d prefer to order the book by phone, call 1-800-FL-TODAY, 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY.”
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Or to make a donation to support the ministry, go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE,” in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. Make your donation online, and we’ll send you a copy of Dennis’s message. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. You can make your donation over the phone. Ask for a copy of the CD when you do that.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue our conversation with Terence Chatmon and with Bobby Mitchell about the Fellowship of Companies for Christ International. And we’ll hear more of Terence’s story. I hope you can join us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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