In Partnership With God
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Businessman Gary Ringger and his wife, Marla, reflect on how they took Gary’s dad’s business and, with God’s help, built a thriving food business. Hear how Gary realized that God was the real CEO, and how he carried out plans as God led.
In Partnership With God
Bob: Gary Ringger was a successful Christian businessman who wanted to operate his business in a way that was honoring to the Lord. One area, though, where Gary says he had not yet fully surrendered himself to God was in how he thought about financial giving from the business.
Gary: Our giving was limited to a post-tax tithe, so that was our thought process. I do feel like the way we treated people/the way we did business—we wanted to be God-honoring—but as far as our giving, it was our business; and we would, if you will, tip God as it increased.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 6th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We talk today to Gary and Marla Ringger about how God got a hold of their hearts, first, and then got a hold of their business and transformed both. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I have to tell you—when I came across what we’re going to talk about today, I thought, “Dave is going to like this.”
Dave: Really? Why?
Bob: Because I know how fired up you get when people start to get radical about their faith.
Dave: Oh, definitely.
Ann: You’re right.
Dave: You’re right.
Ann: I think that’s true about Dave.
Dave: I’m not here, talking about scooping up pig feed. [Laughter] I didn’t know how that came into the thing—like, “Why am I excited about that?!”
Bob: Well, some of our listeners are going, “What’s the relationship between pig feed and being radical about your faith?” But that’s what we’re going to learn today.
Dave: That’s where it started.
Gary: That’s right.
Bob: Gary Ringger and his wife Marla are joining us. Guys, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Gary: Thank you.
Marla: Thank you.
Gary: Good to be here.
Bob: Gary and Marla are from central Illinois. The story we’re going to hear today is a story, Gary, that you actually—you wrote down in a book called Radical Business. Most guys, who live through what you lived through—and have got a great story to tell—don’t take time to write a book. What was the prompting that caused you to say, “I’m going to write a book about our story and about our life”?
Gary: What actually happened was Andy, who works with me, was wanting me to do it; and it just seemed overwhelming, so it wasn’t getting done. Then, one night, Marla woke up in the middle of the night. If you look at the back cover, she wrote that word for word; she wrote it as if it was me.
The next morning, she showed it to me and I thought, “Oh, I like that.” It became this, kind of, sweet journey. I would write a chapter very poorly, and then Marla would edit it; then my oldest daughter Megan would edit it. Then we’d get together at Panera, and we’d edit it together and read it together. It became this walk down memory lane that was a real great journey together.
Bob: What it became for you guys was an opportunity to really celebrate the goodness of God in a long journey that is—it’s a pretty remarkable journey.
Ann: Marla, what prompted you? Did you wake up in the night and start writing? What was that?
Marla: We’d actually talked about writing the book. When we would share stories with some of our friends, they would say [with enthusiasm], “You need to write a book!” Every time we’d tell them another God story, they’d say, “You need to write a book!”; so—
Dave: Is that how they said it? I like that. [Laughter]
Marla: Well, that’s how one of my friends said it; she did! She would just—yes; she did! [Laughter] So then, I just had it on my mind. A lot of times, that’s how I process—at night—
Ann: Your best thoughts come at night.
Marla: —when I go to sleep or I lay there, thinking about it. I just started thinking, “How should we introduce this book?” Those words came, so I do think it was the Lord.
Bob: Well, let’s go back to the beginning of the God-story. That really starts when you got into the family business. Tell us about the family business.
Gary: Yes; so the family business was a little feed business. We sold pig feed to local farmers. I have to say—I was a lazy kid, wondered if I would ever make it in business. I went to work for Dad out of college because I didn’t know what else to do. Dad sold/bought and sold pig feed to area farmers.
Bob: You were a business major and then studied economics while you were in college.
Bob: Didn’t know what you wanted to do.
Dave: Except you wanted to play piano; right?
Gary: I wanted to play piano. I told Dad, right after I got out of college, that, “I’ll work for you, but let me take six months off to learn to play the piano a little better.” He was a German worker; and he thought, “Who have I raised?!” [Laughter]
Bob: Marla, when did you come into the journey? Where did you and Gary meet?
Marla: We met at college, although our churches had some interaction together. We both are from the same denomination. I actually—there is kind of a cute story of how we first met. We invited Gridley Sunday school to visit us for a Sunday. He came as a senior; I was a sophomore.
Bob: You were in the Gridley church.
Marla: He was in the Gridley church.
Gary: I was.
Marla: They came to Cissna, and—
Dave: Boy! These are some names right here—Gridley and Cissna; okay. [Laughter]
Marla: He brought a girlfriend—
Gary: —both in the middle of cornfields.
Marla: —who wasn’t, really, from our church; you know? We’re like: “These cute guys—they are bringing their girlfriends; that’s no fair”; you know?
I do remember the pastor had a special service, just for the Sunday school kids, who were visiting. He knew Gary’s older brother—lived with him in college—so he pointed him out. He said, “Oh, I know Gary Ringger; because I roomed with his brother, Earl.” Everybody was looking at Gary.
Ann: Well, wait. Were you looking at him,—
Marla: I was looking at him.
Ann: —thinking he was pretty cute? [Laughter]
Marla: Absolutely, I did.
I babysat for this pastor’s kids. When he asked a question, he said, “I can pick on Marla, because she babysits for our kids.” They all look back at me. He looked back at me, and our eyes met.
Bob: You remember?
Gary: Yes, I remember.
Marla: But he did have his arm around his girlfriend. So—
Ann: Wait; your eyes locked, but he still had his arm—
Marla: That’s right.
Ann: —around his—
Gary: Yes, that’s right.
Marla: But that was—
Dave: Yes; but—
Marla: —the first.
Ann: You stole his heart in that moment.
Marla: That was the first, and I remember that.
Dave: Oh, yes; your heart went, “Thump, thump, thump.”
Bob: And you remember it too?
Gary: I remember it too. I have to say—when I got married then to Marla, that was when Dad started having hope for me. [Laughter]
Dave: Is that right?!
Marla: That’s not true.
Gary: It partially is. [Laughter]
Marla: Partially—but yes; he thought you were pretty great.
Bob: In college or out of college, when you got married?
Gary: Out of college.
Marla: I quit college my sophomore year, worked a year, then got married.
Bob: By this time, you are fully immersed in the pig feed business.
Gary: Yes, I’m going in the pig feed business. Dad really wanted me to learn it from ground up, so I went to work in the dusty feed mill that we had. I remember one of my friends saying, “What are you doing?—doing this?”
I met a gentleman that was a nutritionist, and he taught me how to mix the feed from ground up. We, before, were buying like two ingredients and mixing them together. He taught me how to take 10/15 ingredients and mix the feed. When that happened, our prices went down so much that we could sell the product at a lower price to our customers. It was a better value for them; but we made twice as much. When that happened, that was like—
Ann: I bet your—
Gary: —“This is pretty cool.”
Ann: I bet your dad was pretty proud at that point.
Marla: He was.
Bob: Again, you weren’t sure what you wanted to do; so you were kind of in the pig feed business by default.
Gary: That’s right.
Bob: Did you like what you were doing?
Gary: I really got to know Dad and the business, and we got along good. It was a real blessing. I had—Aunt Vi and Aunt Lil worked in the business; so it was a family deal, and I loved the people.
I started—he had me going out selling, which he knew that I’m kind of a timid guy; and if I have too much rejection, that I’d be in trouble. What Dad did is—he wouldn’t let me go out too much, but he would help me get my feet wet a little bit in that; then he would pull me back in. Sometimes, I felt like he was too restrictive; but it was really good for me.
Bob: He was nudging you.
Gary: He was nudging me and holding me back so I didn’t burn out. He was a great mentor—
Gary: —my greatest mentor in life.
Bob: When you came across this formula for twice the profits at a lower price for the customer, business took off. Did you start to see “This can be much bigger than our pig feed business has ever been”?
Gary: Yes; because the margins were good, we started making money. Then we started hiring other salesmen, because we could afford to pay a salesman. Then, as time went on, I transformed from this scared kid to somebody that was really, “Business is really great.” I loved it.
Dave: If I’m your dad—I have just discovered an incredible gifted insight in my son.
Gary: That’s right.
Dave: I mean, is that—I mean, you found something he had never found—
Gary: That’s right.
Dave: —and brought a profitability to the company that was unheard of at the time; right?
Gary: It was like a totally different business.
Dave: So was it like, “Hey, lead this thing”?
Gary: Well, yes; Dad was very involved in—he was a lay pastor in our church, and he was like the lead pastor. At that point in time, I was wanting more of his input. He basically said, “Gary, you know, you may want more of me now; but a lot of your friends have a dad for their business partner. As time goes on, their dads hold on; and you’re going to be glad that I’m not holding on.”
He was just handing it to me, and he was busy. He didn’t have an office at work; he just would come in and make the circles. He was a real positive guy—the most positive guy I’ve ever met. He would come in—we’d be immersed in problems—he would come in: “It’s a great day to be alive!” he would say. We were like, “Uh; okay, Dad.” [Laughter]
Ann: And what were your spiritual lives like at that point?
Marla: Christ has always been front and center, so we were raising our kids to know Him. It was a very important part of our lives.
Bob: Was that true in the business, Gary? Because I read in the book—you said, “My goal was to be a millionaire by 40,”—or whatever—“to retire at 40.”
Gary: That’s right.
Bob: It sounded to me like, early on, it was like, “Yes, I’m following Jesus; but when it comes to business, I’ve got other priorities here.”
Gary: We would say that our business belonged to the Lord.
Gary: We would say that, but our giving was limited to a post-tax tithe; that was our thought process. I do feel like the way we treated people/the way we did business—we wanted to be God-honoring—but as far as our giving, it was our business; and we would if you will, tip God as it increased.
Bob: Did you feel good about that?—you were fine with that as a way of thinking.
Gary: Yes, that was just what I was taught. My mindset was: “That was the tithe,”—that was what it was about.
Dave: So you get to a point, though—it’s pretty interesting in your story/the book—where you write out a contract—
Gary: That’s right.
Dave: —to God. Something was going on; tell us what happened there.
Gary: By the time I was in my early 30s, I’m thinking, “I’m quite the business guy”; and I visited a Kraft® food plant. I remember walking, room to room; and I saw all these processes and different foods being made. I thought, “This is a lot bigger than any feed business I’ve ever seen.” I told Marla, “We are going to get into the food business.”
I didn’t know what I was going to do; but I am fairly creative—and sometimes, too creative—so I start talking to people. Before long, I had met a lady who wanted to find somebody to blend donut sugar for her. I figured, “We knew how to blend feed; we can blend donut sugar”; so we started Ringger Foods.
Gary: So then we start Ringger Foods. That’s when I’m telling Marla: “Hey, babe, we’re going to get rich; and we’re going retire at 40. We’re going to live the American Dream.”
I would be/have thought, “We’re going to tithe on this,”—like that—but what happened is—as I started that journey, thinking very highly of myself, we were losing money. That was hurting my pride—had to kind of repent to Dad, because I felt like I had not put as much emphasis on the foundation he had given. I came in when there was a foundation. Starting a business—Ringger Foods—was a lot different.
The big thing was I never had thought about it too much except: “Now, we are making food, what happens if you mess up some food?” and “We’re making this donut sugar that’s not going to be cooked”; so I just started freaking out. I got into this pattern: it was just over a three-to-five month period where, night after night, one/two in the morning—it was pretty much like clockwork—I would wake up, and I was sweating; my heart beating in my head. I would just lay there, thinking all kinds of dark thoughts, like, “God forbid; we’re going to kill somebody with bacteria-tainted foods.” It just started freaking me out. Then, because it happened night after night, I got sleep deprived. You know what happens then—then I got into depression and desperation; then I just wanted out.
Bob: Was the company in financial risk?
Gary: Yes, that’s—you know, getting back to being sleep deprived—and also, God was breaking me; so that was the good news. The Ringger Feeds was doing great; Ringger Foods was borrowing money from Ringger Feeds. It wasn’t like we were in trouble. All we had to do was quit and focus on Ringger Feeds, and everything is cool.
That’s frankly what I wanted to do. I’m just getting to the point where I am tired of this; I just want my life back. I don’t care about the American Dream, retiring at 40. This was my thought—that I just wanted to quit; but I didn’t have a peace about that, and God was not giving me a peace about that. Going to your question, that’s what led to the contract.
Bob: So what was the contract?
Gary: So the contract was written on a 8 ½ x 11 piece of paper with a pen and, basically, said that: “God, if You take this failing business”—which it was—“and if we ever make it successful and we ever sell, that we’ll pay ourselves back what we invested plus eight percent interest. Anything over and above that, we’ll use for ministry,”—not having any idea what that ministry might be—but just saying, “This is Yours.” Then, that gave me purpose.
Bob: I remember, as you tell that story—because I know the rest of the story/I know what happened in your case—but I remember a guy who came to FamilyLife®. God had placed it on his heart that they should give to FamilyLife that particular year; he said, “I set aside a month, and our profits from that month are what we’re going to donate to FamilyLife.” We thanked him.
He later told us that he picked what he knew had historically been the lowest month of the year for their sales, [Laughter] so he was hedging his bets a little bit; but he is giving a whole month’s profit to FamilyLife; right? It’s because he believed in the mission and what we were doing. That month turned out to be the biggest month in his company’s history. [Laughter]
Marla: That’s amazing.
Bob: At the end of that October, when he’s sitting looking at the books, he’s going: “Isn’t it interesting how—when you turn things over to the Lord and say, ‘Okay, this belongs to You now,’”—and as you said—“We’re going to pay off our debts, and we’ll pay the interest back; but anything else becomes the Lord’s.” Somebody has said that the world has not seen what God will do through the man who doesn’t allow money to stick to his fingers; right?
Bob: The person who is focused on giving—all of a sudden, God says, “I can use this person, and I can advance kingdom purposes and bring joy to you in the process.”
Gary: Yes; you’ll notice that I didn’t give Ringger Feeds.
Bob: That’s right.
Gary: I gave Ringger Foods—[Laughter]
Bob: You gave the failing company. [Laughter]
Gary: —that had no value.
Bob: You’re right.
Ann: —which was the most intriguing part of this book to me, Gary—is because you said: “The business no longer belonged to me.
Ann: “It belonged to God.” You started to having discussions with God about your business—
Ann: —like He was in it with you.
Dave: I love it. I want to hear you say to that, but you prayed where I pray; I pray in the hot tub.
Gary: Oh, really?
Dave: I’m like: “So do I!
Dave: “Somebody else does.” [Laughter] I just sit out there, and I look at the heavens. It’s a beautiful place to take some quiet time.
Gary: I tell people: “If they really want to/if they are serious about their spiritual life, they need to get a hot tub.”
Dave: I agree!
Bob: Ooh; Mary Ann, are you listening, sweetheart?—[Laughter]—okay?—because I believe my prayer life would really get on fire. [Laughter]
Gary: Yes, that’s right.
Dave: Yes; but seriously, what Ann is asking—in that moment, when you’re getting alone now, probably, daily?—because—
Gary: That’s right.
Dave: —your anxiety was daily.
Gary: That’s right.
Dave: So now, it’s a different spin?
Gary: That’s right. When I first wake up in the morning, things look overwhelming; that’s just kind of my nature. At that point, I have a failing business; I’m still in depression. You don’t get into depression right away; you don’t get out of it right away.
Right outside our bedroom door is this hot tub; I stumble out to the hot tub. The other thing that was really cool, at that point, is—as I’m looking into prayer, I read these excerpts of some early Christians—right after Christ—they had been martyred for their faith. What I noticed about what they wrote was concerning the Lord’s Prayer. I had memorized that as a kid, but what I took from these essays is that’s what/how they prayed.
I got into a pattern—just the same way I pray today. I go out into the hot tub, and then I would think about who God is. Bill Bright is one of my heroes, and I read his [book, God: 13 Steps to the Attributes of God]. I memorized those, so I’d go through those. You know: “He is all-powerful, all-knowing”; “Why am I so shook?!” Then, when I would get to “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done,” I would think about—to me, I don’t know for sure that’s what Christ meant; but to me, it was like submitting: “Whatever Your will is; who cares about what I want.”
Then, when I would get to “Give us this day our daily bread,” then I would start/I’d have this prayer list about: “Okay, what about this?” I would start asking Him questions about business, because I was in this tangible partnership.
Before that, prayer was this discipline—like five minutes a day of really focused time that I had to focus. If my mind would wonder, it would be like I would slap my hand: “I can’t.” Now, this became up to an hour a day—just out there, just relaxing, with my Father—then I started experiencing Him in ways I never had.
Dave: If you are doing that daily, it transforms your anxiety, I’m guessing.
Dave: Again, not in one day; but what happened to that?—the worry?—the things waking you up at night?—the stress?
Gary: I have to say I’m this strange mix of very optimistic and a worrier. Dad is the most optimistic person I’ve ever known, and Mom would worry about anything; so I have that. Still today, there are things that will bother me in the morning. But this morning, I had to be down here; so I couldn’t do that [extended prayer]; so I am a little more anxious.
Bob: Right. [Laughter]
Gary: But in general, if I hit the hot tub and I spend that time, it is life-transforming for me.
Bob: You know, you can pray in other places. [Laughter]
Dave: It’s not as fun!
Marla: I don’t think he knows that. [Laughter]
Bob: When you signed a contract and said, “Okay, God, this business belongs to You”—and we’re going to hear more this week about what God’s done and about the ministry that has come out of that—but God started to do a work in your business. The bigger work God started to do was in you.
Gary: That’s right.
Bob: And I’m just wondering what you would say—I don’t know how many folks, who are listening, run their own business; a lot of folks work for other people—how does this principle apply to folks, who are listening?—this whole idea of surrender and stewardship and saying, ‘Really, I’m a steward of God’s stuff; I’m not an owner,”—how would that transform somebody’s daily life?
Gary: From a business perspective, I feel like the contract made it tangible. I feel like anybody can do that.
For Gary Ringger—before, when I had this tithe mentality—it wouldn’t have got there, because it was still mine. No matter how big it got, I planned to tithe. What I’ve been taught by other people is the finish-line mentality, which means you say, “How much is enough?” and then the rest you give away.
My personal bias is—if a business owner makes that type of commitment, where he says, “How much is enough?” and then “The rest is Yours, Lord,”—
Gary: —then, for me, at least, then He becomes more of a tangible partner; because no matter how big it gets, I’m a steward. The owner gets the increase, not the steward.
Dave: Did it help to write it down?
Dave: Because I’m thinking a lot of us have made these foxhole prayers: “Hey, if You do this, I’ll do that,”—then it just goes away—but was there something to putting it down on paper, like it was real?
Gary: Yes; well, it was definitely that. We wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t. If you know my personality, I’m very forgetful and very absent-minded. If we wouldn’t have [written] it down, I would have thought, “Well, what did we really do?”
Dave: Yes, I would say—you don’t have to be a business owner—
Dave: —to struggle with stress and anxiety and fear and worry about your life, and about finances, and about the future. I would say, “Today is the day to write a contract,”—
Dave: —you know? Whoever you are—just like, “What would it be like to sit down and really mean this: ‘God, my life is Yours. Whatever You bless me with…’?”
Marla: It really gave him freedom. It really gave him freedom, too; because he couldn’t pray, in good faith: “God, help me to get rich so that I can retire at 40”; but now, he could say, “Lord, bless this business because it is Yours, and I’m not going to benefit more than what we’ve already decided.”
Bob: I’ve met people like you—some amazing folks—and just heard amazing stories of people, who have said, “Here is what we’re going to live with.” They’ve kind of capped what they’re lifestyle is going to be; yes.
Bob: They’ve said, “Everything else is going to God.” Some of them never dreamed what God would do and find themselves tempted, on the other side, to go, “Maybe, we should keep more of this for ourselves.” Yet, they’ve found such joy in being vessels/being channels for what God is wanting to do all around the world.
We’ve got copies of the book you’ve written, Gary, in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. It’s called Radical Business: From Ownership to Stewardship. Anyone who is in business—this is a great book. This will change your perspective on what God has designed for you to do as a business owner.
Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of Gary Ringger’s book, Radical Business: From Ownership to Stewardship. You can order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY,” to get a copy of Gary Ringger’s book.
We want to say a special thank you today to those of you who have a burden on your heart for marriages and families—those of you who align with our passion and our vision, here, at FamilyLife. Our goal is to effectively develop godly marriages and families who change the world one home at a time.
We know there are some of you who pray for us regularly; some of you who are involved in reaching out in your community to help strengthen marriages and families in your neighborhood/in your church where you live. And there are some of you who make this radio program possible; you help us reach more people more regularly through your financial support of FamilyLife Today. Thank you for partnering with us in this ministry because we believe that we can change the world one home at a time.
If you’ve never donated to support FamilyLife Today, you can do that easily online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to donate. We hope to hear from you. Thanks for your support of all that God is doing through this ministry.
We hope you can join us back again tomorrow. Gary and Marla Ringger will be here again to share with us the burden that God put on their heart—the kingdom burden that has blossomed into a pretty significant ministry. We’ll hear that story tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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