There are so many uncertainties in business. It can be exhilarating or terrifying. Or both. Our local business journal has a cliché question they ask executives: “What keeps you up at night?” This is, of course, a way of trying to pinpoint what the biggest challenges are in a particular industry. The fact is, often we are not initially concerned about the biggest challenges. When you think about your work, what worries you the most?
The Birmingham YBL fall breakfast speaker this year was Alan Barnhart (President of Barnhart Crane and Rigging). Before he went into business with his brother at age 25, he informed our audience that he spent a year reading the Bible, asking, “What does the Bible have to say about business?” Alan’s conclusion was twofold.
First, the Bible made it clear that he had responsibilities, but not ownership. This is the concept of stewardship. Everything belongs to God; we are given the opportunity to use His resources, but must also remember to direct them to the ends which He has given us.
Secondly, Alan said that the constant warnings about money and greed in the scripture made him aware of the very great danger of business success. 1 Timothy 6:9-10 is one such example: “Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Alan said he trembled at how many examples demonstrated that wealth could ruin a person, lead them away from following God, and destroy the lives of their families.
While both observations were valuable, it is the second observation that I found so striking. Most people who go into business worry. I think it is typical that entrepreneurs ask the question, “What could happen if I fail?” Alan’s observation struck me as so unique, because I have never heard of anyone worried about the question, “What if I succeed? How dangerous could that be, and how will I guard against those dangers?” Before Alan made a dollar at Barnhart Crane, he settled on a strategy to protect himself against business success. He and his brother pledged to give half their profits away to missions, while investing the other half in the business. They fixed their salaries and, in his words, “de-coupled his lifestyle from his income” to avoid the creeping temptations of wealth.
Praise God, Alan and his brother have been wonderfully successful, now employing over 1500 people and becoming an industry leader in their field. I am thankful that Alan began his career by firmly deciding to let the Bible tell him what was worth worrying about in his business. That is an example worth following in our own work!