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Biblical Stewardship and the Sale of a Business

By Howard Dayton

Howard Dayton, chief executive officer of Crown Financial Ministries in Gainesville, Ga., heads that ministry with Larry Burkett. He delivered this talk at the 1999 Generous Giving Conference in Atlanta, Ga.

Charles Dickens began his book The Tale of Two Cities with these lines, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” I think that is an apt description for where we are financially in our country today. It depends upon what street you are on, and for those on Wall Street, it has been the best of times—a record stock market, real estate has rebounded vibrantly, interest rates have been low, inflation benign. For those in the investment community, it has been the best of times.

However, for many of those who are on Main Street—individuals—it has been the worst of times. Our savings rate in the United States is at a negative 0.2 percent, the first time it has been negative since 1933, the depth of the Great Depression. Thirty-five percent of all adults in our country have zero savings, no money whatsoever set aside. The area of debt, as you know, has relentlessly increased on the personal side. I was just out in Orange County, Calif., and met with the person who heads up financial counseling for Saddleback Church. He told me that the average credit card debt in Orange County, unbelievably, is $30,000. That means the average person pays about $450 a month in interest only. And despite the fact that we are in a good economic environment, the number of bankruptcies continues to increase. This year there will be about 1.4 million personal bankruptcies in our country. To put that into perspective, 15 years ago one of our 300 families went bankrupt in a year; this year one out of every 69 families will go bankrupt. If we continue flat at this rate of one out of every 69, that means over the next 10 years one out of every seven families in our country will go bankrupt. I don’t have to tell you the impact that has on the fabric of the family. Up to 56 percent of divorces occur as a result of financial tension within the home.

On another street, “Church Street”, we are also facing a crisis. Researchers John and Sylvia Ronsvalle of Empty Tomb have determined that for the last 26 years, giving as a percentage of income has declined almost every year. The average church member gives $20 a year to foreign missions while the average American gambles $1,174 a year. The church and the work of Christ are facing a crisis.

Several years ago the pastor of a large church in Orlando, Fla., completed a survey of his church giving, and he discovered that 58 percent of his operating budget came from those who are 65 years of age or older. His question to me was, “What is going to happen when these dear, loyal, faithful generous saints go home to be with the Lord? How is this work going to be funded?” He determined that it took five new younger couples to replace the giving of one of these older couples who have been so faithful. From my perspective, we are in a race against time—a race to equip the younger generation to handle money from God’s perspective.

The Story of Crown Financial Ministries

I was introduced to Christ in 1971. Three years later my business partner asked me to join him in a study, of all things, the Bible and to find out what it said about money. Now this man knew I wasn’t exactly a Bible scholar, so he suggested that we split the Bible right in two. “You read the Old Testament, and I will take the New Testament,” he said. I didn’t know the difference, and it sounded like a deal to me.

As we read all the Scripture that year, I fell in love with God’s word, particularly as it related to the financial arena. We were astounded to learn that there were 2,350 verses in God’s word that dealt with money. Frankly, I went into the study with a preconceived idea that the only thing the Bible was going to talk about was the area of giving. But, lo and behold, what God’s word gives us is how to earn money, spend it, save it, invest it, teach our children, get out of debt, give it. It is a blueprint for handling all of our resources. Despite the discouragement that you see as you look at statistics and hear the lack of what many churches are doing in terms of equipping their people, it has been a joy to see people learn and apply these principles to their lives.

We started Crown Ministries’ small group study in 1985 as a consequence of realizing that the lecture approach has a limited impact on people: originally people might get excited about what they hear, then go home and put the book on the shelf, where it just gathers dust. But in that small group, people can be loved, encouraged, nurtured and held accountable and actually apply the principles.

In the very first class, one man owed $5 million between his personal and business debt. He was poised to assume a substantially larger amount of debt when he first started to go through the study, and then as he got into it realized that God discouraged the use of debt, so he began the methodical process of eradicating his debt. He ended up selling his business and, several years later, was totally free financially. He could do whatever he wanted to do, but this man felt called to serve as a full-time volunteer at our church as a pastor of counseling. Recently, he said to me, “It has been the joy of my life to be doing exactly what God called me to do. For the last five years I have had the opportunity to lead between one and eight people to Christ every week as people learn God’s perspective and apply His principles. If I had not have learned and applied these principles (because the market changed in his industry) I would have ended up going bankrupt.” What a joy it is to see a person who made the decision to apply the principles and then how God has chosen to use this man in the lives of so many people.

Three Principles of Handling Money

There are three important principles I have learned the last 24 years of being involved in this area of study and ministry:
  1. How we handle money has a direct impact on the intimacy of our relationship with Christ. I am going to repeat that: how we handle money has a direct impact on the intimacy of our relationship with Christ. Jesus said it this way in Luke 16:11, “If therefore you are not faithful in the use of worldly wealth or money, who will entrust the true riches to you?” What He is saying is that as we are faithful, we can enjoy the true riches of life, and what are the true riches of life? - it is that intimate relationship with Christ. The first and major principle of handling money.

  2. How we handle money has a direct impact on the fruitfulness of our life. Jesus in Matthew 6:24 said, “No man can serve two masters, he will love one and hate the other, he is going to hold one and despise the other. You can’t serve God and Money.” Money is a primary competitor with Christ for the lordship of our life. The only way that you and I can produce any fruit spiritually is when we are submitted to Christ, allowing Him to live His life through us through the power of the Holy Spirit. And when I have not submitted myself to Christ, and I am loving money and exalting money above my relationship with Christ, then I cannot produce any eternal fruit which unfortunately, as I look at folks in our church is the rule rather than the exception.

  3. My attitude in handling money is more important from God’s perspective than the amount. 1 Corinthians 13:3 says, “If I give all my possessions to feed the poor, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.” Can you think of anything more commendable than giving everything you have away to the poor? But the Lord says if it is not done with the proper attitude out of a heart filled with love, it is of no benefit to the giver whatsoever. I wrestled with this for years as I found myself giving either grudgingly, or I would give anything but out of a heart filled with love. I would sit down to write my bills, write my mortgage payment, my utility bill, my giving, and I did not put myself in a position to experience the benefits that the Lord has for us when we give out of heart filled with love.
There are four benefits the Lord has for us, but I just want to mention one, found in Luke 12:34: “For where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” When I give my gift to Christ, which is the only way that I have found that I can give consistently out of a heart filled with love, I can do it as an act of worship, out of a heart filled with love. He died for me, He provides for me, He cares for me, He has protected my family. So, as a love response, I can give my gift to the person of Christ Himself. So when that offering plate comes down the aisle, I go through the mental process of saying, “Lord, thank you for all you have done for me, and I give this to you out of love response for what you have done for me.” What happens to my heart when I do that? My heart is drawn to the heart of Christ, and I can enter into that closer, more intimate relationship with Him. So, I would just encourage you, if you don’t remember anything else that I share with you, please remember that: that when you give, do it as an offering of love to Christ, so that you can put yourself in a position so that you can enjoy the benefits that He has for those who give.

The Sale of a Business

About a year ago, I met a fellow who had been offered $5 million for his company the year before. He said, “Before I sell, I am going to do a little research to see how other folks have done who have sold out.” So, he talked to three folks from Washington, D.C., and he was discouraged by what he found. Within two years, all three of those had become divorced, so he began what I feel was a lifelong adventure to try to get his arms around an exit strategy for folks who are selling out or retiring. He has now interviewed 26 people who have sold their business for $5 million or more. Nine of those are believers. This is what he has found: After two years—and bear in mind that each person interviewed said that part of the reason he was selling was that he wanted to spend more time with his wife and family—within two years, 24 were divorced, including eight of the nine believers. They were either dating or married to a woman 11 years their junior, and everyone purchased the larger home, the bigger more expensive toys. He said what was equally discouraging was to learn that because these men, who were some of the most robust, creative, energetic folks around, had adopted a lifestyle of leisure, they had lost the zeal for life, and they no longer had confidence in themselves that they could do something of a significant nature.

So, we put together a Crown group made up of men who sold their businesses for $5 million or more. One fellow hadn’t sold yet, but he could. We wanted to find out, do some experimentation, ask not only the normal questions with respect to what Scripture says about money, but also probe a little bit more deeply into trying to challenge them to answer the question, “What is it that Christ wants me to do with the rest of my life?”

I want to tell you the story of my co-leader. He went through my Crown group about two years ago. He was 46 years old at the time, and his objective in life was to sell out and to play golf. He got into the study, found out that retirement was not part of God’s plan, so he couldn’t do that. This February, he did sell out. He started the business from scratch out of the trunk of his car, and sold out for over $100 million. I came to class about four weeks ago and his face was radiant. The guys asked him, “What in the world is going on with you?” He said, “God finally showed me what He wants me to do with the rest of my life: to build companies with the goal that, by the time I die, these companies could be producing enough revenue so that they could collectively give $1 million a day to fund the work of Christ around the world.” Now, that is a lifetime goal. I don’t know if he will achieve that, he will only do it if Christ is in the deal, but what thrilled me was thinking about the guy who was thinking about playing golf the rest of his life, to the adventure that he is going to be on, and the number of people that he will be able to impact.

Is Your Perspective Eternal or Temporal?

There are six crucial elements when thinking through the selling of a business or when thinking about retirement, to protect oneself from being part of these statistics that I mentioned earlier:
  1. Learn a biblical perspective—God’s perspective—of money and possessions.

  2. Do so in the context of a group of peers, where there can be transparency, honesty, and confidentiality. Now, one of the fellows in our group shared that he had a million dollar account that his wife did not know about. Next week he came back to say he told her. I am sure it was a painful, emotional experience, but I said to myself, “Boy he has built into their relationship the integrity that will allow them to survive over the long haul.”

  3. As this little group of peers grow close to one another, there needs to be accountability built in. We are seeing now in our group, they want to continue meeting once a month after the 12 weeks is over, so they can ask each other the hard questions: “What is it that God is calling you to do? How are you doing with your life? What is your perspective and spending habits?” Accountability is a key issue.

  4. Nurture an eternal perspective.

  5. Establish a relationship with a godly financial planner who can help you to answer the question, “How much is enough?” Look over the financial situation that they have.

  6. Involve yourself in building God’s kingdom. I think it is crucial for each person to have that as a cornerstone of what they do in life, whether it is my friend working full-time as the pastor of counseling, or my co-leader who sees himself in the marketplace generating funds to further the kingdom of God.
When I was a kid, I used to love to play Little League baseball. I used to play on this baseball diamond that was huge with towering fences in the outfield. I was not very good, but one time I hit the ball just right, and that ball reached the fence on one bounce. I close my eyes and I can see it to this day. You should have been there—it was really incredible. But when my daddy died in 1984, I went back to walk around our town, to reminisce and to reflect. I visited that baseball diamond, and you won’t believe how much it had shrunk in 30 years. It was so small you could step over the fences in the outfield. I remember standing on a pitcher’s mound trying to take that in, and it just struck me how much of life is like that. What seems so large and momentous at the time, with just a few years of retrospect, shrinks in importance. I think I have a healthy fear of looking face to face into Christ’s eyes, and that looking back on my lifetime and seeing the things that invested my time in, my energy, my creativity, my money, shrinking in importance. I think everyone of us need to be about those things today, that are big things from the eternal perspective, so that when we are face to face with Him, we will hear those words, “well done.”

Let us pray. Father, we thank you so much for the incredible gift of your Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, for your gracious gift of the Word of God that, empowered by Your Spirit, has the power, because it is living and active, to change our lives. Lord, our hearts’ cry is that we could be men and women who have that eye on eternity, that we would be investing everything you entrust to us, our times, our talents, our creativity, Lord, our very hearts, to build Your kingdom. In Jesus’ name, amen.

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