A Story With Moral Guidance in Business as a Ministry
By Mike Sharrow
In 2001, a 79-year-old man was starting a financial services business, and he asked me if I’d join him as an associate. I asked what in the world a 79-year-old was doing starting a business, and I’ll never forget his response: “Mike, retirement is deadly. It’ll kill you! We’re made to work. I’ve retired from companies a few times but want to create a start-up business doing what I’m good at with people I like. Will you come along and help me?” I dove into the world of defined pension plans, wealth management, investment portfolios, and apprenticing with this WW2 veteran and bastion of practical business wisdom. As a young guy just transitioning from teen years on Medicaid, housing assistance, and limited financial resources, he exposed me to an echelon of affluence, giving, spending, investing, and thinking I had never known.
By 2008, I had been working for 8-years at a Fortune 50 company when I felt called to join the staff of my local church. A local philanthropist was intrigued by my career move and reached out so we could get to know each other better. That relationship grew and resulted in me joining him on his giving endeavors, going around the world to various project sites where he had been quietly and generously investing in helping people for decades. He introduced me to the idea of “clandestine giving,” giving in secret so as not to corrupt your relationships or identity in a community. He reframed my thinking around Christian “charity” by making me read great books likeToxic Charity, When Helping Hurts, and African Friends & Money Matters. He mentored me in ways I didn’t fully appreciate until after he died.
Finding Power in Peers
I was introduced to C12 by a friend who himself was joining a local Forum and told me “if you love Jesus and love business, this is your kind of group!” In 2011, I exited a business I had created and my local church staff to become a “Chair” with C12. Within a year I was facilitating Business Forums and serving a couple of dozen CEOs and business owners, equipping them to build great businesses for a greater purpose. I walked with leaders from across the spectrum—from those struggling to make payroll to those giving away millions. In the years that followed, I came to know, intersect, and enter into relationships with some of the most fascinating, generous, and creative people, regularly saying: “I’m wildly wealthy in relationships!” (Experiencing value like this CEO.)
Now serving as C12’s CEO, I see many members struggling with selling their businesses to parties who feign appreciation for the culture they’ve worked so hard to cultivate or taking on capital partners who shut down any gospel-expressing elements post-transaction. I set out on a quest to solve that dilemma. Originally, in my clear marketing brilliance (my marketing team is shaking their head) we forged a “Consortium of Like-Minded Capital Partners,” which then evolved into a more formal and better branded 3Ten Coalition. In the process of developing that, I toured the country meeting with private equity, venture capital, incubator, investment bankers, and private investor firms who shared our concern for the gospel in the marketplace.
Deceptive, Tempting Lies to Avoid
Along this journey, I’ve become increasingly aware of some “seductive lies” I believe are absolutely toxic for entrepreneurs and investors alike. I call them seductive because they are so tempting, and they flirt with being biblical, but they are lies nonetheless because they can be a hallucinogen to the zealous. In our wealth creation, investment, and distribution, let us be mindful of these mindset traps:
The Kingdom needs our cash flow to prosper.
Our generous tithing motivates God to bless our business.
My obedience to God is expressed primarily through my financial giving.
My wealth merits special recognition from others.
These beliefs, and probably others, that are “for God” can lure us into justifying neglect of our souls, families, other people, present ministry opportunities, the gospel, and God Himself. Even faith-driven leaders must heed Jesus’s warning, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).
C12’s founder, Buck Jacobs, rocked my world in 2012 when he put it this way, “You know, whatever your price, the devil will pay it. For many Christians, the greatest way to get you off course is not a direct assault of discouragement or evil pursuits; it’s burying you with ‘success.’ The kind of success that warrants just a little more, postponing obedience just a little longer, because of all the ‘good’ you’ll do with it. If your definition of success is what it takes to get you to suppress the call of Christ–the devil is happy to pay it. Stand guard!”
Putting it to Practice
To protect ourselves from these common drifts, we must reconsider what we believe is a wise investment and what we value as a return. Say Jesus was waiting for you tomorrow at the company entrance and He asked to review your portfolio of investments. His stewardship calculus would look not just at internal rates of return (IRR) but at eternal rates of return. What would He find? Establishing a plan centered on His values and purposes will guide us as we evaluate and develop each part of the business.
At C12, we provide Christian business leaders, CEOs, and business owners with the business tools, peer advisory groups, and executive coaching they need to thrive in business and life. To learn more about C12’s approach to Christ-centered business leadership, find a C12 Business Forum near you.
Mike Sharrow is the CEO of C12 Business Forums, the world’s largest peer-learning organization for Christian CEOs, business owners, and executives. Under his leadership, C12 has achieved impressive growth, including a 217% increase in membership and a 262% gain in revenue. Before being named C12’s CEO in 2016, Mike held executive roles in several entrepreneurial ventures, including a financial services startup and a subsidiary startup of Walgreens. He also served as an associate pastor at Grace Point Church in San Antonio, Texas, and a C12 Principal Chair in Central Texas. Today, Mike leads the C12 headquarters team as they support nearly 200 full-time C12 Chairs to equip Christian CEOs and business owners to build great businesses for a greater purpose.