This Is One Of My Christian Marketplace Heroes

Posted: Dec 03, 2018 10:58 AM
This Is One Of My Christian Marketplace Heroes

Researching my second book, HWJDB How Would Jesus Do Business?, God had established a small Biblical beachhead in my mind about the subject of being a Christian entrepreneur. But something else was missing. Outside of Jesus being my business anchor model from the Bible, where were the Christian marketplace heroes that I could look to in real life? I found one in a Christian businessman’s autobiography, Mover of Men and Mountains, by R. G. LeTourneau.

As LeTourneau (1888-1969) states in his autobiography, “I am just a mechanic whom the Lord has blessed.”[1] When he became a Christian, his heart had changed and pivoted toward God’s path. And like every other Christian, his life’s path has twists and turns in both his Christian walk and in business life. Eventually, he and his business became synonymous with earthmoving worldwide when his earthmoving machinery represented about 70 percent of all of the equipment used by the Allies during WWII because of the results he achieved (Proverbs 18:16).

He became a Christian at age 16 and followed others and pursued “helping in the church,” but felt awkward concerning handling most church affairs. That was his first sign God had not called him toward a church ministry, but God was grooming LeTourneau for the marketplace ministry with his second sign. LeTournea felt entirely at home and had the most joy when he was involved with business, mechanical and electrical designs and how they all work together. 

LeTourneau realized what we often ignore or suppress: “God needs businessmen [and others in the marketplace] as partners as well as preachers.”[2] Developing his various engineering and business talents offered him a chance to make significant changes in the industry as he increased in God’s wisdom. As with most men during the early 1900s, education was limited, especially with the new industry of automobiles. But his seventh-grade education did not stop LeTourneau from learning. 

LeTourneau’s first jobs in the foundries was a welcome chance for this young buck, but to the old timers, change in the iron and steel business in the early 1900s was coming too quickly. He accepted change as routine while others looked for the “good ol’ days.” LeTourneau created and designed his own version of a steam engine used in the foundry with his German friend observing. LeTourneau kept improving it, but never put it to work or in production. He told LeTourneau, “Better a poor steam engine that runs than a good one never finished.” LeTourneau’s first good design and business lessons learned.

LeTourneau designed and then put to work his first scraper “Gondola” and won his first contract. He used it to build a horse racing track because he “could move three yards of dirt for the price of one.”[3] All he saw was dollar signs of sales while his machine was on display. Mr. Harris of Harris Harvester brought him back down to earth. “Nice machine, son, when you get the flaws ironed out. If you don’t kill yourself first.” Needless to say, young LeTourneau had not thought about his machine working in tight corners or that with his youth he had a ton of strength and energy, unlike older men. But Harris’ best advice, “When you make a machine for yourself, that’s your baby, and you won’t mind if it cries…But the contractor that buys it won’t stand for its crying.”[4] More good design and business lessons learned.

Developing the craft of your business, discovering your many God-given talents is only one side of the business coin, the other side is the business of your craft, learning about marketing, sales, accounting, and other business issues.

LeTourneau became a partner in a garage business, and it was profitable…at first. He handled the car maintenance, his partner the accounting and sales. But his partner’s bad business practices came to light when LeTourneau returned home from working at the Mare Island Navy yard after World War I. 

“The most prosperous garage in town had gone broke…As a partner condoning his practices [“Didn’t keep any books” and was over spending], I was as guilty as he was…It took me weeks of working in the shop during the day and working the books at nights to get the accounts in shape.”[5] The creditors, learning of their financial situation, started putting pressure on them in January 1919. After about a few months of hard work to get back on track, LeTourneau thought he couldn’t go any lower…until his newborn died from the flu. He cried with his wife, “We’ve tried our best to be Christians. Oh where have we gone wrong?”[6]

God replied, “My child, you have been working hard, but for the wrong things. You have been working for material things when you should have been working for spiritual things.” LeTourneau and his wife had paid lip service to God, paying off his earthly debt while forgetting his spiritual debt. As LeTourneau learned, God wants us to cooperate with His plans (Matt 6:33). LeTourneau returned to the garage with a new attitude and God’s influence and got his partner’s bad habits (alcoholism) straightened out. While things were on the upswing, they were not out of the woods yet. God’s growth never stops at the lessons learned station, our growth continues the journey until we instill the Godly habits He wants us to perform.

With God leading, LeTourneau’s various business designs and insights increased his glory to God, and God increased his prosperity as his faith continued to mature. LeTourneau’s earthmoving designs had, “Instead of pushing a 100–pound wheelbarrow, the operator pushes a button and picks up the loads of 1,500 wheelbarrows, rolling off with them at 15 MPH instead of two… [so] distance for distance it moves for eight cents a cubic yard what cost a dollar when I started out in business.”[7] What comes to mind with LeTourneau’s comment is Matt 13:8, “And others fell on the good soil, and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.” There is genuinely nothing dull or half-hearted about being in a partnership with God in business in the marketplace.

One close call was a catastrophic landslide, a miracle orchestrated God because there was no loss of life. The landslide accomplished in minutes what would have taken LeTourneau and his men weeks or more and turned LeTourneau’s loss into a break-even project. But God was still not done stretching and growing LeTourneau’s faith. LeTourneau’s partner demanded “his part” of this projects “profits.” LeTourneau wanted to fight it, could have won, but God said “No.” LeTourneau gave him “his profits,” but his partner’s business was later wiped out while LeTourneau continued in business with God’s support. 

Now you can see how one’s faith in life and business is both stretched and then scrutinized and tested in the marketplace ministry by God. LeTourneau and other Christian business owners with their daily Godly disciplines and constant maturing of their faith and business really do follow Romans 8:28. “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”[8] Even in a marketplace ministry.

For LeTourneau story, “All things work together” means combining all of LeTourneau’s business and earthmoving expertise with God’s timing in his marketplace calling (Prov 16:3). Even when he sold his business at age 65, the buyers negotiated that he could not compete for five years. LeTourneau considered it time to work on fresh ideas. As LeTourneau says when it comes to being in business in the marketplace for God, “I don’t know what the future holds, but I know Who holds the future.”

[1] Mover of Men and Mountains by R. G. LeTourneau, pg 1

[2] Mover of Men and Mountains by R. G. LeTourneau, pg 1

[3] Mover of Men and Mountains by R. G. LeTourneau, pg 37-38

[4] Mover of Men and Mountains by R. G. LeTourneau, pg 36-38

[5] Mover of Men and Mountains by R. G. LeTourneau, pg 83-84

[6] Mover of Men and Mountains by R. G. LeTourneau, pg 84-87

[7] Mover of Men and Mountains by R. G. LeTourneau, pg 2-3

[8] Mover of Men and Mountains by R. G. LeTourneau, pg 164-168