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The Barnhart Crane and Rigging story: safeguards for BAM entrepreneurs and owners

Saturday, November 11, 2017
Good Stewardship is critical for Business as Mission

This week I was walking through Magnuson Park along Lake Washington in Seattle, when I came upon some heavy equipment – really heavy equipment - marked “Barnhart”. The largest vehicle there carried a crane capable of lifting 550 tons; that’s roughly equivalent of 275 of my Toyotas, or the weight of two of the largest train locomotives in service today. What is this Barnhart company?

Owner and President Alan Barnhart tells it this way. “It is God’s story and how he uses ordinary people,” and how a “mom and pop operation” working out of the family garage become one of the country’s largest companies known for “picking up and moving heavy things”.

All of us who are followers of Jesus are in full-time ministry

Alan and brother/partner Eric grew up in a Christian home in Memphis, TN and attended a church which believed in the Great Commission. Fellow believers saw that Alan loved Jesus and wanted to follow him, so the default response was that he should “go into full-time ministry”. But early on, by God’s grace and providence, Alan discovered that he was gifted more in business and engineering than in preaching and teaching. It propelled him to the truth that “all of us who are followers of Jesus are in full-time ministry.”

Biblical safeguards

As the brothers assumed ownership of the company from their dad and things began to prosper 1, Alan and his wife, Katherine decided they must study the Bible to understand what it said about money. He came to realize that everything they had comes from God and they are stewards of it all; and they learned to “fear wealth”, because Jesus said it was hard for rich people to enter the kingdom of heaven and Paul said you can take nothing with you when you die.2 Three safeguards were put in place and have guided the two families since then, and are instructive for all entrepreneurs and business owners:
  1. God owns the business; it does not belong to us but we are stewards of it.
  2. They set a lifestyle and salary cap (for them this meant they set their salaries at the mean salary of middle class members of the Sunday School class at church).
  3. Accountability was put into place so that they maintained adherence to the above and put the fruits of the labors into advancing the kingdom of God.
The Barnhart brothers are known for growing a company with excellence of service, commitment to giving, and evident obedience to God’s word. Says, Alan, “…the alternative to consumption is kingdom living.” He uses a military metaphor to explain that “the army cook should not eat better than the troops.” As the company routinely gave away over half of their income to advance the kingdom (as much as $1 million per month), the blessing of God just increased. Today they still operate and grow the business but 100% of it is in a charitable trust.

And their kids did not grow up as rich kids for which the adult children are grateful to their parents today. Alan likes to use tool and toy terminology. A toy is something we would buy for our own pleasure, comfort or fun. A tool is something we buy that God can use in His service.

Tools not toys

As a family, they try to minimize the investment in toys and maximize the investment in tools. One example of an investment is the international travel they have done as a family with the result that their children have seen the needs of the world and what God is doing in other cultures. To them an inheritance for the children is faith, education, abilities and motivation.

The moral of the story for all entrepreneurs and business owners is not the details but the Barnhart principles of stewardship, a lifestyle cap and the appropriate accountability.


1 The company grew 25% a year for 23 years in the 80s and 90s and today is valued at over $250 million and has over 1,000 employees in the US.
2 Matthew 19:23; I Timothy 6:7

Jobs as justice

Saturday, November 04, 2017
Business as Mission promotes justice by creating jobs

For some years I taught at a graduate school on the West Coast. I note that they now have a Master’s degree in Justice with courses such as Theological Foundations, Social Justice, The History of Justice and similar topics. I also note the content of entire conferences on Christian justice with themes related to chasing justice, theology of justice, justice as worship, peacemaking, and Christian community. All good things to be sure – but noticeably lacking – jobs as justice!

According to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, the Hebrew words tsedeq and mishpat and the Greek dikaiosyne are all used to describe “justice” in the Bible. These words are interchangeable with the words for “righteousness.” Jim Wallis affirms that “…the clear meaning of “justice” is “what is right” or “what is normal” — the way things are supposed to be.”1;

He continues, “One of the clearest and most holistic words for justice is the Hebrew shalom, which means both “justice” and “peace.” Shalom includes “wholeness,” or everything that makes for people’s well-being, security, and, in particular, the restoration of relationships that have been broken. Justice, therefore, is about repairing broken relationships both with other people and to structures — of courts and punishments, money and economics, land and resources, and kings and rulers.”

“Employer-employee relationships could be brought into the idea of shalom as well — fixing what has been unfair, unjust, or exploitative. Economic systems, structures, and interactions can be judged by how they serve or destroy good and healthy relationships.”

The Gallup Corporation surveyed over 150 nations in their renowned World Poll of major issues of life. They wanted to “…discover the single most dominant thought on most people’s minds….” Says CEO Jim Clifton, “Six years into our global data collection effort, we may have already found the single most searing, clarifying, helpful, world-altering fact. What the whole world wants is a good job.”2

Consider the world conditions of today – extreme poverty (30% of the world living on less than $2 a day), unemployment in some countries over 50%, victimization and exploitation such as human trafficking, disease, wars on several fronts, natural disasters and persecution. Job creation will not heal all of this but growing economies creating good jobs brings dignity, opportunity for positive relationships and the ultimate transformation of individuals and communities. God created humans to work and be productive (Gen 1:28), to work heartily ’as for the Lord and not men’ (Col 3:23) and “…shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father…” (Matt 5:16). This all takes place in the marketplace of work.

Many situations where righteousness, justice and shalom are lacking could be corrected with meaningful employment. The poor could be fed and clothed, the powerless would have dignity, disease would be ameliorated, and relationships healed. None of this is perfect, but it is in the direction of what Jesus called righteous living; it would be transformative.
Poverty Cure, a division of the Acton Institute,3 has many resources which promote a good understanding of “what causes wealth?”, a better question than “what causes poverty?” Every modern institution – education, government, and the church consumes wealth. Only one institution creates wealth – business! And wealth creation is a God-given ability (Deut. 8:18).

It is time to move away from so much focus on distribution of wealth in the world and focus on its creation. It is time to move:

  • From aid to enterprise.
  • From poverty alleviation to wealth creation.
  • From paternalism to partnerships.
  • From handouts to investments.
  • From seeing the poor as consumers or burdens to seeing them as creators.
  • From viewing people and economies as experiments to pursuing solidarity with the poor.
  • From viewing the poor as recipients of charity to acknowledging them as agents of change with dignity, capacity, and creativity.
  • From encouraging dependency to integrating the poor into networks of productivity and exchange.
  • From subsidies and protectionism to open trade and competition.
  • From seeing the global economy as a fixed pie to understanding that human enterprise can grow economies.

Justice has many facets and to be sure there are no easy answers. But job creation for sure should be in the mix of answers. Business, free markets and entrepreneurship are keys to prosperity, economic growth and justice for the poor. Let us do all we can to empower the poor with jobs, limit foreign and church “aid” (certainly some is needed in time of crisis), and stimulate small business – and all within the moral context of Biblical justice and the teaching of Jesus.


1 Jim Wallis,How The Bible Understands Justice.
2 Jim Clifton, The Coming Jobs War, p.10
3 Poverty Cure: www.povertycure.org



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IBEC Ventures -- Consultants for BAM/Business as Mission