By Ernest F. Parrish
February 28, 2023

Discovering redemptive value in a business calling

Combining his passions for ministry and business put this columnist in a unique position.

It was August 1983, right after Penn Square Bank fell in late 1982, and we were in the midst of a full-blown financial depression in Oklahoma. Money was scarce. Banks and savings and loans we’re closing daily. We were experiencing the worst financial collapse in Oklahoma’s history. The oil boom had just gone bust. People’s tithe the year before was now more than their entire income. I witnessed the weekly income of the church we attended drop over 50% in 90 days, and we hadn’t lost a single family.

To say it was tough on everyone was a major understatement. People were scared, money had evaporated before our very eyes, and there was not one business, church, nonprofit, or government agency that went untouched by this economic downturn. In this economic backdrop, I decided to enter the marketplace and sell a capital expense item door to door to businesses in Oklahoma City. What was I thinking?

I had just accepted a job offer with a small office equipment dealership to sell copiers, printers, and fax machines. Businesses were just trying to hold on and ride out this financial hurricane, and NO ONE was in the market to spend any capital on depreciating office equipment. This sales position was straight commission, meaning if I didn’t sell, I didn’t eat. On my first day on the job, I was one of 10 new salespeople who all started the same day. The current team was celebrating a huge monthly win by lighting up cigars in the conference room, and it quickly filled with smoke. I remember thinking this is no place for a man of God to be. I should be at the church working on staff, not fighting my way through cigar smoke in a conference room!

But little did I know the journey that would determine my destiny was sitting right in front of me. The first step seemed like a false step, but the Lord knew what he was doing. He blessed the work of my hands in a big way. He planted me firmly in the book of Proverbs for the next 60 months. He began to teach me business principles that I didn’t even know existed in the Bible, but I was amazed as I began to read through the lens of the marketplace. Some of the principles he taught me were sprinkled throughout Proverbs.

Little did I know how much these guiding biblical principles would be needed in the coming years. Almost daily, I would be drawing from the wisdom well of God! There are so many times when opportunities to compromise present themselves. Small things that no one sees are ever-present. Honesty is what others see us doing. Integrity is what we do when no one is looking. The Lord was building my character foundation in these small everyday sales deals as he was grooming me for a much larger role that had not yet presented itself.

My successful sales career eventually led to a wonderful sales management career with a couple of Fortune 100 companies. One in the office equipment industry and the other in telecommunications. It was my district sales manager position, where I was managing multiple locations in multiple states, that brought me to the genesis of my destiny.

I inherited a stable full of dysfunctional salespeople. The district was ranked 114th out of 116 districts nationally, and I was hired to turn things around and lift this district out of the bottom of the heap. I began caring for all of my broken sales reps as valued team members and as individuals, and the strangest thing began to happen. They all started to produce! They didn’t produce quickly or abundantly, but the transformation had begun. Over the next 14 to 16 months, we went from worst to first! God had blessed the work of our hands. The idea of combining my two passions of business and ministry had happened. The whole idea of ministry in the marketplace began to gel in my life and heart. It wasn’t long before the Lord formalized all of this, and our company was born.

From the time of our birth until today, we’ve been able to touch thousands upon thousands of lives in the marketplace. One of the most moving stories was a story about John Marshall. John was a warehouseman for most of his career. His family, according to John, was all of those men and women who worked with him in the warehouse and his Harley Davidson motorcycle buddies! John was rough around the edges but tender-hearted in the middle.

Unfortunately, John ended up with lung cancer. A couple of weeks prior to his death, he had a special request for the business owner and me, the corporate chaplain. He asked David if he could have his funeral service in the warehouse because none of his friends would ever attend it if it were held in a church. Next, he asked me if I would officiate the service and to please make sure his friends heard the old, old story.

We were both so happy to be able to fulfill his wishes. Dave got the warehouse all cleaned out and got chairs set up, so all that was left was telling the old, old story, which I was happy to do. John’s Harley friends all showed up, with John’s large picture up front on an easel and his Harley parked right down front. John’s ashes are in a Harley gas tank, and now you see the setting of this amazing story. Three of John’s friends received Christ that day in the warehouse, and within 12 months, all three unexpectedly passed away. It’s like John knew in advance and took care of his friends. The owner of this business had truly discovered redeeming value in his trucking and storage business. It’s all about Him (God) and them (people).

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About Ernest F. Parrish

For the past 40+ years EF Parrish has invested his life in building relationships with people. Whether as a sales director with Sprint Communications Company, a children’s pastor with a local mega-church, or VP of Sales for a large office equipment dealer, Parrish brings over 40 years experience as a business executive, minister and published author. One of Parrish’s deep passions in life is building disciples of Jesus Christ, by giving away what he has gained in his fifty+ years of walking with Christ.

Responding to the importance Parrish places on relationships, he founded Corporate Care in 1987. The business currently provides corporate chaplaincy services to thousands of employees in numerous businesses.