By Jamie Shafer
Business and ministry don’t mix. At least that is what Chris Patton, president of Mike Patton Ford Lincoln, thought for years. Although he accepted Christ at the age of 10, he says faith was just one compartment in his life instead of being applied to his entire life. About 15 years ago, Chris’s perspective changed as he recognized that God wants all of us, seven days a week.
The oldest of three brothers, Chris was in line to be a third generation leader within the family business, a large automotive dealership located in LaGrange, Georgia. He remembers, “Since I was 9 or 10 years old, I was helping out and working—painting, picking weeds. Eventually I graduated to washing cars and changing oil. I’ve done every job in the company.”
In light of his revelation, Chris approached his father and explained his need to work out an exit strategy so he could go and do something related to his faith. However, he continued to wrestle.
“I finally realized God already had me in a business in a position of leadership, with influence and resources,” says Chris.
He returned to his father to let him know he would stay because he truly believed faith and business could coexist. Their business had been closed on Sundays and his father had operated using biblical principles, but Chris knew the future would look even different.
A New Day
His father was supportive but also was unsure exactly how Chris’s ideas would work. One major shift was the dealership moving to a one-price structure. They wanted to make a clear separation from the practice or appearance of games or gimmicks. Chris says this decision was based off the Scripture that says, “Differing weights and differing measures—the Lord detests them both” (Proverbs 20:10).
Although Chris says he is still learning, it is a different day at the dealership. Business and ministry are coexisting. What does it look like?
For customers, the Gospel of John is available in the waiting area and each car sold comes with a New Testament in its glove box. The cover’s title is “The Owner’s Manual for Life.”
About 30 employees attend a weekly Bible study offered. Chris said, “We’ve hired a chaplain from Corporate Chaplains of America who comes in each week. We have even been doing a pilot of extending his services.
“Some people say that ministry gets in the way of business. Employees come to work with baggage. They just do. Our chaplain helps them release that baggage.” Chris said that, as a result, he sees a team of people who are more inclined to give each other space and grace when needed.
During their Christmas party, Chris incorporates different stories that highlight spiritual truths and closes with a simple gospel presentation. Employees also have chances to volunteer together as Mike Patton Ford Lincoln supports the Emmaus House, a shelter for homeless women and their children.
One entry-level employee was so inspired by Emmaus House after a site visit that he approached Chris about leading a car wash fundraiser to provide Christmas presents for the homeless children. In less than two hours, the employee had a list of 25 company volunteers who were willing to help. That employee later won a Red Cross Hero Award for his efforts.
The impact has also been international. In 2011, Chris began a blog as a hobby and an effort to share the lessons he has learned. He laughed, “I expected it to be an online journal that my mother would read each month!” Chris now has an average of 4,000 views per month and about 2,000 regular subscribers.
He received a response from one man who was inspired by the ideas Chris was sharing about faith in the marketplace. The man asked Chris if he might be willing to come and teach at his church, located in Chandigarh, India.
Chris said he wasn’t planning a trip to India, so the man suggested they meet via Skype. Since that time, they have hosted five teaching sessions, each three hours long, where Chris speaks with ministers and individuals from surrounding villages. “We translate two to three lines at a time,” he notes.
Chris said that his friend in India is “on the ground doing the hard work; I’m just bringing the small fish and loaves. He’s making it something greater.”
Jamie Shafer is a communications strategist for Fishhook Communications in Indianapolis, Indiana. She and her husband, Eric, have two children.