Alan’s Young Life Experience in High School
I grew up in a moral family. We went to a little Methodist church, and I didn’t understand the gospel. Guys came out to our high school with Young Life and did what they do: make the gospel clear and appealing. I would always have said I was a Christian until the day before I accepted Christ.
When I heard about sin and the consequences of sin, I realized I had a problem and needed a Savior. Fortunately, the next day they talked about the cross and what Jesus had done, and I was ready to hear it. This was after my sophomore year in high school. I embraced my faith and spent the next year sliding into some things I shouldn’t have been, but I returned the following year. I worked at this camp, washing dishes for a month around other believers. It changed my life, and I haven’t looked back since.
The Growth of Barnhart Crane and Rigging
My mom and dad started the business in 1969 with a pickup truck, ladder, and welding machine. For the first 17 years, my mom wrote every paycheck, and the international corporate headquarters was two bedrooms of our home. My ‘NBA experience’ was going into my dad’s office at night, talking about business and how he wanted to keep his company small. We had eight or ten employees, we would get a big job, and we may add people and then shrink back down. It was just a great way to grow up. My brother and I grew up running cranes, driving trucks, climbing steel, and being ironworkers.
How God Led Alan Barnhart to a Kingdom Business
‘I got out of college in ’83 and spent the next couple of years reading through the Bible. I had thought about going to seminary like some people had advised me to do. I had grown a lot in my faith in college. But as I prayed about it, I said, ‘God, I’ll go wherever You want me to go and do whatever You want me to do.’ So that’s where I was at that point in my life; I hope I still am.
I concluded that all of us are in full-time ministry, and you don’t have to get your paycheck from a charity or a church to be in full-time ministry. God gifted me more in business and engineering than preaching or counseling. And so I decided my full-time ministry would be in this, and I read through the Bible to see what it had to say about business and money.
I started to develop some fears as I read certain verses. Then, finally, the concept of stewardship became real to me; God owns everything, I’m not my own, I’ve been bought with a price, I’ve got no rights, and I’ve got responsibilities as a steward.
I have no rights as an owner to anything, including my life. The other thing I was afraid of was business success being detrimental to my life. Jesus warns about money ten times more than anything else. There are all these verses, and I came away from that thinking, ‘Man, this is dangerous. I need to be careful.”
Taking Over and Leading The Family Business
I’m very thankful that God gave us those verses during 1984 and 1985 because, in 1986, my parents came to us and said, ‘We’ve decided that we’re going to leave the company and get on a sailboat and sail around the world.’
And they did it. My parents said, ‘If you want to go on missions, then we’ll sell the business. But if you want to stay, you guys can start your own company.’ So in 1986, my brother and I started a new company, and after a lot of conversation around those scriptures and warnings. Before we started as partners, we committed to the concept of stewardship. This is God’s business. Technically, we each own half the company, but everything belongs to God.
We also created a safeguard against the dangers of wealth by saying, ‘We’re going to put a cap on our lifestyle. And if God chooses to prosper the business, we won’t see that as an opportunity to increase our lifestyle. Instead, we’ll see it as an opportunity to use that money for kingdom purposes.’ So we agreed to a specific salary and a concept of how to increase that salary as we had kids, but we committed there. It was so helpful because we’ve been partners now for 37 years, and we’ve never argued about money.
We started the business when I was 25. We didn’t know if it would survive the first year, but just in case, we put these things in place. We are thankful that God gave us those scriptures at that time. I know a lot of families that have turmoil in businesses, not because of a lack of money, but having too much money and not knowing how to divide that up.
How to Encourage People Out of a Western Christianity Mindset
Suppose pastors preached about it in proportion to how Jesus spoke of it every couple of weeks. A significant point would be made about the dangers of money. Jesus always warned about it, so it was a big deal 2000 years ago, never mind our current affluent society. I think there’s this lie about the American dream that tries to tell us that stuff will make us happy.
I love Deuteronomy 8:11, which says, ‘Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God by failing to keep His commandments, ordinances, and statutes which I am commanding you today;’ It all belongs to God, but He doesn’t want our money. He wants us to hold our money with an open hand. If we don’t, money creates a separation between us and God. Unfortunately, I think our society has lost that warning, and instead, they do what comes naturally.
Poor people today live better than Rockefeller lived. A person living at half of the poverty level in the US is in the top 15% of the world. This is not something that affects just a couple of major donors. I also don’t think God is impressed with the commas and the zeros of giving. Followers of Jesus are missing out on some tremendous opportunities. They’re not getting away with anything; it’s hurting them.
Those warnings that Jesus gave are real, and the results of it are seen everywhere. I’d say greed is one of the tools of choice for our enemy. Generosity breaks the power of greed.
Alan Barnhart Shares How to Live Out Generous Giving
The way to start is to say, ‘I’m entitled to nothing.’ One of the illustrations I use is the Army cook. We would all agree that the Army cook shouldn’t eat better than the rest of the troops. He shouldn’t keep the good food back in the kitchen and send the troops the rice and beans. Those of us who are in a position in the body of Christ to generate a bunch of income are not more deserving to consume it any more than the Army Cook has the right to consume what he is preparing.
We need to be distributing it out to the body of Christ. Those that can produce income should see that as being part of the body by deploying their resources for kingdom purposes. Our mindset should be focused on deploying our resources rather than seeing how much we can get away with keeping. It’s much more fulfilling to be a kingdom investor than a consumer.
How Alan Barnhart and Others Started The Grove Group
We had a lot of money that came in the first year. It was $50,000, and we’re thinking, ‘What do we do with this?’ We had a formula to give away 50% of our profits yearly. So we decided to do that as a group. And we got together with six of us, prayed, and said, ‘God, what do you want us to do with your money?’ So we selected a dozen ministries or so and sent the money out. The next year it was $150,000.
We didn’t know what to do next. So we connected with a foundation in Chattanooga called the McClellan Foundation. They were amazingly helpful. We were a bunch of young kids that didn’t know anything, and they showed us what to do. But the Grove Group is the group that figures out how to deploy the money that God is bringing into our company, which is about 50% of our yearly income.
The Growth of The Grove Group
We now have five other companies also pooling money into the Grove Fund, a group we call the Kingdom Companies Group, all of which are owned by a charity and have a similar purpose. So members of those six companies are now part of the Grove process. So it went from tens to hundreds of thousands to millions to tens of millions.
I think we’ll have 35 or 40 million to send out this year. People get impressed with that, but we’ve never sent out a nickel that God didn’t provide to us. We’re just trying to be a good conduit. God has done an amazing thing in growing our business.
This group of people are all employees or spouses of employees. They have real authority, and they’re all doing it as volunteers. We don’t have paid staff doing this like most foundations would. We have 60 volunteers divided into six teams; I’m on the team for India.
How The Board Helps Guide Giving Decisions
We meet every month, travel to India, research different ministries in India, and develop a portfolio of 20 or so ministries. Then, we take it to the board and present our proposed strategy for India. Then the board will review that and maybe modify it a little bit.
That’s how that money gets deployed, and the decisions get made. We have groups focusing on West Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East/North Africa. These are all hard places without the Christian infrastructure fully in place that we’ve decided God has us focusing on.
We also have a group that does Bible translation and a group that does leadership development globally. I’m also on the board, so my India team presented in November, but I’ll be sitting on the other side of the table this time. And as a board member, I can’t make any decisions about where the money goes personally; The board decides, and it’s been like that since 1986.
How Alan Barnhart Views Discernment in Stewardship
We do a lot of studying before giving money. It’s not a matter of just wasting money; you can do more harm than good to yourself and your recipient. I think our country’s welfare system has been devastating for many communities.
Christian welfare is just as bad and can create as many dependencies and problems. Giving away money can be dangerous, and we see it as an investment. We ask a lot of hard questions. We don’t want to see the video; we want to understand the leaders. When we investigate a group, we’re focused on three primary things: do we have a godly leader here? Do they have a coherent strategy? And do they have a decent track record? If those things are in place, we’ll start investing a little bit. If that goes well, we’ll measure, and then we’ll invest some more.
Alan Barnhart’s Story with The National Christian Foundation
Our company grew a lot from 2005 to 2008. We went from a 50 million company to a 250 million company in four years. We were making tons of money, and the value went way up. And as far as we were concerned, God owned the company.
Legally, my brother and I each owned half, but the provisions we had for buy and sell agreements would not work. So we started going through the process of estate planning and how to deal with all the taxes. It’s gotten a little better, but it was rough in ’05.
In 2005, we concluded that we wanted to give away the company and transfer the stock of the company into a charitable trust. So we went to our advisors and said, ‘This is all God’s money anyway. We want to transfer it into a trust.’ They said, ‘You know, you can’t do that. You’re in your forties. This thing’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars.’
Somebody had given me Terry Parker’s phone number, and in 30 minutes, he told me how we could do it. He said, ‘You can’t give away a hundred percent, but you can give away 99.’ So in 2007 and 2008, we took 99% of the company and assigned all the voting rights to the 1% we held onto. So we put the 99% into this trust irrevocably.
NCF is the owner/manager of that trust. Then a few years later, we took that last 1% that had all the voting rights and put it into a voting trust with a board of trustees that manages it. So if I get hit by a truck, there’s succession planning, provision, and an anti-mission drift element.
How Barnhart Crane and Rigging Has Changed
A charity has now owned us for 15 years or so. We have seen zero disadvantages and tremendous advantages. Our tax bill is substantially lower because of that. The only downside is that we can’t sell the company and put the money in our pockets.
We can sell the company and reinvest it into other companies if we want. We can provide incentive plans for our people and ourselves if we want to. So there’s no real negative to it. I think it’s one of those opportunities that many people have never thought of and would be almost repulsed by.
But if it’s true that God owns it all, and this mechanism of holding stock has some tremendous advantages and virtually no disadvantages, I think it’s something people should look into.
About Alan Barnhart
Alan Barnhart came to Christ in high school at a Young Life camp in Colorado. He has an amazing wife, Katherine, and six children (35, 32, 30, 28, 25, and 22), three daughters-in-law, one son-in-law, and seven grandkids.
Alan has a boring resume—he has worked for the same company since he was 10 years old and has had the same position since 1986. Barnhart Crane and Rigging Company is a Heavy Lifting and Heavy Transport company based in Memphis, TN, with offices in 40 cities across the US. By God’s grace, the company has grown an average of 18% per year for 36 years. Barnhart provides services to heavy industry and construction, focusing on power plants (wind, nuclear, and fossil fuel) and the petrochemical industry.
Alan’s fear of affluence caused him to cap his lifestyle. His passion for missions has taken him to over 60 countries. The company profits are invested in strategic missions through the GROVE Group. Kingdom Companies Group team members and spouses (about 70) work in six teams to develop Kingdom investment portfolios that inform the decision-making process of the GROVE Board. Over 50 team members have traveled internationally in that effort.
Alan seeks to affect other companies through involvement in the Kingdom Companies Group and C12. He is a trustee for one of the KCG trusts and serves on the KCG Counsel. He is active in a local C12 group and serves on their Board of Directors. Alan attends First Evangelical Church and is an active backpacker.
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