the shape of leadership

Giving It All Away … and Getting It All Back Again

In his new book, Hobby Lobby founder David Green says he would rather leave a legacy than an empire.

Rollie Dimos on April 25, 2017

Since childhood, Hobby Lobby founder and CEO David Green has often returned to a familiar stanza from a poem by C.T. Studd that was prominently displayed in his home:

“Only one life
’Twill soon be past
Only what’s done
For Christ will last.”

Like Green, I have often reflected on the message contained in this phrase. As I near the halfway point in my life, I find myself thinking more about leaving a legacy than accumulating wealth, position and power. I’ve felt tension between my desire to succeed in business, while hoping my endeavors have spiritual significance and a lasting impact for God’s kingdom.

Depending on the type of work you perform for a living, especially if you work outside of a church or ministry, you may find it difficult to marry God’s call on your life with your work life. You may find yourself asking these great questions of life: Was it all worth it? Did I make a difference?

Countless people have felt this tension, and so did Green.

In his book, Giving It All Away … And Getting It All Back Again, Green recounts his story of growing a home-based business into the successful retail giant Hobby Lobby, only to find himself worried and awake at night, struggling with the thought of legacy. Green had success, wealth and a plan to leave his family business to succeeding generations, but it didn’t bring him peace.

Green challenges you to “consider now what you want your legacy to be.”

It wasn’t until he heard God say, “This company belongs to me,” that Green's outlook changed. He found a purpose and vision for the business that ultimately changed how Green and his family viewed their success and wealth.

By recounting the Greens' journey of starting the business in their garage cutting miniature picture frames, to suing the federal government, to now employing over 30,000 workers in 600 stores and grossing $3.6 billion per year, Green identifies several defining moments that helped crystalize why he donates money, what inspires his giving, and why it is important to him to involve his extended family in decision making.

Green’s overarching belief is that “there are only two eternal things — the Word of God and the souls of people.” This philosophy, shaped by the fact that he sees God as the true owner of the business, explains why the Green family is generous with their wealth.  

But more importantly, Green wants readers to realize that there is great blessing in being generous. For those who might push back, thinking they can’t afford to give or that their business is struggling too much to give, Green would emphatically reply, “This is exactly the time to start giving!” When God challenged Green to give, he obeyed, and over the years, Green increased his giving to a point where Hobby Lobby now donates 50 percent of its earnings.

While telling his story of generosity and demonstrating that “you can’t outgive God,” Green also gives a glimpse into how his family settled on a corporate vision of generosity, and structured their business to continue giving even when Green passes away. He also provides a primer on how readers can evaluate organizations when deciding which ones to support financially.

Whether you’ve been thinking about your legacy or you are just starting out in business, Green challenges you to “consider now what you want your legacy to be.” If you’ve been wondering whether you’ve made a difference, I encourage you to read Giving It All Away. It will ignite a desire to give more and create a legacy by living generously.

Book Reviewed: David Green and Bill High, Giving It All Away … and Getting It Back Again: The Way of Living Generously (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2017).

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