Why R. G. LeTourneau Gave 90 Percent
If you’ve ever been part of a church fund-raising campaign, you’ve likely heard the name R.G. LeTourneau. His story of giving is the stuff capital campaigns are made of. However, the story of why he and his wife Evelyn chose to give away 90 percent of their wealth — and the life-changing decision that prompted it — is rarely told.
LeTourneau was one of the more unlikely leaders of 20th century industry. From humble beginnings and a 7th grade education, he taught himself engineering and eventually built a manufacturing empire. His earthmoving machines helped win WWII and construct the highway infrastructure of modern America. By the end of his life he held more than 300 patents.
He had also become one of the leading spokespersons in the lay-led faith and work movement.
The decision to give away 90 percent of his personal income and stock in the company was the result of a previous decision — made when he was 30 and deeply in debt — to make God His business partner. Chastised by his missionary sister to get serious about serving God, LeTourneau was confused. Like most people, he believed that sincere dedication to God required that he become a preacher, an evangelist, or a missionary. He attended a revival meeting at church and gave in.
Thinking he was headed to the mission field, he sought guidance from his pastor. After praying together, his pastor said, “You know Brother LeTourneau, God needs businessmen as well as preachers and missionaries.” LeTourneau responded, “All right, if that's what God wants me to be, I'll try to be His businessman.”
LeTourneau took his business partnership with God seriously, although he felt like God was getting “a sorry specimen as a partner.” When financial success came years later, he believed this made him a debtor to God as well as his fellowman. His commitment to give away so much of his wealth was not a flash of generosity as much as a logical progression from his earlier decision to make God his business partner.
When people undersstand that their work matters to God and recognize that He is their business partner, they become receptive to tithing and LeTourneau's perspective: “The question is not how much of my money I give to God, but rather how much of God’s money I keep for myself.”
What would it mean if you recognized that God is your business partner? How do you view money: as a measurement of your worth or a tool for serving God and others?
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