In anticipation of the upcoming publication of a handbook for Christian Business Leaders, we will be interviewing business leaders who seek to exemplify Christ in the workplace. We hope to explore various topics involving how their faith influences their business, the role of Scripture, their role in the Church, and more. Our first interview is with Greg Duble, about how God owned their painting company.
Walk us through your business journey.
In 1998, I met with the owners, two brothers, of a manufacturing company in Memphis, in what I thought would be a routine appointment. But little did I know that their company story would change my life forever.
Their father owned the company and was ready to retire, but the brothers were unsure if they wanted to buy it. They began to pray, and came up with a plan. “If we’re going to buy this company,” they said, “we’re going to make a covenant with God.” They would set aside the resources to run the company and grow it, but everything beyond that, they would donate for Kingdom work.
In their first year, they gave away $20K to several ministries. When they followed up, they were amazed at the impact they had made.
Fifteen years later, they were giving $20M away. They still ran the company as if it belonged to God, calling it a “storehouse company.” They wanted to follow ancient Egypt’s example, storing supplies in case of famine, and ensuring that they would always be able to provide for their community.
Even though I left that appointment thinking, “Man, doing something like that would be really cool,” I also thought my interest would eventually fade. But it didn’t. I wrestled with the idea for several years, praying for clear direction.
Finally, six years later, I was convicted to go out and see what God had for me. I sat down with wise people whom I really trusted and cared about. After discussing the idea, two of them wanted to get financially involved. I realized then that God had already found the capital to start the company. Now if only He would tell us what kind of company it would be.
My two investors and I agreed that there would be three pillars for the business. Again, using the manufacturing company as a model, we wanted to do Kingdom work with the money we gave away. So, our first pillar was to have an impact on the people that work for us for Christ. The second pillar was to have an impact on all those we encounter for Christ. And the third was to be a storehouse company. We made a commitment to God that everything above what it cost to run the business, we would donate.
Then we decided to get into the commercial painting business. We named the company, “Thousand Hills Cattle Company,” because of Psalms 50:10, “God owns the cows on a thousand hills.” It made sense to us, but apparently not to anyone else. People would ask, “What’s that got to do that with painting?” And I’d say, “In all things, Christ preeminent.” Christ is in everything. And it was because of the name that I had so many opportunities to share the gospel with people. I really believe the name came from God—I would never have picked it out. For example, I had decals on the side of our vehicles with cattle on the side of a hill. People would stop me on the street, and ask how many cattle we had. When I told them we were a painting company, they would always be confused and ask for an explanation. Occasionally, I would even get the opportunity to share the gospel with them. We even used wrong number phone calls as a chance to talk to people about Christ. We were blessed with multiple opportunities to live the gospel out in front of people, and with the people I worked with.
We truly believed that our company represented Christ. And because of that, all the things we did had to be done as if we were doing it for Christ. We worked hard to make sure work was done properly, and a job site was left spotless. Multiple times we got compliments from clients, and again, it was just another opportunity to say it’s because we’re doing this for Christ.
This was the first time I really recognized that it doesn’t matter what you do—if you’re a garbage collector, if you flip burgers—it doesn’t matter. God wants to use that.
In the first year, we went from 2 to 43 employees. We had multiple job sites all running at the same time. It was exciting to see what God was doing, and at the end of each year, how much we could give away to various ministries. It really changed my understanding of business from the heart, not just the brain. It was amazing to recognize God’s ownership, not just of our money, but of our time and talent. This was the first time I really recognized that it doesn’t matter what you do—if you’re a garbage collector, if you flip burgers—it doesn’t matter. God wants to use that. It’s a part of His plan to send the gospel out. We had several guys that worked for us that became believers. And we had believers who were deeply impacted by that process. It was really exciting.
But the work also had to fall within contractual and legal guidelines. There are all kinds of hoops to jump through to weed out dangerous circumstances and keep people safe. But it can lead to hard decisions. For instance, we would compete against companies that would cut every corner and underbid us on jobs. We would say, “OK God, I’m going to do the right thing, the thing you called me to do.” And you’d watch someone that was doing the wrong thing get the bid, get all the rewards, and not get caught. We’d wrestle through those moments, trying to focus on scripture. In the end, the important thing for me was being assured that God’s intentions were good for me, being assured that God was going to take care of me, as I followed Him.
How did you see that play out? In terms of, you lose an important bid to someone who wasn’t doing as good of a job as you could have, and you trust God to take care of you.
Yes. It’s clear to me that God uses these kind of wounds or trials in our lives to help us draw closer to Him saying, “God, I don’t understand this, but I trust what You tell me in scripture. I trust that what I am doing is reflecting You, and that’s the most important thing here. I cling to the promise where You say You’ll care for my needs.”
Often times, I’d be upset about losing a bid to someone who would cut every corner, and then another significant bid would come up. I would win it, and then I would realize that the bid we won fits perfectly into what we were trying to accomplish with the company. If I had gotten the other job, it wouldn’t have worked as well, and I would have missed out on the other bid.
So, lots of times I had to wait on things that I couldn’t see where God was at work. God’s always looking ahead and saying, “Hey, I’ve got something for you, just trust Me, trust Me, trust Me.” These moments would remind me that I don’t trust God like I should. That I wanted to be in control. I think we go through these things so that we realize, “You really do have me God. You really are trustworthy.”
I did my best to let God steer the company. Things only got messed up when I tried to grab the reins. But when you’re trying to do things in a biblical manner, you’re trying to follow, to reflect Christ, people are going to cheat you. People are going to mock you. People are going to be naysayers. You just have to face that.
Any way that the church as part of the community can be more supportive of Christian men and women in business?
I think the true picture of the church is the body. And a large part of the church is made up of business owners and business leaders. And so I would say that we are the church. The church’s responsibility is to love people through grace, to shepherd people, to pour their lives into people. And I don’t think that only involves the pastor, I think that includes the body. We should look for ways to engage; we should look for ways to be involved. Because let’s be honest, in our culture especially, the biggest mission field is where the business leaders are going to be. So I think we should walk alongside, and love, and care, and hold accountable as a united church.
Do you have any specific advice you would give for an up and coming Christian business man or woman before they start their business, or in general?
I would say two things are key. Stick a nail in your hand, cut your finger, do something to keep you from being idealistic. There’s nothing idealistic about starting a business. If it can go wrong it will go wrong. You have to be logical; you have to be grounded. The other thing I would say is you have to find wise counsel. Find people that you trust that can walk alongside you. People you’re willing to hear hard stuff from. Those are key.
Also, “growth” always seems like a good thing. And the right kind of growth can be great, but the wrong kind of growth can drive you out of business. So be mindful. You always have to be present. We have this idealistic thought that if I start a business, I’ll be my own boss, and I can do what I want. Well you really can’t. So being mindful, being present in your business, is really important.
What I’d like people to take away from my story is that as a believer we need to realize that what we do, we do for Christ. So that means He is the business. He is a part of the business. He owns the business. And we are but mere stewards. You’re never your own boss. In fact, I was so convinced of that, that I rejected the idea of being called the president or the CEO of Thousand Hills Cattle Company. My title was Chief Steward. And I think that’s what we are—we are each the chief stewards of God’s work.
Any favorite sections of scripture that explicitly address business?
Proverbs is full of great wisdom about how we’re to reflect Christ in our dealings. But there are many places where, as a business owner or leader, you’re going to be confronted about how you should act. You’re not going to have to look very far to figure it out. Proverbs is one of those places. Psalms is another. The whole Old Testament talks about when God is displeased by His people’s actions. Understanding that is important.
In Ephesians, Romans, and Hebrews, Paul encourages us to not shrink back, to keep our eyes on Christ, to realize that we’re broken and sinful. And because of what Jesus did—that justification on the cross, His resurrection—we’re in a life of sanctification to become more Christ-like.
I named the company after a verse that God gave me in Psalms. And interestingly enough, if you read that whole section, God is yelling at His people because they are rejecting His ownership over all things. And God’s responding, “Who are you? What do I need you for? I own it all. I created the wild animals of the forest, and I own the cattle of a thousand hills.” And God wasn’t just bragging. He was giving an example of great wealth—unattainable wealth—for all generations to come. And God’s responding, “Who are you? What do I need you for? I own it all. I created the wild animals of the forest, and I own the cattle of a thousand hills.”
*Interview has been edited for continuity and brevity.
 Col. 1:15-20.