Chris Patton, President of Mike Patton Auto Family in LaGrange, GA, says he is in the silhouette business. The eldest of three brothers, Chris grew up in a Christian home and accepted Christ and was baptized at the age of 10. It was at that young age when he also began working in the family business, cutting lawns and pulling weeds before working his way up to washing the cars and working in the shop. After finishing college, he returned to the dealership full-time with the intent to eventually take over his father’s leadership role. The family business was all he knew and all he ever wanted to know.
By the age of 30, Chris was responsible for two of the dealership’s eight stores. With his father as a role model, Chris led a moral life and ran a profitable business. Then in late 2000, through a series of events, Chris was awakened to the fact that he was a “Dixie Plate” Christian who had effectively put God and his family in the two smaller compartments while his work filled the larger main-course section.
This troubled Chris. He knew Christ but recognized that he had not made any attempt to learn the Bible. He began daily quiet time with Scripture reflection and meditation and, over the course of the next six months, came to realize the foundation was right, but the building was all wrong.
“I realized I was working in the business six days a week worrying about profitability and business decisions. Then, I spent a little bit of time with family, and that left Sunday mornings, and occasional Wednesday evenings for my spiritual life. I knew that God wanted my entire life, and I had to change.”
Chris did not know what the next 20 to 30 years would look like, giving God 100% of his time, but he knew he couldn’t do it in the car business. So, with his wife’s support, he approached his father and told him he wanted to leave. “My father was a faithful Christian, so he understood my desire and gave me his support.”
Because Chris had taken a lead role in running the business, he knew it would take some time to transition the business to run without him. The Patton’s began selling stores until they only had three remaining in one location. In 2003, through another series of events, Chris had a new revelation.
"God took a Louisville Slugger and knocked me on the side of the head and said, ‘I’ve got you in a leadership position in this business with 75-100 employees. It is a business that financially can produce huge resources and have a huge influence. You are exactly where I want you to do everything you have in mind to do ministry-wise. Just do it through the business!’"Chris Patton
This was a new paradigm for Chris. He grew up thinking that you separate business from politics, religion and SEC football. It never crossed his mind that you could do business as a ministry. With his father and brothers’ blessing and support, Chris decided to stay and recommitted the business as a Christian business—a business with an eternal purpose.
“I liken it to the parable of the talents,” said Chris. “God gave us the business as one of the talents. We needed to invest it and use it for eternal impact and not just financial reward or a quality of life for our families and ourselves.”
Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, the Pattons imagine the eternal view of their business as the nineteen acres the dealership currently occupies burnt to the ground with none of the three buildings or hundreds of cars and trucks remaining.
"By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames."1 Corinthians 3:10-15
“Everything is scorched black.” Chris said. “Nothing is left on the nineteen acres but silhouettes representing each of the souls impacted for eternity by how we ran the business.”
Now, the Pattons’ driving force is to run an excellent, profitable business that is adding silhouettes for the Kingdom. Whatever Chris and his brothers do, in the back of their minds is the question, “Is this going to add silhouettes or take them away?”
One of the first things they did was totally transform the sales model for the business from a customer-based price to a product-based price. Traditional car sales are negotiated every stage of the transaction in purchasing or trading vehicles. There is nothing unethical about it. It just reflects a business with a profit-driven purpose. When he rededicated the dealership to an eternal purpose, Chris realized this pricing model was inconsistent with God’s law.
"Differing weights and differing measures—the LORD detests them both."Proverbs 20:10
“My mindset was ‘How do we make sure that we don’t do anything that is going to limit or prevent adding silhouettes?’ Having unequal weights and measures depending on the type of customer you have, is what God hates.”
This change had an immediate impact on the profit structure and they went from a very profitable business to break-even while they learned how to do it. They took their salespeople off of commission and put them on salary plus production bonus and turned over 75% of their staff within the first 60-90 days. A commissioned salesperson is interested in making more money and is not on the customer’s side. They may point the customer to a car that doesn’t meet the customer’s needs, but it meets their needs for making more money. Now, they are strictly incentivized to help the customer buy a car that meets their needs.
Chris reflected, “Those things changed the entire complexion of our business and put us in a very tough financial position for the first 18 months, because it was a tougher model to operate under. It has been nine years since we made that change, and we’ve come a long way. It was a complete transformation of the sales end of the business purely based on the fact that we were adding silhouettes.”
Chris has learned a lot about running a business with an eternal purpose. He shares those lessons in his blog called Christian Faith at Work (www.christianfaithatwork.com). The blog is targeted to business owners and leaders who are trying to figure out how to integrate their Christian faith into their businesses.
“It started in response to my wife’s urging to get a hobby, and it has led to me teaching pastors and business owners across the globe. I have no idea what kind of impact that has, but I never would have guessed that the hobby my wife told me I needed would extend 8,000 miles into India with no effort from me.”
Chris will never know in this life how many silhouettes there are. It may be a seed planted, a seed watered or a seed harvested. But he knows that all things work for good for those who love God and have been called according to His purpose.