Finding God in the Joys & Struggles of Business Ownership: An Interview with Michael Lee

20160131_004119950_iosMichael Lee, owner of Express Employment Professionals and 2016 Cascade Fellows alum, will join Gideon Strauss on September 15th to talk about how they have brought their work struggles to God.

As an experienced entrepreneur with a vibrant Christian faith, Michael takes the connection between faith and work seriously. In fact, Michael sees the business world as his mission field. Owning his own business for the past decade has been a crucial part of his discipleship.

God has revealed more of himself to Michael through the joys and struggles of business ownership. And in both the highs and the lows, Michael has experienced God’s faithfulness.

It was a leap of faith for Michael to dive into business ownership, in the first place.

Leaving his comfortable, familiar job with no clear plan for what was next was–as Michael puts it–like jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.

“I was making decent money, my boss was happy with me. But I began to feel rumblings in my heart that there was more, and that more was outside of the company.” 

“I resigned from that position without a clear idea of what I was going to do. For me, it was important that I made that jump before I knew what was next. But that was a Michael thing–I do not recommend it for everyone.”

“God was teaching me to trust his heart. He’s arranged appropriate leaps of faith for me along the way.”

As Michael felt the call to purchase Express Employment Professionals, he found himself redefining success. It wasn’t about the outcome for Michael, it was about the process of stepping out in faith and facing his fears.

“In buying Express, I knew ‘success’ was not the endgame. I was following the Spirit–I wanted more of God. If I went down in flames, so be it. But, hopefully, I could do it in a way that brought glory to God.”

Luckily for Michael, there were no flames. His leap of faith resulted in both a strengthened relationship with God and the acquisition of a successful business.

But that wasn’t the end of the story.

When Express began to flounder during the recession, God used the struggle to realign Michael’s priorities and to allow Michael to relinquish control of the business.

As a newly successful business owner, Michael’s lifestyle was changing.

“I got invited to parties in downtown Seattle. I wasn’t making the best choices. I bought a nice car. Got three speeding tickets…it was probably a blessing that I got rid of that thing. The recession was a great attention-getter.”

The recession didn’t worry Michael until he realized that he was also about to lose his main client–the one pillar he’d hoped to cling to during the economic downturn.

“I did everything I could to keep that client.”

“In the midst of that difficult time, I woke up in middle of the night. Scared and full of anxiety, I started praying.”

“The Lord spoke tenderly. He asked, ‘what do you want me to do?’ I said, ‘Lord, I need you to save this client for me.’ To my surprise, he said, ‘wrong answer.'”

Reluctantly, Michael accepted God’s judgment and then spent the next half hour deep in prayer.

“I had a personal Bible study with the Holy Spirit. The Spirit said, ‘we don’t want you to ever beg for business. We want you to trust us. Pray for the best for your client; pray for our best in their lives. If that’s Express, then we will open the door. If not, then you will rejoice that it went away. You’ll never have to beg for business.'”

As Michael laid his struggles at God’s feet, he came to a better understanding of God’s heart for him and his business.

By the end of the night, Michael had peace. Even though he knew he would lose his biggest client, Michael’s anxiety was gone. He knew God was in control.

The slow in business gave Michael a chance to rebuild from the ground up, learning more about a company that was still relatively new to him. He also learned more about how to do business God’s way.

With a Biblical Literature degree from Azusa Pacific University, Michael thought he would go into the ministry after college.

And the funny thing is, I am in ministry–God just needed to expand my view of what ministry is. It’s more than just working for a church or as a missionary.”

“It was my faith that drove me into business. I saw myself as a disciple of Jesus, stepping into business because the Holy Spirit was leading me that way. And trusting that he could make me the business person he needed me to be.”

“At Express, God has called me to pastor those people whom he identifies. I’m constantly asking, ‘Lord, is this person part of our flock?'”

When asked about his experience of Cascade Fellows, Michael said his greatest takeaway was the community he developed through the program–a community with which he continues to connect today.

“Cascade Fellows was such a joy. So glad I did it. It was about community, not a religious exercise. Just last week we got together for a barbecue.”

Michael’s Cascade Fellows group even provided him with meals after a skiing accident that left him with a broken neck.

“The content was also great–challenging and encouraging. I love the format. I’m a busy business owner, but there was time. It wasn’t like school where there were tests to pass. It was about meaningful dialogue that would take place, inspired by the content.”

A concrete example of how Cascade Fellows has impacted Michael is the new spiritual practices he has developed.

“I started doing devotions at my desk. Hearing people at Cascade Fellows who do that was an encouragement to me.”

This practice helps to break down the barriers between Michael’s spiritual life and his work life.

“There’s no separation between sacred and secular. We can make spreadsheets to the glory of God, and we need wisdom for that. There’s nothing too small that he doesn’t care about it, and nothing too big that can’t be better with his perspective.”

“It was encouraging for me to see the Holy Spirit moving. Cascade Fellows is an expression of the Holy Spirit’s heart for people in the Pacific Northwest.”

“God has not forgotten us. He’s moving. As a believer, why would you not want to be a part of that?”

Michael looks forward to being an alum and continuing to develop the Cascade Fellows community that has meant so much to him.

To hear more of Michael’s story and how the Psalms of lament can be a catalyst for your work, please join us at “When Work Is Hard: Talking to God About Frustration & Disappointment at Work” with Michael and Professor Gideon Strauss.

For more information about the Cascade Fellows program, visit our website.

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